Updated: Apr 30
Are you afraid to speak even though your language level is good enough to communicate? Do you become nervous or feel tongue-tied when someone tries to speak to you in English?
Hey, you're not alone. The good news is that you can do something about it.
And something, no matter how small, is always better than nothing.
Here are 8 tips to get better at speaking English.
1. Stop overthinking.
I know, it is easier said than done. But understanding and acknowledging the fact that you are just overthinking is the first and, in fact, the most important step to overcoming it.
Overthinking makes learning a language more difficult. However, there are techniques that we can try to minimise or avoid these issues entirely.
Many of us unknowingly experience what we call analysis paralysis, which is common in people trying out a new skill, e.g., learning a new language. It is a state in which you can find yourself feeling extraordinarily confused and overwhelmed as a result of overanalyzing or overthinking a situation. This happens when we start focusing too much on details and aiming for perfection. This results in us slowing down and not making progress. I'm not saying that being detail-oriented is bad, but just like anything, it could become counterproductive when it gets too intense.
For instance, if you put all of your energy into mastering English grammar, you could get stuck with the rules and miss out on the more practical aspects, e.g., being able to communicate and hold conversations. You could get so hung up on the tiny details, rules, and perfect sentence constructions. Hence, you become more prone to overthinking, especially when you make mistakes, because you have put so much effort and time into it. Then you start questioning and doubting yourself.
Before you can learn how to stop overthinking when learning English, you must get to the root of the problem. Being aware of what level you are at, knowing your learning style, and being open to trying new techniques could help you figure out what works best for you. This is why identifying your priorities and having a plan as to how you're going to tackle the challenges, as well as having a clear idea of what you're aiming for, are very important preparations to avoid getting overwhelmed and lost on what you are trying to achieve. It is especially useful to have it written down somewhere for you to review and reflect on at times when you need some help finding motivation.
Often, overthinking is a by-product of anxiety. It’s common to feel anxious and nervous when learning a foreign language. You need to understand how to overcome any anxiety you may have so you can continue your learning journey. The same principle can be applied to other areas of your life, including when you have to make difficult decisions.
If you want to learn more about how to prepare yourself to improve your spoken English, check out "First Steps to Becoming Confident at Speaking English."
2. Focus on becoming better at verbal communication.
You would think that verbal communication simply means talking to others, right? Nope, it is so much more than just words themselves.
Verbal communication, a soft skill, refers to the ability to communicate effectively through speech. This includes speaking clearly, using an appropriate tone, active listening, considering your audience, and responding appropriately to what they are saying. Effective verbal communication is important in almost every aspect of life, whether you’re giving a presentation at work, working out a disagreement with a family member, or just having a chat with a friend.
Here are some things to keep in mind when practising verbal communication:
Focus on understanding what people are communicating to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions.
Acknowledge the importance of nonverbal communication such as tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. Be aware of the tone of your voice and your gestures when communicating with others because they can affect how they interpret your message.
Be fully present. Active listening is an integral part of becoming a better communicator. The goal is not just to hear but to listen. Give your opinion and share your ideas, but also listen to what others have to say and make a conscious effort to understand exactly what they're trying to express. That way, you will also be able to respond appropriately and more effectively.
Speak clearly and pace yourself. Pay attention to how quickly you’re speaking and whether the other person is able to process what you’re saying.
Be clear and concise. Less is more, as long as you can communicate the same information.
Be sincere and enter a conversation with an open mind, willing to listen to new perspectives.
Try not to overthink your way of speaking, your vocabulary, your grammar, etc. Your brain struggles to effectively process the language when you are feeling nervous. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy learning. With time and practice, you will learn to care more about being able to communicate effectively instead of focusing too much on grammar rules and perfect sentence constructions.
If you want to improve your spoken English, the only thing you can do is to practise. Preparation and practice can help you with your confidence, too. Initially, it may be extremely frustrating as you won’t be able to express your thoughts and feelings fully, but as you practise, you will progress. You just have to choose to get started. After all, half of accomplishing anything is actually just getting started. It is also important to be consistent. You would have to keep trying and aim for continuous improvement, no matter how small because if you stand still, you go backward. Success depends on consistency, which is a crucial factor.
Given time and with patience, determination, and discipline, you will start to see significant improvements.
4. Ask questions
There is no such thing as a stupid question. It is better to ask than to stay quiet and wonder.
