Improving Spoken English
Spoken English is fun because it allows you to communicate directly with other English speakers. It is also challenging! English pronunciation is very different from other languages, plus there are many words pronounced in a unique way! So how do you improve then?
1. Break difficult-to-pronounce English words into parts.
Long English words might be scary, but if you take a closer look, they can be broken down into parts. These parts are often easier to pronounce and sound more familiar. For example:
• Wholesome = whole + some
• Antiestablishment = anti + establish + ment
• Psychotherapy = psycho + therapy
All you need to do is to practice pronouncing these separately and then put them back together. The trick is that you already know how to pronounce the long word because you know how to pronounce parts of it!
2. Practice letter combinations that are giving you trouble.
When a long word includes a letter combo that you cannot pronounce, you will stumble. One way to improve is to get into the habit of practicing these letter combinations separately.
For example, beautiful is hard to say because of its many vowels: b-eau-t-i-f-u-l. It may feel like a tongue twister. So you should focus on the /u/ sound in the middle and say it as many times as you need.
Another example is the th combo that often gets pronounced like a t. Saying the may be easy, but saying thorough is tough. Your tongue needs to adjust to this peculiar th combination.
Any sound or letter pair could give you trouble. The key is to recognize them and give yourself a little time to get used to them.
3. Repeat difficult words out loud. Then repeat again.
To improve the likelihood of pronouncing English words correctly, you need to say them out loud many times. Choose a few words to focus on at a time and repeat them slowly as many times as you need.
Repeating words out loud to yourself is also important in order to get used to hearing yourself say them. It may not sound right at first, but soon you will get accustomed to even the most difficult English words. Practice is the only thing that helps.
4. Use Google Translate Listen for unknown words.
When it comes to words you do not recognize at all, Google Translate is your best friend! Even if you do not need the word translated, type it into the Google Translate box on the left. You will see a sound sign appear at the bottom, along with a microphone and a keyboard sign. Hit the sound sign and you will hear the automatic voice say the word for you.
This feature is called Listen and it is invaluable to English learners. Google Translate Listen isn’t always the greatest when it comes to other languages, but it gets English right every time. (Note: The software that pronounces words does so with a standard American accent.)
5. Listen to how others pronounce unfamiliar words.
If you have no idea how to pronounce a certain word, but there is a chance that someone else might say it in conversation, listen very carefully to them. In fact, listening carefully is guaranteed to help you improve your English comprehension and speaking skills.
Once you hear the word said out loud, do not be afraid to repeat after them.
6. If you do not know how to pronounce something, take a guess!
Have you ever been in a situation where you just had to say something, but you had no idea how to pronounce it? It is common! You could be asked to read something in class. Maybe you need to ask for directions to a place.
It can be an uncomfortable situation, for sure. Be brave and take a guess! If you pronounce it wrong, someone is likely to correct you. If not, you can always make a note of that word and practice it later in private. This is how you keep improving.
Enunciating means pronouncing your words clearly and articulately with the intention of being understood by your audience. Enunciation plays the most important role in being a successful English speaker despite what your accent may be (more on your accent below!).
Sometimes even native English speakers don’t enunciate enough. It takes a bit of practice. Not rushing will help you speak naturally.
8. Stop worrying about your accent!
Quite possibly the most important tip for improving your spoken English is to stop thinking about your accent! Everyone has one. Even native speakers have one! Regional English accents are a real thing, not to mention the differences between American, British, Australian, South African English and many others.
You may mispronounce something. You may stumble. It makes no difference and no one minds. As long as you follow tip seven and enunciate, you will be absolutely fine! Your accent will become more and more English the more you improve, and you can only improve by speaking more, so just go for it.
Tips for Improving Written English
Speaking English may be the most difficult for English students, but focusing on improving writing is no less important. Here is what you can do regardless of your language level!
9. Refresh your grammar periodically.
Unfortunately, English grammar rules are just like any other knowledge you obtain: if you do not refresh that knowledge from time to time, you forget it. If you write in English often, many grammar rules are always in your head. This is completely normal! All you need to do is to go back to your preferred grammar textbook and flip through it every two weeks or every month.
