How can you improve your English speaking skills on your own, without spending any money? Let’s find out!
Many of you are likely familiar with the term ESL, which means, “English as a Second Language.” This acronym applies to English learners who live in a place where English is widely spoken. If you’re an ESL student, you probably have plenty of opportunities to practice your speaking skills every day.
But what if you are an EFL student? EFL refers to “English as a Foreign Language” and this term applies to English learners who live in a place where English is NOT widely spoken. Don’t worry if this is you. There are still many possible ways to improve your speaking ability, and I’ll share five of them with you over the next few minutes.
The first tip is to immerse (or surround) yourself with (in) English. The obvious example is to listen to the radio in English – and you don’t always have to listen carefully. Even if you’re not really focused on what you’re listening to, you’ll be training your brain to get used to the patterns of the English language. Of course, there is more than just radio – there are podcasts, TV shows, Youtube videos, movies and short films – so many free resources for listening to English. And many of them are freely available online.
One thing I strongly recommend, however, is listening to content you’re truly interested in. Don’t listen to English for the simple purpose of listening to English. Listen to something you want to learn, or something you want to be entertained or inspired by. This will increase your motivation.
When watching movies or TV shows, should you use subtitles? Well, if your English is at an intermediate or advanced level, then you can watch first with no subtitles, and try to get the basic idea. The second time you can watch with English subtitles first and write down any words or expressions with which you’re not familiar. Look those words and phrases up and study and practice them a little. Then watch the section of the movie a third time with no subtitles to check how much you recognize and recall. I would only use subtitles in your own language just to check that your understanding was OK.
Now, if you are using movies to get listening practice, and especially if you’re below intermediate level, I would recommend using short films or recordings. A long film is fine if you have a higher level of English ability, but it’s way too much for beginners. Remember, you need to chunk your learning!
Now that you’re getting plenty of listening input (which is really important before you start making output – speaking), my second tip is to get yourself a language exchange partner. Thanks to the Internet, this has never been easier. They are plenty of English speaking people out there who would love to speak your native language and, in exchange, are willing to speak with you in English. There are many completely free websites or applications for this purpose (see below for some examples). Of course, if you’re willing to pay money, there are many more commercial and freemium sites. Freemium, by the way, means just that you can get free access to a small part of the system, and then you pay for more later.
Now, remember that you don’t need a native speaker of English as your language exchange partner. You can find any other native speaker of your language whose English is better than yours. Just set up an English language chat time for you to speak together. What will you do for this person in return? That’s up to you.
Also, how about finding a native speaker of your own language who has about the same level of English as you and who is also very motivated to practice speaking English? If you commit to regularly interacting with this person using only English, it will benefit both of you. Let me stress this important fact: you do not need a native language exchange partner to improve your English communication skills.
When I was studying Japanese full time at a language school near Nagoya, I got the chance to speak a lot of Japanese every day. But who was I speaking with? Not my Japanese teachers – no, they were mostly teaching and I did not get a lot of one to one time with them. Not local Japanese native speakers, either. I did not have a lot of free time to make Japanese friends. No, I was improving my Japanese skills by speaking in Japanese with Koreans, Chinese, and even people from all around the world whose first language is English! We were all very motivated to improve our Japanese speaking skills, so we simply promised each other to speak as much Japanese together as possible. It worked for me!
Social media is also a great space for finding language exchange partners. Did you know that Facebook now has thousands of groups you can join where you can practice your English together with others? People in those groups give each other tips and it’s a great place to make friends with the same goals and interests as you. Use the search feature and see what you can find.
Now, tip number three is to talk to yourself in English. Yes, I know this sounds crazy and many people might think that it isn’t for them, but speaking aloud to yourself in English, especially when you’re at home, will put yourself in an English mindset. You’ll start thinking in or through English.
For example, if you mumble (or speak softly) to yourself in English. “Hmm, what should I make for dinner tonight?” your brain is going to connect that feeling with English. Another example is regular self-talk, like, “Hmm, what was I doing?” or “Darn, I forgot my keys!” You don’t have to turn into a crazy person; just say what you normally would say to yourself in English instead of your native tongue.
My fourth tip is to talk to your devices to check if things like your pronunciation are comprehensible. On an iphone, for example, there’s that famous character called SIRI. You can also use the Google translation app on your PC. If the software understands you, you’ll know that your pronunciation and sentence structure are probably OK. Similarly, you can record yourself using the built-in recording app on your smart phone and listen back to hear how you sound. Most people hate the sound of their own voice, but I encourage you do to this so that you can get a feel of what you might need to improve on.
Tip number five is to read things out loud. When you read news articles, books, or other materials, you can better retain the information, so that’s one benefit. Another advantage to reading aloud is that you can practice your pronunciation, voice inflection, pacing, enunciation, and rhythm. That’s a win-win situation. If you’re not confident reading aloud on your own, try shadow reading. This is where you listen a native speaker reading the text and you try to read out loud along with that person.
Many publishers post these recordings to match the textbooks on platforms like Soundcloud. “Reading for Speed and Fluency” a timed reading textbook series by Paul Nation is one example (check book 2 here). Of course, you’ll need the textbook, so this isn’t really free. However, online you’ll probably be able to find many sites where you can both listen and read at the same time. Try Elllo http://www.elllo.org
OK, so those were the five tips to practice speaking English for free in EFL situations where you don’t have many opportunities to speak and listen to English. Do you do any of the things I mentioned? If you don’t, which ones do you think you’ll try?