How to Practice Speaking a Language

Sure, reading textbooks and using flashcards help, but the best way to learn to speak a new language is—spoiler alert—to practice speaking it. We’ve listed plenty of great ways to practice speaking a new language in this article, starting with solo activities that fit into your daily life, then adding in helpful group activities. So, as they say in French, “On y va!” (“Here we go!”).

[Edit]Steps

[Edit]Use a call-and-response program.

  1. Pick a language program that has you reply to spoken prompts. Yes, you can learn to speak a language without investing in a language-learning program, but using a good program definitely helps out. To build speaking skills in particular, choose a program that emphasizes a “call-and-response” format in which the instructor gives prompts and you provide verbal replies.[1]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 1.jpg
    • You might start, for instance, by repeating what the French instructor says (“Je vais bien.” >>> “Je vais bien.”), then move on to answering questions (“Comment vas-tu?” >>> “Je vais bien.”).
    • Well-known language programs like Rosetta Stone (at around $12 per month) and Duolingo (free) have call-and-response elements, but spoken language-focused options like Pimsleur ($15-$20 per month) and Michel Thomas (about $100 per course) use this technique to a much greater degree.[2]

[Edit]Repeat recordings of native speakers.

  1. Mimic what you hear spoken in movies, podcasts, etc. Find audio and video productions made in the language you’re trying to learn. Pause the playback frequently so you can do your best to repeat what you just heard. Rewind and retry phrases that give you more trouble.[3]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • Put on the subtitles if you want help following along with what’s being said. Or, skip the subtitles for now and focus exclusively on repeating the sounds you hear—you can work on understanding what you’re saying later.

[Edit]Sing along to music.

  1. Use music to memorize words and pick up speech patterns. Listen to a song in the language you’re trying to learn, then play it again and try to sing along with it. Pause and rewind if needed. At this point, focus less on understanding what’s being said and more on replicating the sounds and speech patterns you hear.[4]
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    • Nursery rhymes and other kids’ songs work well when you’re starting out, since they usually use a simple vocabulary and are easier to follow.
    • Music makes memorization easier—that’s why kids learn their ABCs in song form!

[Edit]Narrate what you’re doing.

  1. Build your speaking skills by describing daily activities. This is a great way to practice throughout the day without interfering with your daily routine. For the best results, describe what you’re doing out loud in the language you’re learning. If you’re out and about and don’t want to get caught muttering to yourself, narrate your activities inside your own head.[5]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 4.jpg
    • For example, if you’re learning to speak French, say the following while washing the dishes: “Je lave la vaisselle.” Better yet, narrate the washing of each cup (“tasse”), plate (“assiette”), and spoon (“cuillère”).

[Edit]Read and write out loud.

  1. Practice speaking while also learning to read and write. Even if your focus is on speaking the new language, it’s helpful to spend some time on reading and writing the language as well.[6] Best off all, combine the efforts by speaking out loud (or at least in your head) whenever you read or write in the new language.[7]
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    • Since your focus is on speaking the language, don’t get bogged down in the fine details of vocabulary and grammar at this point. Save that for when you’re aiming for reading and writing fluency!

[Edit]Translate phrases you often use.

  1. Work on your go-to phrases to build confidence. We all have our individual troves of phrases and sayings that pepper our conversations. By practicing these “comfort phrases” in the new language, you’ll increase your comfort level with it. Doing so may even help you to start thinking in the new language, which some people say is the true sign of fluency.[8]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 6.jpg
    • For example, if you often say “check this out” and “yeah, right,” practice (in French) saying “regarde ça” and “oui en effet.”

[Edit]Watch recordings of yourself.

  1. Note your tone, pacing, clarity, and confidence. Audio recordings are okay, but videos are the better choice here. That way, you can listen to your speech patterns in the new language while also observing how you look while speaking. Compare your results to the sound and look of native speakers, and continue to fine-tune your efforts.[9]
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    • Watching yourself in a mirror is another similar option, but recording yourself gives you more of an ability to really study the look and sound of what you say.

[Edit]Talk to your pet.

  1. Practice in front of your non-judgmental furry friend. If you haven’t built up the confidence to practice in front of another person yet, opt instead for one of your furry friends. It may seem silly to practice speaking French to your cat, but there’s a built-in comfort level since you already do the same thing in your native language. And maybe your pet will learn a little French along the way![10]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 8.jpg
    • Speak exclusively in the new language, or use both if you prefer: “It’s dinner time, Charlie! C’est l’heure du dîner, Charlie!”

[Edit]Speak to Alexa, Siri, etc.

  1. Set your voice-activated assistant to the new language. Change the settings on your preferred voice-activated assistant so it communicates in the language you’re trying to learn. Ask questions in the new language and see if the assistant is able to recognize and respond to what you say.[11]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 9.jpg
    • For instance, if you ask in French how tall Mt. Everest is (“Quelle est la hauteur du mont Everest?”), you should hear back something like, “Le mont Everest mesure 8850 mètres de haut” (“Mt. Everest is 8850 meters tall”).

[Edit]Use Google Translate.

  1. Set the app to translate from the new language. In other words, see if Google Translate (or other) can comprehend what you say in the new language and fairly accurately translate it into your primary language. This is a good way to test whether a native speaker will be able to understand you.[12]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 10.jpg

[Edit]Dictate texts to your phone.

  1. Set your phone to the new language and use voice-to-text. Change your phone’s language setting to the one you’re learning, then use the voice-to-text feature to see if it can accurately transcribe what you’re saying. If the transcription doesn’t match what you’re trying to say, you’ll know you have more work to do.[13]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 11.jpg

[Edit]Practice with another learner.

  1. Encourage each other by having regular conversations. Getting immediate feedback by talking with another person is really helpful when learning to speak a language. Conversing with a trained instructor is great, of course, but talking with a fellow learner has its own benefits. Since you’re in the same boat, you’ll be eager to encourage each other. You’ll also be motivated to keep up with each other’s progress.[14]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 12.jpg
    • If you’re not ready for actual conversations yet, do some of the solo activities mentioned in this article—watching shows, listening to podcasts, singing along to music, narrating your actions, using tech—with the other person.

[Edit]Talk to a native speaker.

  1. Pay attention to their speech rhythms and patterns. There are always differences between the formal language taught in courses and the way native speakers use the language. Watching, listening to, and talking with a native speaker is the best way to pick up on these differences in phrasing, emphasis, pronunciation, speech rhythms, gestures and facial expressions, and so on. And don’t feel embarrassed by your meagre language skills—most people think it’s great when someone else is trying to learn their native tongue and will be eager to help.[15]
    Practice Speaking a Language Step 13.jpg
    • If you’re having trouble finding a native speaker in the language you’re trying to learn, ask around in your social circle. There’s a good chance you’ll eventually turn up someone to chat with!

[Edit]Immerse yourself by traveling.

  1. Visit places where you have to test your speaking skills. Immersion is the best way to master your spoken language skills because it’s essentially a sink-or-swim situation—you have to find a way to communicate effectively! Observe native speakers, listen carefully, and don’t be shy about communicating with them. They’ll almost certainly appreciate your genuine effort and be willing to help.[16]
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    • Will some native speakers scoff at your language skills, get frustrated, or be dismissive? Of course. But so many more of them will want to help you master their language.

[Edit]References

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