How to Improve Speaking a Second Language Without a Speaking Partner
Do you find it difficult to speak in the language you’re learning?
Are you worried about making mistakes?
Too shy to find a speaking partner?
Can’t find anybody to practice with?
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is get out there and get stuck in talking to natives and other learners, but here are some ways you can practice by yourself and improve your speaking skills in the convenience of your own home.
Practice conversations in your head
I live in the Netherlands and recently had to ask for a refund in a shop. I’m still a Dutch beginner and wasn’t too confident on what to say, so I went over the conversation in my head several times as I walked towards the shop.
When I arrived in the shop and explained everything, the conversation went surprisingly smoothly, and I left feeling proud and motivated to continue my learning.
Practicing real conversations is an excellent way to make your learning relevant, but you can also imagine all kinds of fun situations and things to talk about, especially if you’re a more advanced learner.
The more you practice these conversations, the more you’ll start to think naturally in your target language. If you know more than two languages, it can be good practice to go through each of them in turn, talking about the same topic each time.
Prepare and give presentations
If you’re having issues with confidence, presentations can be a great way to practice. Even if you’re a beginner, you can practice a simple self-introduction or a description of your hobbies.
Practicing by yourself means that you have time to prepare, and can go over the presentation several times aloud in order to gain confidence.
You could even film the recording and show it to your teacher for some feedback and corrections.
If you’re familiar with language exams like the Cambridge Exam or IELTS, you’ll know that describing a picture is often part of the speaking section.
This is actually an excellent activity to practice, not just if you’re planning on taking an exam, but also to improve your ability to describe things in your target language.
When you speak a language, description is something that you’ll do all the time, whether it’s telling a story that happened to you last week or explaining a special food which is eaten in your country.
The great thing about practicing with pictures is that it can be done by both beginner and advanced learners – beginners can describe simple things which they can see, and advanced learners can create whole stories and situations for the picture.
The internet is an exceptional resource for pictures, type just about anything into google and you’ll find something you can practice describing.
You can also try googling for examples of images used in language exams. The Cambridge English Exam contains two pictures for the FCE speaking part 2, and three pictures for the CAE speaking part 2. These are great because the pictures are usually chosen so that they can be compared, which means you can also practice using language for comparing and contrasting.
Another resource that I have found useful for practicing describing pictures is Dixit – a board game that contains cards with imaginatively drawn and thought-provoking images. This allows for some creative language practice and interpretation of what the pictures mean.
Shadowing is an interesting language learning technique that involves reading aloud from a text while listening to a native speaker audio recording of the text.
Although in some ways it’s more like reading than speaking, it’s a great activity because you can practice your pronunciation and get some excellent listening input at the same time.
Since you’re listening to a native speaker reading the same text, you can really focus on the stress patterns and intonation that they use. You will probably find it difficult to speak at the same speed as them, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get!
You can use anything you like, as long as you have an audio recording and a transcript. It’s important that you choose something that’s an appropriate level, so that you can understand most of it and it is relevant to your learning.
Read aloud in your target language
This is similar to shadowing, but without a native speaker audio to accompany the text. This won’t be as beneficial for internalizing the material and improving your pronunciation, but it can be a great way of improving you confidence.
You can read at your own pace and take your time, and it may be a good starting point before moving onto shadowing, which is a bit more challenging.
Narrate your thoughts
This one might be a bit strange, but it can also be a lot of fun!
It might not be for everyone, but if you’re at home and want to get some speaking practice in, try speaking your thoughts aloud in your target language. You could even describe your own actions as if you were in a movie!
Remember that learning a language can be a fun experience, and if you don’t take yourself too seriously it will help you loosen up when you speak to other people in real conversations.
So give these techniques a go, but don’t forget to head out there and speak to some people as well!
Nothing compares to the real thing.