speaking tip: Try your hand at public speaking by making speeches

(NOVEMBER 2018)

In a previous tip back in July 2018, I discussed the utility and benefits of joining a Toastmasters club. Beyond that idea, I’d like to go into the possibility that you as a student learning how to become more proficient at speaking English should know how to make a speech. This tip involves writing as well because I think it would be doubly beneficial to write a short speech in English and then use the speech to practice your speaking skills afterwards.

Being able to create your own speech about any topic in particular will dramatically boost your confidence as well as being able to give the same speech in a spoken form to friends and family. If you also really want to test yourself, you should be giving speeches if you are a student in college or in graduate school, if your boss needs someone to give a presentation at work, or if you’re promoting your business as an entrepreneur and are looking to pitch your idea(s).

The best audience for giving a speech is not to family or to friends or even a Toastmasters club but to random strangers who will not be biased in terms of their opinion of your English speaking abilities. Giving speeches that you have written and prepared yourself will propel you to having more confidence and definitely to have a more professional level of English proficiency. Beyond just controlled environments like the family dining room, the Toastmasters club, or among friends, you should want to put yourself in situations where you are giving speeches to strangers or people that you don’t know very well.

More often than not, they will be the best at giving you feedback about your English speaking and it’s likely to be both positive and negative. It may hurt to hear that you need to improve in certain areas like pronunciation, cadence, and vocabulary usage but you will only get better after receiving this feedback from your speeches. The more speeches you give, the better your speaking will be along with your writing. Beyond just your English proficiency improving, you’ll feel more confident and will be able to take on bigger and bigger challenges in your personal and professional lives.


speaking tip: put those flashcards to good use (Pronunciation and sounds practice)

(September 2018)

A key part of mastering a new language especially English is using flashcards to your advantage. For those of you reading this home who aren’t aware, flashcards, otherwise known as index cards, should be your best friend when it comes to language learning.

They’re white, rectangular cards of sturdy paper material which you can take with you on the road or if you’re on your way to a class. Some learners may use them for vocabulary words and for understanding what those words mean in terms of their definition. Others can use them to practice their pronunciation by sounding out the phonemes of each word to get better at speaking the language.

It doesn’t have to be words alone that you can put on a flashcard. You can write down sentences and even small paragraphs to sound out to better your speaking as well. Using flashcards are a great way to practice with other English students one-on-one or in small groups. If you’re shy about speaking on your own, you can create flashcards on different speaking topics to create words and sentences that you can sound out after writing them down.

The more flashcards you have created, the more vocabulary you’ll be able to practice for speaking and other purposes. It’s normal when learning a new language to have a couple of hundred flashcards and the key thing to remember is that flashcards allow you to practice on your own or with a friend or classmate.

Flashcards are a great learning tool but they are portable so you can take them with you and study wherever, easy to use for different purposes including speaking and vocabulary practice, and they’re a fun way to study with other learners one-on-one or with a small group. Flashcards are very cheap to purchase and last for a long time so you can always go back to them if there’s a word, phrase, or sentence that you need to better remember or memorize for learning purposes.

As an English as a Second Language Teacher, I highly endorse the use of flashcards and hope that you consider making a purchase of them to help you succeed with becoming a better English speaker and for other learning purposes.


speaking tip: make sure to pace yourself (intonation and cadence)

(August 2018)

When you're first beginning to speak in a second language including English, you'll need to take it slow at first in terms of the actual speed of your speaking. When you're first beginning to compose words and sentences together, it's really important to speak slowly and pace your words so as to make fewer mistakes. You are going to make mistakes and that's natural but you'll be better off speaking slowly so that you'll get a better feeling for the pronunciation of the sounds and letters associated with the words you're saying. 

There's no reason for a beginner or even an intermediate English speaker to be talking so quickly. It's best to take it slow that other English speakers will better be able to understand and communicate with you. You may think that they won't be patient with your spoken English but they almost will always be fair and kind to you. It's likely that they will compliment your hard work and effort in learning English as a second language. 

Another thing to be aware of in pacing your speaking is to watch your intonation and cadence. Essentially, cadence in speaking measures how rhythmic your words sound when you speak and if they have a good flow to them that will make you more easily understood. It's important to be aware of how fast or slow you are speaking especially in front of a bigger audience. The most important thing to get across with your English speaking is to make yourself understood as much as possible rather than speak too quickly and having no one understand you. There's a delicate balance that has to be struck between fast and slow cadence and it's important to try to be in the middle with your speaking rhythm as much as possible.

