Spoken English is a skill like any other, and you can improve it with a little mindfulness and practice. I’ve once had a conversation with one of my students who wanted to improve spoken English, which eventually inspired me to write this article. In this article, I have shared some simple tips that you can use to improve your English.
I was talking to him over the phone.
He sounded hopeless.
He was one of my past students from Subharti University, Meerut – cleared two rounds of a job interview with a reputed company but failed the last one.
Poor spoken English.
The HR person told him, “Everything is just fine, but you must work on your English speaking skills.”
The student I am talking about was from a rural background, born in a farmer family in Western Uttar Pradesh.
He asked me, “Sir, my spoken English is weak. Is there any hope for me – will I be able to improve my spoken English, ever?”
Are You Kidding Me?
Getting rejected in a job interview because of poor communication skills?
I mean, what could be more frustrating for a deserving candidate?
But I know it happens. All the time.
Just like that guy, I too was born in Western Uttar Pradesh (in Lakshminagar (Muzaffarnagar)). And you know what, English is alien in most parts of our region.
Well, because we’re not British and English is not our language.
You see, I wasn’t concerned about English until 10th standard. Then one day, I noticed my cousin working hard to improve his English and it made me realise I also needed to work on my speaking skills.
I am an Indian at heart.
And I respect my mother tongue – Khadi Boli as well as the national language Hindi, but if you wish to realise your dreams, you must work on your English because it is the global language now. You need to master three different ones if you’re serious about success:
- Your local dialect
- The national language – Hindi
- And the universal language – English
I also realised that reading and understanding were not enough and I needed to converse fluently.
But there was a problem.
My school did not have the right atmosphere.
You see, whenever I tried to talk to my classmates in English, I was ridiculed. Neither were they able to converse in the language nor were they interested in learning.
But I knew I had to do it, and so, I asked one of my classmates (who happened to be my neighbour) if he would join me, and he said yes. We decided that we’ll either speak English or won’t speak at all.
Our fluency improved.
Then stay with me.
You Can Improve Spoken English by Taking it As a Challenge
Most of the students take English as a problem. I think that’s not a healthy approach. It’s like losing the battle before you even begin.
Why not take improving English as a challenge – as a part of your personality development training? You can master it with practice.
Tell me: Did you know everything about the subject you’re studying right now in your college?
All you had was a vague idea, and you weren’t sure what you’re going to learn in the classroom, right?
But then, you learned. You studied hard and polished your skills, and you can do the same with your speaking skills.
Take Pride in Your Local Lingo (Mother Tongue)
As I told you, I belong to Western UP. My local dialect is ‘Khadi Boli.’
Can’t tell you how heartbreaking it is to see students from Western U.P. hiding the fact that they come from a rural background. They fear that people will call them ‘Ganvaar.’
It does not matter how successful or influential or wealthy I become; it is a fact that I belong to a rural background and there’s no point hiding it. If you aren’t proud of your local dialect then what’s the point in learning English?
Accept your mother tongue, embrace it, own it because your local dialect is the base of your ability to communicate.
It was your mother tongue only that taught you the first ever word you could speak. And I don’t understand why would you get offended if somebody calls you ‘Ganvaar.’ Aren’t you one? Don’t you belong to a ‘gaanv’ (village)?
And what’s fucking wrong with you being a Ganvaar? Can you enlighten me?
Don’t Join Any Institute in the Beginning
Since your skills are at the primary stage, there’s no use joining any institute.
I do, however, recommend getting one-on-one tuition because at this stage you need more attention and support than students in an institute.
There’s a hell lot of difference between learning in a class of 35 students and, learning one-on-one where you’re the only student.
Find a decent teacher in your neighbourhood and get some individual classes first so you can get familiar with English, and then, once you’re little comfortable, join an institute.
Must I Join an Institute to Improve Spoken English?
You need the confidence to speak, and institutes can help you get comfortable with the language. When you utter even two lines in front of 20-30 people, you feel good about yourself. And that gives you the confidence to speak more.
You already know how to speak English, you do.
All you need is a little help to overcome the hesitation – that lump in your throat, those drops of sweat on your forehead, that dry mouth and that’s why joining an Institute is a must.
If you sincerely want to polish your skills, I can recommend one. It’s called YMCA, New Delhi (Behind Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Near Patel Chowk Metro Station). They have a course titled ‘General and Professional English.’ It’s one of the best out there.
But remember: An institute can help you only if you help yourself – if you take an active part in the classroom. Joining an institute for the sake of watching hot girls is not going to help (I know many boys who do just that).
I was pursuing a three years course from NIIT in 1996, and as part of the curriculum, all the students were supposed to deliver a presentation in front of the class. It was a question of scoring better marks, and I couldn’t afford to be shy, so I joined the YMCA to improve my English.
Now, picture a jam-packed classroom (57 students to be specific).
The teacher asked us to speak about anything: A trip to a weekly market, an exciting incident, or a movie – anything.
The catch? We were allowed to speak English only. I was astonished to see all the boys and girls silent as if somebody had cut off their tongues.
