9 Simple Strategies for Real-world English Conversation Practice
Far too often, English students miss opportunities to practice speaking their new language outside the classroom.
There are a million ways you can improve your English conversational skills—even if you don’t live in an English-speaking country.
In this modern age, you only need to go online to discover tons of great opportunities!
Here, we’re going to share nine of the best ways to make this happen.
- 1. Talk to your friends and fellow students in English.
- 2. Don’t worry too much about accuracy, but don’t completely ignore it either.
- 3. Stay in an English-speaking country whenever you can.
- 4. Talk back to the television.
- 5. Don’t shy away from speaking English during your trips.
- 6. Chat with strangers online.
- 7. Use Meetup and Facebook groups to find others who are practicing English.
- 8. Never miss an opportunity to talk to strangers.
- 9. Take classes in English, especially in areas you’re passionate about.
1. Talk to your friends and fellow students in English.
Think about the people you have a good relationship with. This includes your friends, colleagues and family members.
How many of them speak English better than you? How many have a similar fluency level?
If there are cool people in your life who speak English, ask them to practice with you. Set up coffee dates and Skype appointments. Chances are, they’ll be eager to talk to you since this benefits them as well.
As an ESL teacher, I’ve discovered that most of my students have at least one family member or close friend who speaks English more fluently than they do. Yet they never practice together.
Chatting (talking casually), even if it’s just typing, can help with your conversation skills. If you decide to chat in English online, be sure to use good grammar and spellings instead of using online slang.
Here’s the thing about the internet: While chatting, you usually don’t want to make the other person wait. This means that you’ll try to come up with answers fast. Internet connections are fast these days, so you can still look up words you don’t know and answer your chat buddies swiftly (fast). This assists (helps) you to think in English, making you a faster speaker in the long run.
If you’re using Skype, you can actually speak too. You don’t even have to turn on your camera if you don’t want to. The important thing is that you’re practicing your conversation skills!
2. Don’t worry too much about accuracy, but don’t completely ignore it either.
Worried about speaking correctly in your new language? Too much concern (worry) about speaking correctly might stop you from engaging in conversations, so you’ll need to relax a little. However, being too laid-back (relaxed) about this won’t help you in the future.
I had one student who was a lot more confident in his speaking than all his fellow students, but he never paid attention to his mistakes. At the end of the term, his confidence was still high but his accuracy hadn’t improved.
Why is this bad? He had the grammar of an intermediate-level student and the English speaking skill level of an elementary-level student. He was so confident that he did not care when he messed up (made mistakes). This meant that he would never figure out (learn) the right way to say things. If you want to speak English casually and not use it in your professional life, and you don’t care about advancing to a higher level of English, this is okay. But you’ll need to really consider (think about) what your goals are with English.
3. Stay in an English-speaking country whenever you can.
If you have the time and money, it’s a great idea to go on vacation in an English-speaking country. You’ll have to practice English for the length of your stay.
However, not every country, city or town filled with English-speaking people is a great place to practice English.
Go to towns and cities that have very few people from your country and other tourists. This way, you won’t pick the easy way out when you feel uninspired, shy or lazy. If there are many people speaking your native language (not English) in your destination, try to avoid these foreign communities and interact with locals instead. When speaking with other people from your home country, insist that you both speak in English if possible.
Picking cheaper destinations means your money will last longer and you can spend more time abroad. So, maybe you should avoid London or New York if money for travel is limited. The pricier (more expensive) places also tend to be more touristy, so that’s one more reason to avoid them. It’s a win-win!
4. Talk back to the television.
While you’re watching movies or television shows in English, you’ll have some great chances to practice English listening and speaking skills.
Because most TV shows rely on continuity, they’re bound to repeat certain things. Pick a TV show or a movie you already love and don’t tire of watching. Since you already know what’s going to happen and what everyone will say, you won’t have to worry about understanding anything. Watch once and just practice paying attention to dialogue (conversations) and how people speak. Pause at regular intervals to emulate (match, typically by imitation) their tone and pronunciation. Repeating what people say will help you sound more natural.
If you can turn on the subtitles for your movies and TV shows, do it. It’s a lot easier to talk back to the TV when you can read what the actors are saying. On the video-based learning program FluentU, the subtitles are also interactive, so you can click on them to pause the video or learn more information about new words.
Do this regularly. You can even record your own voice to catch any mistakes you make while practicing.
5. Don’t shy away from speaking English during your trips.
You don’t need to be in a country whose first language is English to practice. Even if you’re traveling in your own country, chances are good that you’ll run into many tourists.
Many native speakers actually like and respect the fact that you’re making the effort to speak their language. Non-native speakers tend to appreciate the chance to practice.
If you’re looking for common ground (things you have in common), why don’t you start by asking each other about places you have been to?
If you’re ever worried about striking up a conversation (starting or beginning a conversation) with someone you don’t know in English, do not worry. All you need is a few simple terms and phrases to avoid any awkward encounters and then you are good to go.
6. Chat with strangers online.
With so many social networking sites and active online forums, you can find at least a couple of websites that focus on your interests. Just pick a website you like, create a free account and start chatting with like-minded people.
If you notice other users are being strict about grammar and use of language, start by saying that English isn’t your native tongue. They’ll be friendlier and more understanding about your mistakes. And while you shouldn’t worry too much about being 100% accurate, it won’t hurt to read what you have typed before sending it out there. This self-editing practice will help you in the professional world as well.
7. Use Meetup and Facebook groups to find others who are practicing English.
I use the international networking site Meetup. I get alerts in my inbox when someone creates a Meetup group in an area I’m interested in, like Italian conversation practice. There are usually several English language practice groups in any major city, so all you have to do is look around. Joining any Meetup group is free. You only have to pay a small fee if you form one yourself.
8. Never miss an opportunity to talk to strangers.
This is especially true when you’re spending time in international coffee shop chains or pubs where speaking to strangers is more or less expected.
Coffee shops are great places to meet with friends, have a cup of coffee and unwind (relax). They’ve become so popular that nowadays they’re frequented by several different demographics (particular groups of a population), so you’ll probably see many people about your age.
People usually go to coffee shops to work (or play) on their laptops and use the wireless internet connection, so it’s easy to start a conversation by asking how it works (if you’re new there) or helping newcomers with their questions.
You don’t have to be best friends, but when you spot a foreigner you can offer friendly advice and take it from there. Sometimes people will talk to you first.
9. Take classes in English, especially in areas you’re passionate about.
If there’s a college or institution nearby that offers classes in English and you can afford them, give them a try. As long as the students are encouraged to speak in English, even a cooking or dancing class will make it possible for you to practice your conversation skills.
Integrating English into your everyday life might sound like a difficult task when you don’t have much free time, but it’ll be worth it.
Even 15 extra minutes every week will enhance your confidence and fluency. Just make sure you don’t completely let go of accuracy, or focus too much on it that it prevents you from conversing freely.
Remember, learning English is supposed to be fun!