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I’ve had a lot of English students over the years, and I can comfortably say that the great majority of them start classes because they want to be able to speak better English.
Sure, they know listening is important. They’ll admit that reading in English is useful and that writing in English can come in handy. But most language learners don’t really care about those skills.
They care about speaking.
In many ways, improving your English speaking skills is pretty straightforward. You just practise it.
Of course, the better your language ability in general, the easier it will be to speak. And it is true that some listening exercises, like listening to podcasts, can also improve your speaking skills.
But the best way to learn to speak English is to speak it.
Everyone knows that speaking practice is important, but lots of people don't actually put in the work. Instead, they watch Netflix, “chat” in Facebook groups, or even do nothing at all.
And I get it. It can be difficult to find opportunities to speak in English if you don’t live in a country where it’s used.
In another blog post, we made a list of a bunch of ways to practise speaking even without a conversation partner. In this article, I want to focus on one of those that I think is undervalued: recording yourself in English to improve your speaking.
Why record yourself speaking English?
Besides it being easy and accessible to everyone, why would you record yourself? What makes it a good language learning exercise?
It’s hard to find a speaking partner
Yes, the Internet has made it easier than ever to find an English conversation partner online. But that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable to meet a stranger. What if they’re weird? And what will you talk about? The whole process is awkward!
Sure, you can always find an English teacher but that can get expensive in the long term.
We sometimes feel afraid to speak
The fear of speaking English is real. We don’t want to look dumb when we don’t know the right word. And some of us are introverts. Having a conversation in our own language can be difficult enough, let alone one in English!
Even when we have someone to speak English with, it’s not always easy to fit into our schedule. It’s much easier to find time to learn English when it’s just us. Recording yourself speaking English is easy to fit into any schedule.
Recording yourself is effective—for some things
Of course, the main reason you’d record yourself speaking is that it actually helps you learn English. In an earlier article, I actually looked at some of the science behind how speaking to ourselves can help us learn English.
But here are some of the additional benefits that recording ourselves speaking can bring:
- Feeling more confident. Sometimes we’re our own worst critics. When we can hear ourselves speak we often realise we’re not as bad as we thought. Listening to a recording of yourself can help you feel more confident when you speak to other people.
- Getting a better mouth feel. Recording yourself can help you practise pronunciation and feel more comfortable with how English sounds in your mouth.
- Learning to see your mistakes. Recording ourselves can give us a lot of insight into the mistakes we might be making—and how we can fix them.
- Seeing your progress. This is my favourite benefit of recording yourself speaking—you can see how far you’ve come! One of the biggest challenges in learning a language is that it happens slowly. Recording yourself can help you see your progress in English, which can help you continue to feel motivated to learn it.
Remember that there are some things that recording yourself won’t help with. It’s not a great exercise for:
- Learning the basics. You do need a bit of a base before you really start practising speaking. While recording yourself can help you even at a beginner level, it isn’t going to teach you the English basics. You’ll need to do other activities for that. But if you are able to read this article in English, this shouldn’t apply to you.
- Learning English words. You might learn new words if you shadow other English speakers or if you listen to English podcasts. But if you simply record yourself and listen to yourself, you’re not going to develop your vocabulary. You’ll want to use activities that give you more comprehensible input for that—things like listening activities or reading in English.
- Developing your ear for native speakers. If you’re recording yourself speaking, you’ll be able to hear how you talk. But it won’t help you get better at understanding how native speakers talk. You’ll need to listen to native speakers for that.
So recording yourself speaking can be useful, depending on the skills you’re working on. But it’s not good for everything.
Choose it when you want to practise speaking fluently, when you want to tweak your pronunciation, or when you want to be able to see how you improve over time.
How to record yourself to spot your mistakes and improve your speaking
So how can you actually put recording yourself into practice? It depends a bit on what you want to do. Here are suggestions for three different goals:
- Speaking more naturally
- Working on your pronunciation
- Measuring your progress
Recording yourself to speak more naturally
If your goal is just to speak more fluently, try doing this:
- Just talk to yourself. You can talk to yourself about anything—as long as it’s in English. Imagine you’re on a talk show or in an interview for a job or even just at the coffee shop. You can even just give a verbal summary of your day. Just talk.
- Record yourself. You don’t need any fancy equipment, you can just use the voice recorder app on your phone.
- Listen to yourself. Now listen back and try to notice any mistakes. This might be a bit painful at first—most people don’t love to listen to themselves. But listen anyway, and try to spot any mistakes you’re making.
- Listen to your older recordings. I also recommend going back and listening to yourself from months earlier and listening for mistakes there. It often feels like we don’t improve, but listening to yourself from months earlier makes it easy to see your progress.
Recording yourself for better pronunciation
If your goal is to improve your English pronunciation, try the following:
- Find audio from a native English speaker. Ideally, you’ll choose audio that comes with a transcript so you can read along. An episode from the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast would work very well for this.
- Record yourself saying the same words as the audio. If you have a transcript, you can simply read it out loud.
- Listen to the audio of the native speaker. Pay attention to how they say each of the words. Listen for connected speech.
- Now, compare their audio with yours. Notice any differences. In particular, try to notice any words that you pronounce differently from the native speaker. Use the native speaker’s audio to practise those words.
- Repeat. You can keep recording yourself and comparing it to the original until you’re satisfied with your progress. You can even compare an earlier audio recording with a later one to see how far you’ve come.
Remember, “improving your pronunciation” doesn’t mean getting rid of your accent. That’s not the goal for most of us. The goal is just to speak in a way that most English speakers would understand.
Recording yourself to measure your progress
If your goal is to see the progress you’re making over time, do this:
- Record yourself. It doesn’t matter so much what you say, but try to use as much language as you can to provide a sample that represents your best at that moment.
- Record yourself regularly—at least once a month. You’ll want to do this consistently for several months because our progress in a foreign language often can only be seen over fairly significant periods of time.
- Listen back to yourself several months later. Pay attention to both what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and how confident you sound. Compare it to more recent recordings. You might even grade each of your recordings to give yourself some quantitative data about how you’re improving.
Take it to the next level
Some of the members of the Leonardo English community take recordings to the next level. Here’s how they do it.
- In the Leonardo English community forum, Roberta responded to a post with audio instead of a written response. That’s a great way to build recording yourself into your everyday life.
- One of our early members, Daniel, began his own podcast in English to give himself lots of speaking practice. He notes that recording himself so often gives him really good insight into his progress.
- Kristian, a Leonardo English member and an English teacher, has created his own podcast where he gives advice on how to prepare for the Cambridge English exam.
- Francisco, another of our members, used a video recording to introduce himself to the rest of the community on our blog.
Of course, you don’t need to go as far as sharing your recordings in public. But props to you if you do!
Recording yourself is a powerful way to practise and see your progress
So there you have it—three ways to use recording yourself speaking English to improve your skills and become more fluent.
I will warn you, it does feel a bit strange the first time.
But there’s something really lovely about going back and listening to your own voice from several months ago. It’s a bit like receiving a postcard from yourself at a particular point in your life. You’ll have that little snippet of your day recorded and it will bring you back to that earlier moment.
So start recording yourself for the English practice. Keep doing it for the progress. And enjoy the little souvenirs of your life that it gives you along the way.