If you’re not in an English-speaking country, it can be difficult to find native English speakers to practise your speaking skills with.
But here’s a bit of a secret: you don’t need native speakers to practise speaking English.
We’re often told that the only way to improve speaking skills is by having a conversation with others. But actually, there are lots of ways that you can improve your speaking without speaking to other people.
In this article, I’ll give you a bunch of tips on how to improve your English speaking when you don’t have a speaking partner. Then I’ll share some resources for you to find a speaking partner, regardless of where you are located.
By the end, hopefully, you’ll see that you already have everything you need to practise speaking English.
How to improve English speaking skills without a partner
Talk to yourself
This was my secret weapon when I was learning Portuguese. When I was in the shower, I used to imagine myself in a bunch of everyday situations: at the grocery store, the movie theatre, the bank, a cafe, and so on. Then I would have a full conversation with myself from both sides, all in Portuguese:
“Hello. How can I help you?”
“I would like a coffee please.”
“Would you like milk?”
“Yes, please. And sugar.”
People would have thought I was crazy, but that’s the beauty of doing it in the shower: there’s no one there to judge you!
I found this a very useful way to guide myself to words that I didn’t know. Maybe I’d want to borrow a pen from the cashier but didn’t know the word for “borrow”. Or maybe I’d want the receipt but didn’t know how to ask for it. It also helped me feel more comfortable when I was actually in a grocery store or a cafe speaking Portuguese.
Talking to yourself is a great way to practise speaking and identifying gaps in your vocabulary. All you need is your imagination (and maybe a private place where no one can see you).
Shadowing is another powerful way to improve your speaking and sound more like a native. With shadowing, you basically listen to an audio text, like a podcast, and repeat what you hear slightly after you hear it.
What this does is help you notice and imitate the rhythm and pitch of native English speakers. It helps you form muscle memory so that you get used to making English sounds and later you can speak more fluently without thinking about how to say things.
You can shadow with any audio—even Netflix or YouTube—but podcasts work especially well for this.
If you are a beginner or lower-intermediate level, you may also benefit from reading the transcript as you go. If you are at a more advanced level, just listen to the audio and try to say what you are hearing.
If you're interested in learning more about the Shadowing technique, check out our guide to Shadowing in English, or watch Julian in action below.
Note that Leonardo English offers transcripts and key vocabulary for members.
Again, this is a great one you can do this by yourself: record yourself speaking. You might be having a conversation with yourself or simply practising the pronunciation for a difficult word. You might even send it as an audio message to a friend of yours.
Recording yourself is great for a few reasons. It is a bit easier to compare your pronunciation to your ideal accent if you listen to them side-by-side. If you record yourself saying “laugh” and then check to see how close it is to “laugh” from Google Translate or Dictionary.com, you can better appreciate the difference.
Another benefit of this method is that you can see how much you improve over time. A friend of mine is Brazilian and is now fluent in English. She said that she still has some of the voice memos she made of herself speaking English years ago. She said that she can see a huge difference between how she spoke before compared to now, and she finds that very motivating.
Start a podcast
Why not take “record yourself” even further and start a podcast?
That’s what our friend Daniel did when he started his “my fluent podcast” in 2016. He created it as a way to practise his English speaking skills and has kept it going since!
Daniel says that starting his podcast has supercharged his learning. He notes how at the beginning, he had to script everything and even had some of it corrected by a professional translator. Now, he is much more comfortable speaking naturally and doesn’t need to create a script every time. For Daniel, the benefits have been not just better speaking, but also better confidence.
Like my Brazilian friend, Daniel also notes that recording himself is one of the best ways to see his progress.
If you’re interested in producing your own podcast, he even has offered to help give some guidance. Get in touch with him at My Fluent Podcast.
Listen to podcasts
Did you know that even simply listening to podcasts can actually improve your speaking skills in addition to your listening skills?
It’s true, we’ve written a whole post about it. There’s a tonne of research that shows that listening to podcasts helps improve vocabulary, grammar, and fluency—each of which is an important component of speaking.
So every time you listen to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast, you’re not only learning something new and satisfying your curiosity but also improving how well you speak.
Read out loud
You’ve probably already made reading a part of your home immersion plan. You can easily make reading a speaking exercise by simply reading out loud.
This will help you practise your pronunciation and intonation. If you’re not sure how to say something, look it up, or have your computer read it to you.
How to find an English speaking partner
The strategies above are all ways you can improve your English speaking skills if you’re alone. But with all the resources on the web, it’s easier than ever to find someone to speak to.
Whether you’re in Spain or Brazil or Japan or Iran, you can use the following methods to find others to chat with.
There are lots of ways to meet people to exchange a language. Are you a French speaker? Find a native English speaker who is learning French. Then chat with each other for 30 minutes in French and then in English. It’s a win-win situation!
Here’s a shortlist of both free and paid options for finding a language exchange partner:
Want something a little more tailored to you and given by a proper English teacher? Consider private lessons. As an English teacher, I’ve shared some of my hesitations about taking English lessons before: they’re not always that great, and they aren’t the right choice for everyone.
However, lots of people really like them, and they are a great choice if you struggle with motivation. If you think they could work for you, here are some options for you to try:
If you are thinking of finding an English teacher online, we've written some extensive guides on the major websites:
Another great option is Meetup. Meetup is a platform for organizing events. Most larger cities around the world have an English-speaking practice group. And if your city doesn’t have one already, consider starting one!
If you’re single and over 18, you might even consider turning dating apps into an opportunity to practise your English speaking.
Many of your favourite dating apps now have the ability for you to set your region or location. For example, Tinder has a “passport” feature that lets you meet people in other countries. You can also set Bumble and OkCupid to other locations.
Why not set your location to English-speaking countries like Australia, Jamaica, or Ireland and meet some locals? Sure, chatting with people who live in another country may not be the best actual dating plan, but it could be a really effective way to improve English speaking skills.
Social media is, of course, another great place to find people interested in practising their English. If you scroll through the followers of Leonardo English on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, you’ll be able to see a bunch of other people who are interested in English. Try reaching out!
Here’s another social media site you may not have thought of for meeting learners interested in speaking English: YouTube.
Below the videos of English teachers, you’ll often see people asking for English partners in the comments.
Try searching for the words “Skype”, “WhatsApp”, or “speaking partner” once the comments load. There are often a ton of people willing to make new friends and speak in English.
Of course, be a little careful when you’re meeting strangers on the internet. Not everyone is as friendly as the community here on Leonardo English!
Conclusion: You can speak even when you don’t know a native English speaker
Speaking English is difficult, and is consistently one of the skills that my students are the least confident with. To get better, you need to practise.
But you don’t need to know a native-English speaker; there are tonnes of ways to practise speaking on your own or by finding people on the Internet. And these are much easier (and cheaper!) than taking a vacation, moving abroad, or going on an immersion course in an English speaking country.
So don’t use “I don’t have a partner!” as an excuse not to speak English. Start practising today.