When having conversations in English, don't hesitate to ask questions and continually check your understanding to avoid miscommunications. If you don't understand, say so. Let them know you want a different explanation to fully grasp what they're saying. For instance, when you're listening to someone and find yourself unable to process what they're trying to say, wait for the person to finish speaking first and politely ask them to repeat or clarify. You may also rephrase what they have just said to you to confirm that you've understood them correctly, or even ask them to speak a little more slowly.
Asking questions is better than making assumptions, as the latter could just lead to an awkward social interaction. This also shows that you're attentive and genuinely interested in understanding the other person.
5. Work on your listening and speaking skills.
Having good listening and speaking abilities allows us to communicate effectively and confidently. Equipped with these important skills, you will be able to hold any conversation in English, which opens up so many exciting opportunities and life experiences.
You will be able to widen your academic and/or employment chances, travel and explore the world with confidence, build new relationships with people from other countries, increase your cognitive ability, and a whole lot more.
Here are some ways to help improve your listening and speaking skills.
Learn simple and useful words and phrases, and work on your vocabulary growth over time.
Improve your pronunciation by reading out loud. Try to read English books, magazines, news, blogs, etc. It is also useful to have a reading buddy so you can maximise your learning experience.
Remind yourself that it's okay to make mistakes. Even native speakers make mistakes, so relax and just enjoy the process.
Listening to English songs, podcasts, news, vlogs on YouTube, etc. is a fun way to help develop your vocabulary, grammatical structures, intonation, accent, and comprehension. What's nice is you can practise while you do other tasks such as cooking, washing the dishes, exercising, or even when you are just relaxing. It's fun and productive.
Another fun way to improve your skills is by watching films. Try turning on the English subtitles at first and taking note of the unfamiliar words and reviewing them later. When you can, try to watch again without subtitles and see if you are able to focus more on listening and understanding the story this time. You can also talk to someone about any films you've seen in English. Having a 'movie buddy' definitely makes it more engaging.
Recording yourself is a powerful way to improve your fluency. Whether it's just a voice recording or a video, if you also want to check the nonverbal aspects, e.g., your gestures and expressions, it will help you speak more naturally and see your progress over time. Prepare, practise, record, listen, check, and re-record if needed. Repeating these steps can help you develop your confidence.
Take advantage of any conversation opportunities; it's a great exercise to get used to applying what you've already learned. Having an English conversation buddy helps. One-on-one conversation is a good start. This way, you can concentrate on their speed, intonation, accent, etc.
The main reason why most learners struggle more with speaking than any other aspect of language learning (i.e., listening, reading, and writing) is that speaking happens in real-time. We experience the spotlight effect, which is a cognitive bias that causes people to believe they are being observed and noticed more than they really are. In other words, we tend to think as if there is a spotlight on us, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws for everyone to see. Being aware of this and trying out different ways to improve your English skills will help you overcome the spotlight effect.
6. Smile, and have patience.
Unfortunately, most language learners do not have patience. They want quick results without investing enough time and effort. It is important to be patient with yourself and accept that there will be some challenges along the way. Don’t be discouraged by slow progress, and see your mistakes as learning opportunities. In the end, it's all about having a positive mindset and a clear idea of your main purpose.
Have patience and enjoy the process. It will take time, but the more consistent you are, the better you will become. Put a smile on your face, keep on practising, and eventually, you will see the good results that you've been working so hard for.
7. No comparisons
Never compare yourself to others. Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."
After all, we have different language journeys. Some people may have invested more time in studying or found more effective learning methods that work for them. Instead, focus on your journey. Remember, you can only be a better version of yourself. Besides, comparing will only slow you down. Spend your energy on the things that will help you progress and develop your English skills and on what makes you feel good and happy.
8. Repeat and consolidate.
One way to practise English effectively is through repetition. It improves pronunciation and helps increase fluency. It also helps strengthen your confidence in using the language. Look for opportunities to repeat new words and phrases in your daily life. Focus on the pronunciation of each word, especially the ones you find more difficult.
Find time to review, test, summarise what you have learned, or discuss it with others. It will help consolidate learning, therefore making it easier to remember and apply in real-life situations.
Repeat and consolidate. You are one step closer to speaking English better.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and found it helpful. I wish you all the best on your English language journey!
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