You may have memorized endless lists of vocabulary, you may know all the grammar needed to hold any conversation and still find yourself at a loss when wanting to express yourself.
There are various reasons behind this phenomenon – some of them more obvious than others.
1. Slow Down Your Speaking Speed
You might be an eloquent speaker when it comes to your mother tongue, but expecting the same standards from yourself when speaking in a foreign language may not be very realistic.
Especially, if you’re at the early stages of learning. Learners are often told not to worry about the mistakes they’re making, however, it is easy to understand why you would like to make a good impression on your audience.
To overcome this difficulty, you may try slowing down your speaking speed.
Nobody will hold it against you if you speak more slowly and clearly. Great speakers do the same to get their message across. Selecting your words carefully may also be seen as a sign of respect towards your audience. It shows that you want to give them the best possible answer.
2. Give Yourself Time to Think
You may be worried that the people you’re talking to are impatient and would like you to say what you want as quickly as possible.
First of all, it may not be true – people often prefer a well-thought-out answer to a rushed one.
So just relax.
Another practical thing you can do is equipping yourself with fixed phrases you can use when remaining silent doesn’t seem to be an option. Here’s an example:
- Why is there so much violence on TV? That’s a good question. Let me think for a moment, I haven’t really thought about it before. Well, I suppose…
Here the speaker gains considerable amount of time to reflect just by repeating the question and adding a few sentences. If you do the same, you’ll sound more fluent and won’t feel the pressure of having to say something before you’re ready.
Fixed or set phrases are phrases whose words are usually fixed in a certain order. They can be verb patterns, idioms, collocations – basically anything we always say in one particular way. For example,
- during the day
- in the meantime
- It’s been a long time since
- Sorry to bother/trouble you, but…
- Would you mind if…?
- Oh, come on!
- I’m just kidding!
- For what it’s worth,…
- To be right/wrong about
- Tit for tat/an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
3. Learn Sentences, Not Only Words
In a way, this will take the pressure off too. When you learn a new word, try to memorize a couple of sentences that contain it.
There might come a time when you can use one particular sentence with little, or no alteration at all. Unfortunately, many people learn words by heart, but have no idea how to use them in a sentence.
It will be such a relief not having to worry about whether the sentence is correct grammatically or not. Let’s look at an example:
to appreciate = to recognize the value of something/somebody
- I think it’s necessary to feel appreciated in a relationship/ at work.
- I appreciate all your hard work.
Isn’t it much more useful to memorize ’appreciate’ this way?
4. Learn to Listen
When speaking in a foreign language, you might be so focused on what you are saying and whether it’s correct or not, that you forget to listen to what others are saying.
This is a big mistake as they might be using the exact words or grammar you’ll be needing later on. So pay attention to what’s being said around you, it’s your most important resource at the time of speaking to someone.
5. Practise Your Interrogatives
We also need to keep in mind the fact that communication is a two-way process. Not only does it make you seem uninterested – even rude – if you don’t ask questions, you might also end up being the one who has to do all the talking. So, when you’ve run out of ideas about what to say next, remember: others might have something to add.
- What are your views on that?
- How about you? What do you think?
- Why do you think there’s so much violence on TV?
Questions like this will keep the conversation going and will show your interest in other people’s opinion. They will also give you time to relax a little and start enjoying yourself.
Interrogatives can be quite tricky, so make sure you spend enough time learning the correct ways of asking questions.
6. Produce, Produce, Produce
As I said at the beginning of this article, you might know a lot about the language, but this is passive knowledge that must be activated somehow. Your aim is to be able to produce correct English; practice is undeniably the best way to learn and improve.
Writing is one way of producing language; it may help you get used to and reflect on the ways English operates, which, in turn, might prove to be useful when speaking.
Speaking, on the other hand, is a much more spontaneous process and nothing prepares you for it better than actually doing it. So, find people you can practise with – either on Skype, or on language exchange sites, or here on MyEnglishTeacher.eu with the help of our native teachers – I have a feeling that it will be a great experience.