You’ve mastered the English basics, but maybe you still can’t express yourself as you’d like. Here’s how to develop your English speaking skills so you can work effectively with your English-speaking colleagues.
An obvious first step—but still essential—is to speak in English whenever you can. Don’t worry if your English isn’t perfect! It WILL get better with practice.
Do you have a friend you can practice with? Great! You can help each other improve while enjoying your time together (even if it has to be virtual or over the phone!)
When you don’t have anyone to talk to, talk to yourself (when alone!), or think in English whenever you can.
Imagine you’re telling a friend your thoughts and plans or describing what’s going on around you.
Start by considering which of your speaking skills need improving. You may find that a few hours concentrating on the main problem areas will make a big difference.
Do you know how to ask for clarification if you didn’t understand something? Don’t be embarrassed if you occasionally need to ask for an explanation or a repeat! Even native English speakers miss comments or aren’t always sure they got the point.
You can ask “Could you please repeat that?” You can also rephrase what you think they said. “So you’re suggesting we should look into less expensive options. Is that right?” Or: “If I understood, we need to finish the animal testing by Thursday and have the first draft of our report ready by April 12th. Correct?”
Note: If you miss or misunderstand what people tell you frequently, you may need to work on your listening skills as well as your speaking. See the Intermediate and Advanced Listening sections of Comprehension Exercises for some suggestions.
Do you feel embarrassed because your colleagues have a hard time understanding the way you pronounce English words?
There are some excellent YouTube videos for helping people pronounce English sounds they don’t have in their first languages. (I teach that as well.)
If English spellings make it harder for you to figure out how to pronounce words you read, don’t feel bad! English spelling is a problem even for native speakers! However, there are some simple rules that can help. See English Vowels (my most popular page) and the pages it links to for digraphs and consonants.
A good way to work on your pronunciation (and other English skills) is by listening to English podcasts or watching videos or movies. They’ll help improve your pronunciation as you recognize the sounds and rhythms of English. They’ll also increase your English listening skills and even help you absorb the patterns of English grammar.
It’s even better they have subtitles or a transcript you can read. Then you can check how well you understood (and reinforce any new vocabulary.)
TED talks are great for this. There are interesting and important talks on almost every subject. It’s also good practice pronunciation to stop the recording when you can and try to repeat what you heard. Imitate the exact rhythm and tone of the sentence as well as the words.
If you can’t always think of the right words to explain what you mean, try reading more in English. It’s the best way to build vocabulary. (TED talks and other listening practice with transcripts will also boost your vocabulary.) Choose subjects you’re interested in or those you most often need to discuss.
Do you have problems with casual conversation? See the section on small talk in the middle of EnglishHints’ Conversation Practice page. I’ve made an e-book on Small Talk that should help. You can download it there.
Do you feel challenged when you speak in meetings? I don’t currently have any pages on that (though I do extensive individual coaching on the subject. See my lessons below). However, English Club has a excellent short series of posts on business meeting practices and vocabulary.
They also have some pages on business expressions and idioms. If you just need the idioms you're most likely to hear, I’d recommend my pages. That way you won't feel overwhelmed with large numbers of colorful but less-used idioms. See Idiom Examples and Sports Idioms (very commonly used by American business people.)
The fastest and most effective way to improve your speaking skills is with individual lessons that meet your specific needs.
I offer lessons like that. Here’s a little about my program:
I teach a series of related lessons to develop your English speaking skills as effectively as possible. There are usually 6-8 (or more when needed) one-hour lessons. (Some people take 1/2-hour lessons over a longer period to fit their schedule better.)
Most students have one lesson with me a week, on a flexible schedule. There is also about half an hour of pre-lesson preparation and 30 min. to an hour of homework so you can get the most from each lesson.
For most people, the program focuses on three main subjects or objectives. Lessons 1-2 usually focus on any pronunciation difficulties you have.
Lessons 3-5 are on improving your speaking skills while talking to coworkers or clients individually.
Lessons 6-7 are on American business culture, meeting vocabulary, & effective communication in meetings.
(Lesson 8 is to review, discuss any remaining subjects or questions, and talk about how students can continue to improve on their own.)
Those who don’t need much help with pronunciation may only need 6 lessons. As an alternative, they might choose to spend more time on business meetings. (This might mean working on business idioms or specialized vocabulary, for example.) Or they might want to practice for an interview or a presentation they’ll be giving.
Here’s the basic plan for each lesson (before individual modifications):
1. The sounds & rhythms of English: improve speaking clarity by working with any vowel or consonant sounds that are difficult for you.
2. Recognize and work on any problem sounds, including minimal pairs practice. Practice intonation & linking for more natural-sounding speech.
3. Practice talking to supervisors or subordinates & working on or leading a team. We’ll practice ways to clarify plans & responsibilities, ask for or offer help, and give or accept advice and feedback.
4. Introductions, networking & small talk dos & don’ts. Learn ways to start & end conversations & change the subject.
5. Practice English for expressing opinions & agreeing & disagreeing politely. Discuss the principles & vocabulary of persuasion. Then practice arguing for or against a particular proposal, project, or point of view.
6. Discuss your level of comfort & experiences in meetings. Practice common English meeting practices & expressions. (If needed, also practice important business vocabulary, phrases, or idioms.)
7. English communication in group meetings: practice. Role play leading a meeting, presenting an agenda item, problem-solving or promoting a project.
8. Wrap-up session: questions? Bridge any identified gaps. Suggestions for continuing to improve your English in the future.
Alternative lessons I’ve given depending on individual needs:
I can help you figure out the most efficient ways to develop your English speaking skills. I’ll be glad to help, whether you decide you’d like lessons with me or just want to find the best free resources available.
Click the button below to choose a time for a 30-minute free strategy session with me. You can also contact me with any questions on the form below.