Whenever I give advice on how to improve speaking skills, the most common response I get is “But I have nobody to talk to.” So what can you do if you're in this situation? In this post, I’m going to give you some possible solutions.
If you have nobody to talk to:
1. Find somebody!
There are lots of ways to do this. The first thing I would suggest is to join a class or have one-to-one lessons with a teacher like me. I realise that a lot of people don’t have to money or the time to do this so here are some more ideas.
Ask all your friends if they are learning English or if they know somebody else who is. There’s a very high chance that a friend, or a friend of a friend, will have the same problem as you and they might be interested in practising with you.
Another option is to use social media. On Facebook, you can find groups for people who are learning English and you might find a partner in one of these groups. Or join groups related to your other interests and chat to people in English.
There are also apps and websites like italki, HelloTalk and Tandem. You might be able to find another English learner there. You might even find a native English speaker who wants to learn your language. This is called a language exchange. You help them with your language and they help you with English.
Another thing people often say to me is “But I need a native speaker” or “I need somebody who will correct my mistakes.” Actually, you don’t. You can practise with a non-native speaker and this will help you a lot with your confidence and fluency.
Of course, it’s great if you can find a native speaker but it’s quite difficult to do so. Realistically, you’re probably not going to find somebody who’s willing to give a complete stranger hours of their time for free. If you want to talk to a native speaker, your best chance is to pay for lessons or do a language exchange.
2. Talk to yourself
Or talk to the dog! “But teacher! People will think I’m crazy!” I hear you say! Either go somewhere where nobody will hear you or just explain what you’re doing and nobody will think you’re crazy! I don’t really mean you should have a whole conversation with yourself, although you certainly can if you want to! I just mean you can practise saying a few sentences out loud, even when nobody else is listening. You will feel a bit silly doing it at first but then you’ll get more comfortable with it.
You can even try thinking in English. You might find that you can concentrate better if you say things out loud though. If you have the concentration necessary, you can think in English in situations where you really can’t do it out loud, such as on the bus or train.
If you don’t know what to say, here are some suggestions. In the morning, say out loud what you’re going to do during the day. In the evening, say what you did and what happened that day. After you read something or watch a video, try to describe it in English. If you’re studying grammar or vocabulary, try making some sentences with the new language and say them out loud.
People worry that speaking English on their own won’t help because there is nobody to correct their mistakes. As I said in the last section, you should practise speaking to develop your confidence and fluency. Of course, it’s easier to keep talking if you have somebody to talk to but talking to yourself is a close second best option.
Another thing you can do is to watch films or videos and copy what you hear. You could find a YouTube video, listen to a sentence, then practise saying the sentence out loud. You could even record yourself saying it and then compare your voice to the video. A lot of phones have a voice recording app or you can send voice messages to yourself on WhatsApp.
My last two suggestions are similar to what I said in my last post but in case you didn’t read it, allow me to say it again.
Reading is a fantastic way to build your vocabulary, and knowing more words helps you to speak better. Reading is good for many reasons. It can be fun or interesting. You’re more likely to understand and remember words if you learn them in context. When you read, a lot of words are repeated and this also helps you to remember them.
Both reading aloud and reading silently can help you with your speaking but in different ways. You can read out loud if you want to practise your pronunciation and get more comfortable with producing English sounds. However, it’s probably better to read silently in your head if you want to concentrate on understanding the text and learning new words.
After you’ve read something, you can try to tell somebody about it or just describe what you have read to yourself. This is another way to practise speaking and it will also help you to remember the new vocabulary.
If you have nobody to talk to, you could try writing instead. Write a diary, write posts and comments on social media or write messages to friends. Writing and speaking are similar skills because they both involve finding the right words and putting them together to create sentences.
Writing is slower than speaking so it gives you more time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. You can take time to look up new words in a dictionary and check your grammar. Then hopefully, you will remember some of this the next time you speak.
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