For the concept of intonation, it relates to the pitch or tone of your voice and making sure that your voice rises and falls naturally under the right circumstances. When you practice your speaking intonation, you should make sure you're speaking at an appropriate tone of voice depending upon what you're talking about. If you're talking in a quiet cafe with your English tutor, you'll want to modify your voice to speak at a lower intonation. There's also the instance where you and your English tutor could be at a baseball game together and you will need to speak at a louder intonation to make yourself understood by your tutor and other people because it's a loud stadium environment.

A lot of being able to measure both your cadence and your intonation comes with experience so please make sure to give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice your English speaking. Whether you're at a cafe or at a baseball game, practice your speaking and also learn from others in how they pace themselves as they talk to you. You'll learn a lot about the right kind of speaking pace by following the lead of other English speakers in various situations.


speaking tip: try out your skills in front of an audience or group (toastmasters club)

(JULY 2018)

When English is not your first language, it can be discouraging to even try speaking in front of another person. It can be even more intimidating to practice in front of a group of complete strangers. However, being able to do some public speaking in front of an audience who are impartial or unbiased to you is a great idea to improve your English speaking skills. While speaking English is a great idea in front of your family or your friends, it can be even better to practice in front of people who you do not have any connection to and could just be strangers.

It's likely that these random people will give you their unbiased opinion and/or advice as to how you can improve your speaking abilities and skills. They will be able to tell you if your grammar is correct, whether you are talking too quickly or too slow, and whether or not you are using the right vocabulary in you speech. There are many ways to practice speaking but doing so publicly in front of an audience can be the most rewarding albeit the most difficult at the same time. 

The best way to practice speaking in front of a public audience is to join a toastmasters club. There are hundreds of these toastmasters clubs in the United States and around the world. Usually, you practice speaking about a chosen topic in front of the group and they can then give you some feedback as to how you can improve in the future. You can find a list of Toastmasters clubs in your area here: https://www.toastmasters.org/Find-a-Club. Note: Toastmasters does have a membership fee if you would like to join a club so please be aware that it is not free.

Speaking in front of an audience or group won't just improve your English but it will also improve your confidence and your drive. You will also meet new people who you can practice your English speaking one-on-one with and maybe make a new friend or two. Being able to receive quality feedback and comments from random strangers will give you a good sense of what you are doing well in speaking and what you still need to work on. Showing up is half the battle so once you've made the effort to be there, you're on your way to begin improving your English speaking skills in a fundamental way. 


Speaking tip: The power of an interview

(june 2018)

A key overlooked part of getting better with becoming a better speaker or in improving your English speaking abilities to play the role of an interviewer or that of an interviewee. Not only will you gain more confidence in your speaking abilities but you'll also have to be able to think on your feet and be able to respond to different questions in a short amount of time.

As an English student, immersing yourself in playing the role of an interviewer by drafting a list of questions on a specific topic such as 'staying healthy' or discussing your hobbies' is a good way to put the vocabulary and grammar topics you've been focusing on to good use. Interviewing somebody else allows you to be more creative and to also give the interviewee follow-up questions and to engage them on a deeper level.

Conducting an interview as a learning activity is a great way to get to know your classmates and to improve your confidence when it comes to boosting your English speaking skills. Instead of using pre-written dialogues that may get repetitive after a while, the student can use their knowledge to draft questions up about a particular speaking topic that they can then pose to a classmate whom they don't know very well. This kind of speaking practice is invaluable and can help prepare the student for real world situations where they may have to conduct an interview an English for a job candidate or for another purpose. 

An even better role for the English learner to play for speaking purposes is to be the person interviewed. The interviewee won't know which questions are coming about the topic so they will also have to think quickly and be able to come up with a verbal answer that has correct grammar and vocabulary. It's an excellent chance that the interviewee has to boost their confidence, remember more words, and be able to get to know their classmates better. 

Lastly, you don't have to be in a classroom or have a teacher around to do an interview activity. You can practice questions and answers with a friend or a family member. They can print out a list of questions and you can try answering each of them as best as you can. When you use English in a spoken context with various topics, you will improve over time but it is important to practice your speaking on a daily or weekly basis. You can learn all of the English grammar and vocabulary in the world but if you don't use it, you will definitely lose it over time. 


Speaking tip: Use reading materials to practice your speech

(May 2018)

There are many different types of English language media out there. There are newspapers that you can get on the street for a dollar or less. There are an infinite amount of written articles that you can read because of the Internet. Lastly, you have dozens of books at the local library that you can rent in order to improve your proficiency. 

