It’s one thing to learn foreign words and memorise their meanings, but it’s another entirely to say those words aloud – particularly to native speakers. The fear of embarrassment is enough to deter many language students from working on their speaking skills. Unfortunately, reading, writing and listening in a language can only take you so far.
Spoken language is key to how we communicate as humans. It allows us to share stories, connect with the world around us and understand others in a way that cannot be replicated by written words. It’s through speaking that we can convey tone and deeper meaning.
If the chance of making a mistake is holding you back from practising your speech and acing your IELTS Speaking test, there’s no need to worry. Failures are the best way to learn.
Here are our top five tips to help you improve your English speaking skills.
Practice your pronunciation
The single most important thing to focus on when it comes to spoken English is pronunciation. If you can’t say a word as it’s commonly expressed in English, people will struggle to understand you – no matter how strong your comprehension of the language may be.
Why is pronunciation so tricky in spoken English? Well, because vowel sounds aren’t consistent. The letter ‘a’, for instance, can be pronounced nine different ways in English. Sometimes a vowel’s pronunciation is affected by its placement within a word or the letters it’s surrounded by, but other times, there’s no grammatical reasoning.
When these pronunciation changes happen in other languages, like Spanish, they are made obvious with the use of accents – such as ‘á’. In English, you just have to memorise them.
Begin by breaking words down into their parts to practice individual vowel sounds. Then, move onto words and full sentences. The more you read, listen and speak, the faster you’ll learn. Eventually, pronunciation will become instinctive.
Read aloud and record your voice
It’s natural to dislike the sound of your own voice but if you’re a language-learner, you’d be wise to overcome this aversion; reading aloud to yourself is one of the best ways to improve spoken English.
From short paragraphs to long news articles, recording yourself reading a wide range of materials out loud and listening back will help you get used to the way your voice sounds when speaking another language. The technique is a great way to ease into oral practice – simply find a quiet space and start reading. No need to interact with others.
Listening to voice recordings will give you a better sense of your pacing and overall pronunciation than simply speaking them aloud. It’s useful to have YouTube tutorials or translated recordings on hand so you can compare your pronunciation to a native speaker or teacher.
Connect with native speakers
What speaking ability does a score of IELTS Band 8.5 represent?
Watch this Speaking test sample, where Kenn from Singapore talks about 'Famous People'.
Chatting with native English speakers is a fantastic way to improve your speaking skills. Not only will it give you a chance to practice speaking in a natural setting and observe fluent pronunciation, but you’ll be able to get real-time tips from someone who knows the language inside out. Plus, you’re bound to learn some cultural tidbits in the process.
There are many easy ways to connect with English speakers, from online platforms like Busuu to forums and real-world meet-ups. Conversation Exchange is a great place to start; site members can meet up with speakers in their local area, find long-term penpals or join live chats. If you decide to chat with strangers, be careful with the personal information you share and arrange any meetings in a public place.
Consume English media
Thanks to the growing number of streaming services available across the globe, there’s no easier way to learn how spoken English should sound than by consuming English content. This practice method doesn’t even have to affect your daily routine. Simply swap out your usual sitcom for a British series, watch a Hollywood romance film or play an Australian news podcast while you exercise.
By watching or listening to English media, you’ll naturally hear a mix of accents from around the world. You can also rewind or replay anything you miss. Don’t be afraid to repeat any words or phrases aloud that you’re unfamiliar with.
Find a language-learning partner
Learning anything alone can be tough; that’s why the concept of ‘study buddies’ was invented. Recruit a friend who speaks your native tongue to practice your English speaking skills with. You’ll be able to speak English to one another in a low-pressure environment without fear of embarrassment and navigate any pronunciation challenges as a pair.
There are countless ways to improve your language skills with a friend, too. Websites like Quizlet allow you to make custom quizzes for free. Prefer to play a game? Try Pictionary. After a hard day’s work, kick back and watch an English movie together. Just make sure to hit pause when you hear an unfamiliar word.
When it comes to spoken English, the age-old cliche rings true: practice really does make perfect. Mistakes will happen along the way – they come with the territory – but they’re nothing to be embarrassed by. Native speakers will always appreciate someone who tries their best to speak in their language.
IELTS Speaking Coaching: An official IELTS mock test for Speaking
IELTS Speaking Coaching is an official IELTS mock Speaking test from IDP Education for test-takers who have a higher level of English and need to boost their Speaking score by half a band. It is a 45-minute IELTS mock Speaking test and is not intended to replace English lessons or practice. So, what do you get when you buy IELTS Speaking Coaching?
You will complete a mock Speaking test and receive a detailed report within 3-5 days with tips to improve your spoken English. We are currently offering IELTS Speaking Coaching sessions on Tuesdays and Saturdays.