When an actor forgets their next line while rehearsing, they can yell “line!” and someone will help them out.
Wouldn’t it be nice if English learners had the same thing?
Like when you’re speaking in English but you just can’t figure out how to say what you want… “line!”
Sadly, no one’s going to answer you.
But that’s okay.
You can improve your spoken English so that you don’t have too many of those “line” moments in real life.
In fact, it’s probably easier to do than you think!
Our 12-step guide will show you how to improve your speaking, pronunciation and conversation skills so that you can talk in English without hesitation.
12 Low-pressure Ways to Improve Spoken English Now
1. Speak While You Study
If you’re studying alone, you’ll probably find that a lot of your learning is silent. Even if you’re taking a formal English course, your homework will often involve quiet time with a textbook or worksheets.
There’s nothing wrong with this! Keeping notes and doing written exercises is a great way to stay focused and disciplined. But with a little extra effort, you can work in some speaking practice, too.
All you have to do is complete the lessons you’d usually do quietly out loud. If you have 10 new words you want to learn, don’t just read them off the page—practice saying them instead.
Some computers have voice dictation software, which allows you speak into them instead of typing. If you have a writing assignment, you could try using voice dictation to get your words on the page.
You might find that this study technique is especially useful for English reading. When you’re reading silently (or “in your head”), it’s easy to skim over difficult words and phrases. But if you’re reading out loud, you have no choice but to say every word—and notice your mistakes. You’ll improve your reading comprehension and speaking skills at the same time.
2. Record Yourself Pronouncing Difficult Sounds
Record yourself speaking in English and listen to the recording afterwards. It will draw your attention to your pronunciation strengths and weaknesses.
Of course, most people hate listening to their own voice, and you’ll probably notice plenty of things you want to change. But try to focus specifically on the English sounds that are giving you the most trouble. This will help you make strategic (smart, practical) improvements without getting overwhelmed.
For example, one difficult sound for many English learners is the “th” at the start of words like “this” and “that.” A common pronunciation mistake is mixing up “w” and “v” sounds.
When you notice a sound that you’re not pronouncing correctly, use the Forvo pronunciation dictionary for help. Search for words that have the sound and you’ll get native speaker recordings that you can imitate.
You can also search for pronunciation guides on YouTube. Just search for the sound and “pronunciation in English” and you’ll usually get lots of options.
3. Find a New Study Buddy (Even If They Can’t Talk Back)
If the idea of talking to another person is scaring you, try talking or reading to a pet. They won’t interrupt you and won’t know if you’ve made a mistake! This removes the pressure to speak perfectly and lets you focus on just getting the words out.
In the long run, it’s better to talk lots and make a few errors than to only speak when you’re totally sure you’ve got every word right.
You can also try speaking to yourself in the mirror. It might feel a bit strange at first, but it will eventually make you more comfortable with your spoken English. Look at how your lips move when you speak English and where your tongue sits in your mouth. It may look different from when you’re speaking your native language and can take some time to get used to.
4. Immerse Yourself in Real English with FluentU
FluentU provides you with all the tools you need to start speaking English the way natives do, instead of making you learn from hypothetical textbook scenarios.
You can also easily repeat and loop sections of audio if you want to hear something again and imitate it yourself.
When you’re done watching a video, there are flashcards and fun quizzes to make sure you remember everything. It’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in authentic English, no matter where you are.
The videos are organized by genre and level so it’s easy to find the ones that work for you (but FluentU will also suggest videos based on what you’ve already learned). You can check it out on your computer, iOS or Android device for free with a FluentU trial.
5. Make Friends with Other Local Learners
There are plenty of people out there who share your nerves about speaking in English. You can exchange tips, motivate each other and of course, practice speaking together.
This is an especially useful option for learners who want real-life, face-to-face English conversation practice, but don’t live in an English-speaking region.
Do some research to see if there are any local groups or classes that you might be able to join. Your local college’s language department might be able to give you some ideas. You might also find language groups on Meetup.
You could always set up your own group and advertise it on social media. Meet up a couple of times a month and just spend some time chatting informally. You can plan a mix of activities, such as dinner parties or English movie nights. Make it a rule that you only talk in English!
