3C: Speaking Practice
Improving your speaking ability is a lifelong process that you can take as far as you want. The exercises outlined below are useful for new speakers as well as experienced ones.
For both learners and natives, there are two main facets of improving speaking performance:
- Exposing yourself to new situations that stretch your speaking abilities.
- Recording yourself to deliberately review and practice your performance.
Below we’ve described four different exercises you can use to expand and refine your speaking ability. Depending on your personality, you may find one or more of them more enjoyable and beneficial than the rest. We encourage you to try all of them to identify what works best for you.
If you experience social anxiety when trying to speak, monologuing can be a good way to build comfort with speaking before adding in social pressure. Monologuing means talking about an idea or issue, or telling a story while alone or in front of a camera.
The most important thing about monologues is that you DON’T pre-plan your words. If you simply memorize a monologue and repeat it, then you aren’t practicing your actual speaking ability. Your goal is to practice speaking off-the-cuff.
These monologues don't need to be long. 1-5 minutes should be plenty. If you’re not sure what to talk about, here are some ideas:
- Watch a video or read a blog article and then summarize it in your own words.
- Use a random topic generator to create prompts for you to answer.
As you’re speaking, don’t worry about making mistakes. Focus all your energy on organizing your thoughts and putting them into words. When you rewatch (or relisten) to yourself afterward, you will have the opportunity to focus all your attention on identifying and correcting mistakes. We explain how to evaluate these recordings at the end of this article.
As noted in 3A: Adopt a Parent, sounding “native” is nebulous because every native sounds different. If you want to sound native, you should aim for a specific native (your parent).
So far, you've been shadowing your parent, which consists of repeating exactly what they say. This allows you to focus purely on the physical component of speaking and ignore the mental process of converting thoughts into words.
Full imitation, on the other hand, means embodying your parent’s persona to express your own thoughts. It's relatively easy to impersonate someone when you have a specific monologue to recite, but fully embodying a persona and speaking dynamically is much more difficult.
When you try to impersonate your parent you’ll naturally start paying closer attention not only to what they say but also to the subtle nuances of how they speak that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Things like body language, intonation, reactions, and fillers.
To imitate your parent, watch one of their videos and attempt to summarize the same topic or story in your own words, but in their personality. If you are struggling to get the hang of imitating your parent dynamically, you can start with the easier exercise of memorizing a monologue and acting it out in your parent’s persona.
Record yourself and watch the video back to compare your mannerisms to theirs.
For most learners, connecting with native speakers through conversation is the entire point of learning a language. There's no substitute for real conversation. You'll never get comfortable speaking without practicing with real people.
If you find yourself overthinking during output, we recommend diving into real conversation, even if you don’t feel ready for it. Conversation moves quickly enough that you don’t have time to overthink. This can help you get out of your head and use the language more naturally and instinctually. Additionally, conversation gives you the satisfaction of connecting with another real human being.
When you first start speaking with a partner, it will be tough to balance listening, thinking, and speaking simultaneously. It takes some getting used to, but you’ll adapt pretty quickly.
There are many language exchanges (HelloTalk, Tandem, Discord) that you can use to make friends with natives to talk to online. Once COVID-19 lockdown is over, seek out in-person meetups for your language as well. Get out there and make some friends!
Be aware, most natives won’t correct all of your mistakes. As long as they can understand you, they will naturally overlook the majority of your mistakes to keep the conversation flowing and not appear rude. If you're speaking to a native speaker over video or voice chat, ask them if you can record the conversation so you can review it later to identify mistakes on your own.
Unfortunately, language exchanges are not a substitute for a professional tutor. Language exchanges can be a great place to practice real conversation and make friends before you’re at a very high level, but they won’t provide you with the precise feedback you need to improve.
It's worthwhile to find a native that understands that you are actively trying to improve and will meticulously correct you. iTalki tutors are a great resource for professional correction and usually don't mind being recorded.
Make sure to tell your tutor that you want them to call out every single mistake you make so that you can become aware.
Once you have a recording of yourself, it’s time to review! Remember, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are trying to notice your mistakes. The simple act of noticing is often enough to fix the issue.
Once you’ve identified a mistake, try to determine if it was a competence or performance mistake. If you’re unsure of the right way to say something, that’s a competence mistake. If you have an “oh duh” moment, that’s the sign of a performance mistake.
For competence mistakes, all of the advice in 3B: Output Troubleshooting still applies. Identify if it’s an acquisition, availability, or activation error and take the appropriate action.
For performance mistakes, try to say it again a few times to get comfortable with the correct way to say it. If it was an issue with pronunciation then record yourself and listen back to see if you sound better. You can also use tools like YouGlish to find examples of native speakers saying the same thing and compare your pronunciation against theirs.