Effective speaking skills

Practice speaking: simple sentences, that others can understand

Use simple words, that you know easily and that others (especially other foreigners) can understand.  Keep grammar simple in spoken language; written language is more complex, more concentrated, so needs richer grammar.

What language does a participant on an EU project need?

What skills are important in an English speaking test ?
Summer 2001: On the train from Ankara to Tehran. I was travelling alone, but I was not alone; the 60 hour journey gave me time to meet some of the 600 other passengers. From Van I travelled with two friends, Fatemeh and Maryam. One talked and talked and talked. The other rarely spoke. Fatemeh’s English had mistakes in every sentence. Maryam’s English sentences were perfect. But Fatemeh explained so much more, told me about her job, her family, her ideas, dreams, childhood, what they had done in Istanbul, what she would do when she was back in Tehran, her plans for the future…. She didn’t know some specific words, but she guessed, she tried, she created – and I understood.
Many English language learners feel they can’t speak. Why? because speaking is so fast, you have little time to think, you can’t find the right words; you are frightened of making mistakes. And because when you are nervous, your throat dries up, your voice doesn’t come out…  😦
If you understand what is important, you can start to relax  🙂

Grammar, perfect sentences and complex vocabulary are important/ noticed/ tested in written language. They are not so important in spoken language. “Boy not want food on table. It no good. Black. Dog not want food too” is not good English, but if you need to understand, a possible meaning could be “The boy doesn’t want the food/dinner that is on the table because it is burnt. The dog doesn’t want the food either”. You understand? carries meaning without needing the grammatically correct question form – in Farsi there are question words, but no ‘question structure’: in writing use a ‘?’, and when speaking your tone of voice changes 🙂 It works, and it is easy 🙂

BBC Speaking and Listening

What is important in spoken language?

Meaning (can others understand what you want to say/)

Fluency (can you continue speaking without long silences, ‘um’ ‘errr’ ‘eh’ hesitations?)

Simplicity: If you keep your sentences simple, you will be able to keep talking and explain what you want.
Who to talk with

Don’t look for an English friend: they talk too quickly, and you just listen. (Exception: my best language teachers have been under 10 years old – Turkish children at Goreneller School for the Blind, Davut in Esfahan, and others elsewhere whose names I can’t remember)

Someone else who is also learning English is better: A Japanese, Polish, Italian friend who has similar levels of English will be a more balanced ‘speaking partner’

For best results, you need ‘someone’ who will be very patient, who will not laugh at your mistakes, and who will not tell others the secrets that you share. Who is this? … You can talk to

  • a cat, dog, canary, tortoise,
  • a picture, photo,
  • a doll, teddy bear, cuddly toy
  • draw a face on your finger and talk to your finger 🙂
  • draw a face on an apple/orange/potato: just talk!
  • One student even ‘talked to the wall’. He liked white, and had a nice white wall; so he talked to his wall for 45 minutes.
  • I gave a blind student a small Dutch doll, in traditional costume. ‘She can only speak Dutch (she comes from Holland) and English (Dutch people speak good English). She can’t speak Turkish at all! So you have to speak English. Tell her about Turkey, about your family, your life, your hopes and dreams, your past… You have to explain everything because she is too shy to ask!’

Tell me if you think of another interesting alternative.
So: Start talking… and

  • Talk for short periods, regularly. 3 minutes 3 times a day will be more helpful (and more meaningful) than 70 minutes once a week.
  • Notice what words your mind can remember easily. Make a list of words that are in your active memory. Dinosaur, saxophone, DNA, microscope: common to many languages, these can be understood even if you ‘haven’t been taught’
  • Use simple sentences well. Complex sentences will come naturally when you feel comfortable with simple sentences (keep reading lots of simple books 🙂
  • Learn to paraphrase: You don’t know the English word for a simit? No problem, describe it “a type of Turkish bread that has a hole in the middle, and sesame seeds on the outside. It is sold by people on the street; often the simit sellers carry a big tray with about one hundred simit on their head. Simit sellers call customers by saying ‘It is burning! It is burning!’ I like Ankara simit, which is different from the larger Istanbul simit.”
  • Make mistakes and keep talking. A good listener is interested in the meaning behind the words.
  • …and in tests, be creative: the examiner is interested in your English, not in your real family. They will never know if you invented the 15 brothers and sisters that you ‘imagined’ so that you could keep talking for the 5 minutes of the exam.

If you feel the need to

  • Check your mistakes, do this with writing: write, and write and write, then another day check for mistakes. Do not try to record your speaking and find mistakes: this is complicated, and not efficient.
  • Improve your basic grammar and sentence structure, do this by reading basic ‘Level 1’ and ‘Level 2’ stories for language learners (unfortunately these only exist for learners of English. There is nothing like this for people wanting to learn Turkish). Read lots and lots of simple English: in these stories, every sentence is grammatical and correct. Because the sentences are simple, you can read easily. Read stories that are so easy that you read them without effort, stories you can read them when you are tired, stressed or ill! This way your mind will start to remember the simple sentence structures that you will need for speaking.

Useful language:

  • I (don’t) like
  • I (don’t) want
  • … is (not) important/ good/ bad … because…
  • I think…
  • I feel…


Words that exist in many languages, especially your mother tongue and the language you are learning are very easy to remember

A few to start: Television, radio, film, cinema, microscope, telescope Microbe, bacteria, dinosaur, Piano, saxophone, trombone Pizza, spaghetti, coke, whisky, Police, doctor, professor, football, tennis, judo, yoga,

Remember: People speaking their mother tongue

1. use a limited number of words (about 500 words are used in everyday English)make mistakes,

2. often do not speak grammatically: they start a sentence with one structure, don’t finish it, continue with another structure

3. make mistakes. Native English speakers often only learn about grammar when they learn a foreign language.