People ask me all the time how they can improve their English speaking skills. I’ve also noticed that some people think they are working on their speaking but actually, they are not doing the right things. That’s what today’s newsletter is all about.
Before you read any further, there is one important thing that you have to understand. If you want to get better at speaking, the number one thing you have to do is to speak! Join a class, find a speaking partner or talk to yourself. It doesn’t matter as long as you speak. You can find more tips here.
There are lots of other things you can do, like reading or watching videos, but they won’t help you much unless you actually practise speaking as well. Just watching videos will not magically improve your speaking skills. Reading does not make you a better speaker if you never open your mouth.
Similarly, if you just speak and never do anything else in English, your progress will be limited. It’s important to work on your knowledge of grammar and your pronunciation and it’s super important to build your vocabulary. The more words you know, the more topics you’ll be able to talk about.
The best way to learn English is to do a bit of everything: speaking, reading, listening, writing, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. That’s because all of these things are connected. Working on one area will help you to improve in other areas as well. All of the other activities will help you with your speaking. But only if you speak!
This is good news for people who want to improve their speaking but don’t have anyone to talk to. As I’ve said, you do have to speak if you want to get better at speaking, even if you only talk to yourself, but here are some other things you can easily do on your own which will also help you with your speaking skills.
Can you get better at speaking by reading?
In my opinion, reading books, newspaper articles, websites and so on is absolutely the best way to improve your vocabulary. It also helps you with your grammar because you see how grammar is used in real English. In addition, you can get a feel for real and natural English.
So if reading helps you with your vocabulary and grammar, this will indirectly help you to speak better. You can’t speak if you don’t have the words or know how to put them together. Reading can also give you new ideas and interesting things to talk about.
To improve your reading skills and vocabulary, you should read silently and not out loud. If you read out loud, it’s difficult to focus on the meaning of the text and you won’t be thinking about the vocabulary and grammar because you’ll be concentrating on your pronunciation.
In fact, reading aloud is a good thing to do for your pronunciation. As you get more comfortable with producing the sounds of English, your fluency will improve a little too. Only a little. Real fluency is about more than pronunciation. It’s the ability to make your own sentences when you speak, not just repeat somebody else’s sentences.
When you speak, there’s a lot to think about. You have to decide what you want to say, find the right words, think about the grammar and check your pronunciation. However, when you read out loud, you can focus 100% on getting the right sounds out of your mouth. The only problem is that you might not know if you’re making mistakes. To solve this, you could read the subtitles from a video and then listen to check, or listen first and then copy.
If you want to learn how to play the piano, you can’t just read a book about it and then play the piano perfectly. You have to actually play the piano and practise a lot. It’s the same with speaking English. Don’t forget to actually speak!
Can you get better at speaking English by listening?
You can learn a lot about playing the piano by watching tutorial videos. You can learn some tips from the videos but then you have to put them to use when you play. You will never get better at the piano unless you actually practise and you’ll never get better at speaking English unless you practise speaking.
Watching videos, TV and films, and listening to podcasts can help you a little with your speaking. One reason is that it can help you build your vocabulary. However, I think reading is better for learning vocabulary. When you listen, you might not hear the new words correctly or you might not have time to stop and write them down. That’s why I always recommend reading. Nevertheless, when you listen, you will hear words that you’ve heard before and this will help you to remember them.
Listening can also help you with your pronunciation. You can’t speak correctly if you don’t know how the language should sound, right? Some learners like to watch a video and try to copy the pronunciation that they hear. You might want to check if the video is British, American or some other variety of English before you do this.
Can you get better at speaking English by writing?
Speaking and writing are both similar skills in a way because they are both about producing correct sentences. In both speaking and writing, you have to practise finding the words you want and putting them together correctly. In fact, when you write, you have more time to do this and that can be very helpful.
I have an English conversation group on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t allow voice messages but learners can practise their English by writing posts and comments. Again, if you really want to improve your speaking, you have to speak, so Facebook groups are not a perfect solution, but they certainly can help.
You could also try writing a diary or a journal. Every day, or once a week, depending on how much time you have, write a few sentences about your day, your thoughts or your plans. It doesn’t matter if your English is not perfect. You’ll get better with practice.
Can you get better at speaking English by studying grammar or vocabulary?
Some people might say I’m old-fashioned but I think grammar and vocabulary books can be useful tools for learning. However, I’ve met students who just sit studying lists of vocabulary from a book or who spend hours on a grammar textbook and never open their mouths to talk! This is not going to make them better at speaking.
If you like using this kind of book, please continue to do so. You might also like the lessons which I’m sharing with my paying subscribers on Substack. But make sure you practise using the grammar and vocabulary that you’ve learnt when you speak.
If you want to speak better, you need to work on your fluency, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Reading, listening, writing and studying grammar and vocabulary books can help with these skills. Indirectly, these activities will help you to speak a little better. But don’t forget this: if speaking English is your goal, the most important thing for you to do is to practise speaking. The best way to improve your speaking is to speak!
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