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As an English teacher, the question that I hear the most is, “How can I improve my speaking?”
Like many other English teachers, my first answer is, “You need to practise. Speak as much as possible.” The more you practise, the more comfortable you’ll feel speaking English.
It is a sure way to improve, but it is not the only way. In fact, there is another skill I recommend that most students hadn’t thought of.
You can speak better English by improving your writing.
Yes, you read that correctly - improving your writing really can improve your speaking.
Writing is an active skill - just like speaking. As we will learn, writing and speaking require very similar skills and techniques.
In this guide, you will learn practical methods to use writing to improve your vocabulary, reduce mistakes and become a more fluent, confident speaker of English.
Input vs. Output
Yes, writing may seem like a strange method to improve your speaking, but let’s look at it carefully.
Listening and reading are receptive skills. You use these skills to receive information.
Writing and speaking are productive skills. You use these skills to produce information.
That means that writing and speaking do have a lot in common. With both of these skills, you are producing language.
When you write, you are producing information, just like when you speak. The main difference is time.
This is something that the most skilled of English learners use to their advantage.
Writing gives you time to think, plan and correct yourself
Many learners find it easier to write than to speak.
When you write, you have time to think about what you want to communicate. This removes the pressure that you feel in a conversation where you need to produce an instant response.
Writing improves your vocabulary
When you write, you have time to think carefully about the words that you want to use. Is it better to write maybe or is it better to write perhaps? Does it sound better if you add nevertheless to the beginning of the sentence?
What is another word you can use instead of very?
When you learn new words, is it difficult to use them in conversation? Most learners would answer “yes” to this question.
It is much easier to use new vocabulary in your writing than in your speech. After all, you are in control of what you write. When you speak, however, the other person has at least some control over the conversation.
By writing, you are creating a "hard copy" of words or phrases you have used successfully, and you can come back to it for future reference.
In fact, the best way to remember a new word is by writing it down. Try this technique: write out the entire sentence that contains the new word. Underline the new word, but don’t write the definition either in your language or in English.
Later, when you come back to review your vocabulary, you will be challenged to remember it by reading it in context. This is a more natural way to learn vocabulary, and another example of how writing can improve your speaking.
Writing helps you recognise your mistakes
When you write, you have time to review your words and correct yourself. The process of self-correction is a good way to improve faster and become a more independent learner.
In addition, you could use tools such as the spelling and grammar checker in Grammarly, Google Docs or Microsoft Word to spot your mistakes.
You simply can’t easily do this when you speak, which is one of the reasons that people who only practise their speaking will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Writing helps you clarify your ideas
When you write, you have time to organise your ideas and plan ahead.
This is a skill which is very hard to do in conversation.
However, a good conversationalist does apply this skill. By practising this skill in writing, you will eventually be able to do it in your speech.
Let’s imagine that you write an essay on the topic of social media. If you take time to choose your vocabulary carefully and think over your points, you will then be better prepared to talk about social media.
When you speak to someone about social media, the ideas, words and sentence structures that you wrote will come back to you.
You won’t need to think on the spot, because you have already gone through the process of choosing the best vocabulary and organising your ideas.
This applies also to native speakers. Writing is one of the best skills anyone can develop to clarify their thoughts, and one of the reasons that clear writers are so in demand.
What techniques can you use to improve your speaking through writing?
The first thing to remember is to write as much as possible! Because writing is communication practice, just like speaking, the more you write, the better you get.
Perhaps you remember writing boring essays at school. “What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing team sports?”
When you practise writing for your own benefit, you need to write about things that interest you.
Here are some ideas on how you can do this:
Start a blog. Blogs are free and you can use your blog as a daily journal. Alternatively, you can use your blog to write about a hobby, such as football, movies or fashion.
Join a supportive writing community. Members of Leonardo English have a private community where they can practise writing and get feedback from our team. It’s a safe space designed for curious intermediate to advanced learners.
Join a social media community. You can use sites like Reddit or Twitter to find a group of people who like the same things you do. Or you can argue about politics with them! You may be surprised to see how many other users are non-native speakers.
Find a language exchange partner. Sites like conversationexchange.com can connect you with other learners who want to practise speaking. They will help you practise English if you help them practise your language. Here’s our guide on finding an English conversation partner.
Get in the habit of commenting. As you gain confidence in your writing, try to be less passive when you are online.
Many websites, such as news sites or blogs, have a space for you to leave comments. Take advantage of this and challenge yourself to leave a comment whenever you see this feature.
By commenting whenever possible, you become less passive in your learning habits. By becoming a more active writer, you can become a more active speaker, too.
If you’re interested in reading more about this, here’s our guide on The Best Free Tools To Improve Your Writing.
Take it to the next level
If you really feel that this is a good technique for you, here are some bonus tips.
Make writing a habit. Set aside some time every single day for writing. Set yourself a goal of a number of words to write or an amount of time to spend writing. Perhaps you can write 200 words per day. Or perhaps you could spend 20 minutes writing. Set a timer on your phone and don’t stop writing until it’s up.
Listen and write. Find an audio clip, such as a podcast, and try to write down exactly what the speakers are saying. It may be more challenging than it sounds! You can also practise saying your transcript out loud or even Shadowing.
Write and record. Write down a speech then practice recording yourself saying it. This provides a direct link between your writing and your speech.
All English skills are connected
We have learned that writing and speaking are connected - working on one will help the other. In fact, this is true of all language skills.
Receptive skills, such as listening and reading provide input. From listening and reading, you learn new words or language structures.
Then, writing offers an initial chance to practise these new words and structures - with no rush and no pressure.
Finally, you will feel comfortable using new language items in conversation.
This is how all language skills are connected. A smart and independent learner knows how to combine skills, such as writing and speaking, to learn quickly and effectively.
Ramírez Balderas, Irais, & Guillén Cuamatzi, Patricia María. (2018). https://doi.org/10.15446/profile.v20n2.67095 Self and Peer Correction to Improve College Students’ Writing Skills. Profile Issues in Teachers` Professional Development, 20(2), 179-194.