Tips for improving your English speaking skills and pronunciation

Tips for improving your English speaking skills and pronunciation

I’ve been blogging in the English language for more than three years now (one year full time). I wrote more than 1,000 pages in English, which equals more than 5 books. I’m not writing this to brag, but to tell you about my tough beginnings as a writer, since English is not my mother tongue and I’m not particularly talented for languages.

I vividly remember when I decided to write my first English blog post. After writing a single page, my head hurt like hell. My brain was obviously overclocking. It took me a few months to train my brain to write one or two pages without feeling overwhelmed, constantly looking in a dictionary and rewriting sentences over and over again.

Only now, after several years, can I write for a few hours straight without any struggle. With time, I improved my writing skills and the brain capacity to the point where I can write a well‑structured and quality blog post quite quickly. All my blog posts are still copyedited, since grammar is not my forte, but my overall improvement is colossal.

Currently a new challenge awaits. I’m preparing my first online courses. And guess what, courses are based more on audio and video materials than text. I already have my courses outlined and several scripts ready but when I decided to practice the scripts, a big realization occurred to me.

Learn English

Your writing, reading and speaking skills are not all the same

If you want to improve your writing, you need to write a lot. If you want to improve your reading and comprehension skills, you have to read a lot. But reading and writing don’t automatically lead to an improvement of your speaking and pronunciation skills. That was quite a hurtful realization for me.

Guess what, after practicing one page of the transcript for the online courses, my head soon starts hurting badly; even though I wrote thousands of pages in the past and can write for hours straight. My tongue constantly gets entangled and my pronunciation feels quite terrible. I’m in a very similar position as I was when I decided to create my first text in a foreign language. And it sucks big time.

If I want to produce the courses, there is only one thing for me to do – improve my English speaking and pronunciation skills. I got a pronunciation coach and did big research on how to get better at speaking in particular.

In this blog post, I want to share everything that I learned about improving speaking and pronunciation skills, and my personal improvement plan. I’m going to focus on a few key techniques that I’ve chosen in order to progress as quickly as possible.

We already got to the first lesson. Writing and reading definitely help improve your overall English skills, but if you want to get better specifically at speaking and pronouncing, you must do a lot of deliberate practice exclusively for speaking and pronouncing. Writing, speaking and reading skills engage different parts of your brain.

Improve your English pronunciation

Tips for improving your English speaking skills

Let’s start with tips for improving English speaking skills in general, without any focus on pronunciation and then continue with that. There are several sub-skills that you want to master when it comes to speaking:

  1. Switching from one language to another without getting confused or needing warm-up
  2. Learning how to speak clearly and fluently without any stopgaps
  3. Using contextual standard expressions in everyday situations
  4. Speaking for hours without losing focus
  5. And then of course perfecting your pronunciation

Let’s go to some very useful tips and tricks for achieving that.

Find language buddies and do international work

The first rule of improving your speaking skills is to speak English as much as possible. You must practice language at every single opportunity. Finding language buddies in your professional and personal life is a great way to achieve that. Your goal should be to find people who speak much better than you are.

You won’t believe it, but I convinced several of my friends that we text and speak only in English, even though we share a mother tongue. I wish I could convince more people, but not many are that motivated to improve their language skills. Nevertheless, if you find a few buddies you can talk with in English on a daily or at least weekly basis, that’s a very good start.

Open your e-mail or messenger and immediately ask a few of your close friends if they’re prepared to communicate only in English with you to practice.

In business, the best way to practice English is to engage in international projects. That is also one of the reasons I decided to start with (a very limited) amount of international coaching sessions. Not only am I extremely good at coaching and can help people, it’s also a great opportunity for me to practice speaking English as much as possible.

I’m sure there are many possibilities how you can seize a similar opportunity at the work you do. Propose new international projects at your company, join international business clubs or enroll to seminars in English, you can make new international business partnerships, and so on.

The bottom line is: you must practice speaking English at every opportunity possible, on a daily basis.

Start recording videos or audio podcasts

I have a friend who commutes to work and back for 30 minutes every day. While driving, he records an audio file in English for his wife, explaining many different topics and thoughts.

