Develop Your English Speaking Skills     

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.

Image of 3 business people. The man is speaking & pointing. 'Suggestions to improve pronunciation & the other English skills you need to work more 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.


Jump directly to the section you need:

Assess Your Speaking Skills-- & Your Needs

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.

Pronunciation

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.

Vocabulary & Conversation

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.

Business Meetings & Expressions

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.)

Explanation & Persuasion Skills

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 Way to Develop Your English Speaking Skills

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 (less 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. The first lessons focus on the basics of communication in English, (including pronunciation difficulties, if any.) We'll work on vocabulary to explain your work precisely & to discuss the best solutions with clients or your team. 

In objective 2 (usually lessons 3-4 or 5) 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 practice discussing what you and your team have been working on. As part of the lesson prep, you'll review the past tense pronunciation of key work verbs. (Some very useful verbs like contribute, evaluate, implement, motivate, participate, and respond add an extra syllable in the past tense- see 'Pronouncing -ed.')

Depending on your needs, we may practice small talk and/or networking, which can be challenges to goal-focused professionals. 

 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.

Objective 3 emphasizes skills for persuasion & vocabulary building. 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 and the important of knowing word connotations.

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:

  • more business vocabulary & idioms 
  • presentation practice
  • interview practice (if you're thinking of changing jobs.) Knowing the questions you might be asked, and how to present your skills and experience, can make a real difference! 
  • extra pronunciation practice if needed
  • help with listening comprehension (there are specific skills that can help you listen better)
  • or even help with a particular aspect of grammar or writing

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.

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.

More Details (if you'd like them)

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:

  1. to give me an idea of your pronunciation, proficiency in English, and vocabulary level (plus any special problems we should address), 
  2. to help me plan more useful role plays for later lessons, &
  3. to practice giving clear explanations

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.

Pictures of some minimal pairs for L & R: bloom- broom, clown- crown, flute- fruit, liver- river, & lock-  rock.L-R minimal pairs

Lesson 2 (if needed): Pronunciation (& spelling) hints, especially of vowel sounds, which are more complicated in English than in most languages.

(We have 5 main vowel letters but 14 or more common vowel sounds-- at least two important sounds for each letter. Many of the sounds can be represented by several letters or letter combinations. There are clear patterns, but you need to be sure you understand the important ones.

Besides watching short videos on English vowel sounds as lesson prep, 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.)

We might also discuss small talk dos & don’ts and practice ways to start & end conversations & change the subject.

Lesson 3-4 or 5 (or earlier if you don't need all the practice above): practice situations in which you use English at work or for networking, including discussing work you & your team have done or plans for the future.

Prep work will include business vocabulary and idioms and, depending on your specific needs, phrasal verbs, pronouncing  past tense verbs, or writing emails, reports, or memos. 

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. 

Depending on your position, we may also have a lesson to practice talking to supervisors or subordinates and working on or leading a team. We might practice ways to clarify plans & responsibilities, ask for or offer help, and give or accept advice and feedback. We may talk about problem-solving vocabulary and leadership or conflict resolution techniques (as needed.)

In the next two lessons 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.

We'll also look at connotations & why your word choices matter. We'll talk about vocabulary tools like thesauruses (and dictionaries) for comparing synonyms and choosing the one that expresses your exact meaning.

In the next-to-last lesson prep and lesson we'll discuss ways to increase your vocabulary, including understanding word roots & affixes and recognizing context clues.

Lesson 10 (or 8). Wrap-up session: questions? Bridge any identified gaps. Suggestions for continuing to improve your English in the future. You will have the option to save this lesson if you would like to discuss or practice a presentation you need to give and especially to answer questions after giving it. (Several students have found this valuable.)

Interested in learning More? Call for a Free Consultation

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.

Schedule Now

2022 Possible Options 

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.

A Course for Professionals on Using English at Work

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 would 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 this year I will be offering a pilot version of the vocabulary section of the course with some 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.

Questions about Lessons? Ask Here!

Please note that all fields followed by an asterisk must be filled in.
 

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