Try These Activities for English Speaking Practice

25 August 2020

Have you ever recorded yourself on an electronic device while speaking English? If so, what kinds of things did you notice?

Recording yourself gives you the chance to listen to and critique your English speaking skills. You can take note of things like sentence structure, word choice, pronunciation and fluency. This can give you a better idea of what your strengths are and which areas need more work.

Today on Education Tips, we will talk about two recording activities you can do to strengthen your speaking skills.

Retelling a story

The first activity involves narrative storytelling.

William Stout teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. His specialty is teaching English as a foreign language. He says some speaking activities do not give an accurate picture of your true language skills. But narrative storytelling does.

Narrative storytelling is the retelling of a story. It can be a short piece of fiction, such as a program from the VOA Learning English series American Stories, or it can be the retelling of a news event. Or you can talk about something that happened in your own life.

Stout explains that narrative storytelling frees your mind from forming complex ideas, which lets you speak more easily in English. On the other hand, he notes, an activity requiring your opinion can slow you down. That is because it forces you to think about your ideas as you say them.

For the narrative storytelling activity, Stout says try to provide as many details as possible and aim for a recording of three minutes or fewer.

"Don't just say, ‘I studied at the library.' Say, ‘I walked into the library and I thought about where I should sit. And most of the seats were taken, so I looked around and I finally found a spot, but it was near the window. But it was chilly, so I had to keep my coat on.' Something like that."

The goal in giving such detail is not to fill the time, but to speak at a faster speed because you do not have to stop and think of each idea separately.

Before the activity, Stout suggests speaking out loud to yourself a few times to make sure you have your main points in mind.

When listening to the recording, do not expect to find all or even most grammar or vocabulary mistakes, he says. But you can easily find some mistakes, such as wrong verb tenses, verb endings and noun endings. You can also take note of your language fluency. Other things are harder to do yourself, like recognizing and critiquing individual sounds from words.

After the first recording, Stout says, record yourself telling the same story at least once more and take note of your progress. But avoid memorizing your speech.

English teacher Wynter Oshiberu says you can try setting the voice on your GPS to English to practice listening to and following directions.
English teacher Wynter Oshiberu says you can try setting the voice on your GPS to English to practice listening to and following directions.

Giving, getting directions

The second activity involves giving and getting directions.

Wynter Oshiberu teaches English in the Washington, D.C. area. She works for the International Center for Language Studies and Montgomery Community College. She is also a volunteer English teacher for a nonprofit group called Paper Airplanes.

Oshiberu says giving directions is a real-world skill and one you can use almost anywhere. And you can train by yourself if you do not have people to speak English with.

The first step in the activity is to choose a starting point and a destination.

For the starting point, she says, choose a place that you know well, like your home or a nearby bus or train station.

For the destination, choose a place you need to travel to more often, such as the supermarket, train station, your work place or favorite eating place.

Then, record yourself giving the directions. The recording should not be longer than one minute.

Oshiberu says the activity is a good way to employ the imperative form, also known as the command form. In English, the command form begins with a verb, as in, "Turn right when you reach the doctor's office."

Note however that, when giving directions, native English speakers sometimes add the subject "you" to the start of a command.

"The correct way, if you're telling someone what to do, you might want to start off with, ‘First, you go right on 7th Street' or 'First, you turn right on 7th Street' or just ‘Turn right on 7th Street.'"

Avoid adding the modal verb "can," which Oshiberu notes is a common mistake of English learners. For example, avoid saying something like, "You can turn right on 7th Street."

When listening to your recording, take note of your subject-verb agreement, use of prepositions, use of the command form and pronunciation.

You can even try using your own directions yourself, Oshiberu adds. In other words, play the recording as you walk from the starting point to the destination. This will let you know whether your directions were clear and accurate.

Another way to practice getting directions is to use your phone's GPS or global positioning system.

To do this, she suggests changing the language settings on the GPS system to English. Then, choose a destination to get walking directions to, a place that is not too far away. Set the GPS so you can listen to the directions and then follow the directions to the destination.

Oshiberu says listening to directions is useful because, when you give directions to a real person, they are probably going to ask questions.

That brings our program to a close. As you try these speaking activities, remember to relax and enjoy the process. And don't forget to celebrate the things you do well! Let us know how it goes.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Transcribe Yourself

If you would like to more closely observe the grammar and vocabulary in your speaking, you can transcribe your recordings. To transcribe means to put your speech into written or typed form.

There are two ways to do this.

You can use a transcription service, such as Google's speech recognition service, which offers a free trial period. Such services automatically type out the words you speak. However, note that these services usually work better for common accents.

The second way is to type or write the words yourself after you record yourself. This might involve having to rewind the recording a few times, but it can also act as a good English writing practice exercise.


Words in This Story

pronunciation - n. the way in which a word or name is said

fluency - n. the ability to speak easily and smoothly

accurate - adj. able to produce results that are correct

fiction - n. written stories about people and events that are not real : literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer

library - n. a place where books, magazines, and other materials (such as videos and musical recordings) are available for people to use or borrow

spot - n. a particular space or area

chilly - adj. noticeably cold

coat - n. an outer piece of clothing that can be long or short and that is worn to keep warm or dry

destination - n. a place to which a person is going or something is being sent

relax - v. to stop feeling nervous or worried

accent - n. a way of pronouncing words that occurs among the people in a particular region or country