I was talking to him over the phone.
He sounded hopeless.
He was one of my past students from Subharti University, Meerut. He had cleared the first two rounds of a job interview in 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 English is poor. Is there any hope for me, will I be able to improve my spoken English, ever?”
Getting rejected for a job interview because of poor communication skills? That’s frustrating, especially when you’re a deserving candidate.
I, too, was born in Western Uttar Pradesh (in Lakshminagar (Muzaffarnagar)). And you know what, English is alien in most parts of our region, just because it IS alien.
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 English speaking skills.
You see, I am an Indian at heart, and I respect my mother tongue, Khadi Boli as well as the national language, Hindi but if you want to realise your dreams, then you must improve your English because it is the global language now. In fact, you should master three different languages if you’re serious about success:
- Your local dialect
- The national language – Hindi
- And the global language – English
I also realised that just reading and understanding English was not enough. I needed to converse fluently in English.
But there was a problem.
My school did not have the right atmosphere.
You see, whenever I tried to speak English with my classmates, I was ridiculed. Neither they were my classmates able to converse in English nor were they interested.
But I knew I had to do it, and so, I asked one of my classmates (who was also 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 English fluency improved.
Then stay with me.
Want to Improve Spoken English? Remember, It’s a Challenge, Not a Problem
Most of the students take English as a problem. I think that’s not the right approach because if you see carefully, it’s losing the battle before you even begin.
Why not take it as a challenge, as a part of your personality development training? Just like any other skill, spoken English is also a skill that you can master with practice.
Tell me something: Did you know everything about the subject you’re studying right now in your college?
No, you had 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 English skills.
Take Pride in Your Local Lingo (Mother Tongue)
As I told you, I belong to Western UP, and my local dialect is ‘Khadi Boli‘ which I am proud of. 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.
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, you’re doomed. If you cannot feel proud of your language, then what’s the point in learning English?
Accept your mother tongue, embrace it, own it. Because it is the base of your communication skills. 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 a Ganvaar? Don’t you belong to a ‘gaanv’ (village)?
And what’s fucking wrong with you being a Ganvaar? Can you explain to me?
Don’t Join Any Institute in the Beginning
If you’re beginning, don’t join any English institute because your skills are at the primary stage.
I do, however, highly recommend getting one-on-one tuition. 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 English teacher in your neighbourhood and get some individual classes first. It is the right way to get familiar with English, and then, once you’re a little comfortable, join an institute.
Do I Need to Join an Institute?
Yes. You do.
Simply because you need the confidence to speak English. And institutes can help you get comfortable with the language. When you even two lines in front of 20-30 people, you feel good about yourself. And that gives you the confidence to learn more, to speak more.
You already know how to speak English, you do. You need to overcome the hesitation – that lump in your throat, those drops of sweat on your forehead, that dry mouth. That’s why joining an English Institute is a must.
If you sincerely want to polish your English, I can recommend one. It’s called YMCA. It’s in New Delhi (Behind Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, Near Patel Chowk Metro Station). They have a course titled ‘General and Professional English.’ It’s a 40-day course, and it’s one of the best out there.
An institute can help you only if you help yourself. So, you must take an active part in the classroom. Joining the 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. All the students were supposed to deliver an English presentation in front of the class as part of the semester. I couldn’t afford to be shy, so I joined the YMCA.
Picture a jam-packed classroom (57 students to be specific).
The teacher asked us to speak about anything: A trip to the 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.
Since I had no goddamn clue what should I speak, my heart was pounding like crazy, but I did stand up. My legs were shaking like dry leaves, and my mouth was dried up like drought-stricken barren land, but I spoke.
That’s what you must do: Speak.
Nobody will speak for you because it’s your responsibility.
Activate Your Throat Chakra
Your body has 7 ‘Chakras’: Contact points where the physical body meets the subtle one. Each Chakra governs a particular area of your body.
The Throat Chakra is responsible for your speaking abilities, and it’s a no-brainer that you should activate it.
Let me share a simple technique that can help you open your Throat Chakra:
Before going to bed, sit with your eyes closed. Now, visualise a soft sky-blue-coloured-ball revolving in your throat area. If visualising doesn’t come easily to you, then think about it will also work.
Remember not to push yourself. Just keep practising, and within days you’ll get good at it. Keep visualising that ball revolving around your Throat Chakra for about 5 minutes, and then go to sleep.
That was easy-peasy, right?
In the morning, when you wake up, don’t get out of bed. Lie there for a while with your eyes closed. Again, imagine that sky-blue-coloured-ball revolving and massaging your Throat Chakra.
Do this exercise daily in the morning and before going to bed. Within days you shall notice improvements, 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 the trust of people.
Don’t Translate English to Your Mother Tongue
Most of the students from rural backgrounds fail to improve their English.
