7 ways to practice speaking English
I hope you’ve checked out my article on English fluency where 34 experts give their tips on how to become fluent. Following on from that article, I’d like to focus on my favorite area – English speaking practice.
I believe practice is the missing link to fluency.
Most English learners spend a great deal of time and effort learning about English (its grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation features, etc.) but can’t use it well in real-life situations.
It’s like studying how a bicycle works and then expecting to be able to ride it. Or learning how to read piano music without sitting down to play. When you practice the piano enough, you’re ready to perform. In the same way, when you practice English enough, you’re ready to use it in real life.
Of course, if you have opportunities to have English conversations in school, at your job, or in social situations, go for it! But for vocabulary and grammar to really stick in your head-and to use it fluently and accurately when you speak-you need to practice.
Practice means repetition, whether it’s doing scales on the piano or hearing and repeating the same English phrases many times. The problem is, traditional repetition in language learning is boring!
Another problem: It’s not easy to think of ways to do English speaking practice exercises, especially if you’re by yourself. Moreover, it can be difficult to know if what you’re doing will, in fact, actually lead to progress.
To help get you started, here are 7 fun, easy, and effective ways to practice English.
1. Sing or rap
Why as adults do we still we remember songs from when we were children, even if we haven’t heard the songs for years? Rhyme and rhythm help language sink in and stick. It’s also true of poems and stories, especially those that rhyme. Reading the lyrics of songs helps even more. And singing or rapping along improves your pronunciation and listening skills.
My YouTube channel now has over 6 million views. Most of the videos are based on songs and chants to help you practice. And you can download my songbook here to get all of the lyrics. So what are you waiting for? Watch my music videos and any other music videos you like. Just follow the 3Rs: Relax, Repeat, Remember. Check out this one to practice phrasal verbs.
2. Do dictation
Choose a conversation from a movie or a TV show or try a music video. Turn the subtitles off. Listen for the stressed words (the words that are easier to hear). Write those words down. Then, watch and listen again. This time, try to catch the little grammar words, the words that reduce and connect together (what I call “shrinking and linking”). Pause and repeat the video whenever you like (the more you repeat, the better!). Then turn on the subtitles and check your work. Learning to pay attention to stressed words and noticing “shrinking and linking” is key to boosting both accuracy and fluency.
When you watch TV or a movie in English or you listen to a conversation on the street, “shadow” the speakers. In other words, repeat what you hear. Try to sound like them as much as you can. You can also do this with a podcast or an audio book, while you are reading the text.
Don’t shadow with materials that are difficult or unfamiliar. You shouldn’t use your brain power to try to understand what you hear. For example, choose a scene from a movie in English that you have already watched in your native language (especially if you have watched it several times). Because you are familiar with the plot, the characters, and the dialog, you can focus on what the actors are saying and how they are saying it.
4. Collect and rehearse English phrases
You can do this with English that you see in advertisements, in videos, on social media sites, etc. Keep a little notebook with you or write them down on your phone. Choose phrases that you know will be useful for you, things you want to automatically remember and use in conversations.
Whenever you have a free moment, rehearse them: Read them out loud. If you can, write sentences with these phrases and ask a native speaker or advanced English learner to correct them. Then rehearse those sentences, too.
5. Record yourself
Nobody likes the sound of their voice on a recording. But recording and listening to yourself is excellent practice. For one thing, it allows you to compare how you sound to others, such as those you are shadowing. Also, getting used to the sound of your voice builds confidence; and so does noticing the improvement you make over time.
Record yourself shadowing or reading a short text, such as a poem, brochure, magazine article, or blog post. You can also record the phrases you’ve collected. If possible, ask a native speaker or advanced English learner to listen and give you feedback.
We do this in my English speaking practice program “The Weekly English Workout.” My students use Vocaroo, or other free services, to record their speaking practice and upload it to our private Facebook group for feedback.
6. Write your own rhymes
Use the power of rhyme to help remember the language you want to use in everyday situations. Take two key phrases and create a rhyme, such as this: “The party was great. We stayed out late.” Soon you may be able to write something a bit longer, such as “Do you need some help? Is everything okay? So far, so good. But thanks, anyway.”
Rehearse and record your rhymes as often as you can. And share them with your friends to get their feedback.
7. Chat informally in social media
Social media sites, such as Facebook, are great places to pick up English you want to use and try out English you’re practicing. It’s not like real life. And this is the point! You can experiment with English without feeling pressured. Try repeating the same phrases in posts and comments to help you remember them. This will build your confidence to use them “offline.”
I hope these suggestions help you to get more English practice. Of course, I also suggest you try my English Speaking Practice program, the Weekly English Workout. In this program we engage in all of the activities I’ve described above but (1) we do it with materials that I’ve created specially for language learners (2) you interact with other English learners from all over the world and (3) you have me as your teacher to guide and support you.