how-to-improve-english-speaking-skills

How to Improve Your English: 18 Tips for Better Speaking Skills

English is the world’s lingua franca. That means that people with different native languages often use it to communicate.

So the more fluent you are in English, the more interesting, exciting and insightful conversations you can have.

You can even improve your spoken English without a classroom partner or stressful lessons.

This article will give you 18 tips for how to improve English speaking skills, so let’s get into it!

Contents

How to Improve English Speaking Skills: Build a Strong Foundation

1. Expand your vocabulary and study

Decide that you will learn a certain number of new words every day. It could be three, ten or even just one—after one year of one word per day, you will have learned 365 new English words!

Some good resources for new words are songs, TV shows, books or the news. Learning words in context will help you remember them more easily, too.

It’s also helpful to learn words in groups. For example, to move beyond wine, beer, tea and so on, you can learn a glass of wine, a pint of beer, a cup of tea, a pot of coffee, etc.

An even better idea is to learn phrases instead of just words.

For example, you can say “how do you feel today?” but a native speaker might say “how’re you doing?” or “what’s up?” instead. Phrases and expressions can help you sound more natural when you speak.

Remember to study your new English words and phrases. Here are two ways you can do that:

  • Put up English labels in your house. You can label objects with their English names. If you already know doorwindowcabinet and so on, you can simply put up the new words you want to memorize so that you see them often.
  • Create an English word poster. Write new words or expressions on a large poster board, then put it up where you can see it well. Read through the words when you see the poster. Once you’ve memorized all of them, make a new board.

2. Improve your pronunciation

You might know a lot of words, but if you fail to say them correctly, you won’t be understood—like in this British comedy sketch. So make sure you know how to pronounce your new words and phrases, too!

To improve your English pronunciation, you can use:

  • Online dictionaries. On Merriam-Webster, for example, you can click on the little speaker symbol next to a word to hear its pronunciation.
  • Informational podcasts. English Pronunciation Pod and Pronuncian will help teach you more about American English pronunciation.
  • Tongue twisters. These are special sentences designed to test your pronunciation skills. This post has a list of 24 English tongue twisters. You can try all of them, or practice specific sounds that you find difficult.

A really good way to improve your pronunciation is to watch English-language videos. That way you can hear words as they’re said by native speakers, while watching exactly how they say those words.

But finding videos on your own can be difficult. If you need some help finding relevant English videos with authentic pronunciation, FluentU‘s online learning program is filled with real content and extra tools to help you get started.

FluentU videos have interactive subtitles with definitions and pronunciation examples, and you can add words to your own personalized word bank to study later. 

screen from "My Heart Will Go On" music video on FluentU

If you’re looking for a particular word, FluentU has a video dictionary that shows you videos in which it’s spoken.

The platform is available as a website and an app (via Google Play or the App Store).

3. Read more in English

Reading in English will help you improve your English speaking skills. That’s because when you read, you listen to your inner voice say the words.

Reading more means you’ll learn new words in the appropriate contexts, too, so you’ll know how to use them later when talking with others.

And the more you read, the faster your brain will recognize patterns and groups of words that normally go together. Seeing these over and over again will help you remember them, which means it will be easier for you to use them in your conversations.

Reading online blogs or social media posts may be fun, but it’s always ideal to use reading materials that have been officially produced in some way. Books, graded readers and the news are all great options for correct, well-structured English.

And of course, don’t forget to read out loud, too!

4. Learn the natural flow of English

The secret to speaking fluently in English lies in the flow of sentences. Whenever you read or hear English media, pay attention to:

  • Linking. This is when sounds are joined together. A sound may disappear or change in spoken English.
  • Contractions. Contractions are the shortened forms of two words put together. For example: I + am = I’m, and do + not = don’t.
  • Stress. There are stressed syllables in a word and stressed words in a sentence. This stress gives words different meanings.

    For instance, listen to the word “address” in these two sentences, which is “a place where someone lives” in the first sentence and “to speak to someone or a group of people” in the second:

    We don’t know her address.
    I will address the crowd now.

  • Rhythm. The rhythm is the overall result of stress, contractions and linking. It’s the musical feature of English.

5. Learn to speak for specific occasions

You’ll improve your spoken English much faster if you focus on the reason you’re learning it.

Are you learning to speak English so you can make friends in America? Then you should learn the American English dialect.

Are you learning English so you can get a job in an English-speaking company? In that case, business English will help you the most.

It goes further than that, however. In order to improve your English speaking skills, you also need to know the words and phrases that you’ll use in different situations.

For example, the way you speak English to a friend is different from the way you would speak to a child. Both of those are different from the English you would use in a business meeting. These are all different registers of English.

Knowing when and how to use different English registers will greatly improve your English speaking and fluency.