I wanted to speak but the problem was I had no clue what. But still, I decided to stand up.
My heart was pounding like crazy, my legs were shaking like dry leaves, and my mouth was dried up like drought-stricken barren land, but I spoke 4-5 lines.
That’s what you must do: Speak.
Nobody will speak for you because it’s your responsibility.
Activate Your Throat Chakra
The human body has 7 ‘Chakras’ – contact points where the physical body meets the subtle one. Each Chakra governs a particular area of your body.
Out of these seven Chakras, Throat Chakra is responsible for your speaking abilities, and it’s a no-brainer that you should activate it to enhance your speaking abilities.
Let me share a simple technique that can help you:
Sit with your eyes closed.
Take three deep breaths.
Now, visualise a soft sky-blue-coloured-ball revolving in your throat area. If visualising doesn’t feel natural to you, then thinking about it will also work.
Remember not to push yourself. Just keep practising, and within days you’ll get the knack of it. Keep visualising that ball revolving around your Throat Chakra for about 5 minutes, and when you feel complete, open your eyes.
That was easy-peasy, right?
You can do it anytime but practising it before going to bed would be more beneficial.
In the morning, when you wake up, don’t get out of bed. Lie there for a while with your eyes closed, and again, imagine that sky-blue-coloured-ball revolving and massaging your Throat from the inside.
Do this exercise daily before going to bed and also in the morning and within days you shall notice improvement – not only in your speech but also in the way you express yourself. You shall be more honest and truthful in your day-to day-conversations that’ll help you gain people’s trust.
Don’t Translate English to Your Mother Tongue
Most of the students from rural background fail to improve their English.
They try to learn by translating it into their mother tongue. And they fail miserably because every language is different – the way English works is not the way Hindi or any other Indian language works.
Let me explain.
Tell me, how did you learn your Hindi? When you say ‘Kutta’, do you try to understand its meaning in some other language?
No. When someone refers to a Kutta, you know what does that mean. A Kutta is a Kutta. Likewise, when someone talks about a dog, he means a dog, and so, you must not make the dog Kutta. Don’t say dog means Kutta. Dog means dog.
I know it’s hard to get because English is not our native language. But you must try to think, speak, and understand English words as they are. Don’t translate them into your mother tongue. And remember, whenever you get stuck, go back to the basics. I have devised a term that can help you learn the basics of language learning. I call it LSRW:
In this article, I am covering L and S. Let’s keep R and W reserved for the future.
How did you learn your mother tongue? You started listening to your parents, family members, and other people.
Listening helped you get familiar with the language, and you started imitating them. That’s how you learned to speak.
So, remember this:
The First Step to Learning any Language is Listening
And English is no exception.
But there’s a challenge: Since no one around you speaks English, how can you get familiar with it? Well, how about watching movies?
I know what you’re thinking:
“I don’t understand a word, and you’re asking me to watch English movies?”
Do I need to remind you that when you started learning your mother tongue, you could not understand many words because you were a child at the time? But with time, you followed the language more clearly.
Consider yourself a child who’s trying to learn a new language, and it shall help you improve your skills faster.
So, at this point, it’s not essential to understanding the dialogues. Just watch the movies, even if nothing makes sense to you. And please don’t enable subtitles because when you look at them, you are reading, and not listening.
Also, start listening to BBC radio online.
Listen to English speaking people as much as you can.
Why Listening is Important to Master a Language
I have been watching a Youtube Channel of a Haryanvi guy who makes funny videos. And just today, I noticed that I had started speaking the way that guy talks – the choice of words, the tone, the expressions, almost everything was getting similar.
Am I surprised?
Because I know this is how the human brain works – it loves imitation.
You start speaking the way your peers or friends or family members talk (and you may not even realise it).
People love to listen to mimicry because they also wanted to be like their favourite politician, or a particular Bollywood star, or a specific Hollywood actor, or any other public figure.
Well, guess what, listening to mimicry is the perfect way to live that life (even if it’s for a couple of minutes).
So the more you listen to a particular language or style of speaking, the more profound the (unconscious) imitation shall be.
For example, an Indian living in the UK will not speak the way people living in India do – his accent shall be more of a British one.
So why not take advantage of this imitation habit of your mind?
You can improve your speaking skills by listening to the language as much as you could. It’s a no-brainer.
No! You Cannot Improve Spoken English by Reading Newspapers
I don’t know who started this but reading newspapers hoping to improve verbal English is the dumbest thing you can do. And yet the first advice you get from people is “Oh! Do you want to improve your speaking skills? Start reading newspapers.”
Next time when somebody advises you do that, ask him, “Had you read Hindi newspapers to learn spoken Hindi?” Even a person who can’t read, speaks well enough Hindi. How come? Well, because he’s been listening to other people speaking Hindi.
I am not saying reading newspapers is not good – it is – but the kind of language they use is ‘bookish’ and ‘unconversational.’ It’s written English, and that’s not your aim.
We don’t speak the way we write. Do we?
