Effective Speaking Exercises to Improve Speaking Skills
At the English-Everyday program, we enhance student learning through an emphasis on speaking. Speaking with native speakers is the single best way to improve your language skills. It's also the best way to progress to learning to read and write effectively in a language because we all heard and then spoke the language far before we did anything else with it.
Effective speaking exercises are critical to improving overall communication because they allow you to practice and build healthy habits around speaking English.
The Power of Regular Practice
Here are a few exercises.
Join a program such as English-Everyday or anything where you will be regularly interacting with English speakers. If you interact with people where English is their native tongue (meaning what they heard growing up) this is the best way to learn effective language the fastest. If you cannot afford or have not joined a program such as English-Everyday yet here are a few other ideas:
- Join an online chatroom that has a spoken word component where you can speak with others in English.
- Volunteer abroad in an English-speaking country (check ahead of time that your level of language comprehension will be okay for the job).
- Start an online study group or reach out for a study partner. You can do this by going to a site such as Facebook or joining groups of people who want to learn English. To do this go to groups on Facebook and type 'learn English.' Then make a post in the group asking people to comment or direct message you if they'd like to talk on Facebook voice messenger or Zoom and practice.
- Find a mentor. You'd be surprised how many native English speakers would agree to do an hour of conversation a week with you or more, and how much this can help! A good place to find mentors is through your workplace, friend group, or searching online.
Remember that practicing speaking is the single most important way to improve your language comprehension and speaking abilities. The most important thing is consistent practice for enhancing speaking fluency. Like with any habit, the more you incorporate speaking exercises into daily routines the better!
Pronunciation and Articulation
Next, once you've got some speaking exercises built into your daily routines the next area to focus on is pronunciation.
Clear and articulate speech is critical for being understood and respected in any language. Mistakes I often see new English speakers make are speaking too fast, slurring words together, and pronouncing words in an accent more common to their native language than to English. For example, native French speakers will often forget the 'h' sound in words such as 'have' because this is not common in their language.
Luckily any issues with pronunciation and speech clarity can be easily improved and fixed! The best thing to do is to join a program such as English-Everyday where you can work one on one and in groups with a native English speaker. This trained teacher will not only help you practice but will have an eagle eye for helping you spot any pronunciation and grammar errors.
However, there are also activities you can do to help you improve. Here are a few.
1) Tongue Twisters
Tongue Twisters can present a positive challenge even for native English speakers! They are a great way to practice Pronunciation and Articulation. Here is an example, "the troubled tiger thought truthfully." Try and say it 10 times in a row. If you are new to English, I recommend looking up the correct pronunciation and articulation of each word on an English-speaking site such as Youtube. For example, if you are learning the correct pronunciation of the word 'tiger' and you type that into Youtube and click on a documentary about tigers, you will be able to hear a native English speaker or someone who speaks English very well pronounces 'tiger' correctly. If you are having trouble picking up English content because of your location I recommend typing the word English into the search bar along with the word you want to learn, e.g. 'English tiger' into Youtube.
Also, I highly recommend tailoring tongue twisters to your particular language needs and challenges. For example, in the paragraph above we discussed how many native French speakers will not pronounce the h sound correctly. For example, they will pronounce 'have' as 'ave' or 'happen' as 'appen.' This can make it difficult to have others understand you and be taken seriously in a language. Therefore, why not try a tongue twister like 'happy horses hop highly' and say it 10 times? You can also record yourself speaking and play it back, here is a free resource to do that, https://online-voice-recorder.com/.
If you are not sure what your particular challenges are, ask your mentor where you can improve, or join a program like English-Everyday and ask your teacher.
2) Language Drills
Language drills can be a fast and easy way to learn language. Here are a few ideas. Remember, the more creative you get with your language learning the more parts of the brain you will use and the easier it will be to remember.
You can purchase flashcards online or simply make them yourself. I recommend starting with something you're interested in and then going from there. You can also start with a category you need to learn for work or anything else. For example, let's say I want to learn how to correctly pronounce the words for fish and use them articulately and correctly in a sentence. I might write the words for fish in English, eg. "bass, tilapia, salmon, etc.' on one side of a set of cards. Then, on the other side, I recommend writing the word for that thing in your native tongue, or else putting a picture that you associate with it, eg. a salmon, on the other side. You can also challenge yourself to use it in a sentence, with a verb, with a particular pronoun, etc. For example, let's say you are trying to learn the word 'salmon' in conjunction with the pronoun 'he.' You could say 'He wants salmon for dinner;' or 'Salmon is his favorite fish.' To ensure your pronunciation and articulation are correct I encourage you to access English-speaking media or join a program like English-Everyday where you can practice directly with a native English speaker.