Remember not to reinforce each others’ errors! If you’re unsure about a word or phrase, look it up as a group.
6. Listen, Listen, Listen
Speaking and listening go hand-in-hand (are closely related).
Listening to English helps you improve your own speaking skills. Plus, listening practice will prepare you for real-life English conversations. (You won’t have anything to say if you can’t understand the other person!)
Spend as much time listening to spoken English as possible. TV in English, radio shows and podcasts are your new best friends. Put them on when you’re doing chores, commuting or any other spare moments in your day.
7. Make Phone Calls in English
Most people prefer texting these days, but an old-fashioned phone call is great for practicing your English. If you have a pen-pal or online friend who you normally write to, ask them if they’d like to call you instead. (You can make international phone calls for free with WhatsApp.)
Talking on the phone may be trickier than face-to-face, because you won’t have visual cues to follow, such as body language. If you find this a bit daunting (scary seeming), try Skype or FaceTime instead.
8. Ask Your Speaking Partners to Correct Your Errors
When you’re talking, it’s unlikely someone is going to interrupt you and tell you that you’ve pronounced something incorrectly. You’d probably think that was pretty impolite, too!
If you’re uncertain about what you’re saying in English, don’t be embarrassed to ask someone to help you out. Just say something like “Did that make sense?” or “How would you word this?” Make it clear that you’re asking for their advice and don’t mind them correcting you. Any good friend is sure to help you find the word or phrase you’re looking for.
9. Set Speaking Challenges in English
Start taking small steps towards speaking English by committing to individual tasks.
If you’re living in or visiting an English-speaking country, set yourself a speaking challenge for each day. Go and order a coffee and cake. Introduce yourself to someone at your hotel. Ask a local for directions instead of using Google Maps. There are so many opportunities to speak in English (and see that it isn’t so scary, after all!)
If you’re in a non-English environment, you can still set speaking challenges for yourself. Order a drink at a local British or American bar if there’s one around you. Call a hotel and ask a question about their rooms in English—it’s just for practice, even if you have no plans to stay there!
10. Don’t Avoid English When You’re Traveling
If you travel with friends who speak your native language, it’s easy to avoid English for the whole trip. Try not to do this!
Some people use apps like Tinder and Couchsurfing while they’re traveling so that they can meet the locals and get an authentic experience. Just make sure you do it safely. Consider setting up a shared profile, so its clear you and your friends only ever meet new people as a pair or group.
If you travel by yourself, try staying in a hostel where you can meet new friends and go on group excursions. You could even offer to teach an English speaker some of your own language in return for some help from them.
Keep in touch with your new friends on social media! They might invite you to visit them…
11. Give a Short Presentation
Give yourself a confidence boost by showing off your skills. Put together a short presentation in English that you can give to a small group of people. It only needs to be a couple of minutes long.
Introduce yourself and talk about some of your interests, hobbies and aspirations.
If you have a teacher or English speaking friend who has time to listen, that’s great. If not, see if you can recruit some other friends or family. Don’t worry if they can’t speak English, it’s still a good opportunity to prepare yourself for when you might need to address a group. If you’re aiming to work in an English-speaking country, for example, you might need to give a presentation to your colleagues.
If making presentations online in video calls is important for your career, you should study how to give awesome online presentations in English with a specialized course.
Creativa is an online course that allows you to speak formal English in a professional setting. In its first course, you can learn all the skills you need to work for an English company in a world where you may have many video calls. Over 10 video episodes, you will learn important business greetings and openings, the different parts of a business meeting, keeping the attention of your audience and talking about future plans and ideas.
12. Make Mistakes!
Don’t let the fear of making a mistake keep you quiet. Everyone makes errors when they’re speaking—even native English speakers. Make notes of things you’re unsure of and address them later, rather than backtracking on what you’re saying. Speak as often as you can, and remember that it doesn’t have to be spot on every time.
You probably aren’t going to feel 100% confident overnight, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to stay motivated and keep specific and attainable goals. There are loads of social benefits to speaking a second language. You’ll find that the more you try to improve your spoken English, the easier it gets and the more doors it opens.
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 recommends examples and videos to you based on the words you’ve already learned. You'll 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.