Do you talk to your friend like this, “Good morning, it gives me immense pleasure to invite you to dinner.”
Or do you speak like this, “Hey, why don’t you come over to my place tonight? Let’s eat together.”
Noticed the difference? That is the difference between day-to-day conversational style and written style.
Many students read newspapers daily hoping to improve their vocabulary. Hell, they also mark the problematic words to look up the meanings in dictionaries.
Well, guess what, they have been doing it for years now, but still, their skills are not improving and never will. Because they are trying to develop speaking skills by ‘reading.’ It’s utter nonsense, don’t fall for that.
Remember a simple rule:
Want to improve your writing skills? Read.
Interested in polishing speaking skills? Listen.
Now is the time for speaking. “But I don’t know how to speak.” Well, that’s why I am here to help you.
Remember the deal I had struck with one of my classmates for polishing our speaking skills? It’s time for you to do the same, you need to find a partner.
Both of you must speak English only (at least when you’re with each other). And hey, don’t fear speaking wrong or broken language at this point. You can’t help it; it’ll happen all the time.
And since learning a language takes time, don’t expect yourself to speak fluently from day one.
Right or wrong. Poor or rich. Broken or Unbroken. Nothing matters. What matters is that you speak.
This speaking practice will make your tongue, your mouth and your vocal chords get familiar with the language.
One more thing:
Most of us are not used to listen to ourselves speaking English. That’s why the moment you speak even a few sentences, you feel uncomfortable. And nobody likes being uncomfortable. So you talk in English for a few moments and then switch back to your mother tongue.
Get into the habit of listening to the sound of your voice.
Record 2 – 3 small paragraphs from a book or newspaper on your mobile phone, and then listen to the audio at least thrice. Keep on doing this until you start getting comfortable with your voice. Get into the habit of hearing yourself speak English.
A Weird Tip to Improve Spoken English
While you’re on the road, try reading the signboards. (Whenever I travel, I read the signs (Not when I am driving)).
I know it sounds crazy, but the idea is to get familiar with the language as much as you possibly can.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Poor English
I have seen students pretending they want to improve – consciously they work ‘hard’ but unconsciously, they sabotage their efforts by being lazy.
In simpler words, they make fools of themselves. They know that reasonably good English skills are a must to get successful in today’s world, but it demands them to work their asses off, which they don’t want to do.
So, if you’re going to improve your spoken skills, be clear about that, and if you’re not willing to put in the efforts, be clear about that too. It will make you assess where you stand.
Don’t Blame Luck, God, or Your Neighbor
I hate people when they say nobody can stop them from making their dreams come true.
Mr Genius, why would anybody be interested in ‘stopping’ you?
I mean who do you think you are?
A superhero, who is trying to defy the gravity so he can flaunt the flag, bearing his name in golden ink on some far-far-away galaxy called “Englishopiateredia”, and the people on earth trying to pull him back, so he never succeeds?
Come on, have some sense.
Your life is your making, and only you are responsible for where you are, and where you will (or will not be) in the future.
Don’t even think of covering your lazy ass with fancy words like lousy luck, unfavourable circumstances, or evil people. No sir, we’re not interested in stopping you. We’re way too busy watching our asses. And you know what, you have already wasted much time battling with imaginary enemies. It’s time to put an end to this bullshit.
Wake up. Take responsibility for your life before it’s too late.
But Nobody Speaks English In My Family, Not Even My Dog
My younger brother had a friend who could speak anything but English. I had met the guy couple of times, and he appeared just an average Indian guy, nothing impressive or noticeable.
Then one day, my brother revealed that that guy changed his life for good. He’s not in India any longer.
He’s serving in the British army.
Can you believe that?
I mean, a boy who couldn’t utter a word in English, now serves in the British army?
How did he do that?
So, don’t beat yourself down if nobody speaks the language in your family, because you can be the first. Make sure you practise, a LOT.
Life Doesn’t End At a Language
One of my friends runs an institute in a rural area in Delhi. There I met a girl who was desperate to improve spoken English as if her life depended on it. She was so low on confidence because of poor speaking skills that I could hear her voice trembling. Apparently, despite her best efforts, nothing was working for her.
So, I gave her the Guru Mantar: To Hell With it!
If you’re not getting the knack of it the way you wanted, screw it. Don’t lose sleep over a language that’s not even your third language. Remember to feel good in your skin because that’s the most important thing.
Even if you could not speak English, you’ll live – millions do.
In the End
When a child learns to speak, does he talk flawlessly?
He makes mistakes.
But the more he talks, the clearer his speech gets.
Let me repeat it:
The only way to improve spoken English is: Speaking.
Initially, your pronunciation shall be a little shaky, your speech would sound raw, but with practice, things will improve. So don’t worry about that phoney accent so much.
Just take care of one thing only: Are you speaking enough?
Improving your spoken English is a life-long process.
So, take it easy, and enjoy the quest.
FluentEnglish.com: Highly useful self-study course for improving speaking fluency.
ESL.About.com: For general English
HowJSay.com: For improving pronunciation