In some ways speaking is the most difficult language skill. Every time you speak you have to do many different things but you have very little time to do them. Imagine, for example, that the teacher has asked you a question in class. Here is a list of the things you have to do when giving an answer.
You have to:
understand the question
think what answer you want to give
find the words that you need
make sure the grammar you use is correct
try to get your pronunciation and intonation right.
To make things more difficult, you have to do all this with everyone else in the class looking at you and listening to you! Itís no surprise that some ESL students donít talk at all for a while when they first come to school.
Speaking is a skill like learning to swim. The more you practise, the better you will become, until finally you can do it without needing to think much about it. Here are some ways that you can get as much speaking practice as possible:
ask and answer questions in class
try to answer all the teacherís questions silently in your head
if you work in a group with native speakers, donít let them do all the talking
ask to sit next to a student who is not from your country
try to make some friends who donít have the same language
join a lunchtime club or do an after-school activity
talk English with your German neighbours
talk to your parents in English; e.g. to summarise a story or science experiment
talk to your teachers after class and at lunchtime or after school
Practising pronunciation and intonation
If you have problems with your English pronunciation or intonation, you could practise these too. For example, you could listen to stories or watch videos with people talking to each other, and try to repeat the phrases and sentences they say.
More information to help you become a better speaker
Here is a list of more things to think about or strategies to try in order to improve your speaking skills:
Do not worry about making mistakes! Everyone who speaks makes mistakes. Even native speakers make mistakes when they talk, because speaking is such a complicated skill (see above). It doesnít matter if your spoken English is not perfect. What is important is that you can communicate what you want to say.
Keep talking! If you donít know a word, use gestures or mime. Or try and explain what you want to say using other words. Or draw a picture. Ask the person you are speaking to to help you. If you are not sure whether your grammar is right, it doesn't matter. Keep talking!
Learn some useful phrases that you know you will often need to use; and use them! If you do this, you will have more time to think about the rest of what you want to say.
Knowing some common expressions will also help you to take more part in conversations. Most students will not wait patiently in the middle of an interesting discussion while you plan exactly what you want to say. But, if you are ready with an expressions like: Well, in my opinion .. or Do you know what I think?, they will at least stop and wait for you to continue. (Just don't keep them waiting too long, and remember again: It's ok to make mistakes!)
Prepare answers at home. Often teachers ask students to talk about their homework. For example, you may have to say how you solved a math problem; or you may be asked to give your opinion about a story you read. If you think about the likely questions at home - you could even say the answers to your parents -, you will be ready to raise your hand in class.
If you know you will have to talk to someone about something, then plan what you are going to say. For example, maybe you know you will have to tell your teacher why you were absent from school, or you want to explain to the nurse why you canít do PE. Look up the words you know you will need, and maybe even write out the exact sentences you want to say. Practise saying it at home, or with another student or your ESL teacher.
If you talk to people, they will talk back to you. Usually, they will simplify their speech so that you can understand better. This gives you good listening practice, too.
Try to think in English! Donít think in your own language and then translate it.