Just recently one of my students asked me to give some advice on how to improve his spoken English for IELTS. He was able to score between 7 & 8 in all other sections of IELTS except speaking where he couldn’t go above 6.5 in 3 tries. I see such candidates very often. They can read and write in English really well but still have trouble speaking in English.
If you happen to be in this category, don't worry … I have 4 rules for you that will change the way you speak English forever.
Before I start, I want to share a big milestone with you. IELTS Online Practice just crossed 1000 Facebook fans. I cannot tell you how big this is. It is a huge validation of all the hard work that me and my team of world class IELTS tutors have put in for creating our Online IELTS Twenty20 course that is helping students all over the world ace the IETLS exam. So thank you for your support and feedback.
Okay back to the 4 rules ..
Most students from non-English speaking countries have learnt to speak English the old way.. through translation.
  • They were taught by a teacher who probably spoke their own language.
  • They memorised a list of vocabulary words by translating their meanings to their native tongue.
  • Studied grammar rules .. lots and lots of grammar rules
  • Read a lot of books and magazines
  • Did fake conversation drills with friends and family .. etc etc..
Let me tell you honestly ... If you have been doing the above for improving your spoken English you have been wasting your time. I’ll share with you 4 simple rules that are based on scientific research to help you speak English quickly, easily, powerfully and naturally.
Rule #1 Learn phrases not individual words
Phrases are group of words that go together. Every language has a unique set of phrases that make the speaker sound “natural”.
Why should you learn phrases and not individual words? Because a single word has no connections to anything else.. that's why it’s so hard to remember it’s meaning. Additionally when you learn single words you are not learning any grammar. With phrases, you are learning grammar automatically - without having to think about grammar rules. You also learn which vocabulary words go together naturally and more importantly in what order.
Lets take a very simplistic phrase “Tall Building”…  If you come across a sentence like “That is a tall building” ... instead of focusing on individual words “tall” and “building”, try to learn the whole sentence by repeating it again and again.
Each time you do this for a new sentence or phrase you will start to FEEL when it sounds correct and when it sounds strange. Next time when you see a tall building you will automatically be able to say “That is a tall building” and won’t have to think about whether to use the word “high” or “big” or “tall” to go with “building”.
Rule #2 DO NOT study grammar rules:
Grammar rules are far too complicated to remember. Think about how you learnt your own native language when you were young. Did you ever have to learn grammar rules for your native language? Then why would you study the grammar rules for English? In fact, if you think about grammar rules while speaking you will end up hesitating and self correcting all the time.
It is fine to think about grammar rules when you are writing, as you can take time to frame your sentences. In speaking, your listener expects an answer immediately and if you pause or take too long it breaks the flow of the conversation. IELTS examiners will penalize you heavily if you hesitate, pause too long or self correct during the speaking test so do not think about grammar rules during the speaking test.
Rule #3 Listening is the key to fluency. 
This is probably the most important rule of all … Learn English with your ears and not with your eyes… ie. instead of reading a lot of books, LISTEN to as much English as you can. Ideally you want to listen to authentic English for several months or longer if possible to achieve fluency.
Why focus on listening first? Lots of research points to this. A baby born in an English speaking country doesn't pick up a text book to learn English vocabulary & grammar rules. She learns with her ears by hearing her parents make sounds and listens to them.
Plus, when you listen to authentic English, you learn grammar and vocabulary for free. You will understand English better and will know what SOUNDS natural.
What should you listen to? Listen to simple native English. You should be able to understand 95% of English you are listening to without stopping or looking up a dictionary. A great source of authentic native English is BBC Learning English series on Youtube.
When should you listen? All the time. Get an mp3 player or a smart phone and load up English audio books, movies and programs. Listen to them all the time - during your lunch break, while exercising, on your way home from work… and try to repeat what you hear as much as possible. Soon you will find that you can speak English naturally and automatically rather than by translation.
Rule #4 Learn deeply - Learn English like you are preparing for a sport. 
I’m a big fan of basketball. If you ever hear an interview with any basketball player, they'll always say that the most important thing in playing basketball is basic skills - shooting and dribbling. Those are the only skills that make a great basketball player. The elite athletes can do many more advanced things too but they need to be really good at the most basic skills and so they practice it 1000’s of times .. so that during the game it is so automatic that they just do it .. without effort.. that’s what you need to do with English speaking. 
Start with simple basic English and practice it over and over again until it becomes natural. Research shows you need 10,000 hours of effort to master any new skill. If you really want to be skilful at speaking English you need to learn and repeat basic sentences and phrases many, many, many times. Don't bother trying to learn a 1000 vocabulary words or 100's of complicated grammar rules. Stick to the simplest form of English and use it a LOT everyday.

Follow the above 4 rules and you will find a remarkable improvement in your spoken English skills within a short period of time. You will no longer hesitate while speaking and you will learn to speak English naturally… just the way it is meant to be learnt. :)


1 Comment
  1. Eric the sceptic 8 years ago

    Thanks for sharing those four sensible, even savvy, suggestions. As you note, many English language learners study grammar too much, listen too little, and speak far too little. Learning sketal phrases and collocations adds fluency and reduces stress. Bottomline: IELTS students need to listen louder, learn by doing, and swim in English.

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