Many of us come to improving English as an adult with a hangover from school learning. We have a lot of pre-conceptions about what it means to learn a language. This is usually based on our memories of sitting in the classroom, not saying much; focused on writing, reading & grammar and waiting to be asked to speak, sometimes even actively avoiding it whenever we could. Feeling that there were only 2 possible ways: the right way & the wrong way to speak.
I know that some of my clients still experience this feeling of being judged by how they speak & worry about making mistakes, even when they have reached a good level of English communication skills & operate daily in English for their work.
This can really impact on the development of speaking confidence & it is a question I often get asked: how can I speak better Business English?
This is an especially relevant question because if you’re here in the UK there is not much social interaction happening currently due to the lockdown, and if you’re based internationally, then you may not have as much opportunity to speak with native English speakers.
So, I have put together for you here my 7 steps to speak better Business English that will make the difference to your English communication skills:
Connect improving your English speaking to your specific goal:
Yes, you want to improve, but why? What will this enable you to do & feel?
“I can do presentations where I communicate effectively & feel more confident”
“I can express my views in meetings clearly & articulately”
“I feel confident in meetings to lead the agenda”.
You’re running the marathon, not doing the 100m sprint:
Progressing your English-speaking skills can take time & practising frequently is key. Focus on what you are achieving & celebrate the small wins along the journey to improving, rather than looking all the time at what’s wrong & where you notice the mistakes.
Progress can move forwards quickly, then plateau, increase slowly, then jump forward again: it’s a not a linear process, so be kind & patient to yourself. Trust that every opportunity you take to speak is a step on your marathon.
Focus on English agility, not fluency:
This is really important to me & the key for many of my clients: it’s not about being 100% perfect all the time or aiming for fluency, which can be interpreted in many ways. I believe it is about communication, expressing yourself in a way that connects with others.
Do native speakers of English make mistakes? Of course they do! Both in speaking & writing. So, I work on helping my clients to recover, what to say in English when you are struggling to find the words to express yourself & other communication coping mechanisms.
Ask a colleague for feedback:
Find a native speaker of English you can trust & ask them to feedback to you after your key meetings or presentations. Be specific about what you want feedback on, not just whether they thought it was good. Ask for their thoughts on the areas of your communication which relate to your English communication goals (see step 1).
Use every opportunity to speak!
Especially if you feel hesitant about speaking up & communicating in English, it’s important to build confidence & take every opportunity to open your mouth & just speak. If you’re not sure what to say, start with this phrase & see what follows, “What I really think is…” It will feel uncomfortable the first few times you do this, but it will get easier each time you do it.
At work in post-Covid times, join in the drinks machine chat & go to the pub when invited. In times of lockdown, make time for the virtual work socials & informal opportunities to connect with your colleagues, plus search for networking groups in your sector/ field that are running online events you can participate in.
To boost your social English, look for UK-based interest groups online to practise your hobby, pursue your interests or take up a new activity to speak & have fun at the same time. For example, check out the huge variety of online event options on Meetup.com (choose London as the location).
When you have nobody to speak English with:
Remember you can practise with other friends or colleagues who want to improve their English, not just native speakers, but if you really feel there is nobody else available, then you can practise this self-debate exercise at home by yourself:
- Pick a topic from the news, current affairs or any subject that interests you.
- Prepare for a few minutes some views you have on the topic: write down some ideas in notes (not full sentences).
- Audio or video record yourself speaking, sharing your views.
- Aim to speak for 1-2 minutes.
- Play back & see what positive aspects you notice: what are you pleased with. Then consider what you could improve in your communication. Focus on specific areas to target & then make this part of your learning agenda.
- Make a note of what you would do differently next time.
Connecting back to your English communication goal in step 1, imagine your ideal scenario in which you speak English & it goes really well:
Who is there with you?
Where are you?
What happens in your mind?
What do you do in this ideal situation?
How do the other people react?
How do you feel?
This ideal scenario is your key to self-motivation & self-belief. You can achieve it too!
If you want to learn more about how to improve your English communication skills in speaking, reply to me with your questions or to have a virtual chat.
If your goal is to improve your presentation skills in English to sound natural, professional & clear, then learn more & book my next masterclass, Presentation English.
Victoria Rennoldson, Founder of Perfect Cuppa English
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