They try to learn English by translating it to their mother tongue. And this approach rarely works. There’s a reason behind that. You see, every language is different from others. The way English works is not the way Hindi or any other Indian language works.
Let me clarify.
Tell me, how did you learn your mother tongue? For example Hindi? When you say ‘Kutta’, do you try to understand its meaning in some other language? No. You don’t
When someone refers to Kutta, you know what does that mean. A Kutta is a Kutta. Likewise, when someone talks about a dog, he means a dog, and the dog should not be made Kutta. Don’t say dog means Kutta – dog means dog.
I know it’s hard because English is not our native language. But try, you know. Try to learn how to think, speak, and understand English words in English only. Don’t translate them into your mother tongue. That’s a big handicap, and so, whenever you feel stuck, go back to the basics.
I have devised a term that you can easily remember (it’ll help you improve English), it’s called LSRW:
L for Listening
S for Speaking
R for Reading
W for Writing
In this article, I am covering L and S only. And I am keeping R and W for some future article to help you improve written English.
How did you learn your mother tongue? Had your started when you were a small child? No, you started learning by listening to your parents, family members, and other people.
Listening to people helped you familiarise with the language, and you started imitating them.
So, remember this:
The First Step to Learning any Language is Listening
And English is no exception.
Since almost 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 English well, how could you ask me to watch English movies?”
Do I need to remind 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.
Learning a language requires time, and that’s true for English too.
Consider yourself a child who’s trying to learn a new language. This approach shall help you learn English faster.
So, at this point, it’s not essential to understanding the dialogues. Just observe the movies, even if nothing makes sense to you. And please don’t enable subtitles. Why? Because when you look at them, you are reading, and not listening. You’ve missed the point.
Also, start listening to BBC radio online.
Remember to listen to English as much as you could.
Why Listening is Important to Master English
You know, 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 were getting similar.
Am I surprised?
Because I know this is how the human mind 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 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 English the way people living in India do. His accent will be more of a British one, right?
So why not take advantage of this imitation habit of your mind?
You can improve your English by listening to it as much as you could. It’s a no-brainer.
No! Reading English Newspapers Will Not Improve Your Spoken English
I don’t know who started this but reading English 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 English speaking skills? Just start reading English 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? Because he’s been listening to other people talking Hindi.
I am not saying English newspapers are not good. They are. But the kind of English they use is ‘bookish’ and ‘unconversational.’ It’s Written English.
And mind you, we don’t speak the way we write. Do we?
Do you talk to your friend like, “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 English and written English.
Reading English newspapers is an excellent idea to improve your written English, but it will not work with spoken English.
Many students read English newspapers daily. Hell, they also mark the problematic words to look up the meanings in dictionaries. They have been doing it for years now, but still, their English 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.
Do you want to improve English writing skills? Read.
Do you want to improve English speaking skills? Listen.
Now is the time for speaking. “But I don’t know how to speak English?” Well, that’s why I am here to help you.
Remember the deal I had struck with one of my classmates to speak English only? 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 English. You can’t help it; it’ll happen all the time.
Don’t expect yourself to speak fluent English from day 1. Learning English takes time.
Right or wrong. Poor or rich. Broken or Unbroken. Nothing matters. What matters is that you speak.
So, speak English as much as you can.
This speaking practice will make your tongue, your mouth and your vocal chords get familiar with the language.
And there’s something more.
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.
Record 2 – 3 small paragraphs from an English book or newspapers on your mobile phone, and then listen to it at least thrice. Keep on doing this until you start getting comfortable with your voice. Get into the habit of listening to you speaking English.
A weird tip for better English
While you’re on the road, try reading the English 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 English as much as you possibly can.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Poor English
I have seen students pretending they want to improve English. 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, and they’re not interested in hard work or self-improvement.
So, if you want to improve your English 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 future.
Don’t even think of covering your lazy ass with fancy words like bad 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 English in your family, because you can be the first. Make sure you practice, a LOT.
Life Doesn’t End At English
One of my friends runs an English institute in a rural area in Delhi. There I met a girl who was desperate to learn English as if her life depended on it. She was so low on confidence because of poor English 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 English!
If you’re not getting the knack of English the way you wanted, screw it. Don’t lose sleep over a language that’s not even your third language. Just remember to feel good in your skin. That’s the most important thing.
Even if you could not speak English, you’ll live – millions of people do. Feeling confident is the most important thing.
In the End
When a child learns to speak, does he speak flawlessly the first day? No, he makes mistakes. But the more he talks, the clearer his speech gets. That’s one of the best ways to improve your English.
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 English?
And remember that improving English is a journey which never ends. There’s no destination, and so, there’s no need to hurry. Take it easy, and enjoy your quest.
Resources to Improve English
FluentEnglish.com: Highly useful self-study course for English fluency.
ESL.About.com: For improving general English
HowJSay.com: For improving pronunciation