21 Most Effective Ways to Improve Your English Speaking Skills
English is the world’s lingua franca , a common language that people with different native languages use to communicate with one another.
In fact, 96 countries use English to varying degrees.
That means the more fluent you are in English, the more interesting, exciting and insightful (thoughtful) conversations you’ll have.
And, for the most part, you can boost your English speaking skills without having a classroom partner or taking stressful lessons.
In this article, we’ll take you through 21 of the best ways to improve your English speaking skills. We’re sure you’ll find at least one tip here that you haven’t tried before!
- 1. Learn new words and phrases every day
- 2. Improve your pronunciation using authentic English audio and videos
- 3. Improvise conversations
- 4. Use tongue twisters
- 5. Learn the natural flow of English
- 6. Shadow English speech
- 7. Think in English
- 8. Retell a story in English
- 9. Use English pronunciation apps
- 10. Participate in public speaking events
- 11. Go to language cafes
- 12. Use formal or informal English appropriately
- 13. Be clear and to the point
- 14. Ask questions
- 15. Use filler phrases
- 16. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
- 17. Watch your body language
- 18. Improve your speaking by writing
- 19. Make friends online
- 20. Brush up on your cultural references and political knowledge
- 21. Visit an English-speaking country
- And One More Thing...
1. Learn new words and phrases every day
Before you learn things like improving your English pronunciation and accent, you’ll want to have a good grasp of the words and phrases used in daily conversations.
After all, it’s easier to figure out which aspects of your pronunciation can be improved if you know which words you need to practice saying aloud.
Also, you can commit to learning more words every day as you practice your speaking skills. This allows you to kill two birds with one stone (achieve two goals by doing one thing).
- Set a goal for the number of new words you want to learn daily. For example, you can learn three new words or 10 every day. Even if you only have time to learn one new word per day, that will still be 365 new words a year (assuming you commit to your goal every day). You can take note of your target number using your phone, or share it with a learning partner who can help you check your progress.
- Subscribe to an online dictionary’s “Word of the Day” section. Not sure which words you want to learn right now? You can look up English dictionaries online with the “Word of the Day” feature. Just sign up for their free subscription via email, and you can get these words delivered to your inbox every day.
- Pick up new words all around you. Go to an English-speaking area, and listen discreetly (in a way you won’t be noticed) to native conversations. Write down any words or phrases you don’t understand, and look them up later using your dictionary. Do the same with the English songs you hear on the radio. By learning new words in context, you’ll be able to remember them more easily and grow your vocabulary more quickly.
- Learn words in phrases. For example, you refer to drinks as a glass of wine , a pint of beer , a cup of tea , a pot of coffee , etc. Again, learning words in context works much better for recall.
- Learn related words. For example, the moon has four phases every month: crescent , gibbous , waxing and waning . It’s more efficient to learn all four words at the same time.
2. Improve your pronunciation using authentic English audio and videos
Even if you know a lot of words, you won’t be understood if you don’t pronounce them correctly. That’s wasting the time spent remembering words, right?
So, you need to hear or watch English words and phrases as they’re pronounced by native speakers. Some places where you can do this are:
- Online dictionaries. You’ll notice that these dictionaries often have little speaker symbols next to the new words (like this ). Some of them, like the Cambridge Dictionary, even have different audio for U.S. and U.K. pronunciations. Just click the speaker symbol, listen carefully and imitate the way the audio pronounces the word.
- YouTube. Sometimes, when you search for the pronunciation of a certain word online, the results will show YouTube videos. They often repeat the word slowly several times, which makes it easier for you to follow along.
- Podcasts. Podcasts like English Pronunciation Pod and American English Pronunciation can teach you the many aspects of American English pronunciation.
If you’re having trouble pronouncing whole words, you may want to work on pronouncing individual letters first.
For example, when pronouncing English vowels, prepare your mouth for speaking by making the sounds of the vowels A , E , I , O and U .
Make a shape with your mouth as you make these sounds. Exaggerate the sounds and shapes—that is, make them very large and very obvious.
By practicing these basic sounds, it’ll be easier to hear the difference between, for example, a cat and a cut . (A cat can give you a cut, but a cut can never give you a cat! That’s just silly.)
For consonants, pronunciation practice is a bit trickier, and will require an entire post on its own. Luckily, we have a handy guide that covers how to pronounce consonants in English!
3. Improvise conversations
Improvisation (or just improv ) means making things up in the moment.
Here are a few improvisation ideas you can do on your own:
- Choose an ordinary object (like a pen) and make up a story about it. Talk about how important it is to you, how it helped you find your long-lost sister or how it saved your life. Be as creative as you want!
- Choose a letter of the alphabet and speak as long as you can while starting every sentence with this letter. Or start with the letter A and go through the alphabet as you speak. It’s much harder than it sounds!