When you have so much written information out there, you'll be able to absorb a lot of knowledge when it comes to building your proficiency in the English language. It's not only your reading and vocabulary that will improve but your speaking as well. You may be puzzled at this suggestion but it's clear that you can practice your speaking by reading the words out loud to practice your pronunciation. 

By practicing your speech using these written materials whether its a newspaper or a book, you'll be able to better your pronunciation and your proficiency. You can pick up a lot of new words that you wouldn't know otherwise and you'll be able to understand what you're reading a lot more easily because you'll be speaking it out loud. 

You can start off slow by speaking about a small article that you've read that could be 400-500 words and see how you sound when your talking out loud about the article. I would recommend getting a friend or a family member whose English level is high enough to hear your speech and see where your pronunciation could be improved and which words you are still struggling to master.

After starting off with using your speech to read small and easier articles, you can move on to longer reading passages and eventually a full-length book. It's not only will your speaking abilities improve but you'll remember a lot more vocabulary words as well. When it comes to becoming both a better reader and a better speaker, you should be aiming to read out loud by speaking a different article per day. 

As with anything, you have to practice, practice, and practice some more to improve your speech but one of the best ways to do it is to take a newspaper article or a short book and read it out loud to boost your speaking proficiency. 


Speaking tip: use written dialogues about different topics with friends and/or family

(April 2018)

One of the ways in which you can improve both your vocabulary and your speaking abilities is to use pre-written dialogues on different topics. If you would also like to add on some writing practice, you can create your own dialogues for two or more people to use. 

These dialogues can be on a variety of topics and you can use them to practice your English pronunciation and also boost your vocabulary. There are hundreds of possible dialogues that you can use for practice and they are easily found through different ESL materials found on the Internet. 

Whether these dialogues are pre-written or taken from a reliable source, it's important to practice with someone whose English proficiency is high and is someone who you are close to. If it's a friend, a work colleague, or a family member, they should have no problem taking the time to help you develop your English speaking skills by using a dialogue together.

The dialogues can focus on speaking topics such as going to a restaurant, checking your luggage at the airport, going to a job interview, etc. There is quite a limitless variety in terms of the dialogues that you and somebody else can practice together in order to improve your spoken fluency. 

With further practice, it's important for you and your speaking partner to switch roles with the dialogues in order to be able to comprehend more vocabulary and phrases. Each dialogue will at least have two speaking roles so it's necessary to switch them with your partner so you're able to get more practice and boost your proficiency even more.

Listed below is an example speaking dialogue that you and a speaking partner can use to further your skills and better yourself as an English speaker: 

Example Dialogue

John: Do animals talk to each other?
Jimmy: Of course they talk to each other.
John: What do they talk about?
Jimmy: They talk about other animals.
John: What else do they talk about?
Jimmy: They talk about food and the weather.
John: Do they talk about us?
Jimmy: Of course they talk about us.
John: What do they say about us?
Jimmy: They say that we are funny-looking.
John: Ha! We're not funny-looking; animals are funny-looking.
Jimmy: We're funny-looking because we wear clothes.

(Source: ESLFast.com)


speaking tip: practice, practice, practice

(March 2018)

If you don't use your knowledge of the English language especially when it comes time to speak, you're going to lose it over time. You have to practice your spoken English at least on a weekly basis if not every single day in order to not forget the vocabulary that you have learned.

When it comes to remembering the vocabulary words and phrases that you have picked up during your studies, it may be beneficial to make sentences with those words you have studied. When you learn new words, train yourself to insert them into sentences. You can write down these sentences first but be ready to speak them out loud so you know in which context and/or setting that they can be utilized. 

Being able to express your thoughts, emotions, and feelings clearly is key. By learning words and phrases such as sentences that can be used for 'small talk', you'll be able to put them to good use right away. It's really important to take the time to practice over and over again so that you'll feel more comfortable with your newfound speaking abilities. 

Whether it's striking up a conversation with a family member, a friend, or a stranger on the street, make sure to practice, practice, and practice your speaking some more. Your English speaking skills will be sure to develop if you're able to put your vocabulary and your phrases to good use. 


SPEAKING TIP: THE UTILITY OF MAKING SMALL TALK

(February 2018)

Sometimes, the best way to become a better English speaker is to make small talk. Now, when we say 'small talk', we usually refer to general topics such as today's weather, last night's sports game, and an upcoming holiday. These are topics that most everybody has a familiarity with and can hold a conversation about.

When you're learning English or any foreign language, it's best to be able to learn the speaking skills necessary to have a basic conversation using 'small talk.' These type of conversations are not controversial at all and are based around making simple observations about the world around you. 

