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 spoken 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, speak English to yourself (when alone, or silently!), 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.
It's also important to listen to all the English you can: music, videos, podcasts, TED talks, conferences in your field-- the more the better. If you don't have a firm foundation in English or have trouble understanding what people say, do this even before you practice your speaking skills.
Start by considering which of your English 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?
A little study of English word and syllable stress and pronunciation can make a big difference.
Stressing the right syllables often matters more than the exact letter sounds. Word stress is not just for emphasis in English! It relies heavily on stress to mark the more important words in each sentence and to distinguish between words with similar sounds.
(Check the bottom of this page for a free workbook that gives the word stresses for important professional work vocabulary, especially words important for persuading people to accept your idea or consider your proposal. It also gives examples for using these words in workplace discussions & meetings.)
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 when 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 for 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 in English.
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 too. You can download it there.
Do you feel challenged when you need to speak English 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 in American business discussions.)
These are critical communication skills that require more than just competent English. They also require an understanding of psychology and the background, values, and motivations of your audience (the people you are talking with.) They require a willingness to listen and to adjust your message to meet your listeners where they are.
There's so much more involved! A good place to start might be with a couple of TED articles (with related talks) that discuss key strategies for both: giving clear explanations and having a productive conversation with people we disagree with.
The fastest and most effective way to improve your spoken English is with individual lessons that meet your specific needs.
I offer lessons to do exactly 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 8-10 lessons for 50 minutes to an hour on Zoom or another video-chat platform.
Since most of my students are busy professionals, I suggest one lesson every week or every two weeks. The schedule is flexible, so you can add an extra lesson when needed (for example, before a presentation or interview) or postpone one if necessary.
Each lesson also comes with about half an hour to 45 minutes of pre-lesson preparation and some homework to practice the skills you learned so you can get the most from each lesson.
The prep usually includes reading an article, listening to a talk, and/or watching a video to introduce some of the concepts and vocabulary we'll be practicing. There are also sometimes worksheets for pre- or post-session practice.
For most people, my lesson program is built on three main pillars or objectives. The first lessons focus on the basics of communication in English, (including pronunciation difficulties, if any.)
We'll discuss your English experience, needs, and strengths and weaknesses to work on. We'll also start looking at vocabulary to explain your work precisely & to discuss the best solutions with clients or your team.
In objective 2 (usually lessons 4-8) we'll practice with everyday communication at work and in business meetings, adding to the skills and vocabulary discussed in the first lessons.
We'll talk about American business culture (including business idioms) & practice effective communication with your coworkers, supervisors, and/or clients one-on-one and in meetings.
The lessons emphasize how to handle different situations in English, and include practice and role plays.
We'll discuss persuasion strategies, including the importance of understanding your audience. We'll go over vocabulary that can help you make your points more effectively.
We'll also look at ways you can increase your vocabulary quickly, and then keep building it on your own.
Depending on your needs, we may also work on:
If you are a leader or manage a team, or if you hope to do so in the future, some extra practice is really useful.
Depending on your needs, we practice giving and receiving feedback, motivating your team, dealing with conflict in the workplace, and negotiation skills.
In the last lesson of the program (usually lesson 8 or 10), we'll discuss any remaining subjects or questions. We'll also talk about how you can continue to improve your English and communication skills.
Here’s the basic plan for each lesson. These plans don't all mention the preparation you'd do before and after class, but it is related-- and essential.
Lesson 1. We'll start with the basics of English communication. I'll ask some questions about your work. These questions have three purposes:
We'll talk about the sounds & rhythms of English.
We'll also practice with open-ended questions. (They're important so you can understand your coworkers' or clients' concerns better.) Think about ways to find out what your audience already knows so you can provide background & examples as needed and check that they understand.
We'll practice discussing what you and your team have been working on (which is also good preparation for networking events or job interviews, if you ever need it. I also have lessons specifically to practice job interviews if you are thinking of changing jobs or advancing in your career.)
As part of the lesson prep, you'll review the past tense pronunciation of key work verbs. (Some very useful verbs like contribute, implement, motivate, participate, and respond add an extra syllable in the past tense. See 'Pronouncing -ed' on the Simple Past Tense page.)
In lesson 2, we'll continue working on the basics, especially learning about and discussing small talk, explaining, and English pronunciation.