- Speak for two minutes. Set a timer to run for two minutes. Choose a random topic from places like Conversation Starters or prompts (ideas) at Writing Exercises. Then, speak about that topic for the full two minutes without giving yourself time to think about it. The first minute might be hard, but by the second minute, you’ll start to speak more confidently and comfortably. Try this as many times as it takes to get comfortable within the first minute.
Practicing improv is a good way to get more comfortable speaking with others, since it teaches you to speak without preparation.
4. Use tongue twisters
Tongue twisters are phrases and sentences that are difficult to say quickly. They’re designed to help you see how fast you can say them before your tongue gets confused.
But saying them slowly works, too! It’s an excellent way to work on your pronunciation and how clearly you speak. You can choose one of these English tongue twisters, making sure to correctly and clearly say every word.
Once you’re comfortable saying the words slowly, try to say them faster, gradually increasing your speed with each new repetition. Even if you get some words wrong (and believe me, even native English speakers struggle with tongue twisters sometimes), you’ll at least have a good laugh about it!
5. Learn the natural flow of English
Being able to say individual words correctly is great, but the secret to speaking English fluently lies in the flow of your sentences.
Whenever you read a piece of poetry, listen to a melodic song or watch a hilarious sitcom, pay attention to:
- Linking. Notice how native speakers link words together. This refers to joining two sounds, making a sound disappear or changing a sound to make it flow better.
- Contractions. Contractions are shortened forms of two words. For example:
- Stress. There are stressed syllables in a word and stressed words in a sentence.
- Rhythm. The rhythm is the overall result of stress, contractions and linking. It’s the ups and downs, or the musical features of English. You can also think of it as the speed and “sound” of your speaking.
Finding your perfect speaking rhythm can go a long way toward boosting your fluency. A good speaking pace is comfortable (both for you and the listener), keeps you focused and gives you enough time to think through what you want to say.
Here’s how you can improve the flow of your spoken English:
- Find a short paragraph, or even just a sentence at your reading level. You can find lots of short reading passages for different levels here. You can also open your favorite English book to a random page and choose a paragraph or two.
- Get a recorder or video camera. If your phone doesn’t already have a recorder installed, you can download this for iOS or this for Android.
- Say the paragraph or sentence slowly, then again faster, and again.
- Once you reach a speed that doesn’t feel comfortable or is too fast, slow down.
- Repeat this a number of times, making sure to record what you say every time.
Listen to the recordings. How do they sound? You should’ve felt a difference when you were speaking, too. Speaking slowly helps you work on pronunciation and enunciation (how clearly you say things). Speaking fast helps you work on your fluency, since you’re not worrying about every single word you say.
6. Shadow English speech
Shadowing English basically involves listening to how a native speaker says something and copying it.
Here are some ideas on how to shadow English:
- Pick your favorite video with subtitles. Make sure it’s something you enjoy watching. This is important for the next step.
- Listen to it many times. Listen to the video once. Then, read the subtitles to get a good grasp of the general content and flow.
- Imitate the narrator sentence by sentence. Play. Listen. Pause. Speak. Record (optional). Copy the speech pattern as best as you can.
With enough shadowing, you’ll naturally get closer to sounding like a native speaker. Just make sure to pick videos with the same English accent!
You can find plenty of English videos with quality subtitles on the language learning platform FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
7. Think in English
When you’re learning English, and you’re having a conversation with a native speaker, your natural tendency is to take what they say, translate it into your native language in your head, mentally create a response in your native language then translate that response back into English.
As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time. It also makes conversations feel slow or even frustrating (something that causes stress) for the person you’re talking to.
On the other hand, if you practice thinking in English, it takes less time to come up with responses and engage in conversations. You don’t have to take that extra step of translating to and from your native language.
A good way to start thinking in English is to keep a diary for writing down your daily thoughts in English. It doesn’t have to be perfect—you just want to practice getting your thoughts out in English as often as you can.
8. Retell a story in English
For example, you can start with a familiar story from your culture. Your translation needs to convey (communicate) not only the meaning of the words you use, but as much cultural nuance (small differences in meaning) as you can pack into it. You can also choose a short story or fairy tale that mostly uses words you can understand.
Then, you can record your retelling or ask a native English speaker to listen to you and give you their thoughts.
Sometimes, you have words in your language that don’t easily translate into English, and that’s okay! You can try to explain it in another way, like how an untranslatable word would feel to a native English speaker, for example.
9. Use English pronunciation apps
If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s an app to help you perfect your English pronunciation, the answer is “Yes.” There’s a lot of them, in fact.
For example, ELSA Speak (available on iOS and Android) uses speech recognition technology to help you correct the way you say words in English. The lessons are arranged according to topic (e.g., travel, business, etc.). If you’re taking proficiency exams like the IELTS, this app can come in handy, too!
