How to Improve Spoken English (And When to Say “To Hell With It”)

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Spoken English

I was talking to him over the phone.

He sounded hopeless.

Frustrated.

Angry.

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.

Reason?

Poor spoken English.

‘Everything else is just fine, but you must focus on improving your spoken English.’ The HR person told him.

The student I am talking about—was from a rural background, born in a farmer family in Western Uttar Pradesh.

‘Sir, my spoken English is weak. Is there any hope for me? Will I be able to improve my spoken English, ever?’ He asked me.

Poor Spoken English Got Him Rejected

Getting rejected in a job interview because of poor spoken English?

Shit.

I mean, what could be more frustrating for a deserving candidate?

But, it happens—many bright students fail to get their dream jobs because of poor English speaking skills.

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.

Why?

Well, because we’re not British and English is not our language.

How I Realised I Needed to Improve My Spoken English

You see, I wasn’t concerned about English until 10th standard—when one day, I noticed my cousin working hard to improve his English. It made me realise that I also needed to work on my English skills.

Now, the thing is:

I am an Indian at heart—I respect my mother tongue—Khadi Boli—as well as the national language Hindi. But the truth is: if you wish to realise your dreams, you have to work on your English because (like it or not) English is the global language now. In fact, you should master (at least) three languages if you’re serious about success:

  • Your local dialect
  • The national language: Hindi
  • And the global language: English

I also realised that reading and understanding English was simply not enough—I also needed to converse in English—fluently.

But there was a little problem, you see:

My school did not have the right atmosphere.

‘Oh, here comes Angrez ka Bachha’, that’s how my classmates used to ridicule me whenever I tried to talk to them in English. Neither were they able to converse in English, nor were they interested in learning.

But I knew I had to do it, and so, I asked one of my classmates (who also happened to be my neighbour) if he would join me—he said yes. And so, we decided that we’ll either speak English or won’t speak at all. And we killed two birds with one stone:

a) Our non-essential talks got to a minimum, and b) our English fluency improved.

Interested in learning how you, too, can improve your spoken English?

Then stay with me.

You Can Improve Spoken English Skills By Taking it As a Challenge

Most of the students take English as a problem. It’s not a problem, you see. Why not take improving English as a challenge? A challenge you can overcome by practice.

Tell me: Did you know everything about the subject you’re studying right now at your college?

Most probably, no.

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 did learn. You studied hard and polished your skills, and you can do the same with your spoken English. Simple as that.

Own Your Local Dialect

As I told you, I belong to Western UP, and ‘Khadi Boli’ is my local dialect.

And I can’t tell you how much it breaks my heart 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” as if there’s something wrong with being Ganvar.

You see, the fact is: No matter how famous, successful, or wealthy I become—I shall always remain who I am—a guy from a rural background. It’s the truth, and there’s no point hiding it. If I feel ashamed speaking my own local dialect—my own goddamn language—then what’s the use of learning somebody else’s language? You tell me.

Own your local dialect. It’s the base of your communication skills—the very first words you spoke were in your mother tongue—not in English.

And I don’t understand why would you feel offended if somebody calls you Ganvaar. Aren’t you one? Don’t you belong to a “gaanv” (village)?

And what’s wrong with being a Ganvaar? Please enlighten me.

Don’t Join a Spoken English Institute, Not Yet

Since you’re at the primary learning state, it’s no use joining an institute, yet. But yes, you should get one-on-one tuition because you need more attention and support than students in an institute—there’s a hell of a difference between learning in a class of 35 students and, learning one-on-one where you’re the only student.

So, find a good teacher and get some individual classes first—so you can get familiar with English.

And when you’re a little comfortable, join an institute.

Must I Join Spoken English Institute?

Yes.

You see, you need the confidence to speak in English and spoken English institute can help. The thing is, when you speak even two lines in English in front of 20-30 people, you feel good about yourself, and that’s what gives you the confidence to speak more and more in English.

The best part? You already know how to speak English. Yes, 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, and that dry mouth. That’s why you must join an institute for further improving your spoken English. I can also recommend one—The 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. I know because I also did that course in 1996.

But remember: an institute can help you only if you help yourself—if you take an active part in the classroom (as you’ll see below).

Will Joining a Spoken English Institute Help You?

You see, I was pursuing a three years course from NIIT, and as part of the curriculum, 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 spoken English.

Now, picture a jam-packed classroom (57 students to be specific).

The teacher asked us to speak: 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 can speak for you because only you can do that.

And let me repeat: an institute can help you only if you help yourself.

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 speaking, and it’s a no-brainer that you should activate it to enhance your voice and the ability to communicate.

Here’s a simple technique to help you:

Sit in a quiet place. Close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and relax.

Visualise a soft sky-blue-coloured-ball in your throat area—if visualising doesn’t feel natural to you, then thinking about it will also work. Now, imagine that ball revolving and gently massaging your throat for about five minutes.

Do this exercise daily before going to bed and also in the morning and within days you shall notice the 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.

Reason?

They try to learn by translating English 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 Hindi? When somebody said ‘Kutta’, did you try to understand its meaning in some other language?

No, right?

And now, when someone refers to a Kutta, you know that 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 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 to help you learn the basics of language learning. I call it LSRW.

L: Listening

S: Speaking

R: Reading

and

W: Writing

Since we’re learning how to improve our spoken English, we’ll cover L and S.

L-S-R-W

L: Listening

Isn’t that how you learnt to speak your mother tongue—you started listening to your parents, family members, and other people and started imitating them?

