As explained in the last section, all you need is access to the internet for improving your reading and listening skills. Speaking, on the other hand, is still best practiced with another human being.
There are three main options here. The free option is to find native speakers to converse with. Sites like Meetup.com often have language exchange meetings that you can attend. One downside of this is that it’s not very efficient as you have to travel to the meet up and spend part of the time helping others with your native language.
Another option is to go to group classes. These can be nice from a social perspective, but if your goal is to practice speaking, they are not ideal as you will have to take it in turns with other learners. Also, classes often move as slowly as the slowest student.
However, the most efficient option is to take 1-on-1 lessons. The cost can be a little higher, but if you are taking the lessons online, this isn’t always the case. Moreover, you’ll be able to get extensive speaking practice with an experienced, native tutor. (Side note: you can view available tutors on LanguaTalk.)
Educational research has highlighted the importance of feedback in mastering skills. To rapidly improve your speaking skills, you need to push yourself to make mistakes and receive accurate feedback so that you learn to make fewer mistakes. The person you’re speaking with should therefore be a native speaker so that they have the ability to notice mistakes and provide accurate corrections. An exchange partner can provide some feedback, but because they usually only know their language implicitly, they may not be able to provide clear explanations. This is why having a personal tutor is the ideal way to improve your ability to speak a language.
If you’re a beginner, you may read this section but still wait several months before starting to test your speaking skills. This is understandable as it takes confidence to try to speak a new language. But if your goal is to be able to speak at a conversational level, you should start practicing from day one. The more mistakes you make, the faster you will gain feedback and improve. Of course, you need to feel ‘safe’ in making mistakes, which is why tutors need to create a relaxed and friendly learning environment.
Finally, the best language learners ‘top up’ their speaking practice by talking to themselves in the language they’re learning from time to time. Give it a try to boost your confidence and help you improve your pronunciation. Just don’t do it at the top of your voice in a crowded place – people might think you’re a little crazy.