Over the years, the English language has gained a lot of importance in a country like India and yet many people in our country face challenges in its applicability. It is necessary these days to be well-spoken in English, be it the professional, educational, social, political, economic or technological arena. A hilarious moment is when I see a dog abiding by the commands of his owner who tells him to “Sit down Tuffy!” in English. I mean how can a dog that lives in India understand English faster than Hindi or better than an old “desi” lady who’s in her eighties? That’s imbecile! But that makes it more important for every person to be able to speak proper English and not feel embarrassed, ashamed or secluded from society. The use of the English language is a gift to us by the British and so is the literature concerning language acquisition. It is up to the people, how to share this gift with each other and to improve it furthermore. Gone are the days when kids felt embarrassed taking their parents to parent-teacher meetings (PTMs) where the parents spoke awfully funny English that made their kids feel embarrassed or deserving candidates losing out on their jobs because of their inability to express themselves in English properly. There is no age limit to a person learning English and so to improve your spoken English the following steps can be kept in mind.
1. Follow movements and imitate
Observe the mouth movements of those who speak English well and try to imitate them. When you are watching television or watching people in real life converse, observe the mouth movements of the speakers. Repeat what they are saying while imitating the intonation and rhythm of their speech. Great television shows which reflect everyday English conversation are Friends, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons.
2. Newspaper as the best teacher
Reading newspaper is the basic step towards improving your language. Those who are new to this habit should start up with reading just the headlines. Once you come across with an interesting topic, you can start reading it. This will generate a good start-up for this habit.
3. Make a list of keywords
“Keywords” is a name given to frequently used words that you find difficult to pronounce. You can make a list of such words and cross check with someone who speaks the language well to pronounce them for you. Have a recording of such words, listen to them and practice saying them. Listen and read at the same time. This will actually be an effective way!
4. Music, televisions and movies as a guide
Listening to English music, television and movies to get familiar with the language sounds is an extremely helpful way to improve your English. Also, pay attention to the volume of their voices depending on the situation as loud volume indicates aggressiveness or anger in certain situations. Watch the English news on television channels like CNN (for American English) or the BBC (If you wish to study British English). The news is very helpful because their speech is clear, concise and objective.
5. Refer to a Dictionary
Try and familiarise yourself with the phonetic symbols of your dictionary. Look up the correct pronunciation of words that are hard for you to say. Write down words and their definitions in a notebook for future reference - it may come in handy!
6. Everyday routine
Read aloud in English for at least 10-15 minutes every day. Research has shown that it takes about three-four months of daily practice to develop strong mouth muscles for speaking a new language. Find something you enjoy reading - especially if it has a lot of dialogue scripts in it, and read it aloud. Even if you don't speak aloud, reading as many English books as possible will increase your vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structure. Make sure when you read these books you understand what the author is trying to say. Understanding is an important part as well.
7. Buy books on tape
Record yourself reading some sections of the book. Compare the sound of your English with that of the person reading the book on the tape.
8. Pronounce the ending of each word
Pay special attention to '-s' and '-ed' endings. This will help you strengthen the mouth muscles that you use when you speak English.
9.Know the version of English you intent to speak
Various versions of the English language exist. Begin by identifying the category you fall into and start by improving the clarity of your speech
10. Record yourself and Self-Examine
Record your own voice and listen for pronunciation mistakes. Many people hate to hear the sound of their voice and avoid listening to themselves. However, this is a vital exercise because doing it will help you become conscious of the mistakes you are making.
Being patient is a solution to every problem in this world and so it is for improving spoken English. You can change the way you speak but it won't happen overnight. People often expect instant results and give up too soon. You can change the way you sound if you are willing to put some effort into it.
12. Have group activities with people such as word of the day
Have riddles, tongue twisters and other activities that improve your speaking ability. Have “Word of the day” with friends and try to use that word while conversing with them. This way you will be able to remember the word.
13. Read novels
Reading is always an informative medium to get command over English. Reading novels is a good option to improve vocabulary. Imaginative medium offered by a novel makes the reader get a grip on the language without even witnessing them. It just comes in gradually.
14. Look for grammatical errors
Look for grammatical errors while talking to someone. Refer to grammar books as the correct usage of words bring out the most effective meaning of the expressions. People generally make mistakes in the usage of prepositions and clauses.
15. Be confident and modest about your mistakes rather than hiding them
It is well said that “There is no wiser person than the one who learns from his own mistakes”. This is applied in this case as well. Being honest about your goof ups will show your confidence and this way you can work on your mistakes and learn from them.
16. Analysing the pause
Often people say someone is a fluent speaker to mean they are very good at English. It actually means speaking without pauses, fluidly. So someone could speak very fluently but if they had terrible pronunciation you wouldn’t understand them. Or someone could only know a few phrases, but be able to say them without pausing, and so they would have good fluency. Becoming fluent is important to make people feel more relaxed and comfortable while speaking to you. If you have long pauses when you speak, people may get frustrated.
17. Timing and pitch of the speech
A sentence can have a different meaning if the pitch goes up or down. For example, if you say really one way you sound surprised and interested, but if the pitch goes a different way it sounds like you don’t believe the other person. This has happened to me personally! Having good rhythm and intonation will help your English sound natural and easy to understand.
18. Opportunities to interact
I do not know why so many students do not speak English with their classmates. Most foreign teachers have students practice with each other in class. I understand students are afraid of listening to poor English and acquiring bad habits. But remember, if you are listening to comprehensible input diligently on cassettes or TV programs, you will still be hearing native speakers every day. In this case, the benefits surely outweigh the dangers. In China, I knew of a class of students that would often have an “English Day.” i.e. a day when they would only speak to each other in English. This type of activity can be fun and helpful. Besides, if you get a job which requires you to conduct international business, you will not just be speaking with native English speakers. Many business deals all over the world are conducted in English, even though English may not be the mother tongue of any person at the meeting. Therefore, speaking English with non-native speakers will not only help you acquire English but also will prepare you for international business communication
19. Enjoy the process
Don’t take it as a burden or a thing you’ve been forced to do. Do it if you enjoy doing it. These activities mean nothing if you don’t enjoy doing it.
20. Practise and repeat
As an overall and final note, I would recommend you to simply practice and repeat. Having conversations with others in English is quite helpful because you refresh your memory on what you know, and you learn new things as well. When my mother didn't know what a word meant or how it was pronounced, she would ask me the meaning and to pronounce it. Then she would whisper it to herself repeatedly after this. This helps to strengthen your memory. Immersing yourself in English-speaking culture is a good way to appreciate to understand the English language without losing a sense of your own identity and culture. Don't forget that you can embrace both!