What’s the matter with conversation?
Speaking another language is the acid test. You might watch lots of series without subtitles and read long texts or even academic articles with ease. You may also be able to write emails and other short texts in English without much effort. However, when it comes to speaking, especially with speakers of other languages and natives of English-speaking countries, the real challenge arises. It is very common for advanced students (B2/C1) to struggle with their speaking skills. Moreover, different settings that require more conversational abilities (e.g. a classroom debate, an elevator small talk, or a business phone call) can prove to be even tougher.
Engaging in a conversation in English is the top one challenge for most learners.
Speaking is a productive ability, alongside writing.
It requires timing, improvisation, and thinking fast.
When you talk, body language, pronunciation,
intonation, and language all come together.
Speaking is mostly about what you have
acquired in terms of language and structure.
British Council report (2014)
of Brazilians aged 16 or more stated that they had some knowledge of English.
self-reported being intermediate
self-reported being advanced/fluent
Source: Learning English in Brazil, a report for the British Council by Data Popular Institute, 2014.
The bottom line is that very few people speak English in Brazil. An additional downside is that most people do not have daily, natural occasions to practice the language. From my experience both as a speaker and an instructor, most students only interact in English about 2 hours a week. Normally, this would be in their class time with me. Most interactions are usually with familiar people, and thus few challenges arise. I see the effort to speak English in Brazil, and other places where the language is not widely spoken, as an uphill battle or like swimming against the tide. I have written about it in a recent blog post.
What can you do?
Make it routine
You have to forcibly include English in your life. So change your gadgets and social media settings to English. Listen to some podcasts and watch at least one story from the news every day. This is not specifically about speaking, but exposure to English will stimulate your willingness to speak. The key is regularity.
WhatsApp as an ally
If you have a friend or your instructor allows you, send audio messages by the app. This is a good way of testing your speaking and conversational abilities in different situations such as telling some news, talking about your day, asking for advice, or reporting something. As I have mentioned before, making this part of your routine is critical.
Talk to yourself
This is for real. You might think it is silly, but it is not. When you talk to yourself in English (even just mouthing), you start to get aware of what you know and what you do not know how to say. More importantly, you learn which right (and wrong) structures in the language are occurring to you while you think.
Find a pen pal
Try to make an online friend who only speaks in English. This is usually called a pen pal (or pen friend), but you can make real friends these days with the ease of online communication. Talking to someone whose mother tongue is English will help with all your skills, but try to focus on speaking to improve this ability in particular.
Conversation classes can happen in different ways. One-on-one classes are appropriate for students who want more constant feedback or are a little bit shy. On the other hand, groups can be really useful for speakers around the same level as it provides an opportunity for real-life, conversational interactions. Whichever is the case, my Conversation classes are structured around the following elements: at least one hour each week; exposure to new target language and expansion of functional language for conversational situations (agreeing, disagreeing, reflecting); review of short and specific grammar bites relevant to the topic or setting (e.g. conditional clauses for a speculative topic); and use of an online platform to integrate audiovisual input and make communication more vivid.
1-2 hours per week
Online, interactive lessons
Targeted language and grammar
A conversation lesson
This is an example of an advanced conversation lesson about art. It also has an extended version (not shown here) with a listening and pronunciation section about linking sounds in connected speech.
Disclaimer: for teachers who might want to use this lesson, I ask you to give appropriate credit to this website (luizcoletto.com/elt), provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You might change the lesson as you wish. Do not sell or distribute your contributions under a different license. License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
What my students say
ONCE A WEEK
TWICE A WEEK
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Check all rates and possibilities, including classes in pairs, on the Hourly Rates page.
Reduced rates to low-income students and members of minority groups are availabe. Please contact me for more information.
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