What’s the most important thing for you to be able to do in English? If you’re like two thirds of Lingoda’s language learners, you answered: to be able to speak. And more than that, to be confident when speaking. We know it’s not easy. Read on for our tips from Laura, an English teacher, on how to improve your speaking and feel great doing it.
Why is speaking so important?
The vast majority of your experiences in using English are likely to be in spoken language. Going on holiday, forming business relationships, studying abroad, all of these situations require you to speak above anything else.
As humans, we’re also constantly searching for connections in our lives, and the best way to connect with someone is by speaking to them. Whether it’s the Australian surfer you meet on Bondi Beach, or an elderly lady travelling alone in your hostel in Thailand, everyone has a story and hearing it can enrich our lives. The first time you have a conversation in foreign language is a memorable milestone for most language learners. It certainly beats sending your first email in English.
The desire to speak to more people becomes a huge motivation to learn. So, speaking = motivation.
How can I feel more confident when speaking?
Most of us get nervous when speaking a foreign language. In fact, we have a blog all about this topic so head over here to check it out.
One of the main tips is to forget about the little things. That means not focusing on having perfect grammar, and not worrying that your accent makes you sound like a 5-year-old (that’s me in Polish, apparently). It means just getting your words out in a somewhat comprehensible way. Native speakers of English especially are used to hearing foreigners speak our language, so we are pretty good at making out what people mean. This goes especially for language teachers; one of our many talents is interpreting a garble from a student and helping them to make it an actual sentence.
Don’t take yourself too seriously when learning a language: mistakes happen.
What about other skills?
Some people might wonder whether a focus on speaking skills will mean that other areas of language learning are neglected. Listening skills, for example, came up as the second most important area for our Lingoda students. This is an easy one: speaking isn’t a one-way thing, unless you really enjoy talking to yourself. So while you’re speaking, you’re most likely to be practising listening too.
Recent research shows that speaking a second language uses many different cognitive functions in our brains. And so, speaking helps imprint new vocabulary and grammar much better than traditional language-learning exercises. Speaking also allows you to actually use what you’ve learnt. There are very few people who learn English for the simple pleasure of doing tons of grammar exercises. The moment that you can use what you’ve learnt is what you’ve been working for.
Speaking is also one of the only times learners receive immediate feedback on their errors in grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. This is especially true in a classroom, but you can ask whoever you’re talking to if they will correct you. Direct feedback helps learners to correct their errors and improve quickly.
While speaking, you’re constantly learning the whole language.
What can I do to improve?
The only way to feel confident when speaking is by actually speaking. The tenth time you speak English might still be scary, but the hundredth or thousandth time probably won’t be.
The best way is to try to speak in a natural environment. Strike up a conversation with your waiter or a shop owner when on holiday, ask your business partners about their hobbies, or start talking to the person sitting next to you on public transport. This will definitely get you funny looks on the London Underground, but it’s unlikely to get you hurt, so try anyway.
However, we can’t travel all the time so this is where language learning tools step in. Lessons with Lingoda are always held with a native speaker, so they’re a great place to start. You can also look for a language partner online. On sites such as these you can have conversations with people from all over the world, so as well as improving your English, you can learn a little something else as well.
And that’s why speaking is the most important skill in a language. Because at least 50% of the time you should be listening and learning too.