No More Stutters! Improve Your Speaking Skills In Any Language

Do you remember your first sentences in another language? You'd come away beaming like a kid at Christmas after creating pearls like "I do not like pizza, I like eating salad".

improve speaking

As you learn more in your new language and increase your levels, you want to go deeper, talk about future, past, conditionals, things you've read and things you've thought.

It's like in this Bible verse (oh yeah! Quoting this big book is a Fluent first!):

When we were children, we thought and reasoned as children do. But when we grew up, we quit our childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

In language learning, it can feel just like that: You want to talk like a grown-up, your self-assured and intelligent self. And what's more frustrating than the reality, where we stutter and stumble over words, and leave....lo o o o o ng...um....gaps in sentences?

This week on the show, I'm answering a listener question from Elisabeth who is stuck in that dilemma. She says:

My tutor says I'm very close to B2. I've been hit with a puzzle though. (..) I have a lot of vocabulary but there seems to be a disconnect between my thoughts and my speech. (..) I stutter and pause a great deal when I speak in my target language.

Will this go away as I continue my speaking practice or should I be concerned? I just assumed that B2 would feel easy breezy beautiful when I talked and while I'm not there yet, I can't believe I'm close with all this difficulty connecting word bank to mouth.

Listen to my language speaking tips on the podcast:

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Let's start by looking at what's causing you trouble.

The Causes Could Include:

1) Through your reading practice, you are acquiring a lot of new vocab, storing it, but not using it quickly enough after it goes in. This can lead to the word getting very comfortable in your passive vocabulary store, but locking the door behind walking into there so it can't come out when you look for active vocabulary.

2) As you are speaking, you may also be letting your mind freak you out with unhelpful thoughts. Maybe you slow down or pause, just to hear yourself slow down and pause, then to think "Oh no! I'm doing that thing again! I'm so much worse at this than I thought!"...which then affects your focus.

3) You're trying to speak about a wider range of topics than you expected before you start, so you're hitting unknown areas of vocabulary a lot quicker.

4) Your practice is lacking sentences and complex constructions, so you can understand a sentence with conjunction and three objects, but making one still grinds every single gear in your brain as if someone just dropped a bucket of sand in there. This is often where learners say they're "translating in their head".

It's helpful to remember this is just the level you're at and consistent practice will improve things.

But if you want to focus on strategies for your speaking skills, here are three ideas:

What To Do So You Can Improve Your Speaking Skills

Strategy 1: Say Way More Sentences

Practice and activate a set number of words IN SENTENCES. Write sentences about them, for example defining their meaning or finding five different ways of using the items you have learnt about. In those sentences, focus on one new way of saying something and transform your sentence.

You can do this yourself, even make a prompt sheet:

  • Sentence
  • "I heard that.." + Sentence
  • Last week I met my sister in the shop and she said that + "sentence"
  • "Next weekend" + Sentence
  • Question + Neg/Pos Sentence
  • "Would you...?" + Neg/Pos Sentence

I'm loving Say Something in Welsh for this type of practice, and the mass sentence methods of Glossika and Speechling will also help.

Strategy 2: Target Your Negative Thoughts

Before you start your language exchange or tutor session, have a word with yourself about pauses and decide what they mean. Your thoughts determine how you see the world and also how you perform, and so your thinking strategies can help you get through the uncomfortable gaps.

For example, consider whether a pause could be a great sign that you're about to remember a word, or a signal to try and approach the topic from another side.

Some learners find it helpful to practice filler phrases like Hang on, let me consider this..., It's on the tip of my tongue, or I want to summarize

Strategy 3: Go Deep With One Topic

It's easy to get lost in a conversation if you're entering it without clarity about the topic. Luckily, most tutors and exchange partners are pretty obliging and will allow you to steer them towards what you want to talk about. So the key is: Prepare! Look up all relevant words relating to your topic, write them down in advance, practice what you might want to say.

You don't have to script a whole conversation, but even bullet points will make a huge difference.

If you feel like a challenge, practice a 5-minute presentation on a topic you care about...don't script it, just work from your bullet points! You'll feel the boost from speaking for so long, and your tutor can give you valuable feedback and work on improving your phrases.

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Episode Links

Have You Felt Stuck When Speaking Another Language?

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