Unlike English vocabulary or slang, English grammar rules do not change. This makes it so much easier for you to improve your grasp of grammar gradually and to improve the quality of your English writing in general.
10. Study your past writing to identify common errors.
If you are unsure what kind of grammar rules you need to look at, check your past writing. It could be your English homework, essays that you wrote, letters or messages to your friends.
Pretend that you are someone else reading this work and look for grammar mistakes and errors. You will likely find at least some. Correct the errors and identify the corresponding grammar rule. Very likely you will not make the same mistake again no matter what you write!
11. Practice writing in English every day, the fun way!
Think of all the fun technology and mobile apps that allow you to stay connected to your friends and family. Why not use emailing, messaging, texting to improve your written English?
The way to improve with technology is to practice, practice, practice. Focus on the short and fun stuff that it allows you to do:
• email your English-speaking friends
• send a text or two to your closest friends in English
• tweet in English
• ask for feedback on your work if you want, or review what you wrote after a few days (like in Tip 10) to work on your grammar by yourself
You will not even notice that you are getting regular writing practice!
12. Do not give up on handwriting!
Yes, all this technology that we have access to these days is amazing! Its advantage—being able to send a message of any length very quickly—is also its downside. Many people just do not write anything in their own hand anymore. It is unfortunate: handwriting has a lot of benefits!
Writing something by hand improves the amount of information you recall, helps you be more creative, spell better and memorize difficult things more easily. So use it!
Write handwritten notes to your friends. Make a habit out of writing something in greeting cards (in English, of course). Take notes in class by writing them down instead of typing on your laptop. It is a great exercise that you can do anywhere at any time.
13. Read in English.
Reading to improve writing? Really?
As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It is also one of the great ways to improve your language skills. Read as much as you can and pay attention while you read!
Choose English authors whose writing style you like and notice how they write. You can learn a lot by analyzing sentence structure, word choices, even the length of paragraphs. Do not be afraid to imitate what you observe in your own writing.
Tips for Improving English Listening Comprehension
Listening as a language skill is hard. It is almost as hard as speaking. In fact, listening is one of the key skills to improve your speaking. When you understand what is being said around you, you can contribute to the conversation better. There are many ways you can improve your English comprehension!
14. Watch English programs weekly.
Choose at least one audio or video program in English to watch or listen to every week. It should be at least one hour long to give you a good amount of practice. Doing it weekly is perfect because you will be able to find time for it and not feel overwhelmed by it at the same time.
It does not matter what you watch or listen to. It could be a movie, a documentary, a lecture or even an online course. All that matters is that you are getting exposure to English speech and learning to improve your understanding of it, step by step!
15. Play English programs.
It may sound silly to suggest to have a TV on when you work or study, but the idea is this: when you hear background noises in English without actively paying attention to them, you are actually learning to be comfortable with them. You may not understand what is being said, and you do not have to. What you are doing is training your ears to easily tune into English conversations when you need. Your brain still processes background chatter even when you are busy doing something else.
English news channels work best for this kind of exercise. You can also switch on English radio!
16. Work on expanding your vocabulary.
Improving English comprehension goes hand in hand with expanding your vocabulary. The more words you know, the easier you will be able to understand what is being said around you! Expanding your vocabulary will also assist with improving the quality of your pronunciation.
The easiest way to expand your vocabulary is to take note of the unfamiliar words you encounter (meet) and to work with them when you have the time. You can:
• translate them
• pronounce them out loud
• put them in context
• make sentences with them
You can also make vocabulary cards to go back to the new words in the future!
17. Practice with strangers!
Since your goal is to improve English comprehension, it is very important that you practice with people you do not know as often as you can. Listening to your English teacher or your English friends is great, for sure. However, you are probably very used to the way they speak already. You are used to their accents!
To improve, you need to listen to strangers whose accents are unfamiliar to you, whose pace of speech may be very fast or very slow. Generally speaking, you can get that kind of practice by only following tip 14, but it is no substitute for face-to-face conversations.
Local English conversation circles and meetups are great for this. College lectures in English could also be very helpful. You may also consider attending events in English schools other than yours to get English conversation exposure in a beginner-friendly environment.