Learning to speak a new language requires a lot of practice – this is something we all know. Many hours are spent working on pronunciation or testing out new vocabulary, often with a classmate, friend or family member. But sometimes there might not be someone available for you to practice with. So, what can you do in a situation like this?
We’ve made up a list of different activities that you can do to practice your speaking skills when no one is around for you to practice with.
Use a speech recognition app on your phone.
Speech recognition, or speech-to-text, is a tool that can be found on many smart devices. It was created for speech impaired individuals, to allow them to understand what others are saying – you simply speak into the app, and it types out your words.
It can also be an awesome tool for language learners to practice their pronunciation. Speak into the speech recognition tool and watch as it transcribes your words – it requires clear pronunciation to successfully transcribe what you are saying making it an awesome method for sharpening your speaking skills.
A tongue twister is a phrase that is intended to be difficult to say. They are used as a spoken word game – the aim being to say the phrase as quickly and as correctly as you can. However, they can also be used to improve pronunciation.
Find some tongue twisters and practice saying them out loud. The more you practice, the easier they become and the clearer your diction.
Here are a few examples:
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
She sells seashells by the seashore
The shells she sells are seashells, I’m sure
Betty bought a bit of butter
But the butter Betty bought was bitter
So, Betty bought better butter, and it was better than the butter Betty bought before.
Watch English TV
A fun way to practice your speaking skills is to watch movies and series in English and try to imitate the way the characters speak. Listening to the way native English speakers pronounce words and then trying to imitate the sounds is a great way to practice pronunciation. Avoid using subtitles in your native language as you will find yourself focusing on reading the subtitles than listening to what is being said (you could use English subtitles and use this activity to improve your reading too).
Another way to use movies/series is to put it on mute and provide a commentary for what is happening – speak it out loud. This pushes you to think and speak a little quicker. Worry less about accuracy (it doesn’t matter if you’re not explaining what’s happening in the movie), the focus should be on your pronunciation of the words and your ability to think and string sentences together at a faster pace than you would normally.
Listen to yourself
Record yourself speaking (whether it’s reading a book aloud or reciting a monologue from your favourite movie) and listen to it back. Listen to how you are pronouncing the words, where are you placing stress, are you conveying the message as you want? If you change your tone, will it change the way the message sounds?
You can also speak out what you see around you – use descriptive language, instead of "There are many plants in my garden”, describe the different types of plants, what are their characteristics. This is a chance to practice new vocabulary too.
Speak in front of a mirror – look at your expressions as you speak – you may find that you look expressionless or maybe even angry as you focus on getting the words out rather than expressing those words.
Think in English
A big challenge many non-native speakers face is thinking in English. We often think in our native language, then translate it to English and then speak it – which can lead to long pauses in your speech.
Try learning as many expressions as you can for different situations. If you know a lot of words or phrases, you’ll speak them directly, without needing to translate, in conversations.
Another thing to try is speaking about what you see around you (like we’ve mentioned above). Being spontaneous in your speech will stop you from focusing on translating in your mind before you speak. Start by using words you already know, as you walk around your house, identify the different objects that you see – like a desk, a book or a sofa, then move on to sentences – for example "Both the rug and the sofa in my living room are grey” or "My kitchen has 12 cabinets”. Once you’re comfortable with that you can move on to narratives – describe what you are doing and what you see along the way as you complete different house chores.