(The most common English vowel sounds are different than in most European languages, & knowing when to use each sound is complicated! Some people also need practice with other English sounds, like the difference between L and R.)
Depending on your background and needs, you can either do a quick review or spend longer on any of those aspects. I have a couple short videos on English vowel sounds as lesson prep, emphasizing important professional vocabulary as well as the most common words using each sound.
If you need it, we may practice minimal pairs like the L-R pairs in the illustration on the left (if you find it hard to hear or pronounce the difference between two sounds that may not be different in your first language.)
In lesson 3 we take a first look at teamwork as well as practicing adjectives for what's important and ways to ask for or offer help and give or accept advice
. (The prep work includes some practice with English phrasal verbs for those who want to recognize more of them.)
Lessons 4-8 practice meetings and situations in which you use English at work, including the best persuasion techniques and vocabulary in English, whether you're persuading your team, your boss or higher management, or a client.
Prep work will include business vocabulary and idioms (L.4), several articles and exercises on word connotations and persuasion (probably L.5-7), and using context and other ways to build your vocabulary quickly (L.8.)
Depending on your specific needs, there might be more prep work before any of these lessons on writing emails, reports, or memos or on building vocabulary.
In Lesson 4, we'll discuss your experiences in meetings & any questions about the homework on meeting agendas & business vocabulary. Practice your English communication skills in different meeting situations. Role play leading a meeting, presenting an agenda item, clarifying plans & responsibilities, and participating in discussions.
In Lesson 5-7, we'll review connotations, (the feelings attached to some words) to help you chose the best words to make your points. We'll discuss the principles and vocabulary of persuasion, including any questions about the phrases or vocabulary in the pre-session prep work.
We'll do role plays to practice different situations requiring persuasion, from presenting an idea to your boss or coworkers to arguing against a project &/or suggesting a different approach.
In Lesson 8, we'll discuss techniques that can help you build your vocabulary more quickly. If this is your last lesson, we'll also go over opportunities to continue improving your English.
You'll have the option to save your last lesson if you want discuss or practice a presentation you will need to give soon (and especially to answer questions after giving it.) Several students have found this valuable.
If you lead a team or a division (or hope to in the future), lesson 9-10 are an opportunity to read about, discuss, and practice problem-solving vocabulary, leadership, and conflict resolution techniques. These lessons will be personalized to your exact needs based on our earlier discussions.
If you're interested, I have an inexpensive membership plan in which you can use guided self-study lessons and materials to continue to practice English vocabulary, listening, writing, and more, with group Question & Answer sessions, and possibly lessons on advanced topics or group speaking practice in the future.
You may be able to find partners or study buddies to practice speaking in English and discuss your experiences. (It can be valuable to get to know someone in a related field from a different culture, to compare your situations and get ideas-- and maybe build a friendship!)
In addition, you can arrange short (10-20 min.) calls later in the year if you have a question or need to work on a specific problem.
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.
Schedule a time for a free 30-minute strategy session with me below. (Please don't schedule a full lesson unless you have already paid for it. I can only teach regular lessons that have been paid in advance.)
You can also contact me with any questions (or to arrange a session, if you'd prefer discussing it with me first) on the form below the next section.
I now offer several options: a mixed coaching and individual coursework option, group coaching, and an interactive course emphasizing the vocabulary, phrases, and idioms most useful for professional or academic work.
The "mixed" lessons would be similar to the program described above but with less one-on-one time with me (and therefore less expensive.) There would be up to five Zoom calls for Q&A (discussing the individual lessons and answering your questions) and especially for speaking practice and role plays.
I'm also glad to do group coaching sessions following the program above or sections of it. Please contact me if you have a small group (two to six people) who can coordinate your schedules to all meet at a particular time.
My new course, 30 Days to Better English for Professionals, includes much of the content above except for speaking practice with me.
(Students in the course could arrange to practice with each other.There will also be group Question & Answer sessions including some partner speaking practice and an option for one or more individual sessions with me, depending on your needs.)
Later in 2022 I will be offering a pilot version of the vocabulary section of the course with more individual or group coaching-- similar to the mixed coaching above. Please contact me if you're interested.
I'll be glad to talk if you want more information or have questions. You can use the form below to ask about the course, individual lessons, &/or group lessons.