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 (just updated based on student experiences and needs):
I teach a series of related lessons to develop your English speaking skills as effectively as possible. There are now two main lesson packages (depending on your English level and how often you use English at work) plus several specialized lessons or courses for those who need them. Lessons are usually 50 minutes to an hour on Zoom.
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 of pre-lesson preparation and some homework/review afterward to practice the skills you learned so you can get the most from each lesson.
The prep often 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.
Both sets of lessons emphasize practice speaking: asking and answering questions, making suggestions and responding to other people’s ideas, and participating in meetings.
In the course of the lesson discussions, role plays, and prep work there will be a lot of opportunities to review and increase your vocabulary (including idioms and phrasal verbs used frequently in meetings in English) and to ensure you are pronouncing and using important professional vocabulary correctly.
If you have any consistent grammar problems (for example with preposition use or past tenses), I have some mini-lessons and homework worksheets that can help you master difficult areas simply, so you don’t need to be self-conscious about them.
These five lessons are especially for people wo don’t currently use English every day at work.
If you can read English well and need to use it in meetings but don’t have a lot of chances to practice it between meetings, these lessons might make a real difference in your speaking fluency and confidence in meetings.
In the first three lessons we’ll review and practice important pronunciation tips to help English-speakers understand you (and you understand them) more clearly. Besides word stresses, we’ll practice English vowel sounds, especially a few that can be difficult for speakers of some languages to distinguish.
We’ll also review some key professional vocabulary. We’ll practice connected speech so your English sounds more natural and is easier to understand. We’ll also practice conversations, small talk, and networking as ways to apply what you’re working on.
The fourth lesson will focus on meetings in English and how to participate. You’ll practice useful meeting phrases and vocabulary and discuss your experiences with meetings and how to share your ideas and opinions and make suggestions.
Lesson 5 will emphasize strategies and resources you can use to continue
improving your English and especially to increase your vocabulary.
These five lessons are especially for people who need to discuss issues in meeting or with coworkers in English frequently.
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. (These are useful whether you're persuading your team, your boss or higher management, or a client.)
Prep work will include business vocabulary and idioms, some phrasal verbs common in business conversations, and several articles and exercises on word connotations and persuasion.
Depending on your specific needs, there might be more prep work before any of these lessons on writing emails, reports, or memos or any of the topics in the first lesson package, such as pronunciation or connected speech.
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.
You'll read about, discuss, and practice problem-solving vocabulary and leadership techniques. Depending on your needs, we'll practice giving and receiving feedback, motivating your team, dealing with different personalities and conflict in the workplace, and negotiation strategies.
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. The prep work for lesson 1 includes an introduction to sentence and syllable stresses in English. This is the one part of a lesson included in both lesson packages. I've found it is so important for pronouncing words you may have read but not heard.
Understanding and using stress correctly in English makes more difference than almost anything else in helping native speakers understand you better.
The lesson itself will start with one of the basics of English communication: asking useful questions. I'll also ask you some questions about your work. These questions have three purposes:
We'll talk about the rhythms and stresses of English, and about using "small talk" and open-ended questions for casual conversation and to get to know someone better.
In lesson 2 we'll review the vowel sounds (from the prep work beforehand.) Why?
(The most common English vowel sounds are different from the vowel sounds in most European languages. Knowing when to use each sound is complicated!
Some people may also need practice with other English sounds, like the difference between L and R or V and W-- or B.) 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.
We’ll also 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, you'll review the past tense pronunciation of key work verbs. (Some very useful verbs like contribute, motivate, participate, respond, and suggest add an extra syllable in the past tense. See 'Pronouncing -ed' on the Simple Past Tense page for an explanation.)
In lesson 3 we'll discuss and practice connected speech and making your English sound more natural. (This may also help you understand native English-speakers better especially when they speak quickly.)
Lesson 4 can help you speak more confidently in meetings. We'll practice different situations and review useful words and phrases, including important persuasion techniques and vocabulary in English.
We'll discuss the meetings you usually attend and any questions about the homework on meeting agendas & business vocabulary. You’ll practice responding in different meeting situations.
In lesson 5, we'll discuss techniques that can help you build your vocabulary more quickly and practice recognizing the meaning of words from the context or from related words. We'll also talk about resources that can help you continue improving your English.
In lesson 1, we’ll look at English word and sentence stresses for clearer communication, ways to discuss problems and potential solutions (including using questions to better understand people's perspectives), and (if you don’t already use them) some useful phrases for working with a team.
Lesson 2 is about leading or participating in a meeting at work. We’ll talk about or role play presenting an agenda item, clarifying plans & responsibilities, and contributing to discussions. We’ll review a few useful business idioms and phrasal verbs. (I have lots more if you have time or want to study extras as homework.)
In Lesson 3 and possibly 4, We'll discuss the principles and vocabulary of persuasion, including any questions about the phrases or vocabulary in the pre-session prep work. (These are useful whether you're persuading your team, your boss or higher management, or a client.)
You'll practice planning in English before a meeting or event so you can present your thoughts clearly, briefly, and with impact and do role plays to practice different situations requiring persuasion.
In Lesson 4, depending on your needs, we might practice 'connected speech' instead. This lesson can help you with English rhythm and can make your English smoother and more relaxed by connecting words and minimizing or dropping certain sounds the way most English speakers do.
In lesson 5 we’ll especially focus on connotations (the feelings attached to some words) to help you choose the best words to make your points, from presenting an idea to your boss or coworkers to arguing against a project and/or suggesting a different approach.
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.
In mid September 2023 I will offer a special, discounted course for busy professionals on how to Speak English Confidently. It's also a group and individual study version of much of lesson 1, 4-5, plus some parts of the 2nd (more advanced) package. It will include a lot of speaking practice, including in three live Zoom small-group sessions. Let me know if you might be interested. (I might even be able to add something that you would find especially helpful.)
They're especially for people who don't have time for individual lessons or are finding them difficult to afford due to current problems with the exchange rate. (I'm in the U.S. and so I need payment in dollars.)
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.
I also offer a self-study pronunciation course (emphasizing different vowel pronunciations, syllable stress, and how to pronounce common professional vocabulary) that you can take at any time (but without the special price.)
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.