When he told me about this practice of his, I was really impressed. What an awesome idea. In 6 months of daily practice, he dramatically improved his English speaking skills.

I’m going to do a very similar thing. For most of my articles, I will:

  • Prepare a summary in a short audio or video file
  • Read complete articles out loud
  • or prepare a few bullet points from an article and speak freely

You can do pretty the same with any material you like. It makes me puke (mom’s spaghetti) to just think about it. But I have a very strong why to do it (I have to publish those online courses), and nothing is going to stop me.

The plan is to make quite long audio files to train my brain to speak in English for long hours without getting tired. Much like I did with writing. Just please don’t laugh when listening to my podcasts. If you’re bold enough, start a podcast or a YouTube channel of your own.

Practicing speaking English

A list of standard phrases and thinking in English

I struggle quite a lot with switching from one language to another when speaking. It also takes me some time to warm up when changing the language. I hate that. As help, I’m preparing a list of very standard phrases I use in most of my conversations – interrogatives, conversation openers, responses and personal presentations.

The phrases should also serve as anchors for immediately switching from one language to another. The main idea behind it is to not understand only what a certain English word means, but to add phrases to my vocabulary.

One more thing I will do is to think exclusively in English. No matter where I am and who I’m talking with, and especially when I’m alone talking to myself, only English will be present in my mind.

Tips for improving English pronunciation

You can be a fluent English speaker, but your accent can still be very strong and wrong. To improve such a drawback, you have to additionally focus your efforts on improving pronunciation.

There are several sub-skills when it comes to pronunciation:

  • Pronunciation is not only a brain, but also a physical skill, thus you have to learn how to correctly move your jaw, lips and tongue
  • Pronouncing difficult sounds of the English language
  • Giving proper syllable stress within words and sentences
  • Avoiding error patterns common for different non-native English speakers
  • Practicing sounds that you personally find difficult to pronounce

Get a pronunciation coach

The best thing you can do is to get a pronunciation coach, at least in the beginning. I just started working with a pronunciation coach and the lessons are really valuable. You get immediate feedback on your speaking and that allows you to avoid any reinforcement of the wrong pronunciation.

A good pronunciation coach can push you to the limits of your abilities, prepare a good learning plan for you, and most importantly, you can repeat phrases and sentences after the coach several times until you get it right. Human see, human do. If you have the financial resources to hire a good pronunciation coach, you will absolutely progress the fastest.

Frank is my English pronunciation coach and I highly recommend him:

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The shadowing technique: Model the speakers you like by recording yourself

The second-best way to learn proper pronunciation is to model native speakers who have a speaking style very similar to yours (in your mother tongue). Their overall speaking style must be something you believe you can also achieve.

I analyzed several speakers to find the ones I can model. For example, Tony Robbins is way too energetic for my style. Tim Urban speaks too fast and in a very comic way, which is completely not in my character. Tai Lopez is too spontaneous and entertainment-oriented. I deeply respect all these speakers, but there’s no way I can model them.

But there are two authorities that I find very close to something that I could achieve – Ramit Sethi (I will teach you to be rich) and Chris Goward (Wider Funnel). These are the two speakers I decided to model.

When you find an appropriate model, make sure you’re copying them the right way. What I’m going to do is to take short paragraphs of the transcript from their online courses and record myself pronouncing the same transcript.

Then I’m going to compare my speaking and pronunciation to theirs. Besides that, I’m going to watch all their video and audio material that I can find. It will also be very educational.

I know, the shadowing technique might sound like weird stalking, but you have to see it more as the ultimate form of praise and compliment. You’re struggling and putting in the effort to master a skill on the same level as one of your role models.

Demosthenes, one of the great orators of ancient Greece, brushed up on his speaking skills by putting stones in his mouth while talking to the waves during a storm. That forced him to work very hard on getting the right sounds out. That was incomparably more odd than modeling successful people is. Well, you can also try speaking to the waves.

