Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

So you want to improve your speaking skills?

by : 
Sophie Newnham

Reading and writing in a different language is all very well and good, but how do you really master a foreign tongue? You need to immerse yourself in a country where that language is spoken; give yourself no other choice but to communicate in your second or maybe third language.

As English learners, you guys have such a wide choice of destinations. The United Kingdom, America, Australia, New Zealand... there is a whole adventure waiting for you somewhere, out there in the big wide world! However, travelling somewhere as far away as American can be expensive, so how can you get round the costs?

I’m a French student myself and I decided that the best (and cheapest) way to immerse myself in the French culture and language was to live with a family. Sharing the life, language and traditions of a real French family seemed the most effective way to increase my confidence in my speaking skills and so in July 2010, off I went to au pair for a family!

Now, au pairing will not be for everyone; I certainly did not think it would be for me! When I arrived at the ferry port at 8am after a sleepless night and saw this blonde, smiling family of four, I soon relaxed as they made me feel so welcome. In terms of the language, I was thrown straight into speaking French the minute I arrived, so that was a bit of a shock. However the parents spoke slowly for me and when I didn’t understand what the children were saying (they spoke VERY quickly!) the parents would always help me.

So what were my duties as an au pair? I had to wake the children up in the morning, give them breakfast, do their homework with them, give them an English lesson, make them lunch, take them out in the every day was full of activities – you never have a dull moment when you are an au pair! You must remember too, that all this is done whilst speaking in a language which was not my mother tongue! So it certainly was a challenge.

Of course, there were stressful moments when the children were naughty or when I felt like I could not express myself correctly. Yet after four weeks, my confidence grew and grew; and by the end of my stay with the family, I was attending dinner parties with family friends and having conversations with everyone there.

I would advise anyone to try au pairing as a way to improve your language skills. Even if you are not sure that working with kids is something that you want to do in the future (like me), you may surprise yourself. For example, I’m now applying to become a French teacher! It truly is an experience that will change your beliefs of a culture, a language and even of yourself.


Do you think that working as an au pair is a good way to learn a language? Would you like to be an au pair? Why or why not?


rm333's picture
rm333 9 September, 2016 - 20:45

I've been learning English for 2 years but I can't speak well and I don't know how I can improve my speaking:/

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 12 September, 2016 - 09:44

Hi rm333! Have a look at Jo's comment below. There are some really great tips there for speaking materials. Above all, remember that speaking is a skill and it needs practice to develop. So, after you learn some vocab, grammar or phrases for speaking, try to use them in speaking practice. Do you do speaking practice in school, or do you have somebody you can practise English with? And, after two years of learning English, you are doing well. :) Good luck!
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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AnD's picture
AnD 26 September, 2013 - 15:49

I'm 14, and I want to learn spoken english (of course), but I don't have a native english friend, and I think, that if I'll all the time sit with the recorder, I'll only annoy my sister:)) Does anyone have a tip for me? English level: B2. Thank you so much!

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Jo - Coordinator's picture
Jo - Coordinator 30 September, 2013 - 09:09

Hi AnD! Thanks for your question about improving your speaking in English. Have you watched our exam speaking videos? Here you can watch real students of English doing common exam speaking tasks, and pick up some useful tips on speaking from us and other users. Listening to lots of English will also really help your speaking. Our Fast Phrasals videos are full of really common informal English words and expressions - perfect if you want to sound like a native speaker! For more listening practice try Video zone - there's lots there for your level and above. Good luck!

Joanna (LearnEnglish Teens team)

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MALINE's picture
MALINE 5 May, 2013 - 17:10

I think au pairing has its ups and downs you can improve your communications skills but being responsible for children can be very frightening,imagine they hurt themselves or got sick? and not always the families are so friendly and good,once I saw a movie where the family was mean with the au pair.

