How to Become a Three Times Better English Speaker than You are Now
Speaking superlative English is like driving a car or cooking at home. Remember the first time you tried doing those? The car acted like a teenager (The gear- the clutch coordination while the car almost bounced making a funny noise and maybe stopped).
You need to hang onto practicing doing a few smart things for good amount of time before your English & spoken skills get you that elusive, seductive appeal. There are no short cuts to becoming a better English speaker.
This quite lengthy post is EVERYTHING you will need to know to improve your Spoken English. Read slowly & savor carefully my friend
I cannot emphasize enough on how important it is to speak well. While you may not want to be a public speaker, there is no one, I can guarantee, who never had to make a speech or an impression out of his / her words at least a couple of times. If nothing, you will face your prospective in laws who will be waiting to hear you create magic with your words.
Irrespective of how dumb your prospective life partner is, you will be expected to be the Martin Luther king of speaking. Most importantly- fluency & confidence as a better English speaker can make you all the more employable & maybe also zip fast your career progress.
It surely makes a lasting impression and most importantly, it makes you feel good about yourself – like having crossed a huge hurdle. And it will make people take you more seriously. It is not just about English. Speak any language but speak flawlessly and with confidence and you can easily win people over.
As a Motivational speaker & Corporate Trainer in India; I got to do some 1100+ Events for Corporates & Youth across Asia and this is what I learnt about How to become a three times better English speaker than you do now. These are really simple things you can do daily because, let’s face it. English is no rocket science.
1. Read more books
What did you expect me to write? This had to come up! Whether you find it boring or whether you find no time for it – English language doesn’t care. So, suck it up & read more. If you don’t like serious literature or even more serious non – fiction, read Chetan Bhagat or any you like to begin with. But read. Because if you say that you don’t like reading, all I am going to say is – you haven’t found the right book yet. Do check out my Recommended LIST OF READING BOOKS
I have been both – a complete non-reader and an avid reader. Trust me, the latter helps. It generates content & confidence for you to meaningfully & flawlessly contribute to and participate in a conversation. It gives you a notorious command over grammar & vocabulary that even you won’t be able to explain. You will be able to spot incorrect usage of grammar just by the fact that it won’t sound right to you. Isn’t that what you aim for with improved spoken English?
2. Speak More
It is like a never-ending cycle. To speak, you have to practice and to practice you have to speak. Here’s the catch. Speak to yourself. Stand in front of the mirror & speak your heart out. Voice your thoughts in English & see for yourself – what you look like? For starters, do short summaries. Read an article. Grasp its gist and then summarize it while doing the mirror exercise.
Do you appear confident? This could be a very good method of keeping track of your improvement over the time. Do this exercise daily. Initially alone, and then with small audiences. Start with your mom. She won’t make fun of you, no matter how bad you are initially. And she will applaud you once she believes you have improved.
‘A saint is a sinner who never gave up’ – goes a very famous saying by Paramhansa Yogananda ji. Invest a lot of time sharpening your speaking ability daily. Speak crap but keep speaking daily in English. Soon, the shine will come. Be obstinate that you will spend 30-40 mins on this agenda. Get dogged.
3. Keep good company
Surround yourself with people who speak awesome English. And I am not talking about the “gonna” “wanna” “You know” “Ya” types. Talk to people who know what they are talking about & also have a good hang of that thing called “Grammar”. When you consistently find yourself among people who know how to articulate their thoughts and ideas in good English, a sense of competition seeks in. Trust me, that’s the best that can happen to the latent “faadu” awesome English speaker in you. Mindsets are like viral infections. Surround yourself with people who are better than you or who are as hungry as you to become better in English.
I asked my friends online “How would they want to improve English” and some beautiful answers came up. One of them was by Maninder Rao. He suggested “Vocab Antakshari”. And it is exactly what it sounds like. You think of a word and then sing a song that explains its meaning! How cool it that? For more on this technique, keep reading. But most of all, you will need to surround yourself with people who have that hunger for becoming a better English speaker / learn Vocabulary!
4. Think in English
I truly believe in this practice & my friend & renowned Dr. Mani also agrees. Sounds silly because thinking is an involuntary process (to some extent). But this has always worked for me. A lot of practicing has happened inside my head, where there is no rush to do it right. I can think, be slow & give myself a chance to think whether I am right or not.
