I have been learning English all my life having lived in a country where English is taught right from kindergarten and I have been teaching English for 5 years now to students of all ages to students of different nationalities. In that experience I have seen many students fail to speak English despite studying it for a long time.
The number one cause of this is FEAR.
I am going to share with you general tips on how to speak better. These tips cut across regardless of whether you are learning Spanish,Russian,German or Arabic.
The first and most important thing to do if you want to become a better speaker, reader or listener is learn how to relax. When you are relaxed the brain functions normally and it functions more efficiently.
If you are in panic, the brain thinks there is something wrong. It goes into self defence mode. Think of this as a computer with many tabs open and running a bunch of applications at the same time – it definitely cannot function properly. So, to become a better English speaker learn how to stay calm. Give yourself time to be at ease.That way, you will be able to generate ideas properly and speak better.
Closely related to the previous point is trying to be confident. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines confidence as -having or showing assurance.Many people think that if a person cannot speak a language well, it means that they are not intelligent which is certainly not true.
If a foreigner goes to China and tries to speak Chinese to people, he is going to sound like an idiot at first – does that mean he is an idiot ? Not really. It simply means that he cannot speak Chinese.
Do not fear to speak because of being judged or be called an idiot – there is only one person in the world who is worthy enough to judge you – and that is only you. It does not matter what other people think of you. Just speak. Do not worry about other people.We live through life thinking people are thinking about us – no they are not. They are thinking about their own problems. So just speak because nobody gives a toss about you.
3.Know your audience.
When you are going to put together a sentence in a foreign language, there are people you are going to speak to and it will be a challenge there are others who will be willing to listen and understand you. Your goal should be to just put the idea across.
A good example of this is when you are in a city, let’s say London and you are trying to get a bus to take you somewhere. Your English is still at a beginner level, do not try to make a perfect sentence to the bus driver. Just get the idea across and you will be understood clearly. Instead of trying to say Excuse me, can you please tell me where to get the bus from here to place x – You can simply say – Excuse me, bus where ?
4.Build vocabulary first.
Vocabulary is the most important thing you can do in terms of learning English.A lot of people worry about grammar while trying to put together a sentence in a foreign language but the truth of the matter is grammar is not as important as vocabulary is.
To illustrate this, think of the English language as a model house built using sticks and glue. The little wooden sticks represent vocabulary and the glue represents grammar. Imagine if you are trying to put together a house and all you have is glue – definitely it won’t even stand let alone appear to be a house. However if all you have are the sticks, you can put up something tangible, maybe not perfect but certainly there is something.Grammar(glue) gets you nothing. Vocabulary(sticks) gets you something.
This does not necessarily mean that grammar is not essential. It is essential but it should not be a limiting factor. Go on and speak confidently. If the listener is impatient with you because of your bad grammar, say thank you and go to somebody else who will help you – know your audience.
5.Do not assume anything.
Do not assume that everybody is nice. Do not have the idea that everybody is going to be willing to listen and understand you. Do not have the assumption that everybody is judging you.Do not assume that everyone wants to help you. Some will. Others won’t.
The only thing you need to understand is what your objective is. Keep going until you find it. If one person is not nice to you, keep on going until you find someone who will. However do not make the mistake of approaching people and asking a stranger to practise a foreign language with you.PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS.
What you can do instead is to approach someone and ask them an open ended question. If they are interested in talking to you they will respond and you will start speaking from there, If they are not, go on to the next person.
6.Do not try to be perfect.
If you were perfect, you would be an English professor not an English student. Do you think when a native English speaker speaks their English is perfect ? Take a second and guess – Not really they are not. There is no such a thing as perfect English. Everybody makes mistakes. Perfection does not exist. The more you want to be perfect the worse it becomes to generate ideas in your head. In Fact it is not necessary to perfect. Perfection is only required when you are doing the grammar part in an English exam.Focus on being understood – not being perfect.
7.Mistakes are good.
If you are not trying to be perfect you are going to make mistakes. Mistakes will teach you more English than perfection ever will. Mistakes are good things. If you are perfect you have nothing to learn. If you make mistakes, it means there is something to learn, something not to repeat, something to improve, something to work on.
Mistakes will help you grow as a learner.Learning from your own mistakes will give you an experience of what to do or what not to do next time. Do not feel down if there is a mistake you keep on repeating over and over – I still struggle with the Spanish pronunciation difference between dog and but. But that’s okay. I am a learner and I will certainly improve, maybe not immediately but eventually.
How do you practise English if you are living in a country with no native English speakers ? The answer is easier than you think. Find a tv show, a movie, a series, a ted talk given by native speakers. Find transcripts of these talks -record yourself speak then compare your speech with that of the original speaker – then make adjustments. Record again and again until you are close enough.
You can also do a TV interview where you take up roles of interviewer and interviewee. Try to make your own questions and come up with your own answers as well.Play around with the language.
Still about practice – speak to the mirror, speak to yourself. If there is an opportunity to talk to native speakers- approach them and talk to them.
One of the mistakes I have seen in international schools is that if there are students from a particular country, they hang out together and speak their native language. Let’s say students from Brazil create their own group where they speak Portuguese only. This will not help you improve your foreign language skills. Instead what you should do is to find a group of students from a different country then talk to them in English. Use your native language only when it is necessary at school.
Life is an adventure. Learn to live life like an adventure. Always be willing to explore the world and learn new things. Always be willing to try out new things and experiences. Give yourself the opportunity to fail, dust yourself off and then get up and continue moving. Do not be afraid of failure. It is part of growing. It shows that you are making an effort to improve and become better. If you’re going to be afraid, stay at home. But if I want to meet new people, visit a foreign country, try out a new job – learn to speak and be willing to make mistakes confidently.
Those are the tips that I think will help you push yourself forward as a learner of a foreign language.
Credit – Adams from Engvid.