When something is hard, we use this phrase to describe it: “The only way out is through.” The same advice applies if you’re trying to improve your English speaking skills.
When you practice English consistently, you’ll be able to speak more fluently and without hesitation in no time. Below, we’ll explain how you can set clear milestones, use practice methods that work for you, and stay confident speaking English even when it feels difficult.
Proven tips to practice English speaking skills
Set clear milestones
“Speak English fluently” is a common goal of many English language learners. However, this can be frustrating when you feel you are not accomplishing your goal as fast as you would like.
In order to keep a positive mindset, it helps to set smaller, realistic milestones. For example, if your goal is to be able to network comfortably at an event, you can outline these milestones:
- Practice one-on-one conversation with someone you know
- Practice conversation with a group of people you know
- Seek out a relaxed, one-on-one conversation with a stranger
- Attend a speed-networking event (to introduce time pressure)
- Seek out a conversation with a small group of strangers (at a meetup group, for example)
- Attend a business networking event
Repeat each step as often as possible until it feels comfortable before you move on to the next milestone.
Come prepared, culturally
There are many activities that can help you improve your English speaking skills, but you’ll want to come prepared. If you know you’ll be visiting a museum or restaurant, staying in a hotel, or attending a business meeting, be sure to research keywords and key phrases, like “exhibit,” “check-out time,” or “conference call” beforehand.
Remember that these phrases may vary between different dialects of English, the way “parking lot” (U.S. English) and “car park” (U.K. English) both refer to the public, outdoor place where you park your car.
Deepen your practice by attending cultural events where you need specialized vocabulary. Ordering at a fast food restaurant, going to a baseball game, or taking your kids trick-or-treating are all great ways to connect with U.S. English.
Note: Plain English is a great place to start because you can practice vocabulary you learn from our topical articles on live, weekly conference calls with other English language learners (available for Plus+ members).
Start out slowly, clearly, and simply
Native English speakers and people who speak English as a second language are often used to communicating with non-native English speakers. Gather your thoughts, take your time and speak slowly and clearly to get your point across.
When you have a specific purpose in mind, like finding out which platform your train is on or how to make an appointment, it’s okay to keep it simple and build from there. Remember, everyone improves at their own pace!
Ask questions, repeat the answers
Of course, you’ll have many questions when learning English. (Why do we say it this way and not that way? Is there a word to describe when this happens?) Asking questions helps you practice pronunciation, build confidence, and ultimately improve your English speaking skills.
It can also help to repeat what people say. For example:
- New words. When someone says a word you’ve never heard before, repeat it to make sure you are saying it correctly and ask for clarification.
- Practicing sentence structure. When you want to practice question/statement structure, repeat the answer. “Where is the bathroom?” “Okay, so the bathroom is over there, thank you.”
- Comprehension check. When you want to check you’ve understood, you can say, “So you’re saying that…” or “If I understand correctly…” This can also lead to new conversation topics and longer conversations.
When you’re practicing speaking English, it’s natural to get stuck sometimes. If you can’t find the right word, describe it instead. For example,
“I’m stressed out and I need…what do you call it when you take a break from work to go somewhere nice?”
“Exactly. So we’re planning a trip to Tuscany next year…”
Describing can keep the conversation flowing and help you practice speaking around words you don’t know.
Practice everywhere you can
Start to look at everything you do as an opportunity to practice your English speaking skills. Whether you go out or stay in, there are many ways to connect with other English speakers:
- Go online. You can interact in English online by playing games, taking a course, or attending an online event. Find more tips in our blog about improving your English speaking from home.
- Bring English to you. Organize a dinner party or game night, host a volunteer or student in your home, or sign up for Couchsurfing or Airbnb and host regular travelers.
- Go where the English speakers are. Find local expat groups where members might love to interact with a local. Take a skills-based class like painting, improv, or programming where you need to give feedback to your classmates. Join an international book club or debate society where the goal is to communicate and interact with others.
- Become a tourist, temporarily. Visit tourist areas in your country and speak English at hotels, restaurants, and attractions with people who serve tourists daily.
- Go somewhere no one knows you. If you’re a nervous speaker, go somewhere you don’t have to worry that people will remember your mistakes. Whether you take a day trip or an extended vacation, practicing with strangers helps take the pressure off.
Consciously stay in English
Do you often practice with conversation partners who also speak a shared language?
If someone switches into your shared language to help you, you don’t need to take the bait (= accept the easy solution). Actively stay in English to prompt that person to continue practicing with you. This takes persistence, but it pays off.
Use feedback in a positive way
People give feedback in different ways. Sometimes it’s verbal, like correcting your pronunciation or laughing, or visual, like looking confused or turning away if they can’t understand you.
Did you know that when a child hurts themselves, they mirror the reaction of their caregiver? For example, children are more likely to cry when they see their caregiver react with panic, and more likely to brush it off (= react calmly) when the caregiver stays calm. When someone gives you feedback, you are both the caregiver and the child. Though it can be difficult to accept feedback, you can choose to panic or use it to improve.
Try this: When someone shows you confusion, tell yourself, “They didn’t understand me this time, but I will keep trying.” If someone corrects your pronunciation, say “Thank you,” repeat the word, and continue speaking. Sometimes, like when you confuse two similar words, it can even help to acknowledge mistakes and laugh off confusion so that you are part of the joke.
Final lesson? Don’t give up
Everyone feels embarrassed or uncertain sometimes when practicing speaking skills in English. You remember how we said the only way out is through? Always remember that speaking consistently is the only way to improve.
And if you don’t have time to go out and speak, remember, you can always practice speaking English right from the comfort of your own home. The important thing is to do something.
So, take every opportunity you can to speak: Give your coworker a compliment, tell the waiter how much you enjoyed the food, and ask the shopkeeper a question that you know the answer to. When you’re working to improve your spoken English, every bit of practice counts!