PDF Handout (comprehension and extension)
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The Complexity of Speaking
Speaking is very complex. Your brain coordinates ideas and sentences and keeps information in memory.
At the same time, your mouth, tongue, and vocal cords must work together to make the sounds that represent the words and sentences that you want.
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How you feel can also affect your speaking. If you are nervous or unsure about your speaking skills, you may become self-conscious. You think everyone is looking at you and judging you. This is called “speaking anxiety,” and it is very common among English-language learners. When you feel uncomfortable speaking, you get even more nervous and unsure. As a result, it is difficult to think clearly and communicate effectively.
5 Tips to Improve Your Speaking Skills in English
Here are 5 tips to help you become aware of your emotions and feel more confident when speaking English. Using these strategies can help improve your speaking skills in general.
Tip 1. Have a positive attitude
Do not say things like “I hate studying,” “Learning English is boring,” or “I will never learn English very well." Instead, be positive about learning and speaking English. When you have a positive attitude, you feel more motivated to study, learn, and use the language. You see speaking as an exciting opportunity to practice and improve your speaking skills.
When you make mistakes, stay positive. Remember that making mistakes is part of learning any language.
In addition, do not compare yourself to others. People learn at their own pace. To get better at speaking, you need to practice speaking first, and making mistakes is part of practicing.
Unfortunately, sometimes the language-learning community creates a judgmental atmosphere, where students make fun of someone who makes a mistake. They make other students feel bad about their grammar and pronunciation. In such a negative setting, you and everyone else will feel very self-conscious when they speak.
Do not create such a negative learning environment around you. Support other students and make them your learning partners. In a non-judgmental environment, you will feel safer to speak, which will improve your speaking skills.
Tip 2. Focus on communicating your ideas
When you speak, focus on communicating your ideas. Do not focus too much on grammar, vocabulary, prepositions, word order, pronunciation, and so on. Learning these parts of the language is important, but we use language to communicate. When you speak, focus on communicating your ideas more than anything else.
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Think about it. What happens when native speakers make a grammar mistake or use the wrong word?… Nothing! If they notice the mistake, they correct themselves and keep talking because they are focusing on communicating their ideas.
Tip 3. Remember that fluency is not about speed
Many language learners believe that speaking fluently means speaking very fast. That is not true. Thinking that way can make you nervous about speaking.
Speak at a comfortable pace. Take time to put your ideas together calmly. You will feel more comfortable speaking English, so you will want to practice more, and improve your speaking fluency as a result.
Tip 4. “Speak around” unknown vocabulary and structures
As a language learner speaking English, you often want to say something, but you do not know or remember the word for it. Some learners get stuck on the word or stop speaking. They do not want to speak anymore because they think they need to learn vocabulary first. The problem is that no one knows all the words in a language.
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One effective strategy is to "speak around" the word you do not know or remember. This means you explain what you are trying to say using words that you do know. Even native speakers do that.
For example, let’s say you need to say “colander,” but you do not know the word. (See a colander in the picture at left.) You can keep speaking and say,
“I need a… What do you call it?… That kitchen tool… the bowl with holes in it. You use it when you make spaghetti. I need that for these vegetables…”
If you use this technique in the classroom or when speaking to more fluent speakers, someone may say, “Oh, you need a colander!”
Tip 5. Practice speaking in different situations
You use language differently depending on the situation. Speaking in a situation that is completely new to you can be uncomfortable, so practice speaking in as many situations as possible.
You can speak with people you know well in relaxed social situations or to people you work with in a more formal situation.
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You can give a presentation or answer reading questions in the classroom. You can speak to people in your community or to people from different cultures.
If you live in an English-speaking country, join a social club or group. Volunteer your time to help in organizations. Find activities in your local library.
Finding opportunities to speak may be a little more difficult if you live in a non-English-speaking country. Find language exchange programs or language groups. Go to a public library and ask if they know about activities you can join. You can also start your own group with other students.
Change Takes Time
These tips may not work immediately because changing old habits and attitudes takes time. Give the tips a try for a while and see which ones help you most.