Speaking Strategies for English Learners

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Many English students complain that they understand English, but don't feel confident enough to join a conversation. There are a number of reasons for this, which we include here along with possible solutions:

How to Fix It? Identify the Little Man/Woman in Your Head — If you pay attention, you'll notice that you've created a little "person" in your head that translates. By insisting on always translating through this little "man or woman," you're introducing a third person into the conversation. Learn to identify this "person" and ask them nicely to be quiet!

  • Production "blocking" occurs due to nervousness, lack of confidence, etc.

How to Fix It? Become a Child Again — Think back to when you were a child learning your first language. Did you make mistakes? Did you understand everything? Allow yourself to be a child again and make as many mistakes as possible. Also accept the fact that you won't understand everything, that's okay!

  • The speaker is looking for a specific word, rather than using simple language to describe what is meant.

How to Fix It? Don't Always Tell the Truth — Students sometimes limit themselves by trying to find the exact translation of something they've done. However, if you are learning English, it's not necessary to always tell the truth. If you are practicing telling stories in the past, make up a story. You'll find you can speak more easily if you aren't trying to find a specific word.

  • There aren't enough conversation opportunities in or outside of class.

How to Fix It? Use Your Native Language — Think about what you like to discuss in your own native language. Find a friend who speaks your language, have a conversation about a topic you both enjoy in your own language. Next, try to reproduce the conversation in English. Don't worry if you can't say everything, just try to repeat the main ideas of your conversation.

  • Students aren't able to speak to peers (for example: mixed classes of adults and teenagers).

How to Fix It? Make Speaking Into a Game — Challenge each other to speak in English for a short period of time. Keep your goals easy. Perhaps you can begin with a short two-minute conversation in English. As practicing becomes more natural, challenge each other for longer periods of time. Another possibility is to collect some money for each time you use your own language with a friend. Use the money to go out for a drink and practice some more English!

  • Exam preparation focuses on grammar, vocabulary, etc. and leaves little time for active use.

How to Fix It? Create a Study Group — If getting ready for a test is your primary goal for learning English, put together a study group to review and prepare — in English! Make sure your group only discusses in English. Studying and reviewing in English, even if it's just grammar, will help you become more comfortable in speaking English. 

Speaking Resources

Here are a number of resources, lesson plans, suggestion pages, and more which will help you and your students improve English speaking skills in and outside of class.

The first rule of improving speaking skills is to speak, converse, talk, gab, etc. as much as you can! However, these strategies can help you — or your students — make the most out of your efforts.

American English Usage Tips — Understanding how Americans use English and what they expect to hear can help improve conversations between native and non-native speakers.

These next two features help you understand how words stress plays a role in both understanding and being understood:

Register use refers to the "tone" of voice and words that you choose when speaking to others. Appropriate register use can help you develop a good rapport with other speakers.

Teaching Conversational Skills will help teachers understand specific challenges involved when teaching speaking skills in class.

Social English Examples

Making sure that your conversation starts well often depends on using social English (standard phrases). These social English examples provide short dialogues and key phases necessary.


Dialogues are useful in learning standard phrases and vocabulary used in common situations. These situations are some of the most common you'll find when practicing your English.

Here are a number of dialogues based on level:

Conversation Lesson Plans

Here are a number of lesson plans which have proven quite popular in ESL/EFL classrooms around the world.

We'll start with debates. Debates can be used in class to help motivate students and use phrases and vocabulary that they may not use on an everyday basis. Here are a few to start off with:

Games are also quite popular in class, and games which encourage to express their point of view are some of the best:

This page will lead you to all the conversation plans located on this site:

Conversation Lesson Plan Resource

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Speaking Strategies for English Learners." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/speaking-strategies-for-english-learners-1212088. Beare, Kenneth. (2021, February 16). Speaking Strategies for English Learners. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/speaking-strategies-for-english-learners-1212088 Beare, Kenneth. "Speaking Strategies for English Learners." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/speaking-strategies-for-english-learners-1212088 (accessed March 31, 2023).