This post is about learning spoken English fast, and not about becoming fluent in 10 or 30 days. I don’t want to disappoint you, but it’s nearly impossible to become fluent in 30 days.
Many who are advocating fluency in such short period either have different notion of fluency or aren’t being authentic. You don’t have to believe me on this. Just try those methods verbatim and see where you reach in 30 days.
(Please note, this post is specifically written for the situation where you don’t have the luxury of time and you want to expedite your learning process. However, if you don’t face the pressure of time, few steps mentioned in this post should ideally be tweaked, few dropped, and few added. Overall, the content would change somewhat in that case.)
Here are the steps you can take to speed up your spoken English skills:
1. Tailor your learning to the reason why you want to learn fast
For most, it’s a not-too-distant job interview.
For some, it could be an international travel, ranging from an exchange program to plain leisure travel.
If your reason is job interview, you can tailor your practice to accommodate what you’ll face in an interview. You can, for example, try to limit your responses in practice to 2-3 minutes; answer questions in a way where you first give brief background of the situation you handled, followed by your contribution, and the result or lessons drawn in the end; and you can even practice questions you’ll likely face in the interview.
If your reason is an exchange program, you can specifically practice ice-breaking questions and striking conversation with strangers.
There is so much you can cover in spoken English, but if you’re short on time, focus will help you get more bang for your buck.
2. Stoke your passion by knowing the ‘why’ behind your pursuit
It’s hard to put in the hours day in and day out over a long period with several dry spells of flat progress unless you’re super-motivated.
By finding the ‘why’ of your pursuit.
Why do you want to become a better speaker?
Is it to succeed at job interviews? Is it to continue that success through your career? Is it to impress others? Is it to be socially mobile and enlarge your network?
Whatever it is, remind yourself how getting better at the language will improve your life. Conversely, you can also remind yourself how remaining average will adversely affect your life.
3. Devote more time to learning English
If you want to improve quickly, you need to shed more sweat and tears. Period.
Devote as much time as possible to the task of improving your spoken English. However, you may find it difficult to pull off astronomical hours (6-8 or more) because learning new things – unlike doing repetitive tasks – is draining on our brains and forcing too much in a short period of time may hamper learning.
Experiment and find your sweet spot (of hours).
4. Create an immersive experience to learn a language fast
Why do people learn a language fast when they live in a country where that language is spoken natively?
Because they’ve little option but to speak in that language. Everyone else around them is speaking the language, after all.
This is called immersive experience. It’s forced in the above example, but it’s not difficult to replicate such an experience in English at your own place in your own country.
At Freedom English Academy (FEA), a non-profit organization founded by well-known spiritual leader Deepak Chopra in northern India, students learn spoken English in 105-minute long sessions, Monday to Saturday.
Many students make dramatic improvements in 12-odd months they spend here. And the most important reason for improvement is strict adherence to communication in English during those 100-odd minutes. No matter how lame your English is, you can’t utter a word in your native language. In other words, each session is an immersive experience (in English).
And I’ve observed that those students who could create such an immersive experience even outside FEA progressed even faster.
Want to get convinced more on immersive experience?
Scott and Vat learnt Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Korean by living in Spain, Brazil, China, and Korea, respectively for three months each. Watch their dramatic improvement from Week 1 to Week 12 in the four languages in their TEDx talk (duration: 63 seconds):
Scott says his fluency in Spanish attained through this 3-month immersive experience is far better than his fluency in French after staying in France for a year and deliberately studying French on an earlier occasion.
That’s the power of completely immersing yourself in the language you want to master. So, replace the native language content you read, listen, and watch with the one in English. And create ‘English only’ time zones – like FEA students do for 105 minutes – when you speak only in English. The more, the better.
5. Read less, listen more
Reading helps your spoken English… but much less than listening.
Reading helps you learn new words in context, which improves your vocabulary. It also improves your grammar.
However, most average speakers have enough vocabulary to make working conversations, and therefore learning additional words through reading won’t make big difference to your spoken English. (Remember, you’re short on time and would like to get the most out of it.)
So is the case with grammar. There are limited grammar rules and unless you’re too bad, you would be fine without knowing all the grammar rules. If you’ve the grasp on basic grammar such as tenses and subject-verb agreement, you can do fine without additional doses of grammar.
An important takeaway: don’t spend time on vocabulary and grammar unless you’re poor in them.
- Spoken English has a rhythm – the pauses, the emphasis (speaking more loudly) on certain parts of the sentence, and the pace (fast or slow). Through listening, you can learn these nuances and calibrate your own speech.
