In January we challenged you to make a New Year resolution to improve your English grammar. Hopefully our five top grammar tips are already having the desired effect. However, no matter how good your written English, it is often when speaking English that people make mistakes that cause them to lose confidence. Speaking English is a key skill when it comes to work, travel or even entertainment and joining in with English conversations can really help you improve your vocabulary and understanding. Most people won’t mind helping out with your spoken English if you get a little bit confused but it can be tricky to practice speaking English when you are still too nervous to strike up a conversation. We have seven tips to help you improve your spoken English when there is nobody around to listen.
1. Reflect on your skills – talk to the mirror
When you speak in front of a mirror you can see the way your mouth and face move as well as your other body language. Talking to your reflection can make you feel like you are having a conversation and will encourage you to experiment with expansive vocabulary and new topics. If you don’t know what to talk about, pick a topic from a magazine or newspaper and stick to it. You should also give yourself a time goal and make sure you talk for the full time allowance. Increase this time goal as you gain confidence and remember that you might not want to do this where other people can see you.
2. Tell yourself a story
We all like a bedtime story so how about transporting yourself back to your childhood and reading yourself a fairy tale each night. Fairy tales can be a great choice for improving spoken English because they are often familiar or have plots that are easy to understand. Once you have read a story through out loud, try retelling it to yourself in English. Use the pictures to help you experiment with tricky, descriptive vocabulary and don’t be afraid to use a dictionary, online or paper, to help you form the sentences you require.
3. Sell some sea shells on the seashore with a tongue twister
If anyone has ever taught you a tongue twister in a language that is not your own, you will know that the effort taken to learn them means that you do not quickly forget them. These slippery little rhymes and sayings will make you focus really hard on what you are saying and can help with tricky pronunciation differences. Have a go at the suggestions below.
Seth’s shop sells thick socks
(Take care with the ‘s’ and ‘th’ phonemes)
Eleven benevolent elephants
(Trickier to say than you might imagine)
How many cookies could a good cook cook if a good cook could cook cookies?
(Don’t mix up your nouns and your verbs)
4. Get your brain working and think in English
Thinking in English sounds like a tall order and it takes a bit of getting used to but it is a really valuable skill if you can master it. If you think in one language, then have to translate into another; your speech will seem less than natural. The great thing about thinking in English is that you can do it anywhere, on the bus, at your desk or even relaxing in a hot bath. To start with, choose times to think in English when you are not feeling busy or stressed but, as you improve, try a bit of English thought when your brain is already working hard. You might be surprised at what you can achieve.
5. Let the poets do the work for you
Poetry is the perfect tool for practising spoken English because it has built in rhythm and intonation as well as more sophisticated vocabulary. Poetry always sounds better if you read it standing up, as though you are doing a performance. You might feel silly but if you can use hand and other body gestures at the same time as your recitation, you will find that you put more effort into your pronunciation. As you read, let the rhythm of the poem take you and try to keep pace with its rises and falls. If you find the vocabulary in your chosen poem tricky take time to look up translations and mark them onto your page before you start.
6. Debate current affairs with the television or radio
You might think that arguing with a TV newsreader sounds a bit odd but the truth is that, if you are feeling passionate about a topic, you are likely to seek out stronger vocabulary and push your language skills in order to get your point across. The other useful thing about news stories, when it comes to practising spoken English, is that they tend to use niche vocabulary and include plenty of names and places, just like many business conversations. As so many conversations centre on current affairs, it can also be helpful to gain linguistic confidence in the topics of the day. If what you are hearing on the news really puts a fire into your belly you could even rehearse a few insults, not that you will ever need them of course!
7. Do some practical thinking in English
Thinking in a language other than your own is a tricky skill to master but one easy way to practise this is to pick an occasion and imagine what you are going to say before the event. For example, if you needed to ask for help with a maintenance issue you could imagine the conversation in English, think about what you need to say, anticipate questions that might be asked and look up missing vocabulary. By playing the conversation through in your head before it happens, you will be equipping yourself for the task ahead at the same time as practising thinking in English.
Good spoken English is one skill that definitely relies on practice but, too often, spoken English exercises are boring or rely on you having someone else there to make a response. We recommend that you take a more playful approach to spoken English and have fun with some of the above ideas. We would love to hear from you about your own methods of improving your spoken English, feel free to let us know in the comment box below.
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Happy with your spoken English vocabulary but not so sure about your English accent? We have some tips to help you improve your English accent.