1. Setting goals
While we discuss some strategies to ensure that our proficiency in speaking English gets better, it’s important to remember is that like all goals in life, we should be realistic.
We should not aim at speaking like native speakers but try and improve the areas where we lack, such as grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary and build on those.
Speaking well means speaking clearly, correctly and concisely. And not with a ‘fake’ accent!
2. Speak in English
Speak the language as much as possible, even if you're not very sure of the accuracy.
The more we speak, the better we get. So grab the opportunity to speak with family, friends, on the phone, in social set-ups, at the market place, in the mall, everywhere.
This tip comes with a corollary.
Wherever possible, ask your companions to correct you, every time you go wrong.
This may not always be possible, but do this in your circle of friends or within the family or with teachers.
Develop a built-in mechanism for imbibing feedback and keep working on your mistakes.
With every passing day, you will speak better and your confidence will grow.
3. Become an active listener
Like two sides of a coin, speaking comes hand-in-hand with listening.
If speaking will help improve your skills, listening to English programmes, sounds, discussions, songs, watching movies, will go a long way in helping improve your language ability.
Listening gives us insights into the subtle nuances of sounds, the rhythm and the music of this beautiful language.
4. Be an avid reader
People don't read any more or at least, not enough, but if you can cultivate this habit and read a good newspaper every day (especially the Editorial page) and progress to reading books of any kind that interest you, there’s no better way of improving your vocabulary.
5. Work on building vocabulary
If you come across a word that’s unfamiliar, note it down in a small notebook or your mobile phone.
Check the meaning, usage and note this down (maintaining an Excel sheet is a great idea and works wonderfully). However, doing just this is not enough.
Next, try and use this word because only when you do this will it be internalised.
An experience I’m sure we’ve all had is when we hear a word for the first time, it doesn’t register at all. But as soon we look up its meaning and become familiar with it, we notice the same word being used within the next one or two days!
That is the magic of learning new words!
However, a common myth that needs to be busted at this juncture is that good speakers should use long-winded, complex words.
These are unnecessary when a shorter word will do, and short sentences work better than ‘perambulatory expressions.’
KISS -- keep it short and simple, is a very well-known maxim that we should stick to.
The shorter you make it, the better.
6. Pronunciation perfection
Speaking well and sounding proficient can happen only when our sounds are good.
Therefore working on one’s pronunciation is another critical factor to great language skills. It’s here that having good listening skills stands us in good stead.
For listening intently and picking up the subtleties of sound and diction is the best way of teaching oneself.
When you listen to any good speaker -- news reader, talk show host, anchor, commentator -- be mindful of their pronunciation.
If you hear someone who is a good speaker pronounce a word very differently from the way you have always pronounced it, chances are you’re wrong. Without any hesitation, check the pronunciation and confirm who is right.
If it’s the speaker, make sure you correct your pronunciation then onward. If it’s you who’s right, give yourself a big pat on the back!
It’s good to know that syllable-stress and word stress play a significant role in English pronunciation so whenever there’s opportunity, learn a little about these aspects of sound but you don’t need to lose sleep over it.
To start with, getting all the consonant and vowel sounds right is fine and you must be careful about sounds that you have a tendency to mispronounce (Example: Pronouncing examination as eggjaminasun) and keep working on them.
Also, avoid slang, especially in a formal situation like interviews, at work and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn.
Even otherwise, it can lead to miscommunication if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know the jargon and is clueless about what you’re saying.
7. Record your voice
This helps a lot.
So read out loud and record your voice.
Also, give yourself topics to speak on, record your views and play it back to see how you sound.
This is a very effective method as no one’s a better critic of you than you yourself.
8. Watch yourself speak
Talking in front of the mirror is another good tactics as it gives you valuable inputs on your facial expressions and body language.
So do this or better still, get a well-meaning critic to listen to you speak and provide feedback.
One cardinal rule you must keep in mind is never be afraid to speak or of making mistakes.
Remember, we all make mistakes in one area or the other, so the fear of going wrong should not deter us.
It is good to keep in mind that every error teaches us something, so always look at them as stepping-stones to success.
And finally, one word of caution, don’t ever be harsh on yourself.
Be patient and open to learning and these painstaking efforts will surely lead to success.
But keep striving and do not rest on your laurels. For, as Ralph Arbitelle very wisely said, Success is a journey, not a destination.
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