I want to get better at speaking but I don’t know how! Here EC Oxford English school teacher Rob helps you to boost your spoken English by helping you think about what you need to target.
‘Speaking’ is a big topic!
You need to think about what you need to improve in a bit more detail if you only know vaguely you want to improve ‘speaking’.
Fluency vs Accuracy: the big question
It’s like playing a musical instrument. You might want to learn to play piano but to learn this instrument you focus on one thing at a time, until you can do everything together.
For example, perhaps you’re really good at fluency but you need to work on accuracy.
Fluency is speaking without stopping and accuracy is speaking without mistakes.
If you can speak fluently but you make lots of mistakes, slow down! Think through what you want to say. The person listening to you will 99% of the time be happy to wait for you to think about the right words and the right grammar.
In fact they will probably be happier if you speak slower and more accurately because they will understand you much more!
Think about that story of the tortoise and the hare (like a rabbit). The hare starts quickly but loses but the tortoise goes slowly and wins! Sometimes you need to rush, but sometimes ‘Slow and steady wins the race’, as the saying goes.
You can also write down the five mistakes you make all the time and make sure you avoid these as much as possible.
Maybe it’s things like ‘People is’ in stead of ‘People are’, or a word you often mix up.
If you don’t know what your most common mistakes are, just ask your teacher!!
Or maybe you can speak very accurately, but you often pause and hesitate – this means you need to work on fluency.
If this is you, keep working on accuracy in class – that’s a good thing! But in discussions in class and conversations outside of class focus more on the person you are talking to and the message you are communicating. This will help you build your fluency and you will have longer, more interesting conversations. And these will improve your fluency further! 😊
A great way to improve the conversations you are having is to prepare questions to ask the other students in your school or your host family. Take what you learnt from the lesson and write down questions you could ask people about.
For example, if you learnt about transport in your class, write some questions like ‘What is the best way to get to London?’ ‘How can I buy cheaper tickets for the train?’ ‘Do you think I should get the coach to Edinburgh or is it too far?’
These are just suggestions!! Make the questions relevant to you and what you want to find out from people and what you want to discuss.
You could also include more opinion questions like: ‘What’s your favourite way to travel?’ ‘Have you heard about self-driving cars? Are you a fan?’
Just make sure you really want to know the answer to the questions!
After this, all you need to do is ask people! It could be in the student lounge, at the café, with your host family, in your residence, before your lesson, meeting a friend of a friend, anywhere!
And 9 times out of 10, they will ask ‘What about you?’ You can share your experience and opinions, your conversations take off and your fluency improves!
What about you???
So, have a think: What do you need to work on in your speaking? Fluency or accuracy?
Then use the ideas here to make the progress you want.
Last thought: it can be difficult to speak in another language. Maybe you speak quickly because you’re nervous; maybe you speak to slowly because you’re scared of making mistakes.
Just remember: you’ve come to learn English in Oxford, and so has everyone else in our school! – if our English was perfect, we wouldn’t be here! And when speaking to people outside of class, they’re not your teacher. They are much more interested in you than in your use of the passive!
So set your sights high and think about which area you need to work on.
You’ll be amazed at how your improvement in speaking helps you have more and more fascinating conversations that in turn can lead to life-long friendships and fulfilling careers.
And small steps targeted at the right areas can make that dream come true.