Listen to English materials

There’s a quote saying that before you learn how to speak, you have to learn how to listen. Practicing listening skills can actually help more with improving your speaking skills than reading can. Thus, it makes sense to practice English listening skills at every possible opportunity.

Here are a few ideas how you can practice listening skills:

  • Listen to podcasts – while you drive, walk, cook and at every other possible opportunity
  • Watch movies, TV series and online courses without any subtitles, English or otherwise
  • Mind the lyrics when you’re listening to music. Singing along can also help.
  • Watch interviews, TED talks, sometimes maybe even reality shows with native speakers

When you’re listening to English materials, make sure you pay attention to word and sentence stresses, intonation and how  the words are linked together into phrases or sentences.

English pronunciation - Mouth Alphabet

Practice your physical tongue skills

There are many situations in life where the tongue plays an important role. For example, when it comes to food tasting. What else did you have in mind? ;) Proper pronunciation is no exception.

As we said, proper pronunciation is a physical skill to some extent. You must know where to put your tongue to make the right sound (or phoneme). The science behind that is called phonetics. Interestingly there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, but 44 different sounds.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • To properly pronounce “th” (as in “think”), you really have to put your tongue out
  • To make the proper “v” sound, you have to put your upper teeth lightly against the bottom lip
  • To make the “l” sound, your tongue must touch the back of your front teeth
  • To make the “r” sound, you must pull your tongue back and not touch the top

The best way to practice proper physical pronunciation form is to exaggerate a little bit at the beginning. And you have to practice it daily.

Practicing minimal pairs is a good exercise to better understand the different movements you have to make with the tongue. Minimal pairs are all the words that are different only by one sound and have two distinct meanings (it and eat for example).

Phonemic Chart - 44 sounds

The best pronunciation resources

Last but not least, it’s worth it to follow the best pronunciation podcasts, videos and courses. If you are extremely motivated, buying a book with audio files might also be a good option. But when it comes to online resources, here are a few suggestions:

Summary of the tips for improving English speaking skills and pronunciation

Soon after I started writing this English blog and wanted to improve my writing skills fast, I wrote an article on how to improve your English skills. In the article, my main suggestions are:

  • Surround yourself with English: Your computer operating system, mobile phone, applications, TV, choose the English language wherever possible.
  • Read exclusively English texts: Subscribe to blogs, newsletters, buy English books etc. Mix light reading with heavier English literature that’s at the limit of your comprehension abilities.
  • Get speaking buddies: Agree with friends who are better in English than you are to speak and text exclusively in English. They might resist, but I’m sure you’ll find at least one speaking buddy.
  • Get dead serious: Buy yourself a book of grammar, vocabulary, idioms or any other part of the English language and start studying. Take a whole week off and instead of going on vacation, dedicate your free time to improving English.
  • Other recommendations: Join (online) courses or English debate clubs, travel to English‑speaking countries as many times as possible, listen to English audiobooks and podcasts, etc.

Now that I’m focusing exclusively on improving my speaking skills and pronunciation, there are some additional recommendations that I decided to follow. I’m sure you’ll find several ideas how you can also improve you English speaking and pronunciation skills. I will …

  1. Start with international coaching sessions to actively speak English at least one to two hours every day.
  2. Record audio or video materials for my blog posts – reading them out loud or preparing shorter summaries. I will torture myself by listening to them and paying attention to the errors I make. And I’ll have to record materials for the online courses, of course.
  3. Prepare a list of standard phrases that can help me switch between languages faster or that I can use in pretty common everyday conversations. It's about adding expressions to my vocabulary.
  4. Think exclusively in English.
  5. Shadow two selected speakers by modeling their pronunciation and style – comparing my recordings to theirs for the same text.
  6. Continue to work with my pronunciation coach to get additional guidance and immediate feedback on my pronunciation.
  7. Stop watching any videos with English subtitles and practice listening skills at every opportunity I get (podcasts, music etc.).
  8. Do all the tongue exercises, get to know 44 different English sounds, and practice word and sentence stresses and speaking fluently.

If you also have a plan to improve your speaking and pronunciation skills, I wish you the best of luck. Well, you don’t need luck, just a lot of smart practice.