Of the four skills that you need when you are learning a foreign language, speaking is probably one of the most difficult to master. There is no question that when you are trying to practice speaking, there is often a lack of options and you find yourself asking:
How can I do this?
Where can I practice?
Who can I speak to?
In many cases, it is the skill that we need the most! Essentially it's very important in a professional environment, whether you're on the phone or in a meeting. So speaking is something that all of us would like to get better at, but in many cases, we're just not sure how.
So here I'm going to focus on eight different ways that you can try to improve your speaking and push yourself to that next level because, in the end, speaking is connected with confidence and your ability to deliver a message.
1. ¡El mensaje es lo más importante!
When most people think about improving their speaking, they like to think about all sorts of different ideas. But one of the most important things that they forget is the actual delivery of the message.
How are you going to get what you want to say across to the other person, whether it is on the phone, in a face-to-face meeting or just in a restaurant when you are having a meal?
You shouldn’t be thinking about the mistakes that you're making, you shouldn’t be thinking about whether your accent is not quite right. Focusing on the message gives us real clarity that is not normally available to us.
That message must be delivered in an understandable way!
You can find people in all walks of life, people with average English skills that make mistakes and are not good at grammar BUT they can deliver that message! And in the end that is the most important thing! So, focus on delivering your message with clarity!
2. La práctica
"Practice makes perfect" is an expression in English. I think it applies to your English speaking skills because there's no question that sitting down and thinking that you need to improve your English speaking is good but it doesn't help much!
What helps you is getting into the ACTION of speaking. You need to make sure that you get into situations where you force yourself to speak more, whether that's a presentation or a telephone conversation!
You might need to prepare in advance. You might need to literally sit down and write something on a piece of paper and say it out loud. For others, this might not be necessary. It all depends on how much connection you have had with English in the recent past!
But it's true that if you want a golden rule, then practice does make perfect.
3. Los errores y fallos
Don’t worry about your mistakes! This is easy for me to say and maybe hard for you to accept.
If you are focused on your mistakes then you're not focusing on your message and that is a big problem because when you're speaking you can't multi-task. It is completely counter-productive. Don't.
The key here is to understand that mistakes will happen! Accept it. There is nothing that you can do about it except changing your reaction to them!
Your mistakes will reduce over time but they will always be there to some degree. It is better to create a new relationship with those mistakes that you notice and don’t feel so bad about them. It is that simple.
Conclusion? Don't feel bad about your mistakes.
4. Tus hábitos
The key to learning languages is connected to your habits and how much you do on a daily basis. It's very much like going to the gym or starting a diet. You need to establish a habit. For some people that is difficult to do, for others it is easy.
A habit will only be established if it is performed for three to four weeks. It's very difficult to establish a habit in just one or two days.
In terms of languages, habit building is vital for a variety of reasons, but just like a diet or going to the gym, when you don't use a language, there is clear deterioration over time. You might think that people with a high level of English just maintain that level forever without any effort but that is fiction. C1 level students that haven't used their English for years get VERY rusty and that has a clear impact on their performance.
So, remember, the English expression: "Use it or lose it"
5. Tu voz interior
Most Spanish speakers who want to learn English have a little voice inside them that tells them that their English is not good. Does that happen to you?
They will tell you in their first sentence that they are "sorry for their English" and that is a real shame. Why?
It’s a shame because the message that you have in your head is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is something that will inevitably become true if you tell it to yourself enough. So, it is essential that that little voice disappears and replaced by another voice that tells you that your English is fine, that your English can improve and that you are going to achieve the objectives that you have set for yourself.
I know that sounds simple and almost ridiculous, but that little voice inside you is destroying a lot of your potential to achieve your aims. So, if you can get rid of it, if you can eliminate it in some way, then you will allow yourself to reach the objectives you have always wanted to achieve.
6. Salir de tu zona de confort
Most of us are very relaxed in our comfort zones. Our comfort zones are perfect for us because we have built them for ourselves. But although we enjoy them there is a problem: Most learning happens outside your comfort zone.
If you want to improve your English, then you need to get out of that comfort zone as quickly as possible. You need to put yourself in a situation which you find highly uncomfortable and that can be done in various ways!
You can attend courses and meet new people but it also can be done in an office environment. You might be invited to a meeting that you would not normally go to or push yourself onto a project where you know English is the main language and you don't feel that you're ready!
But remember, you are NEVER going to be ready! So, the best time is now!
Conclusion? Get out of that comfort zone. Now.
7. Tu cerebro
When you learn a language you need to understand how your brain works. This might not seem obvious at the beginning, but the neuroscience makes it very clear!
Speaking in a foreign language can be stressful so our brains enter into a fight or flight mode and although this is very useful if you are a caveman trying to hunt an animal or trying to escape from a dangerous situation, it's not very useful when you're trying to communicate!
Once you understand your brain in more depth you can reduce that level of stress and therefore get yourself into a position where you can perform at a higher level! Knowledge is power when it comes to your brain!
8. Mide tu progreso
As with every type of activity, it is important to measure progress. And if we can assess ourselves it is even more powerful. This can be directly applied to language learning and speaking in particular.
So when you get to the end of a moment of progression with your speaking you need to look back and assess the things that you've done, understand the strategies that have worked well and those that haven't.
As you move forward you will identify more goals and achieve them by using the techniques that have worked well for you in the past. The techniques will be highly individualised. Some people will perform well using certain types of practice and others less so, depending on your learner profile and what you enjoy.
So when you get to that point, when you want to look back and assess your progress, make sure you measure it!
Soy el director de Daniel Smith + Partners. Tengo más de 10 años de experiencia enseñando inglés a españoles.