10. Participate in public speaking events
Big universities, theaters and cultural societies often organize events like open debates, spoken word readings and improvised storytelling gatherings. These are places where you can come and mingle with like-minded people and practice speaking English.
Many cities host TED Talks where you can register, participate and share your innovative (something that’s new or original) ideas. Check the events page of your local university to see if there are any of these opportunities available. It might be a nerve-racking experience, but it would be great for your English!
But what if you don’t feel confident speaking in English? Don’t worry, all language learners deal with this at some point! One of the best ways to overcome the lack of confidence is to get out there and practice.
The best way to do this is to try speaking in English with strangers. The following video has tips on avoiding mistakes when starting a conversation in English.
11. Go to language cafes
If public speaking terrifies you, you can opt for language cafes instead. These are cafes that create a friendly and relaxing atmosphere for people who want to practice and exchange languages.
You can usually find language cafes through local universities or the Meetup groups in your local area. If nothing else, they’re a great place to find friends you can share your personal interests with.
12. Use formal or informal English appropriately
Depending on the context, you may have to use either formal or informal English. But how do you know which one to use?
Often, it’s a good idea to listen to how your conversation partner is talking, notice your situation and environment and try to match the type of English being used.
For example, if you’re in the office or at school talking to a boss or professor, it’s safe to use formal English. If you’re talking over coffee with a friend in a cozy cafe, you’re free to throw around all the slang you know.
If you’re only learning “regular” English, don’t worry. Most of the time, standard English works perfectly well as a communication tool, no matter who you’re speaking to. Context is key!
13. Be clear and to the point“Can you please elucidate to me what this means?” “Drink lots of dihydrogen monoxide every day!”
Imagine hearing both of these sentences out of the blue (suddenly). The first thing you’ll probably think of is, “What on earth is this person talking about? What do ‘elucidate’ and ‘dihydrogen monoxide’ mean?”
Even if you know what those words mean, you’ll probably still think that they could’ve just said “Can you please explain to me what this means?” or “Drink lots of water every day!”
You may be tempted to throw around impressive-sounding words in everyday conversations. But, unless there’s no other way to express what you really mean, you’ll want to use the simplest words possible. Not only will you be better understood, but you’re also less likely to come across as pretentious (someone who acts like they’re better than they really are).
But how do you know which words are the “simplest” for English speakers? Again, that’s where regularly listening to authentic conversations comes in. The more you listen to regular conversations by native speakers, the more you’ll pick up patterns regarding the words they use to make themselves understood.
14. Ask questions
Communication works both ways. To make sure your listener is engaged (interested in what you have to say) and understands you, ask questions.
The questions can be about anything you want to know more of. If it’s your first time meeting someone, “What’s your name?” is always a good conversation starter. You can also use other ways to introduce yourself in English.
Ask questions whenever the other person stops and there’s something you want to know more about. For example, if you see your friend with a good-looking car, you can say something like “Wow, that’s a nice car! What make and model is it?” The “compliment + question” formula works like a charm!
Whenever you don’t understand what the other person says, just say it back to the speaker in your own words. This will give them a chance to correct whatever you didn’t understand, or confirm that you heard right.
You can use these phrases before the information:
- I want to make sure I got that right, …
- So let me get this straight, …
- You mean…
- If I’m understanding you correctly, …
- Just to make sure I’ve got it right, you mean…
- Are you saying that… ?
- When you said… Did you mean… ?
- I am not quite sure I am following. Did you say…
If you’re worried that this makes you look “slow” or rude (has no manners), don’t fret! Most people will be perfectly understanding of the fact that English isn’t your first language. They’d rather repeat themselves than have any misunderstandings.
15. Use filler phrases
Filler phrases are phrases that act like placeholders in a sentence. They fill in silences so that your speech isn’t interrupted, and give you a little time to think of what to say.
Some examples of filler phrases are:
You’ll hear these words a lot when you’re talking to native English speakers. To have a better grasp of what they mean and how to use them, you’ll want to—you’ve guessed it—practice them regularly.
But, as with any good thing, don’t overuse them! Too many filler phrases are just as bad as too many pauses. As a general rule of thumb, try not to use more than one filler phrase for every couple of sentences you speak.
16. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
Because you’re still practicing English, you may not always be sure if people really understand what you mean.
In that case, just ask! Most of the time, you can make sure someone understands what you said by asking them to repeat what you said.
For example, the next time you give instructions, directions or information in English, follow it up with one of these phrases:
- I want to make sure you got that. Would you mind repeating it?
- I’m not sure if I said that right. Can you please repeat it?
- Can you please run that by me, so I know you got it?
