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.
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?
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 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 (or more when needed) lessons for 45 minutes to an hour on Zoom or another video-chat platform.
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 to practice the skills you learned so you can get the most from each lesson.
For most people, the program is built on three main pillars or objectives. Lessons 1-4 focus on the basics of communication in English, including any pronunciation difficulties you have. We'll work on vocabulary to explain your work precisely & to discuss the best solutions with clients or your team.
We'll practice small talk, which can be a challenge to goal-focused professionals. We'll also discuss key persuasion strategies, including the importance of understanding your audience. We'll go over vocabulary that can help you make your points more effectively.
In objective 2, lessons 5-7 provide practice with everyday communication at work and in business meetings, using the skills & vocabulary discussed in the first lessons. We'll talk about American business culture & 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.
Lessons 8-9 give extra practice with whatever you most need:
Lesson 10 (or 8 if you didn't need all the lessons above) is to review and to discuss any remaining subjects or questions. We'll also talk about how you can continue to improve your spoken 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 two purposes:
Then we'll talk about the sounds & rhythms of English and work on ways to improve your speaking clarity by practicing any vowel or consonant sounds that are difficult for you. (Some of my students don't need this, so we may continue into part of lesson 2.)
We'll also practice with open-ended questions. (They're important so you can understand your coworkers' or clients' concerns better.)
Lesson 2. Introductions, networking & small talk dos & don’ts. Learn more ways to start & end conversations & change the subject.
As needed, continue to work on any problem sounds, including with minimal pairs practice (like the illustration). Practice intonation & linking for more natural-sounding speech.
Lesson 3. Practice giving clear instructions & explanations. Learn ways to find out what your audience already knows so you can provide background & examples as needed and check that they understand.
Lesson 4. In this lesson 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 also look at connotations & why your word choice matters.
Lesson 5. 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.
Lesson 6. 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. We may also talk about problem-solving vocabulary and conflict resolution techniques (as needed.)
Lesson 7. 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, and participating in discussions.
Lesson 8-9. See options in the section above. These include, based on your needs:
Lesson 10. Wrap-up session: questions? Bridge any identified gaps. Suggestions for continuing to improve your English in the future.
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 free 30-minute strategy session with me. 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.
Starting in early 2021 there are several less expensive options: a mixed coaching and individual coursework option, group coaching, and (if there is interest) 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 five Zoom calls for Q&A (discussing the individual lessons and answering your questions) and for speaking practice and role plays.
I'm also glad to do less expensive group coaching 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.
Also possible: an Interactive Course
I can offer a course if enough people are interested. It would emphasize professional vocabulary and some phrases useful for collaboration or meetings.
It would include much of the content above except for speaking practice with me. (Students in the course could arrange to practice with each other. There would also be group Question & Answer sessions and possibly an option for one or two individual sessions with me, if requested.)
We could have a beta (pilot) course this spring, working closely with a few students to figure out the most helpful content & exercises. If you're interested in learning how to communicate more effectively in English but not ready for individual lessons, let me know! (You can use the form below to ask about the course, individual lessons, or both!)