Over two billion people over the world are more or less fluent in English, and there are many English learners out there seeking to improve their English for work or study.

However, if you live far out from a large city, you may have trouble accessing a language learning centre and opportunities to practice your English conversation skills might be few and far between.

If you're short on opportunities to practice English, you may need to use a little innovation or imagination and create these opportunities yourself. Superprof will show you how. But first up...

Overcome anxiety around speaking to make the most of your English lessons!
Don't let your fear of mistakes stop you from practising English! (Source: Pixabay. Credit Tookapic)

English for Beginners: Overcome Your Fear of Mistakes

Many ESOL learners let their worries about making mistakes get the best of them, and won't risk speaking up in class or starting English conversations. 

Ask yourself where this fear of failure might come from for you - your family? your culture? personal standards you are setting for yourself? But if you don't speak out, you could languish at an intermediate level when a little more bravery could help perfect your speaking skills. Rote speaking or pronunciation exercises might feel safe and comfortable, but they are only a stepping-stone - only real conversations will perfect your English, and once you're taking university-level classes, learning through conversation will be expected.

You can take your cue from younger English speakers, whose lessons might involve songs, role-play or other games. If you observe very young children learning English, you'll notice they aren't afraid to try out English phrases they've learnt or shout out answers in class, even if they're still working with a limited vocabulary.

The key to key to improving your English  is letting go of any fears of ridicule that inhibit your growth. 

And nothing bad will happen if you accidentally misuse a bit of grammar or forget the proper verb tense.

Sometimes your English errors will make other people laugh, but usually they're laughing with you and not at you. Laugh along with them!

You can only go forward by making mistakes. - Alexander McQueen

Mistakes are essential to learning. If your goal is to speak fluent English, try to let go of any fears or shyness and speak out!  

In most cases, your audience will admire your courage and encourage your efforts!

Are you looking for ESOL courses or to learn English online? Superprof can help you find your perfect tutor!

Improve your English Conversation Skills Using Technology

The internet has thousands of sites aimed at improving your English, but many of them are focussed on reading, spelling and writing skills.

There are also lots of great online resources to help with English listening, such as podcasts.

However, you may struggle to find somewhere to practice your spoken English.

If that sounds like you, why not check out the following sites...

  • italki - this is a website developed specifically to help with speaking skills. You register and then choose an English conversation teacher you'd like to schedule a session with 
  • Conversation Exchange - this site connects ESOL learners with native English speakers. This could be online from anywhere in the world, or in-person if you both live in the same area
  • Speaky - this is a community of language learners with its own built-in video and audio chat. There are more than five thousand people online at any one time, so you're sure to find conversation partners who suit your level!

If you register with all three sites, you'll be sure to find an English speaking partner whenever the mood strikes.

Some of these sites have builtin video conferencing software, but others require you to download another application, such as Skype, to chat with your language exchange partners.

You can find conversation partners online
Connect with native English speakers all over the world with the wonders of modern technology. Source: Pixabay Credit: Ary74

Speaking of Video Chat...

Make sure you're watching your conversation partner's mouth closely and copy their movements. This is how you learn to form the sounds essential to proper English pronunciation. You can also check out other forms of spoken English here.

Many ESOL teachers will help you recognize the proper mouth movements by exaggerating their tongue and lip positions while speaking. This technique is especially effective with beginner or low to intermediate English learners.

With a video call, your teacher will be able to closely observe how you form English words and suggest ways to improve.

Audio-only conversations have their drawbacks - as they deprive you of this critical feedback on mouth and tongue position.

However, audio-only can have benefits as well; with a phone call, your English tutor or conversation partner will be able to focus intently on your speaking skills only with no visual distraction.

If, for some reason, your internet access is too weak for video calls, audio-only conversations are still a good option!

Other than Skype, here's a list of the most popular video chat apps you can use on your laptop or smartphone:

  • Whatsapp: is so much more than just text and picture messages - you can place high-quality audio and video calls all over the world!
  • WeChat: this has an instant messaging feature, and you can send videos or audio files or start a video chat.
  • Viber: this has video call options, as well as all the other usual messaging capabilities.

Facebook Chat and Google Hangouts are also worth mentioning. However, keep in mind that they may not be available in every country, so make sure you've got other chat platforms as a backup.

Listen to People Speaking English

Thanks to the international popularity of both American and British films, plenty of non-native English speakers are exposed to the English language regularly.

If you've streamed movies online before, chances are you've been exposed to spoken English dialogue.

So how can you use films to improve your English comprehension and listening skills? 

Many teachers of English will tell you to remove the subtitles in your native language so you'll be forced to decipher as much as you can of the English onscreen.

Advanced English understanding means you should be able to will recognize and understand different subtle clues in the language, such as inflection and tone.

The body language of the actors should give you further clues as to what's being said.

By watching movies, you can pick up on context clues that will aid in your understanding of the many nuances present in the English language while absorbing many aspects of the language that can't be taught in a class.

Mastering Tone and Inflection In English Conversation

Like any language, English possesses its own rhythm. Picking up on these nuances and adopting them into your conversations is one of the biggest challenges of learning a new language.

Unlike Mandarin Chinese or Vietnamese, where the tone is placed on every individual word, English place tone across the entire sentence structure to give certain meaning.

For example, a question in English will usually have a falling-rising tone on the last word of the phrase - this is not unlike the third tone in Mandarin!

Often, speakers of tonal languages will think they need to speak in monotone when practising English, perhaps missing the significance of pitch changes across the whole sentence.

In English, place stress on certain words will completely alter a sentence's meaning! For example, the phase:

I didn't kick that dog

Can mean various things, depending on where you place the word emphasis.

"I didn't kick that dog" gives the impression that you kicked a different dog!

Whilst...

"I didn't kick that dog" suggest that another person, not you, kicked the dog!

Listening practice is essential if you want to understand how inflection, tone and stress can alter a sentence's meaning.

Stress words correctly to give the right meaning
Learn English inflection... and leave the dogs alone! (Source: Pixabay. Credit: Ryniu1234)

Learning to Discern Inflection with Audiobooks

Movies will provide you with both audio and video clues to aid in your comprehension, audiobooks will challenge you to decipher English without any help from the visuals.

Librivox is a site that hosts lots of free audiobooks that you can download onto your laptop or smartphone. It has everything from modern spy thrillers to classic literature and poetry!

Practising English Conversations with a Speech Club

One of the best ways to achieve proficiency in English conversation is to join a speaking club!

The team atmosphere is a great motivator - you'll meet other English learners who are as passionate about learning the language as you are! You'll benefit from a strong feeling of solidarity, and you'll be able to practice your English in a safe, welcoming environment. 

Toastmasters' is a club with branches in many countries that can help you improve your speaking and listening skills, and boost your confidence by supporting your progress.

So what are you waiting for? Opportunities to practice your English are everywhere - you just have to know where to look. 

For more articles on ESOL learning, you can check out our tips on perfecting an English, or which not take a peek at our Check our English slang dictionary?

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Jon

As an Englishman in Paris, I enjoy growing my knowledge of other languages and cultures. I'm interested in History, Economics, and Sociology and believe in the importance of continuous learning.