- I’d like to be sure I’m expressing myself clearly. Could you please tell me what I’ve just said, so I know we’re on the same page?
17. Watch your body language
There’s an English saying that goes like this: “Actions speak louder than words.”
The way you sit, the way you hold your hands and even where you look—all of these can add to or change the meaning of the words you say. The most important thing is to relax.
Not all body language and gestures mean the same thing in different cultures, however. Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re speaking in English:
- Avoid certain hand gestures. Showing just the middle finger with the rest of the fingers folded down is considered an offensive gesture. In the U.K., making a V sign with your index and middle finger is also considered rude. (In the U.S., it’s just a sign that means “peace.”)
- Do use your hands when you’re speaking, though. Your hands can show so many emotions. Slamming a fist (where your fingers are curled into your hands like a boxer’s) into an open hand shows determination. Slamming an open palm or a fist into a table can show anger. Keeping your hands closed and folded on your chest makes you seem cold and uninterested.
- Fingers can speak, too. For example, you can make an “okay” sign by keeping your last three fingers open, and making an “O” with your index finger and thumb.
- Crossed legs can mean different things. If you cross your legs toward the person you’re speaking to, this shows you’re listening to them. If you cross your legs away, it can show you’re not interested or are distracted.
Take note of the situation and mood of the speaker when they make certain gestures. Watching others’ body language in person can help you better understand what they mean.
You can also do this exercise:
- Sit or stand in front of a mirror and speak.
- Pretend you’re having a conversation with your reflection. What are your hands doing? What does your posture say?
- Move around, try different things and see how they change the meaning of the words you’re speaking.
18. Improve your speaking by writing
This may seem like a strange tip in a post on how to improve your English speaking skills. After all, what does writing have to do with speaking?
Plenty, in fact. When you know the most natural way to express something in English on paper, that can also translate to how you express yourself in spoken conversations.
Practice writing in English. Take time to collect your thoughts. Try writing a blog in English to hone your writing skills.
Take a look at the steps below and start blogging!
- Choose a platform. WordPress is a good option for blogging. You can set up an account, then choose a theme and a domain (e.g., imlearningenglish.wordpress.com). Other content management systems like Wix, Ghost and Squarespace are also useful. If you only want to write and aren’t too comfortable with overly technical setups, check out Medium.
- Choose a topic. You can write about whatever you like, of course. But since you want to practice more and more, you should choose a topic that you’re passionate (interested in or knowledgeable) about.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Decide how often you’ll be writing—daily, twice a week or once every other week. Be realistic, but committed.
- Write away! Staring at a blank page can be intimidating (scary). To get started, set a timer for one to two minutes. Think of your topic for that day, then start writing without stopping until the timer goes off. Don’t worry about vocabulary, sentence structure or spelling for now. The point is to express yourself without having to think too much about what you want to say—which is how most conversations go!
19. Make friends online
Do you feel shy about meeting people in person?
Luckily, you don’t have to leave home to find people to talk to. You can always go to language exchange sites like:
- italki. italki works like a tutoring site where you can find native English speakers to teach you their language. (Read our italki review here.)
- Polyglot Club. A polyglot is someone who can speak multiple languages. As you can guess from the name, the website consists of a community of people dedicated to learning languages.
- HelloTalk. On HelloTalk, you can connect with English speakers via voice, text or video chat. (Read our HelloTalk review here.)
- Tandem. Similar to HelloTalk, Tandem allows you to contact English speakers from halfway around the world. It has more of a social media feel, though. (Read our Tandem review here.)
20. Brush up on your cultural references and political knowledge
Native English speakers love to throw around cultural references in conversation. Cultural references are usually ideas, sayings or jokes related to popular media. For example, the meme (pronounced “meem”) “Brace yourselves, winter is coming” is a reference to a quote by the character Ned Stark from the TV series “Game of Thrones.”
There are so many possible cultural references that it’s hard to keep all of them straight, even if you’re a big pop culture fan! However, you can “get” (understand) most of them by watching lots of English TV shows and movies.
Aside from pop culture, you’ll also want to read about the politics, values and norms of the English-speaking country you’re interested in. That way, you can avoid saying something insensitive or politically incorrect. You can read all about these in newspapers and magazines, where you can also pick up idioms, phrases and other expressions you’ll use over and over again.
21. Visit an English-speaking country
If you can afford a plane ticket and accommodations, you can always travel to an English-speaking country. Traveling gives you a chance to see and feel the culture—the food, the drinks, the shops, etc. You can practice chatting with native speakers, testing out your accent and seeing how well people understand you.
So, off you go! Choose your preferred method to improve your English speaking skills above. Expand your vocabulary, correct your pronunciation and boost your English speaking with the tips that feel right for you. Don’t forget to practice as much as possible!
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 the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)