Listening is the first step to learning any language. 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 English movies?

I know what you’re thinking:

“I don’t understand a word, and you’re asking me to watch English movies?”

Well, you could not understand many words of your mother tongue when you were little. But over time, your understanding improved, right?

So, why not consider yourself a child trying to learn a new language?

You see, at this point, understanding the dialogues is not that important. Just watch the damn 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.

Why Listening is Important to Master English (Or Any Other Language)

I have been watching a Youtube Channel of a Haryanvi guy who makes funny videos. And I noticed that I started speaking the way that guy talks—the choice of words, the tone, the expressions, almost everything.

Am I surprised?

No.

Because I know this is how the human brain works—it loves imitation.

Have you noticed how you start speaking the way your peers or friends or family members speak—without even realising 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).

The point is: 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 talk 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 English as much as possible.

Does Reading English Newspapers Improve Spoken English?

I don’t know who started this but reading newspapers to improve spoken English is the dumbest thing one can do. And yet, the first advice you get from people is “Oh, you want to improve your English speaking skills? Start reading English newspapers.”

Nonsense.

Next time when somebody advises you the same, ask him, ‘Did you read Hindi newspapers to learn spoken Hindi?’

Even an illiterate person speaks well enough Hindi. How come? Because he did listen to others speaking Hindi while growing up.

I am not saying you shouldn’t read newspapers, but realise this:

Newspapers Use Written English Style, Not the Spoken One

And mind you, we don’t speak the way we write. Do we?

Do you talk to your friends like this, ‘Good morning, my dear friend, it gives me immense pleasure to invite you to dinner.’

Or do you speak like this, ‘Hey, how are you? Why don’t you come over to my place tonight? Let’s eat together.’

Noticed the difference?

That’s the difference between day-to-day spoken style and written one.

The mistake many students commit is this: They read English newspapers hoping it’ll improve their vocabulary. And not only that, they even mark new words and look up their meanings in the dictionaries.

Guess what? Their spoken English is not improving and never will because they are trying to develop speaking skills by reading.

Remember a simple rule:

Want to improve written English? Read.

Want to improve spoken English? Listen.

L-SR-W

S-Speak

Now, speak.

‘But I don’t know how to speak English.’ You say.

Remember the deal I had struck with one of my classmates for improving our spoken English? It’s time you do the same—find a partner. Both of you start talking to each other in English. And don’t fear speaking wrong or broken English (at least not in the beginning).

Right or wrong. Broken or Unbroken. Just speak.

This speaking practice will make your tongue, your mouth and your vocal cords get familiar with the way English works.

And… yes, one more thing:

Most of us are not used to listen to ourselves speaking in English. That’s the reason you get uncomfortable the moment you utter even a few sentences in English.

Nobody likes being uncomfortable. So you talk in English for a few moments and then fall back to your mother tongue. It’s kind of challenging, but you can overcome it, here’s how:

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 repeating the process until you start getting comfortable with the sound of your voice. Get into the habit of hearing yourself speak English.

A Weird Tip to Improve Spoken English

While you’re on the road, read the signboards. (Whenever I travel, I read the signs (Not when I am driving)).

I know it sounds crazy, but the conversation English on the signboards will help you get familiar with English in a fun way.

Be Clear

I’ve seen students pretending to improve their English—they work hard consciously, but unconsciously they sabotage their efforts by being lazy. In other words—they make fools out of themselves. They know that reasonably good English skills are a must to succeed in today’s competitive 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 English, be clear about that, and if you’re not, be clear about that too.

Don’t Blame Luck, God, or Your Neighbor

‘No power in the world can stop me from making my dreams come true.’ I hate it when people say this—I mean, why would anybody be interested in stopping you? Why?

Who do you think you are—a superhero, trying to defy the gravity to 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?

Come on, be sensible.

Only you are responsible for where you are, and where you will (or will not be) in the future. No powers are trying to stop you. Stop covering your lazy ass with fancy words such as lousy luck, unfavourable circumstances, or evil people. No sir, we’re not interested in stopping you. We’re way too busy watching our own goddamn asses. And you know what? You’ve already wasted much time battling imaginary enemies. It’s time to put an end to this bullshit.

But Nobody Speaks English In My Family, Not Even My Dog

My younger brother had a friend who could speak anything but English. I met the guy a couple of times, and he appeared just an average 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?

Practice.

So, don’t beat yourself down if nobody speaks English in your family. You can be the first.

Practice. A lot.

Life Doesn’t End At a Language

A friend of mine runs an institute in a rural area in Delhi. There I met a girl 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: feeling good in your own skin is far more important than English.

You’ll live, even if you could not speak English—millions do.

In the End

When a child learns to speak, does he speak flawlessly?

No.

He makes mistakes.

But the more he talks, the clearer his speech gets.

Remember:

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. Just take care of one thing only: Are you speaking enough?

Resources

Paid:

FluentEnglish.com: Highly useful self-study course for improving speaking fluency.

Free:

ESL.About.com: For general English

HowJSay.com: For improving pronunciation

YouTube Videos:

Mind Your Language – Season 1, Episode 1

Read more:

How to Polish Communication Skills

Changing Your Attitude: Subharti University, Meerut
Discontented? You're on the Right Path

Avdhesh Tondak is a blogger on a mission: to cut the crap and give the readers what they want (and deserve)—personal development articles in plain English. Connect with him on facebook and twitter.