I was talking to a couple of students this past week about preparation for the IELTS/ FCE exams and I was making the point that as far as speaking practice goes, they needed a lot more practice than an hour or two a week with me could provide. I can’t remember the times I have told this to students, in terms of doing well in any spoken test of English, the formula is practice = confidence = performance. What I mean is that, as with any skill, playing an instrument, learning to cook, or whatever, you need to put in the hours, to practice as often as possible. This practice will lead to an increased confidence in your abilities which in turn will lead to an increase in your performance when the time comes to demonstrate your skill.
So, how do you acquire this practice? That is the question I will answer today. Of course, if you can afford it, then you can book as many lessons with your teacher (or me) as you wish, and your problem will be solved. But given that this might be a little unrealistic for most of you, I will suggest the following solutions.
First, go to English speaking social activities in your town. I know that some of you may be shy or whatever, but you can always take a friend along to talk to until you get into the hang of things. Now, depending where you live, if you live in a capital city, you can always find some English speaking social groups to join. I have students from Moscow, Beijing, Prague, etc, and I guarantee that in most capital cities or major cities in your country, you can find some international activities and groups for foreigners and locals where the common language spoken will be English.
The main website I recommend for this purpose is called Meetup.com, you can join the groups, or form your own group, and go to the activities. I organise a meetup once a week every Wednesday here in Prague and we get some natives and internationals and a lot of Czechs coming along to have a beer and chat in English, it is always a good laugh and everyone gets something out of it.
Another good website is Internations.org, this is more of a professional networking site but they have many branches around the world and many events, again where English is the de facto lingua franco.
Finally, I would advise you to have a look at CouchSurfing, this is an international organisation for people travelling around the world looking for free accommodation but they have many social activities where backpackers and locals can meet up.
Ok, but what if you don’t want to or can’t meet people in person? Then fortunately for you, the internet will provide, as it always does. Now, there are plenty of websites and online chat groups you might join, they mostly work in a similar way in that you create a profile and state what language you want to learn/practice and what you can offer in return. I am writing now about language exchange sites, not professional teacher sites. They are somewhat similar to Facebook in many respects.
I can recommend several sites on which I have a profile and use regularly, some have different functions like an online chatroom, others only allow for communication on their platforms, etc. Have a look and see which is right for you.
My top tip is italki.com, here you can find professional teachers, community tutors and individuals for language exchange.
My next tip is Conversationexchange.com, this site allows you to have three ways to correspond with a language partner, by writing, by meeting in person, and by chat/Skype call, etc. Another interesting new site is Go Speaky, but there are many, many such sites on the internet and all you have to do is quick search and you will find something to sign up for.
Ok, that should give you some ideas about where to go to find people for speaking practice. It can be face to face or online, whatever is easier and more convenient for you. All you need to do is to take advantage of the opportunities available and go out and practice, for those of you who don’t live in big cities and can’t find any social events then there is always the internet, and of course if you are able then why not do both! Don’t forget, practice = confidence = performance….good luck!