When you’re unsure about your English skills, facing real-life situations can be frustrating. If you’re not speaking clearly, the other person won’t understand you. And if your listening skills aren’t good, you won’t understand them either. Ugh!
However, there are low-pressure ways to practice speaking English to prepare when that high-pressure situation arises. In our webinar with YouTube English teaching star, Jennifer Lebedev, we shared some useful tips and answered live learner questions.
Jennifer has more than twenty years of experience teaching English, and her YouTube channel, English with Jennifer, has 87 million views to date, and almost 1 million subscribers. Many people rely on her advice to practice their conversational English every day, so she had lots of useful advice to share.
Below you’ll find all the tips, exercises, and tools Jennifer mentioned. Use them to practice your English speaking skills and start feeling more natural and confident.
Topics from English speaking practice with Jennifer
- Is it important to improve your pronunciation?
- What are the most common pronunciation mistakes?
- How can you improve your speaking skills at home?
- How to practice individual sound
- How to adapt your English for business
- Using TV and movies to practice speaking
- Are idioms important to sound natural?
- Understanding different accents
- Understanding English on the phone
Tools, resources, and ideas mentioned:
- Consonant Sounds in American English: Jennifer speaks about the “manner and place of articulation” in English, how we make sounds, and where we make it.
- Conversation starters: Short, daily prompts on varied topics that you can discuss with your tutor (only available for English learners on Preply).
- English with Jennifer: Jennifer’s website with English learning resources, study tips, videos, and more.
- How to read news headlines: Learn why reading news headlines is useful English practice and tasks to practice them with Jennifer.
- Language learning study planner: A template to create your weekly language study routine, and stay disciplined to reach your goals.
- Literary devices: How to express yourself with subtlety in English using similes, metaphors, puns, irony, and more.
- NPR podcasts: Popular and engaging English language podcasts with transcripts.
- Jennifer’s oral reading fluency series: Learn how to practice English with short readings regularly to become a more confident communicator.
- Public speaking in English: 10 useful tips to present yourself with confidence in English.
- YouGlish: A free tool to practice English pronunciation. Search for a word, and YouGlish scans YouTube for videos where this word is spoken in different accents.
Top 5 tips on practicing your English speaking skills
Jennifer shared almost an hour of expert advice on practicing English speaking. It was difficult to pick just a handful of her tips! Nevertheless, here are five of our favorites.
Focus on accent reduction, not accent elimination
If the influence from your first language is so strong that people have trouble understanding you, then you need to work on your pronunciation: for clarity and for accuracy. But it’s not about sounding exactly like a native speaker. My personal opinion is that it is never about accent elimination, but accent reduction, so you can have clear communication! Unless you’re trying to be an actor in a movie and you have to convince people that you are British, Australian, or American, then you can try to go for a perfect accent. But everybody has an accent… I have an accent! So focus instead on being understood… That should be the main goal.
Read the same text aloud (and multiple times)
If you’re going to practice reading aloud, I recommend reading something that you understand well already. That’s because you’ve read it, and you’ve already looked up all the new words. I like to recommend short texts because you can read them multiple times. The whole thought process behind my oral reading fluency series is that you take a short text, and you can practice it multiple times to get your pronunciation right. Focus on not rushing at first, but going for clarity, and as you become more comfortable with the text, then you can speed up.
Use social media to practice individual sounds
Some people pick up certain sounds just through listening, repeating, and concentrating on having a high level of accuracy. If you are able to identify some of the sounds that you have trouble producing, then this is when it’s helpful to go to YouTube, Instagram, or find a teacher that you feel comfortable learning from. I’d also argue that it’s nice to hear from at least two or three teachers because you can compare explanations. Some of the information will overlap but there could be one particular explanation that really makes sense to you.
Read news headlines to practice English
From what I’ve experienced, the best language learners are also readers. Ask yourself, can I read a little bit each day? Even if it’s scanning the headlines on a favorite news site: BBC, NPR, or whatever you like, and build it into your routine. Firstly, it’s so you can be aware of what’s going on in the world. But also, it’s so you can see written English every day and can take your practice a little further.
Practice speaking on the phone with a partner
Speaking on the phone in English can be really tricky for non-native English speakers. When I was learning Japanese, one fun activity we did was once a week, we had to call a language learning partner on the phone. We had so little language to make use of, but we had to talk for at least five minutes in Japanese. It was very basic, but the technique is to just get you over your fear of speaking on the phone and strengthen your listening skills. It can be hard to get over that fear, so first practice it with someone who is willing to be patient and understanding.
Practice your speaking skills from home
Jennifer’s advice was very reassuring for anyone who wants to learn English without living in an English-speaking country. You can practice most of the exercises mentioned here on your own at home!
If you’re interested in learning a language from home, check out our webinar on how to learn a language from home. If you like these conversations and want to get notified for our next live webinar, subscribe to Preply’s YouTube channel.
Now it’s your turn – which of Jennifer’s tips are you going to try to practice your speaking skills? Happy learning!