Learning to speak you target language properly is usually quite high on a language learner’s priority list. This is why our English teacher in Berlin, Rhys N, has agreed to do a quick Q&A to explain how it’s best to get started speaking English and how you can keep improving your language skills.

What do you do to help people build their vocabulary?

First of all, I try to introduce vocabulary in as many varied ways as I can in order to make them somewhat memorable. I do so by using a host of different sources and media and trying to use a variety of different approaches and contexts. Nonetheless, ultimately I tend to adapt my style to reflect the learning preferences of my students and what works best for them. With some students I find myself using a lot of imagery and videos, whilst with others I find myself using a lot more audio or roleplaying.

When it comes to putting said vocabulary into my students’ long term memory, I do my best to repeat all of the vocabulary we learn across multiple lessons for them to appear in multiple different contexts. I also create Memrise courses as a backlog of all of the vocabulary we’ve covered to make it easier for my student to learn them in their free time.

What would you suggest to someone looking to improve their spoken confidence?

Think less, worry less and just speak.

The more you practice anything in life, the more experience you’ll acquire and the more comfortable you’ll become as a result. It can definitely feel embarrassing to speak a foreign language at times, especially when you’re just beginning, but the only way to become more confident is through continued practice. Try not to overcomplicate your sentences, stick to what you’ve learnt in your studies and don’t worry about making mistakes when you speak. No one will judge you or correct you if you mispronounce a word or incorrectly conjugate a verb; the important thing is expressing oneself and being understood.

If you find speaking with native speakers too intimidating, find fellow English learners and try practising with them. If you already have English classes for example, why not ask your classmates if they’d be up for meeting for an hour at some point outside of class? Other learners might also have the same worries you have and can help ease the nerves and break the ice. If you find speaking face to face particularly difficult, remember that there are plenty of resources online to find language exchanges and applications such as Skype or Viber can cut out the face-to-face aspect entirely.

It doesn’t matter how or where or with who you speak, just put yourself out there and start using your English with other people and you’ll soon find yourself rising in confidence.

What’s the best way to help shy students get over the fear of speaking?

Everyone is different and because of this, it’s difficult to say there’s any uniform solution to overcome a fear of speaking. Having said that, I do my best to create a positive atmosphere in my classes and for my students to feel as comfortable as possible. I find that using the context of my students’ interests to inspire my classes also make them feel more at home and ultimately helps them raise their confidence. Generally speaking, most students that I’ve taught have been far too harsh on themselves and have spoken far better English than they thought!

What’s the best way for someone to modify their accent?

For those who are dead set on sounding a particular way, I recommend watching specific TV shows and listening to certain artists who have the desired accent. Sometimes the best form of modification is simply by pure imitation.

Having said that, I encourage my students not to worry so much about their accents because I don’t believe they’re the be-all and end-all of language. Having an accent which sounds like a native speaker isn’t remotely necessary to speak well, as opposed to good pronunciation, an element which forms the very backbone of language. In many ways, having a non-native accent can in fact be endearing to the listener, for it’s as if you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve and proudly showing everyone just who you are! If you think about which accents you like the most in your native language, you might find it’s not actually the native-speakers’ accents you like the most but rather the non-native speakers.

I can assure you that many Brits would much rather listen to someone speaking English with a Spanish accent than they would with all sorts of American accents.

Don’t miss Rhys’ other blog post where he explains why English is the one global language and how you should embrace making mistakes.

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