Don’t be worried, though, because you can practice this! Before you go to a place where you’ll need to speak English, review what you might have to say.

If you’re going to a restaurant, prepare answers to questions a waiter might ask you. Try talking about food and menus.

No matter what English register you’re learning or why, you’ll feel more confident if you’re prepared!

6. Build confidence in your speaking skills

As it turns out, having confidence is key for improving your speaking abilities.

The first step to gaining more speaking confidence is to focus on fluency, not grammar.

When you speak in English, how often do you stop?

The more you stop, the less confident you sound—and the less comfortable you will feel. Challenge yourself to speak without stopping or stammering (taking pauses between your words). You can start by speaking to yourself before you try talking to others.

Of course, you can’t and shouldn’t ignore grammar. But it’s okay if your sentences aren’t always perfect. Just try to be understood first, and then you can fill in the correct grammar as you learn more.

Another excellent way to build your English speaking skills is to practice speaking English with strangers. The more successful conversations you have, the more confident you will feel.

And don’t be embarrassed when you make mistakes in your spoken English—because you will make mistakes.

Instead, write down your error. Later, figure out what went wrong. Find the answers you need to fix and understand your mistakes.

There are many common problem areas for non-native English speakers, so know that you’re not alone. In fact, understanding your mistakes is one of the best ways to improve both your speaking skills and your confidence.

7. Consider hiring an English tutor

Paying for a tutor is worth the money because you’ll get the individual help you need.

Check that they are skilled at teaching pronunciation, reading, grammar, vocabulary and culture. Decide if you want to meet in person or online.

You can get a tutor for:

  • One-on-one practice, which will guarantee that all your issues, needs, desires and interests are addressed.
  • Small group practice, which provides you with more support and partners to speak English with.
  • Specialized practice, to help you develop English speaking skills, English grammar or any other area you’d like help with.

To find tutors online, try Verbling. This huge website has thousands of tutors who are ready to share their knowledge. You can also find a tutor through the websites on this list.

Getting a little professional help is a great way to improve your English speaking skills.

Improve Your Spoken English: Techniques and Practices

8. Shadow English speech

Basically, shadowing speech means that you listen to how a native speaker says something, and then try to copy it as closely as you can. Follow these steps:

  • Pick your favorite video with subtitles. Try to choose a video where only one or two people are talking. Make sure it’s something you enjoy watching.
  • Listen to the video once. Read the subtitles to try to understand the content and flow of the speech.
  • Play the video again. After each person speaks, say exactly what they said. Try to copy the tone, speed and accent (if you can).
  • Now do it again (and again) until you sound more like the people in the video. Play. Listen. Pause. Speak. If you want, record yourself speaking and compare it directly with the video. 

To improve your pronunciation, pay attention to how the speaker moves their mouth as they talk.

It’s okay if you miss a few words! The important thing is to keep talking. With enough shadowing, you’ll naturally sound more and more like a native speaker.

9. Sing along to English songs

Did you know that singing is an effective way to boost your speaking skills and help you master the rhythm, intonation and speech patterns of English?

It’s true! Music is a great method to include in your language learning toolbox.

If you want to take your English speaking skills to the next level, try karaoke. The Sing King Karaoke YouTube channel is full of brand new and classic English songs from top artists around the world.

Once you can sing along to pop music like Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz, consider really testing your skills with rap music. Rap is a great way to practice English because the words are often spoken like regular sentences.

Of course, rap songs are usually fast, so it will be a challenge. Some of the words might not make sense, but if you can keep up with the rapper, then you’re definitely improving your English speaking skills!

10. Retell a story in English

I suggest you try this activity with a familiar story from your own culture.

Try to think in English as you tell your story. Focus on speaking fluently (instead of correctly). Say every sentence out loud, either to yourself or to a friend.

The ultimate goal is to try to convey the meaning of words as well as the cultural details.

You can also try to retell a simple story you learned in English. Just make sure to use different words than those used in the original.

Learning to tell stories in English will help both your communication skills and your conversational abilities.

11. Talk to yourself in English

Having a conversation in your non-native language can be intimidating (scary).

If that’s the case for you, you can start by practicing at home with a very accessible person: you!

One way to do this is to narrate your day. This means you will talk about what you’re doing or what you’re looking at.

Try to describe what you see out loud. Or, you can say anything from a suggestion (“Shall I go get a glass of water?”) to a reminder (“I need to do the laundry today.”)

You may also want to try talking to yourself in the mirror. Choose a topic, set a timer for two or three minutes and then just talk.

The point of this exercise is to watch your mouth, face and body language as you speak. It also makes you feel more like you’re talking to someone. But don’t pause—talk until the timer ends!