For e.g. You remember how you create complete conversations in your head? Imagine talking to your crush – you try to go through everything in your head first. “She will say this then I will say that” kind of stuff? Just do that in English. Or, think about the person you hate most. And then discuss it with your head in English – Why do I hate him so much? Am I a bad person or he is?” Or when you are busy shopping – “Should I buy this? But I already have 500 new clothes in my wardrobe. But a girl never has enough clothes, right? But it is high time I start saving. Why do I always get confused? Am I becoming a shopaholic? Oh Wait! I already am. I will buy it anyway!” – these kinds of conversations. In your head. Simple, daily, thought processing but in English.
Besides, talking to yourself in your head in English, will help you be able to articulate & present your thoughts spontaneously in a much better way. If you can think it, you can speak it (almost). Thinking in the language you want to improve in will also help you articulate faster. A lot of people I know struggle with formulating their thoughts in English before speaking & that’s where they lose confidence. Just try this out. It will work. And it will come with practice. You will need to force your mind to process the thoughts in English initially. But once you are used to it, it should do wonders for you.
Have these conversations with yourself in English? They will take you a long way!
5. Watch English news
Switch on a good English news channel and just keep it running in the background. You don’t need to sit in front of the screen and dedicatedly watch it. Listening should also do the trick. Your favorite anchors will subliminally grow on you.
Select good content when you decide to project yourself to hours of listening to English. In my school days Prannoy Roy used to present ‘The world this week’ on TV. Used to watch him religiously, tried to copy him (His style, grace, his way of emphasizing things). Gradually, my own confidence grew manifold. But yes- I owe it so much to News Channels. Let them just keep on playing at your home/ hostels / wherever.
6. Voice modulation & Energy
Nothing kills spoken English like a monotone does. You are a living breathing person. Your communication should not seem like it’s coming from a zombie. Depending on what you are talking about, you will need to modulate your voice & energy levels. Changing the pitch tells the listeners that something is going to happen. It builds curiosity, adds weight to your speech and subtlety to the meaning of the words you choose.
For e.g. if you have to say something with authority and finality, do not scream. Go on a little higher pitch beforehand and just when you are approaching your point which is authoritative, go for a downward pitch. It gives an unquestioning acceptance feel to the spoken word. Say for instance, you want to talk about the importance of goals. In a higher pitch, you talk about the mistakes people do & then when you are giving them a final mantra for achieving, you lower your pitch just a little. Reason – your listeners have your attention from the high pitch. The lower one will bring seriousness, sincerity & subtlety. It will give the feeling that you are confident about what you are saying and has a higher chance of getting accepted. That’s how I do during my Events.
Don’t talk like you have not eaten in 4 days. That really puts people off. Have energy and assertiveness in your voice. Often, people don’t realize that they are being too loud or are shrieking. The reaction of your audiences will help you understand whether you are ‘voicing’ it correctly or you are torturing them.
Avoid fake accents. They take away all attention. All people will remember after you leave is your fake accent and it will take away all the genuineness from your communication. How to do that? Ans – Do not get influenced by all the American sitcoms you keep watching … Although, these are not really a bad idea. Don’t pick up the accent but pick up the way they talk. What the show is about will influence the way the dialogues are written. For e.g. you will find absolutely correct English dialogues in sitcoms like “The Big Bang Theory”, “Sherlock” (although the British accent is a little difficult to grasp), “Castle” etc. (This is just not an exhaustive list. There are many good shows out there. Just don’t fall for the bad ones) . Same goes with Hollywood movies.
A lot of people have either a habit or a medical condition of speaking very fast. Such speech modulations are difficult to understand. If you are aware of this shortcoming, practice to improve. Read out things slowly. Make sure you pronounce each word right and with adequate emphasis.
If you are too embarrassed to practice in front of anyone, do it alone. You belong to the smartphone generation. Your device will have an audio recorder. Record your speech and then listen to it. Note down the mistakes and go again. This can be done for all the points. Club this with ‘in front of the mirror’ and your initial ground work can be done very easily. Effort to lagega boss!
7. Body Language
It makes up for 50% of your communication. Imagine telling your ‘would be’ that you adore them and your body slouching & closed while doing that. Our bodies do a lot of talking & they don’t inherently lie. Body language gives away your actual mood while you are talking or listening & if it is not in congruence with what you are speaking – trust me, it will show.
