Why is speaking English so darn hard?
You know the words, you’ve heard them many times before.
You’ve even gone over them using all kinds of learning strategies.
You can probably think of what you want to say — but your mouth just can’t produce the words.
So, why’s this seemingly simple skill so difficult to master?
Why Conversational English is Challenging
To better answer this question, you should know that language learning consists of two things: Input and Output.
Input is all the listening and reading — everything about the English language that you absorb. Output is all the writing and speaking. People tend to have a harder time dealing with output, which is what I’m going to talk to you about today.
When the time comes to speak — and for some people, to write — there’s a mental block that slows conversations down. You have a simple sentence in your mind, but somehow it’s as difficult to say as a tongue twister. Here’s why:
You’re not getting enough real-world input.
When you’re studying English from a place where English isn’t spoken much, it can be hard to get enough real-world English input. So, how do average native speakers talk during a conversation?
Textbooks — along with any other learning materials made specifically for non-native learners — make conversation sound clearer and simpler. The slang words, idioms, accents, fast speed and improper grammar are all left out, to make understanding English easier for you.
Before you even start speaking practice, you’ll need to practice understanding what real-world English sounds like.
Luckily, that’s what FluentU was made for.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You can just sit back, relax and read along with the subtitles.
Alternatively, you can use the interactive learning features like flashcards and vocabulary lists. Everything is personalized to your English level and learning style based on the videos you’ve been watching. It’s perfect for getting practice with conversational English!
Speaking is the least practiced skill.
Maybe you practice speaking less because you prefer to hold back and listen during a conversation. Maybe it’s because you just don’t feel confident enough in your speaking ability. Or, maybe it’s because you study at home or in a classroom, and most of your learning time is spent reading, writing and listening. Unless you have a good conversation partner or live in an English speaking country, getting plenty of English speaking practice can be a challenge.
That’ why, in general, this form of output is the least practiced. It might seem quite basic to just join in a conversation, but for whatever reason that’s not always the case.
Conversations can be nerve-wracking.
So, you find yourself in a circle of people speaking in English. It’s fun to listen to their conversation, you understand what they’re saying and you’d like to participate with them.
However, once you actually have to say the words, you become nervous and your palms get a little sweaty. Who knows what they might think of you if you say the wrong thing or say it incorrectly? What if they don’t understand you? What if you make the whole fun conversation turn awkward?
These are all very common and understandable things to worry about when trying to speak. This can help explain why speaking is the hardest part about language learning. So, don’t feel back about it — it’s totally normal. There’s a ton of things you can do to help you overcome that mental block.
6 Ways to Practice Conversational English All Day, Every Day
1. Use your favorite technology
Technology has made our lives so much easier. It makes doing anything much more efficient, including learning English. Sure, you can practice any of the four aspects of language (reading, writing, speaking and listening) without any technology, but our computers, smartphones, televisions and tablets help us to accelerate our learning practice and do things more quickly and effectively.
So, how do you use technology to practice speaking English?
- When you use Google, use the “speaking” option. If you have a device with a microphone, like a smartphone or computer, you can do this easily. See if Google understands what you’ve said and puts the correct words into text.
- Find an online conversation exchange partner to practice with on a website like My Language Exchange.
- Make Skype dates with friends and family members who speak English.
- Chat with friends using messenger services like WhatsApp, and record little English language voice messages for people.
2. Try the Verbling Community discussions
Basically, the Verbling Community discussion board is a bunch of chat groups about all kinds of topics. The creator of the discussion (usually an English tutor) will post a question or interesting fact for others to talk about together.
Sometimes they will specifically state what language skills their discussion topic can help with.
Essentially, you can use this website to chat with native speakers and other English language learners for free. Other times, the conversations can be totally open and free-flowing.
People are always willing to help with mistakes and there’s no judgement for making mistakes. Everyone there is another language learner, so they understand!
