The ability to speak is one of the most difficult skills that a language learner can acquire. And it is still the most valued measure of success.
To succeed, students need to juggle quite a few elements: knowing the fundamentals of the language like pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, as well as the ability to express concisely their thoughts without forgetting the respect for sociocultural norms inherent to each country.
Students should also remember how native speakers use the language so that they can learn and apply the same tactics in their own interpersonal exchange.
I mentioned in other articles the importance of pitch, stress, and intonation as well as nonverbal communication involving body language, facial expression, and hand gestures.
Most learners -if asked- will tell you that they are facing massive challenges when it comes to speaking the language they are studying. When it comes to use the language the first problem that they usually mention is fear: fear of making mistakes, fear of being ridiculed and laugh at which push them to remain silent and shy away from opportunities of practice either in a classroom environment or in real life situations. Another justification is not knowing what to say with the same devastating consequences. They then lack confidence which perpetuate the vicious circle.
We can divide learners’ problems in linguistic and non linguistic.
If we dig deeper at the fear factor learners face, we will find out that behind the fear of speaking lies a simpler fact: the lack of adequate vocabulary and grammar structure to help facilitate a conversation.
This happens when learners do not have a vast vocabulary pool and or they struggle to commit these to memory. Maybe their technique is not satisfactory trying to memorise simple words instead of clusters of words in context. Or by thinking that learning the expressions once will be enough for them to retrieve them when necessary and ignoring that they need to come back to revising previous knowledge quite a few times to succeed. There are a few spaced-repetition Apps that can help as they will periodically present the information to ease your way to memorisation.
I also recommend regular reading sessions, especially in topics of interest, so that you can easily grow your vocabulary.
Also listening to the radio, podcasts, interviews are especially useful in acquiring day to day vocabulary.
For lack of grammar knowledge, students should do exercises in their own time allowing them to master the grammar rule they are struggling with.
Another linguistic problem is inadequate pronunciation. There are a lot that can be done, but one of my favourite-especially if you are a self-learner- is the use of the shadowing technique, where you take a real-life audio or video and start mimicking what you hear. If you want to try it, just click here.
Learners who are not confident to speak -as we have already mentioned- it might be because of lack of proficiency in vocabulary, grammar or pronunciation. But it can also be due to their fear of being mocked by others when speaking, or because of their perfectionism. They want their speech to be perfect in anyway and do not allow themselves room for errors. This attitude easily leads to nervousness and analysis paralysis thus perpetuating the lack of speaking effort.
Here these learners should try to break the cycle by first trying to practice the language in a safe environment like with a trusted friend or an accountability partner, and or by starting conversations with topics they have ample knowledge about.
Also taking a one-on-one conversation course might be useful in boosting your confidence so that you will be able to practice safely with your tutor who will show you more strategies to overcome the fear of speaking by helping you to be focused in expressing your ideas.
Another strategy is creating an immersion-like environment.
For this you must have the right Mindset.
It involves some effort to make the choice to use your target language as much as possible during the day. Nowadays, technology and the internet can prove to be good allies.
Label every item in your home.
it is a good exercise to find the words of each item and label them in your target language. The idea behind it is to learn this vocabulary effortlessly by seeing them on a constant basis and being able to recall and use them in your conversations.
Keep a journal.
keeping a journal in your target language help you use the day-to-day vocabulary as you would if you were living in your target country. This leads to the next point.
This is an excellent way to implement your speaking skills. It will help you use your vocabulary whilst paying attention to pronunciation and areas in need of improvement and more practice.
Learn from the best language learners.
The best learners use strategies that help them overcome the problems they face in their language journey.
They have real expectations of what learning a language entail.
The best language learners are aware that learning a language takes time, patience and perseverance.
They are highly motivated.
The best language learners always set short-term and long-term goals. The. Short-term goals keep them on track and propel them towards the ultimate purpose which is to communicate in that language.
They learn to carry on.
We are all eager when starting to learn a new language and we feel pump up by the exponential growth of our vocabulary pool, expressions, and grammar structures. After a while our learning seems to slow down and we hit a plateau. Most of us throw the towel at this point. But the best language learners do not give up. They find a way to spice up their study and make it interesting and thrilling again.
They keep practising in their target language even during the periods that they don't feel like it. They meet native speakers or language partners and engage in conversations. They know that it is important to keep going.
They are curious.
They observe how language is structured. They analyse how the language is spoken and written. They try to make their own sentences based on what they learned.
They are not afraid of mistakes.
The best language learners know when learning a new language, that mistakes are unavoidable. They are prepared to laugh at their own errors and see them as a fast way to acquire knowledge. They analyse and study them to prevent making the same ones in the future.
They put messages in context.
The best language learners don't translate conversations and readings word for word. They guess the vocabulary they are not aware of to understand the message as a whole. They will investigate these unknown words later.
All they care about is communication.
The best language learners will not shy away from starting a conversation in their target language even though they are not fluent. They will use different techniques to get their message across. They will rephrase their sentences. For example, they will use the present tense instead of the future or even use hand gesture,
They are not afraid to take risks and they have lost the fear of sounding ridiculous because of their mistakes or sloppy pronunciation.
By implementing these strategies and others consistently you will be able to overcome the speaking problems you face when you use your second language.