Language Learning Tips: Speaking
Tip 1: Talk to Other People A LOT
I’ll post some suggestions on how to start conversations soon. For the moment, I’ll just say: talk as much as you can, to as many people as you can, as often as you can.
I know this is scary sometimes.
Even though I am very outgoing (very friendly and like to talk to other people) now, I was very shy for a very long time. It took me years to feel comfortable speaking up in English, and English is my first language!
The biggest fear that the majority of language learners have isn’t making mistakes. It’s being laughed at when they make mistakes. And it’s the fear that other people won’t think they’re smart. It’s the fear of rejection.
Most people won’t make fun of you (laugh at and tell jokes about in a mean way). Most people are very supportive.
Now, that’s most people. Every now and then you’ll meet someone who doesn’t have the patience to listen while you look for the right words to say.
There’s an expression in English: That’s their loss. They have just missed an incredible opportunity to meet you and learn about you, your language(s), your culture, your country, and many other things. That is very sad for them.
Tip 2: Study Psychology
I’m not kidding (joking) about this. This should be part of all language learning classes.
Sometimes we feel very vulnerable (easily hurt or attacked) when speaking a language we don’t know perfectly. (Sometimes we feel very vulnerable even when speaking our first language.)
And every now and then, we are attacked. Someone makes fun of our accent, or grammar mistakes, or the wrong word we’ve chosen, or they equate our language ability with our intelligence. (That means they think our language ability is equal to our intelligence. So if we don’t speak the language well, they think we aren’t very smart. Watch this video: Don't Insist on English for a great talk about equating English ability with intelligence and why this is so wrong.)
We may feel very bad about our language ability and even about ourselves if someone makes fun of us. If we don’t have the vocabulary words to defend ourselves when we are attacked, sometimes we feel even worse.
This is why knowing some psychology is very important.
It is often said: Language is about communication. And it is. But sometimes it’s also about stopping communication. It’s about silencing someone.
And silencing someone is all about fear.
People do different things when they are afraid of someone.
Sometimes they try to figure out why they are afraid.
Sometimes they may already know, deep down, why they’re afraid.
Sometimes people try to disempower the person or people they fear.
(disempower: take power away from someone
empower: give power to someone)
Imagine if all your favorite singers had never sung a song. Or if all your favorite writers had kept all their words to themselves. Your world—many people’s worlds—would have much less love and light in it.
I am sure you have some very important things to say, and so it’s very important that others hear you.
There is a saying in English: Knowledge is power. When you know why someone makes fun of you, why they want to take your power away, you can start to take your power back.
This is Fabio.
He’s the husband of one of my best friends. He's from Brazil. His English is excellent. In his first meeting on his first day at his new job in the U.S., he asked a colleague who was speaking English very quickly:
His colleague’s response:
Fabio stood up, walked to the whiteboard in the meeting room, and wrote on the board the number:
Then he said:
The answer was the same for all the other people in that room: one.
Then Fabio said:
And they did. His colleague spoke a little more slowly. And if Fabio asked him to repeat something, he did without making any nasty (mean) comments.
So if (not when, but if, because remember most people are very supportive) someone makes fun of your English, remember it has nothing to do with your English. It has to do with the fear in their heart.
Tip 3: Talk to yourself, not just other people.
(Fruitcake is an informal word for a person who is crazy.)
Well, it doesn’t matter what people think of you, but you don’t have to speak to yourself out loud in public. You can do it at home when everyone else is busy.
Talking to yourself is great! You won’t worry about making mistakes. You’ll improve your fluency. You can practice new grammar structures and vocabulary by repeating them numerous times, and you won’t annoy anyone. For example, if I want to remember the word “fruitcake”, I can think of a sentence with it, one that will help me remember the meaning, and repeat it.
Anyway, once you have the pronunciation of new words down (def: have something down: learned completely = mastered), talking out loud will also help you improve your pronunciation A LOT. It’s a great way to practice intonation and connected and reduced speech too.
Another thing you can do that will help a lot is record yourself.
Record yourself speaking for three minutes. You can talk about what you did that day.
Or tell a story about a trip you took.
Or describe your first day at a new job or in a different country.
Next, play the recording and try to catch your mistakes.
Then tell the same story again but in two minutes instead of three. Play the new recording and listen for mistakes.
Record yourself telling the same story again in one minute. You’ll improve fluency and accuracy this way!
A lot of people don’t like to record themselves because they don’t like to hear the sound of their own voice.
This is my adopted twin sister Karen.
One day she recorded me without telling me that she was recording me. When she played it back, I couldn’t believe it was me.
Tip 4: Ask people to correct you.
But keep in mind that they may not do so for many reasons:
1) Depending on the culture, it may be considered rude to correct someone.
2) They don’t care about your mistakes.
3) They are so focused on what you are saying that they don’t even notice your mistakes. Seriously. I am an English teacher, and the moment I step outside the classroom, I don’t pay attention to mistakes.
In class I listen to what people say and how they say it. But outside of class, if I understand someone’s English, which I do 99% of the time, I don’t focus on anything other than the meaning of what they’re saying.
Tip 5: Have a very good sense of humor.
You are going to make mistakes. You may think they are embarrassing when you make them. But very soon after making them, you will think they are humorous. Trust me. I have made HUGE mistakes in all the languages I’ve studied. I was a little embarrassed at the time, but now they are all funny stories.
In truth, none of my mistakes were HUGE. They were actually all miniscule (very tiny) in the grand scheme of things.
(You can use the phrase “in the grand scheme of things” when you want to say that one thing is not important when compared to bigger, more serious issues, or to a situation as a whole. If I compare my language mistakes to real problems in the world, my mistakes weren’t important at all.)
Of course, it’s still good to correct your mistakes. If you want to see some very common ones and how to correct them, you can go to the common mistakes page. I only have one up now, but I’ll be adding more as time goes on.
Next tip coming next week!