And the irony is – while we very often do not realize what kind of body language we are showing, we almost always are able to understand when someone talking to us shows wrong body language. So, the chances of you getting caught are very high.
Now, what’s the solution to this? Same old mirror. Don’t talk in attention position & definitely do not talk as if you are having a conversation with God (looking up & far beyond while talking). Use hand movements to drive your point home. But not so much that your hands are all that your listeners can focus on. Have welcoming & high power open postures. Don’t slouch, close yourself down with drooping shoulders and avoid the scared look on your face. There is nothing to be scared of. You are not alone in this agony of not speaking well. But you can definitely move on from this with consistent efforts.
Broad shoulders, wider stance, a smile on your face & eye contacts – will always help you fare better. And if you are speaking to an audience, you can always follow the 4F rule i.e. Find Four Friendly Faces. Make eye contact with them, speak while looking at them. Those friendly faces will be reassuring & help you feel more confident.
If you feel nervous, don’t let this show on your face. Simply turn around from your listeners and walk towards the podium or your seat. And take that time to calm down. If you forget what you wanted to say, say something else. If you cannot recall at all, ask the audience what they think about the last point. And then pick up from there. Maintain a relaxed position (not slouching, not drooping & smiling).
Also, try to be conscious of where you keep your hands while you talk. Keeping it on your hips like a pregnant woman or as if to cover your private parts are all hilarious & take away the beauty of what you are talking about. Constant, mild but open hand movements will help you overcome this problem. Besides, hand movements make you look more confident of your content so go ahead with it.
Bodies do a lot of talking for you. Train them to talk better.
Doing these 7 things is not easy. And I know a lot of you won’t be able to get into this habit. You may start with a lot of zing but for majority, that excitement will fizzle out. Only a few will actually stick to it.
Let me tell you what happens to those who do stick to these methods and zabardasti try to improve. They won’t see results either for the initial 2-3 months. And then suddenly they will see a spike in their growth graph.
Don’t believe me? Try it out for your own
People often ask me ‘How can I become more spontaneous in my communication’ Spontaneity for me Fearlessness. When I started my career as a Motivational Speaker & a Trainer; my jokes were poor. They still are. But I used to tell my audiences that I am a poet and a comedian both. If my jokes do not resonate – call me a poet. But I did not feel hurt at any instances when I could not bring out my spontaneity in a way I would have really liked to. I just hung on to my decision to being fearless.
Addressing a 2500+ audience @ an International Conference in Kolkata
Joining a coaching class of English speaking or reading a book on the same subject would not make much difference. Do not waste money on these quick shops which promise you instant gratification. 99% of them are quacks & are there to earn money. That’s it. Such classes will make you do ALL OF THE ABOVE only. Why don’t you do it yourself? One doesn’t need a manual to know ‘How to father a child’ in your age. Do it damn yourself.
The most important point that remains is – your INTENT to speak well. Giving up is not an option. And frankly, it is not that uphill a task that you should give up. People have gone to the Moon &come back. And you worry about speaking English? Not done!! It is shameless too; if you do not decide to change your bankruptcy situation about your speaking skills NOW only.
Become rich in the next few months & enjoy that slow sexiness. All you need to do is to keep on doing all of the above for good amount of time (6-8 months minimum). Majority junta does not change because they give up after 2 or 3 months or even earlier. Just hang on doing it. That’s it.
I have started a series of presentations called Vocabulary Premier League – VPL 20 20. Do have a look. Have shared ways to memorize English vocabulary such that you won’t ever forget!
Have tried to answer a lot of questions people have about English speaking & writing here. But, feel free to shoot more questions if you have them!
I have zeroed down on these ideas after years of practice. Do SHARE this with your friends and folks who harbor this deep desire of becoming better at speaking English.
Akash Gautam is a Motivational Speaker & Corporate Trainer in India. Hundreds of Top Corporates like Google, CIPLA, Vodafone, McKinsey & Co., Maruti, HDFC, RIL, M&M & premier colleges like IIMs, IITs, SRCC etc... go to him whenever they need a refreshing, big bang impact. Write to us to know how he can transform your Team.