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Hanna's picture
Hanna 3 May, 2013 - 14:38

I think that working as an au pair is a good way to learn a language. I would like to try it but my mom will be against it.
I have some tips to improve my speaking skills:
1. I try to read a lot of books in English( now I am reading Harry Potter. It is realy amazing)
2. I watch films and serials in English with English subtitles(I like "Sherlock" more than other because Benedict Cumberbath talk very loud and clear)
3. Sometimes I watch news on CNN(it doesn`t have subtitles that is why it is hard to understand)

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AnD's picture
AnD 26 October, 2013 - 06:54

These are great tips!
I also started learning english reading, but I found in more helpful to listen to audio-books. They are usually sooo clear.
After it I could understand so well, that I watched Star Wars without subtitles: -D.
Also it's great to watch bbc films - David A. speaks quite slowly too.
Though my mum can learn english only on LearnEnglish for adults on BritishCouncil. Otherwise she sleeps : P))

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MiftahAdi's picture
MiftahAdi 27 April, 2013 - 15:45

maybe au pair is the best idea for increase our skill, but if there are other job like baby sister i will choose it. Because au pair need hard work

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Sportycoffeeforever's picture
Sportycoffeeforever 5 March, 2013 - 14:18

There are numerous ways of improving your English skills. But (and here comes the greatest BUT to cope with this task you should clearly understand the REASON. Why are this skills so nessesary for YOU right now? I don't think that the idea of visiting some English speaking countries one day works well. To communicate with friends... Well, they always want to be very MUCH MORE understandable-for this reason you need not to lose anything they say-not a single word... The long and the short of it -the greatest idea is to use some English sites, like this one. But trying to be more creative. For example, not only to comment, but develop the situation etc. Recently I have had some tryings (028,...), but they have not been yet supported....

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Gabby's picture
Gabby 22 February, 2013 - 23:26

To be an au pair might be a great way to improve the English, but I wouldn't not like to be one. It's much responsibility and I don't like children at all...
I want improve my speaking skills but I am not sure how can I do that. I study English by myself and I don't have friend who are learning English too. I would like to speak through Skype with native English speakers, but I have no idea how to find reliable people who would be interested in learn my language and help me with English... It's a pity...

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nera's picture
nera 13 December, 2012 - 18:44

This is great post...I think that is one of the best ways to learn english,becouse you all day can speak english,and meet someone new who speak english,i know some of my frends who works like au pair,and they are happy and succeded....

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RADHIKA KRISHNAN.R 27 November, 2012 - 11:04

I want to improve my english.But i don't know how..............................
I can't speak full sentence.I daily watch news channels.
pls tell me how can i improve my english

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Lejdi's picture
Lejdi 18 September, 2012 - 19:41

I practice English everyday with my cousin.We both are 13 years old and speak in English from morning until evening when we say each other "Goodnight,and see you tomorrow!".

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Sizar Torres's picture
Sizar Torres 2 September, 2012 - 11:23

Well your experience was Great!
It is actually a very beneficial experience to live in a foreign country,just arriving in a new country means you have to adapt to that new culture and learn its language ,and of course it is really beneficial to live among native speakers of that country!
But you know such experiences for me is impossible! there is a very small chance and that is about 6 or 7 next years! fat to much!
I've learnt that if you want to learn a new language you will need practicing ,and unfortunately even practicing chance is a little bit hard, cause I can't say to my friends:Hey come on let's speak in English! sometimes people say you are very proud your self because you use a foreign language words in your mother tongue!
In my country there is courses for learning English but I believe that most of them are really basic and just work for beating money!
My final chance may be the Enter net , and books! but I am determined and to learn English perfectly ,and prepare myself for TOEFL and IELTS, and I'm sure that LearnEnglishTeens will help a lot for that.

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Bakirvision's picture
Bakirvision 28 July, 2012 - 13:31

I don't think that practicing English with your friends is the very good idea, because you want to learn the correct pronunciation, the correct grammar and the correct orthography...for me, I used to practice English with my friends but that was not so efficient, because sometimes we feel that we use the same vocabulary in every situation, there is no creativity.. I think you should practice English with natives and learn something new, amusing and sometimes different from your culture... I would like to experience English stay or something like that in a native country, but I don't know the right way because it's difficult to get visa to UK. or even a language stay in your country for months and leaded with English teachers and some English students...

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youcoufy's picture
youcoufy 28 July, 2012 - 11:50

Yes I think the very good way to practice your English is with your friends or family, by taking time to speak and use only English! and correct yours mistakes by English

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