Strategies to improve your spoken English
For many international students who come to study in the UK, it may be the first time they have the opportunity to speak English. It can be difficult to get started, as you try to put together sentences, choose appropriate vocabulary, communicate your message, and then understand the response you receive in return.
But one thing is certain – you’ll only improve your speaking ability by actually speaking. You can certainly work on your grammar, pronunciation and other factors that will make your speaking better, but it’s through the act of speaking that you’ll truly develop this skill.
At university, you’ll engage in many social interactions, as well as in academic situations. You need to be proactive in using a range of strategies to improve your speaking - some of the possibilities are outlined below.
Use every opportunity to speak. Even if you’re shy, decide that you’ll push yourself to overcome this.
For example, you can get to know the people you see every day in your hall of residence, by starting conversations with them in the communal kitchen. Doing activities is another good way to get to know people; if you’re interested in sports then join the sports centre, and find like-minded people. If you go to the same place for coffee every day, or buy your food in a local shop, there are always opportunities to say a few words. It can be as simple as a greeting, but using even small opportunities will help build your confidence.
If you aren’t able to speak to people in your class in person, you could use video conferencing software (such as Skype or Zoom) to create virtual study groups to work through course materials together. Your institution may also offer collaborative study spaces independent of academic staff for you to work in with other students.
It’s comfortable and convenient to hang out with people from your own country, but this reduces the opportunities to practise speaking English. Try to make friends with students who don’t speak the same language as you – then you have to use English to communicate!
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; your main purpose is to communicate with other people, and you can still be understood even if you make mistakes. If you wait until you feel your English is perfect, you may never speak! If you do want to improve your grammatical accuracy and pronunciation, one strategy is to ask friends to correct your errors if they notice them – just for 10 or 15 minutes each day.
Finally, it’ll help develop your speaking if you surround yourself with English.
Improving your listening can also help with speaking – conversation is a two-way process, so watching TV and videos which involve dialogues or interviews can be a useful way to get you tuned into different accents. The greater your confidence in understanding what people say, the more confident you’ll feel in speaking.
The British Council’s “Word on the Street” course will give you great practice in listening to conversational English, and also provides a unique insight into UK Culture. There are transcripts and tasks to help you check your understanding and improve your grammar and vocabulary.
TED talks provide video recordings of experts talking on a wide range of topics. The great thing about TED talks is many of them are truly inspiring, fascinating and informative. It should be easy for you to find a talk on a topic you are interested in. The transcripts in TED Talks are really useful because they are synched with the video, allowing you to focus easily on the spelling and pronunciation of words or phrases.
© British Council