If you're having trouble meeting people to practice English with, sometimes it makes sense to start talking to strangers. If you're not okay with doing that, making some small talk with shopkeepers, waiters, bartenders, and store clerks are all good ideas. Sometimes, these folks can be bored at their jobs so they may be willing to make some small talk which will help to improve your English. 

In order to be able to make some small talk, you have to know some key phrases and conversation starters to begin talking. Listed below are some of those phrases and sentences that you can use as an English student in order to develop your speaking proficiency: 

Talking about the weather

  • Beautiful day, isn't it?

  • Can you believe all of this rain we've been having lately?

  • We couldn't ask for a nicer day, could we?

  • How about this weather?

          Talking about current events

  • Did you catch the news today?

  • Did you hear about that fire in the neighborhood?

  • I heard on the radio today that they are finally going to start building the new bridge.

  • How about those Yankees? Do you think they're going to win the game later?

At the office

  • Are you looking forward to the weekend?

  • How long have you worked here?

  • I can't believe how busy / quiet we are today, can you?

  • You look like you could use a cup of coffee / tea.

At a social event

  • So, how do you know _________ (name)?

  • Are you having a good time?

  • It looks like you could use another drink.

  • I love your ________ (clothing item). Can I ask where you got it?

Out for a walk

  • How old's your baby?

  • What's your puppy's name?

  • How do you like this park?

  • Nice day to be outside, isn't it?

Waiting somewhere

  • I didn't think it would be so busy today.

  • The doctor / dentist / lawyer must be running late today.

  • It looks like we are going to be here a while, huh?

  • How long have you been waiting for?

As you can tell, there are many instances where 'small talk' can be utilized and for different situations in life. You can use this short list as a guide as to how best to begin a conversation to improve your English speaking skills. It's important to use these phrases / sentences for specific situations as they may not be applicable for other times to be used. You shouldn't ask about a puppy's name when you really want to talk about the current weather, for example. This list above will help you when starting small talk and making it sound both friendly and outgoing.


SPEAKING TIP: IT'S NATURAL TO MAKE MISTAKES

(January 2018)

When an English learner first starts out with speaking, they're going to make mistakes either with misusing grammar or misplacing vocabulary. Perhaps you aren't using the correct sentence structure or you're not utilizing the correct verb for the sentence, these mistakes are going to happen. 

The first thing an English as a Second Language student could do is to stop speaking and to give up on practicing. As the old idiom goes, 'practice makes perfect.' If you don't practice speaking English, you're never going to improve in developing this particular skill. 

If you decide to practice with a work colleague, a friend, or a family member, you don't have to be embarrassed or ashamed if you make a mistake(s) with them. They're not going to laugh at you, make fun of you, or think less of you. If you're practicing your English speaking with them and they do those things to you, you should get up, leave and not see them again because it's not worth your time to practice your English skills with someone like that. 

Instead, taking the time to practice, make a few mistakes, correct those mistakes and improve with the help of a teacher, work colleague, friend, or family member will cause you to be a better English speaker.

Speaking from my personal experiences, I have made numerous mistakes in my studying of foreign languages and I still kept going, corrected myself, and become a better speaker. You have to let go of your ego a bit and let others help you to speak more fluently. In order to speak with fluency, you have to make mistakes in order to get better and improve. 


SPEAKING TIP: KNOW YOUR ENGLISH PHONEMES

(december 2017)

The English Phonemic Chart (Courtesy of EnglishClub.com)

There are 44 different phonemes or speech sounds in the English language. While that may be a lot, it is easy to study and know them especially with the help of this phonemic chart above. It's important to remember that a phoneme is simply a speech sound and each one is different from the other. 

The two categories that make up the 44 phonemes are vowels and consonants. Vowels include English letters such as 'e, i, o, u, a, and sometimes y.' Consonants are every other letter in the English alphabet such as 'n, m, l, r, w, s'. Vowels are different from consonants in that the sound a vowel makes is unobstructed in terms of its' air flow whereas a consonant sound will happen as the airflow is cut off completely or partially. The sounds both vowels and consonants make are the music of the English language and it helps form the foundation for speaking with proficiency. 

The phonemic chart above includes both voiced and unvoiced sounds and is divided between monophthongs and diphthongs. Monophthongs are those vowels and consonants that have a singular auditory sound where as diphthongs are those vowels and consonants that have a plural auditory meaning in that they represent two or more sounds being made.

When you learn about phonics, you learn about the relationship between the English letters and their respective sounds. There are hundreds of words that are used with each of these 44 phonemes but the most important thing to keep in mind is to memorize the sound as best as you can. All of the twenty-six letters are represented by these 44 phonemes in the chart above and can be used individually or in a combination with each other. 