'Ball' is a fun language drill where a ball is passed around to different students. At English-Everyday we practice this by calling on our students in our virtual meetings. Luckily, it's something you can practice alone too! For example, a teacher might draw a square on a board. He might ask, how many sides does a square have? He will then throw the ball to a student and that student will need to answer. The correct answer is 'four.' He might also ask more complex questions if the student is comfortable, such as 'What is your favorite shape,' 'What are other shapes beyond a square.' This thinking on the feet and using correct English pronunciation and grammar will help students grow. To practice at home, make two containers, such as two cups or two hats. In one, write nouns, verbs, or ideas. For example, I might put 'salmon, whale, hat, polo,' etc. In the other container write questions, such as 'what does this word mean,' 'use this word in a sentence' etc.
5) Vocal Warm Up Exercises
Guess what vocal warm-up exercises are not just for practicing singing but also for learning a new language! Here are a few fun ones. By the way, singing in English and listening to your favorite music, movies, and radio programs in English can also help because you will be hearing correct pronunciation all day.
- Move your tongue from side to side in your mouth, with your mouth closed and open. A lot of the reason that many people revert to the incorrect pronunciation of English that is more common to their native tongue is not just that they are used to hearing it that way; it is also that their mouth and muscles have not adapted to the new pronunciation. Muscle memory is a real thing. This is a great way to start to open up your embouchure and start to open your physical body up to pronouncing new words. These can be great to do before doing the other two exercises or even just when you are in the car etc.
- Rub your lips together really fast so they make a 'brr' or steamboat sound. It is not only the mouth and tongue that are important for correct pronunciation and articulation in language, but also the lips. Try doing this activity daily.
Conversational Practice Techniques
At the beginning of this blog post, we discussed speaking and ways to get practice. Make sure when you speak you are practicing conversation skills and natural flow. One of the ways we do this at English-Everyday is we have two breakout sessions per lesson where students will discuss a conversational topic related to the main lesson. For example, if the main lesson is on 'animals and plant life,' the conversation topic might be, 'What do you think should be done to protect plant life?' The purpose is to get students to understand conversation and natural flow.
Another, great way to understand the natural flow in a language is to put yourself in a situation such as a cafe or coffee shop where you can hear the natural flow of other English speakers. You can then mimic this in your day-to-day life when speaking English.
Role-playing is a great way to practice at home. You can draw names out of a hat, and draw a situation out of another hat. For example, if out of one hat, I drew the names 'Drew' and 'Mary' and out of another hat I drew the situation 'buys a house,' I can have a conversation in my head and out loud where I can pretend to be Drew and Mary discussing buying a house. This is a great way to practice pronunciation and correct use of verb tenses. This is also a great activity to do with a friend!
Listening and Responding
Active listening, meaning you actively ask questions and engage with your counterpart while they talk is critical. This is why you should join a language school such as English-Everyday or find people with whom you can practice.
Public Speaking Exercises
You can also practice public speaking and you may be asked to give a presentation for your work or school. This is a great way to practice flow. A few suggestions are to choose a topic you are comfortable with, make some notes on cue cards, and make eye contact.
Interactive Language Learning Apps
You can also try using a Language Learning App from the google play store or another source. The most important thing overall when learning a language and using exercises to improve your English is to celebrate progress!
Language Exchange and Conversation Partners
The overall best way to effectively learn and practice English is to surround/immerse yourself with native speakers. English-Everyday gives you the opportunity to do this through group and one on one practice with a native speaker.
You also have the opportunity to find language forums online where you can chat in English with other speakers.
Additionally, there are many in-person opportunities such as study abroad, volunteer opportunities, and homestay options where you can stay with an English-speaking family.
Setting Goals and Tracking Progress
It is very important to set speaking goals and monitor progress. This will give you a sense of winning as you progress through the challenging task of learning a new language. I highly suggest celebrating small goals at first so you can celebrate easy victories. Also, work with a teacher at English-Everyday to set appropriate goals for your level.
Finally, it is incredibly important and significant to have effective speaking exercises in language learning. I hear from my students all the time that speaking is the hardest part. The only way to improve is through speaking; exercises are designed to do just that.
I highly encourage you to incorporate exercises into your daily routine for continuous improvement.