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Do you have trouble expressing yourself in English? When I was just learning to speak Spanish, the hardest part was feeling like I was really expressing myself.
I remember my first night out in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I went out with a couple American friends I had just met to a little neighborhood near our dormitory.
In a cool, dark bar we met a couple of Argentinian guys. They were friendly guys and spoke slowly and clearly so we could understand them. I remember listening to them speak (and pretty much understanding them) but my only response was a big, stupid smile on my face.
When I got home, I realized my face hurt from smiling so much that night!
I'll tell you a secret: I was only smiling so much because it was easier than talking and trying to express myself.
I felt so embarrassed to speak. Even though I had been studying Spanish for years! Even though I was taking university-level classes. Even though I could write in Spanish.
I now know what I was missing in my study plan.
What I needed when I was learning to speak was more REAL listening practice. With real materials, not my textbook. So I could listen to, learn and copy REAL language. Most of these materials I could have found for basically free, like on the radio or on the T.V.!
I don't want you to make the same mistake that I did. You can use real English listening materials on your own - and most of the resources are free.
Read on for my recommendations for the most essential listening resources to help you with your spoken English:
Watch This Lesson in Video Format Here:
Watch or read the lesson below
Listening - You Can Do it By Yourself
The students of mine who I see progress the fastest are the students who surround themselves with English.
So yes, you have to find language partners. You can also take lessons, you can go to English speaking clubs. You know you need to speak more in English.
But there's also something else that you can do in your daily life. On your own.
To really help you start expressing yourself more in English when you do go to speak in English, make sure you are:
Listening. Listening A LOT.
Listening practice is great because you can do it AS you're going about your day. You can repeat out loud as the speaker speaks. You take note of the sentences and words that are used in REAL English so that you can practice, copy and then speak using REAL English too.
Here are some examples of some good things to listen to.
RESOURCE #1: Radio
You're on the way to work. Or taking your lunch break. Or cleaning up your kitchen. You can also be listening to English in the background. Just turn on the radio!
I recommend NPR radio because you'll hear lots of casual, spoken English on this radio station. NPR is especially good if you want to work on your American accent.
This American Life (start listening here)
I really like This American Life because the show is based on stories. During the show, they interview various people. So even on one show, even in just one episode, you’ll hear at least two or three different people talking about their journey, talking about their problems, and talking about their stories.
Plus, the show is told in casual, spoken English. The guests usually speak pretty casually because they are everyday people.
Another reason I always recommend this podcast/radio show is because all of the transcripts of the show are available on the website.
Casual English is so important for business. We use casual English before and after meetings, while making plans and while making small talk. You know you want to be able to laugh and talk about simple things, like your lunch or your dogs, with your foreign boss from Canada.
Listening to the casual English on this (and other) radio shows is a good place to start. Say the sentences out loud as you listen. Write down and practice the sentences that you know you'll need to use in the future.
RESOURCE #2: T.V. Shows
Another listening resource that you can use are T.V. shows. If you already have a T.V. with cable or a Netflix subscription, this option is basically free.
I recommend T.V. shows over movies for non-native English speakers because:
Knowing all of these details makes it a little bit easier to understand the language in T.V. shows.
Modern Family (learn more about the show here)
I recommend Modern Family because it's funny, it's light, and the accents are pretty clear.
RESOURCE #3: Documentary Movies
You can also use movies to understand and improve your spoken English, but it's going to be a little bit more difficult.
When you watch a movie for the first time, you have to understand the whole plot. AND you have to learn the characters names, AND you have to learn all about their personalities as you watch the movie.
If you are ready to use movies as your listening practice, I highly recommend watching documentaries. Here's one of my recent favorites-
Twinsters (more about the movie here)
You'll hear American and French accents in this movie. I won't tell you any more though. Watch the movie yourself to hear this amazing story.
Just like with radio shows like This American Life, you'll hear real people speaking real English in documentaries. And you'll be able to practice listening to people tell their stories.
This is the kind of practice you need. Because when you're at your next business conference in New York, I want you to be able to tell your story about your last crazy plane flight. I want you to smile and nod when the person sitting next to you tells YOU about how they started their career.
And I want it to be a true smile. Not like my stupid smile from my first night out in Argentina. A real smile that means you understand.
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