- You spot pronunciation mistakes you’ve been making for years.
- Spoken English can be somewhat different from the more formal written English. You’ll often encounter slangs, contractions, fragments (of sentences), and bruised grammar rules in spoken English. For example, ‘are you gonna come to the college tomorrow’ would be fine in spoken English, but would be too informal in most writings.
BTW, listening, like reading, too provides you the opportunity to improve your vocabulary.
What to listen?
Listen to audio or video content that you can understand to the extent of 75-80 percent. Otherwise you would either tune out because you don’t understand it or read subtitles which would divert your attention from listening.
If you’re a beginner, listen to content meant for children. Try as much as possible to listen to content that is also useful to you in some other way (example: content from your industry if you’re working, TED talks etc.)
6. Speak much, much more
Read less, listen more, but…speak much, much more.
Wouldn’t you learn swimming faster by devoting disproportionately more time to swimming than to reading a swimming manual or watching the moves of other swimmers in the pool.
Swimming is a skill that you can learn only through doing it.
Though not exactly the same, speaking is a skill which you will learn faster by actually doing it (immersive experience, point # 4, points toward the same). As discussed above, reading and listening both help your speaking, but when you’re pressed for time, you got to focus more on things that will move the needle the most. Therefore, speak more. And more. (If you had all the time in the world, you could have afforded more reading and listening. Remember, you’re trying to learn fast.)
Speaking more will also acclimatize your vocal organs – throat, tongue, and lips – to producing different sounds clearly. Remember, speaking – unlike reading, writing, and listening – requires you to produce multiple sounds clearly, which you’ll struggle at if you haven’t practiced enough.
Guard against procrastinating on speaking
Remember, if you aren’t good at speaking you would naturally tend to delay speaking because first, it’s an active exercise requiring effort and, second, you aren’t good at it. In contrast, you would happily listen and read for hours because these are passive exercises where you don’t need to make much effort.
Does it ring a bell?
If you want to learn fast, don’t delay the speaking part much. Try even if you stumble more initially.
You’ll get all sort of advice on this: “Read and only read for so many days. Then only listen for so many days. And then start speaking.”
Feel free to get all the advice in the world, but don’t forget to filter them through commonsense.
Whom to speak to?
All and sundry.
You can practice speaking in English even without a partner. Friends and colleagues. Yourself loudly. Yourself in thoughts. Yourself mimicking television on mute. Customer care.
Possibilities are endless. If you’re driven, you will find ways to practice no matter where you live.
7. Read out loud
Another act you can perform to hasten your spoken English is to read out loud from, say, a newspaper or an online article. You possibly can’t speak to others or to yourself for long, possibly because of lack of options, but you certainly can read out loud at will.
Reading out loud exercises the same vocal organs that you exercise when speaking to someone. We covered this in point # 6.
It’s an easy and 24×7 way to smoothen rough edges in your voice and get accustomed with your own voice especially when you don’t speak English regularly.
I’ve regularly practiced this exercise for ten minutes a day for the last few years.
Has it been effective?
I started with one session of five minutes in the morning and then increased it to two sessions of five minutes each. Need I say more?
8. If your vocabulary is poor…
Reading does improve your vocabulary, but understanding vocabulary through context alone takes time and therefore may not serve your purpose. In his book Word Power Made Easy, Norman Lewis talks of how most adults are building vocabulary at snail’s pace:
Educational testing indicates that children of ten who have grown up in families in which English is the native language have recognition vocabularies of over twenty thousand words. And that these same ten-year-olds have been learning new words at a rate of many hundreds a year since the age of four. In astonishing contrast, studies show that adults who are no longer attending school increase their vocabularies at a pace slower than twenty-five to fifty words annually.
25 to 50 words annually!
That’s abysmally low.
The reason is most people are improving their vocabulary passively by reading alone and taking no further action. If you want to build active vocabulary faster, you need to:
- Actively note down words (while listening or reading) you’re not sure of
- Refer the dictionary for its meaning(s) and, most importantly, example sentences in which the word has been used. These example sentences are gold and you learn vocabulary the fastest through them
- Better yet, note the meaning and few example sentences down somewhere and review them after few days. (You need to be really motivated to do this. That’s why I mentioned find your ‘why’ as one of the points right in the beginning.)
Here is an example of the word ‘ingratiate’ from online Cambridge English Dictionary showing the meaning and example sentence:Improving vocabulary at a slow rate through passive reading is OK if your current vocabulary is decent and is not a stumbling block in your communication. But if you’ve some catchup to do, then you need to be more proactive in building your active vocabulary, and above is a way to achieve that.