If you get stuck, try expressing your idea in a different way. You can always look up words after your practice is over.

Another tip is to record yourself while you speak. Listen to the recording and make note of any wrong pronunciations or long pauses so you can figure out how to fix those. If possible, ask for feedback from a native speaker.

Practice is practice, though! Even if you don’t have anyone to correct your mistakes, just the act of speaking out loud will help you become more comfortable speaking English.

12. Practice thinking in English

If you think in your native language and then try to speak in English, you always have to translate between languages. Translating isn’t an easy thing to do, and can definitely slow down your speaking.

The solution? Think in English.

The best part is that you can practice this anywhere, at anytime.

Try to use English when you’re thinking about your day, or when you’re trying to decide what food to eat.

You’ll notice that when you think in English, it’s easier for you to speak in English too, because it takes less time to figure out your response. No translation needed!

If you need help getting into this habit, try keeping an English diary. Write in your journal every day. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just work on getting your thoughts out in English with less and less effort.

13. Talk to your smart device in English

With most smartphones and devices, you can speak into the microphone and ask questions, or tell the device to do something. This is great for speaking practice since it’s available to use whenever you have time.

First, switch the device’s language to English. Then, start talking! You can begin by saying something like, “Hey Siri, what is the weather like today?”

The device will be very honest and tell you what words it hears. This will let you know if there is something you need to work on—pronunciation, grammar or word choice, for example.

Because you’re speaking to a machine, you can’t use movement or facial expressions to help you, so you’re really testing your speaking skills. Try to be as clear and precise as possible.

Of course, sometimes the device won’t work correctly, so don’t stress too much if it really isn’t understanding you.

14. Take online English speaking courses

Because learning online is becoming more and more popular, many times the price is free.

There are thousands of courses online that can help you improve your English speaking skills. Here are three for you to check out:

And here is a whole list if you want more online speaking course options!

15. Chat with native English speakers online

The internet gives you access to ideas and information in almost every language—but especially in English.

A good way to improve your vocabulary, writing and grammar skills is to use social media platforms to talk to native English speakers. All of these skills will help you improve your English speaking abilities.

You can try:

  • Facebook. Pages like Itchy Feet and Memrise have a lot of English-speaking followers, including both language learners and native speakers. Check out some posts you like and start a conversation in the comments.
  • RedditCheck out LANL English (LANL=Learn a New Language) and EnglishLearning to get started. Find some discussions that interest you and start chatting!

You may also want to try language exchange apps where you can find native English speakers who want to learn your native language, so you can help each other learn.

16. Participate in a language exchange

To continue on that last idea, there really is a good chance that an English speaker out there wants to learn your language just as bad as you want to learn English. So why not set up a proper language exchange?

A language exchange is when you and your conversation partner speak together in English for a certain amount of time (30 minutes, for example), and then you speak together in your native language for the same amount of time. That way you both get to learn and teach!

You can choose to meet in person to talk if you want, but many people these days prefer to talk through the internet using video calls.

You can look for a language exchange partner on websites like:

Language exchanges are an incredibly rewarding experience. Each person gets to learn their target language with a native speaker, plus you get to learn about your partner’s country and culture as well. There are so many interesting topics you can discuss!

17. Find local opportunities for speaking English

Big universities, theaters and cultural societies often organize events like debates, comedy shows, spoken word readings and storytelling. Find some in English that you can attend and practice your speaking skills.

You can also look for local TED or TEDx talks, likely hosted through nearby universities. If you’re feeling really brave, you can register to participate and share your own innovative ideas. It might be a nerve-racking experience, but it would be great for your English!

If public speaking terrifies you (and I know it can be intimidating), then try looking for language cafes. These are cafes with friendly, relaxing atmospheres where people can exchange and practice languages.

Again, you can probably find language cafes through your local universities. Or, check out the Meetup groups available in your area.

Lastly, consider finding a job or volunteer position that involves English. You could become a tutor and teach your native language to English-speaking visitors, or you could look for a job in tourism, where native speakers will come to you for help in English.

18. Go to an English-speaking country

To really put yourself in prime position to practice your English speaking skills, consider visiting or even moving to a country that speaks English.

Pick a country that you’re interested in and go there to…

It’s not enough to just show up, however. You need to make sure you actively use English while you’re there!

Whether you’re a tourist, worker or an international student in an English-speaking country, you will want to find additional places to practice your English.

Join sports clubs, get a part-time job and attend local events whenever you can. If possible, live with a host family or native English-speaking roommate who doesn’t mind practicing with you.

And again, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. People will help you improve your English speaking skills—but they can only correct you when they hear you talk!

 

So, off you go. Choose your preferred methods for improving your spoken English.

Don’t forget to practice as much as possible!

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