The grapheme, a written representation of each sound, can help you to create the sound verbally when you know which letters make which sound based off of the chart above. All of the 44 phonemes are part of International Phonetic alphabet. The chart above along with learning about phonics is a good study resource for those English students who want to start saying the words and sentences verbally by using the right sounds and the right letters involved. 


SPEAKING TIP: study the phonics rules (Vowels, consonants, and syllables)

(November 2017)

A major part of being able to speak fluently in English is having an understanding of the sounds that each letter in the alphabet makes. The rules of phonics are important to study and master over time in order to become a better English speaker. While there are dozens of rules when it comes to English phonics, these ten rules listed below are perhaps the easiest of them all to study and remember. 

Vowels: The English vowels are "a,e,i,o,u"; and also sometimes "y." This also includes the 'diphthongs' such as "oi,oy,ou,ow,au,aw,oo,ee", which make unique sounds of their own when combined with one of the six vowels. 

Consonants: The English consonants are all of the other letters which stop or limit the flow of air from the throat in common speech. They are: "b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,qu,r,s,t,v,w,x,y,z,ch,sh,th,ph,wh,ng, and gh." The letters of the English alphabets are separated into two categories: consonants and vowels. 

1. Sometimes, the rules don't apply. 
There are many exceptions in English because of the vastness of the language and the many languages from which it has originated from. The rules do work however, in the majority of the English words you study and memorize. 

2. Every syllable in every word must have a vowel. 
English is a "vocal" language which means that every English word must have a vowel and/or a consonant. 

3. "C" followed by the letters "e, i, or y" usually has the soft sound of "s." 

Examples: "cyst", "central", and "city."

4. "G" followed by the letters "e, i or y" usually has the soft sound of "j." 

Examples: "gem", "gym", "gin", and "gist." 

5. When two consonants are joined together and form one new sound, they are called a 'consonant digraph'. They count as one sound and one letter together and are never separated.

Examples: "ch,sh,th,ph, rh, and wh." 

6. When a syllable ends in a consonant and has only one vowel, that vowel is short. 

Examples: "fat, bed, sit, dim, fish, spot, luck."

7. When a syllable ends in a silent "e", the silent "e" is a signal that the vowel in front of it is long. 

Examples: "make, gene, kite, bike, rake, rope, and use." 

8. When a syllable has two vowels together, the first vowel is usually long and the second is silent. 

Examples: "pain, eat, boat, say, bait, sea, coat, rain."

Note: Diphthongs don't follow this rule; In a diphthong, the vowels blend together to create a single new sound. The diphthongs are: "oi,oy,ou,ow,au,aw,oo" and other examples. 

9. When a syllable ends in any vowel and is the only vowel, that vowel is usually long in its' pronunciation. 

Examples: " me, I, my, to, be"  

10. When a vowel is followed by an "r" in the same syllable, that vowel is "r-controlled". It is not long or short in its' overall sound or length.

'R-controlled' vowels like er, ir, and ur often sound the same such as ending with the same "er" sound but this is not always the case so it's important to sound out the word. 

Examples: "term, sir, stir, fur, far, for, sugar, popular, order, eager, tiger."

While there are dozens of phonics rules to be aware of, these ten rules are a good place to get started when it comes to learning the phonetics of the English language. 


Speaking Tip: SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY

(october 2017)

When you're first learning English, it can be tempting to speak quickly and loudly so that everybody else can hear you. However, it's been proven that you're likelier to make more mistakes when you do that. 

Instead, you'll want to do the exact opposite in terms of your speaking style. It's much better for a new English speaker to speak slowly and clearly so you'll be better understood. Learning how to pace yourself when speaking English is an important aspect of the language to master. By speaking slower and enunciating your words clearly, you'll be able to have longer and better conversations. You'll also be likelier to make less mistakes when it comes to your pronunciation of the letters and sounds that make up each word. Your sense of the correct sentence structure and grammatical flow will be much better too. 

In order to take this advice into account, remember the next time when you're talking with a friend or family member in English to slow down, sound out the words, and then pause to take a breath before continuing on with your sentence. 99% of people won't mind slowing down the conversation especially when you're learning English as a second language. They should be happy to help you and will want to slow themselves down as well so that you can better understand what they are saying to you.

As the tortoise once said to the hare in the famous literary story about their foot race, "slow and steady wins the race." The same meaning could be given to a student when they are learning the fundamentals of speaking properly in English.