Do you feel like your speaking skills are getting rusty? Are you looking for some fluency tips to help you sound more natural and confident when you speak the language you’re studying? I am going to give you some examples from my own study routine.
As many of you know, my first language is English and I am learning Spanish and Galician and I also speak Portuguese, so fluency is something I work on regularly. When I don’t practice, I feel my speaking skills become weak and it quickly becomes tough to remember words and have good pronunciation. Here are some tips I’ve come up with that you might benefit from.
#1 Repeat Quickly to Improve Pronunciation
Repetition is essential when you are learning new words. You need to repeat the word and say it many times before you become able to remember it and use it in conversation.
Listen to a native speaker say the word and then practice saying it slowly, then speed it up to mimic the intonation of the native speaker. Try to repeat the native speaker’s musicality. You can do this with audio books, podcasts, TV series, or with the audio that comes with language textbooks.
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For instance, I recently took a 1v1 Skype Spanish class with one of my Spanish teachers on italki, Salvador in order to practice vocabulary for an interview. After the class, my notes looked like this:
I was staring at my notes the next day and realized that it wasn’t going to be too useful to study these notes in order to improve my speaking. So, I asked the teacher if he could make an audio for me in order for me to practice the sentences and possible answers on my own.
That way, I could practice the sentences while I walk the dog and keep listening to the sentences over and over again. I listen to a sentence, pause the audio, then repeat, first slowly, then more quickly. The technique was effective, efficient, personalized, and highly motivating because it applied to my situation, my level, and my needs. My friend Shayna offers wonderful courses to improve your pronunciation on her site, Espresso English.
#2 Speak with Native Speakers and Non-Native Speakers
I recently spoke to a student who told me she didn’t like to practice speaking English unless it was with a native speaker. I truly disagree with this mentality because, despite who we are speaking with, we learn by speaking.
So, the more you speak, whether it be with a native speaker or a non-native speaker, you will improve your fluency. You may be surprised that you learn more from non-native speakers than from native speakers because they understand the language from a different perspective. In my opinion, we should copy the intonation and pronunciation of native speakers, but when it comes to practicing our skills, it is best to practice with anyone you can, as often as you can.
A young girl came to live in my city in Spain from the United States and she wanted to speak Spanish with me, instead of English because she wanted a true immersion experience and really wanted to improve her speaking skills in Spanish. I thought this was a smart decision on her part because most people would speak with me in English if that was their first language.
So, I came to this realization while participating in a Spanish-speaking club. In the club, we speak with a partner in Spanish and practice weekly vocabulary about a theme we are focusing on. While working with partners, I got to speak with Alex, a guy who lives in the United States, but who speaks Spanish very well. So, I actually became even more inspired by speaking with him because I realized you can become fluent even if you don’t live in a Spanish-speaking country.
One thing to keep in mind, though is that you might find yourself comparing yourself to other non-native speakers. If someone speaks much better than you, you might find yourself getting down on yourself and feeling frustrated because you wish you spoke that well. Before you start getting stuck in that mentality, you have to realize that comparing yourself to others only impedes your language growth. You don’t know how long that person has been studying that language or what their situation is. Try to cultivate an energy of hope and of positivity. Look at the person and think to yourself, “That is awesome and they speak so well!” Then, envision yourself speaking the language really well and getting compliments about your speaking abilities. It is better to think about how much you have grown and on your own goals. Think about what steps you need to take next in order to improve your language goals.
#3 Write first, then Speak to Improve Fluency
I’ve written a long blog post about the “Write Speak, Speak Right” method that I’ve coined from working with one of my students. The method helped my student break through the C1 barrier to reach the C2 level. She has been able to process information through writing and translate the words to her spoken English. She told me that the writing method we used gave her time to think about how she wanted to express herself. Our focus during class was on writing, but she also said the sentences out loud and noticed an impressive jump in her fluency. Writing can be an entry point into clear, effective communication.
The “write first” method can be especially useful when it comes to exam preparation because you have a chance to brainstorm vocabulary from a variety of topics that will surely help you on the speaking and writing sections of your exam under pressure.
You can write a paragraph response based on a writing prompt, potential ways to respond to questions at a job interview, or practice telling a story in your target language.
#4 Read Comics Out Loud for Greater Fluency
Reading comics out loud is a brilliant language learning tip that you probably have never thought of. Comics show real dialogue and the characters use slang, common expressions, and authentic language. If you practice reading what the characters say out loud, your fluency will see a big leap forward.
I thought of this while working on Galician. I have a book that shows some natural, colloquial dialogue between characters in comics. I started reading the sentences out loud and I realized how nice the method was to improve my Galician fluency skills. Then, I tried it with Spanish and Portuguese and I found a comic in English and looked in the speech bubbles and mimicked what they were saying. I started using this skill more with students in my English classes and it worked incredibly well. My students started feeling emotions while they read because comics show sadness, happiness, joy, anger, and surprise.
#5 Pause the Audio on Netflix, Repeat
Recently, I got a great fluency trip from a friend who uses an approach that seems obvious, but that few people actually use. He said he watches his favorite show in Spanish, La Resistencia with subtitles, pauses the audio, and practices saying the expressions out loud. I find this to be extremely motivating and brilliant. I started trying it in my target languages and realized how effective it is because, first of all, you’re learning real expressions that are commonly used. Secondly, you’re repeating the intonation and pronunciation just like native speakers. Thirdly, it is a fun way to improve your fluency because it is pleasurable to watch Netflix. Below, you will see a recent Reel on instragram I made using this method!
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These five tips will help you move towards speaking more naturally and confidently in your target language. Don’t forget that you actually have to open your mouth and speak to improve your fluency. Listening isn’t enough. In fact, think of ways you can transform a listening activity into a speaking activity or a writing activity into a speaking activity. Finally, try to design your study routine where everything you do leads to speaking.