As you gradually chat more and more (without being embarrassed of mistakes) you’ll find that you’re making great improvements in speaking English. An improved speaking ability means that you’re ready to move on up to the next level of more advanced conversation.
3. Go on HelloTalk
HelloTalk is a text-based app that teaches conversation using a messenger type format. It pairs you with real native speakers with whom you can have conversations that vary depending on skill level.
Any language can be chosen. Luckily, most people are there to practice their English just like you, so there are plenty of people you can practice with. But you want to practice speaking in particular, how can this app help you with that?
Well, there’s an awesome option on the keyboard that allows you to send voice messages to your partner. They can in turn respond with a voice message of their own. However, if your partner responds with just text, there’s an option to have the message read to you by the app. This can be extremely helpful with pronunciation as the app does a good job of speaking clearly.
4. Download the WordReference Dictionary App
WordReference is a great tool that is a known lifesaver for language students. But there’s more than just the dictionary-style website for you to enjoy!
The app has some special benefits. It’ll go where you go. You won’t have to lug (carry) around a gigantic book that takes a long time to search through. WordReference truly sets itself apart from other similar apps because it has two specific features that allow you to practice your speaking.
First, the app will sound the word out to you. This is a great tool for understanding how a word is pronounced. However, to fully take advantage of this feature to improve your English speaking skills, you’ll need to repeat the word out loud, mimicking the way it’s pronounced by the app. There’s also an option to hear a British voice or an American voice, so choose whichever one fits the accent of English you’d like to learn.
The second feature is that you can easily look up words and see how they’re used in context. Whenever you search for a particular word, you’ll get a definition and example sentences. They aren’t just basic sentences either, they’ll show you tons of great real world examples for how to use new vocabulary. You’ll never wonder if you’re using the right word again. Sounds good, right?
Plus, there are forums where language learners can ask their questions to the world — and the world responds! Check out these forums to see how native speakers explain their own ways of using English vocabulary. This will help you understand cultural contexts and etiquette behind words.
All of this is perfect for practicing your speaking skill because you can say the sentence out loud to yourself, or you can recall a time when the word was spoken to you and you didn’t understand why it was used in that instance.
5. Narrate your day like a reality TV show
Sometimes, we want to get away from all the technology in our daily lives.
Don’t worry—there are lots of fun and creative ways to practice speaking without technology.
For example, have you ever wondered what your life would look like as a reality television show?
Go about your day. As things happen, practice your English speaking by discussing the things you do, as well as the people, things and sometimes problems you encounter. Talk about everything as if you had a million viewers out in the audience, interested in your life. If something was difficult about a particular part of the day, talk about how that obstacle was easy or hard for you to overcome.
Perhaps while cooking you can tell the audience what it is you’re making and how to make it. Go through the recipe step by step and talking about why you love it so much. While watching a sports game, try to narrate everything going on like an actual newscaster.
You’ll find this speaking practice to be fun and effective, and it can be applied to tons of basic things that you do throughout the day. You’ll see how many words you can remember when you need them. You’ll realize where you get confused and which grammar points are hard for you to figure out while speaking.
When you have to pause because you can’t remember a particular word or phrase, keep talking using other words to describe what you mean. This will help you leave to be more creative. If you happen to have a way to take notes at the moment, make a note of which words and phrases you forgot. Then, you can look them up and study them for future use in conversation.
So, just have fun with it and you’ll see your speaking ability improve greatly without realizing it.
6. Translate everything, on the go
This is an exercise that can be worked into many different parts of your life, just like the reality TV show. Often, when done frequently enough, it almost becomes a habit. Pretty great habit to have, right? To give an example: you’re driving on the road and see a billboard with a funny phrase on it. See if you can translate it and speak your English translation out loud with excellent pronunciation.
Don’t forget to use the awesome apps listed above if you need some help!
Just like before, this can be applied to many different things. See what you can do throughout the day with these exercises whenever you’re ready to finally improve your English speaking skills and start heading towards total fluency!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.