3 Steps to Better English

Learning English can be confusing; Learn new grammar rules Attend classes at a language school Read textbooks Complete grammar exercises Memorise verb tables and new vocabulary Take Exams   What if […]

Jonathan Ballantine - 13 November, 2017 || English Golf Experience

Learning English can be confusing;

Learn new grammar rules

Attend classes at a language school

Read textbooks

Complete grammar exercises

Memorise verb tables and new vocabulary

Take Exams


What if I told you that none of those things help you to speak English fluently…




Most English learners are lost – hardly anyone knows what to do in order to improve their speaking skills. 99% of the people that I have spoken to during my 10 years in Spain actually do things that worsen their listening and speaking skills. For example, somebody will often say “I read books in English or watch movies with English subtitles”. I can tell you now, that practicing reading will not improve speaking and listening skills.

While many factors create fluency, these three things (if you practice them daily for 10-15 mins) will guarantee better listening and speaking skills:

Speaking Improvisation 

This is a tool I learnt about 20 years ago while undertaking an Actor´s course in London. Actors who work in live theatre use this training exercise to improve their ability to speak spontaneously.

So, how does it work for English language learners?

Using a voice recorder (Memo on iPhone) I ask my students to speak for 60 seconds non-stop about a random topic (no preparation). The goal is for them to speak continuously about some random for 60 seconds.

On your first attempts it will be difficult to speak for 60 seconds about lampshades or fire alarms. However, it is important to be clear about the purpose of the exercise. The exercise provides an opportunity for you to improve your capabilities for thinking and speaking at the same time. A skill that can be improved through training not studying.

After your 10th attempt you can then listen to your recording and observe your performance. Do not judge. Just observe your current speaking performance.

Learning comes from observation and awareness not negative criticisms. Your goal is to be better than yesterday.  And so on.

Once you get comfortable for speaking for 60 seconds you can then increase the time to two minutes or more.

It is important that you talk about random topics and without preparation.

Remember the goal is not about making a perfect presentation but improving your ability to think and speak simultaneously.  This is key to increasing fluency (what is fluency = flow).


Listening games via Lyricstraining.com

Understanding what native speakers are saying is one of the hardest parts of English. Whether it’s the speed of the language or the pronunciation, it’s easy to get lost during a conversation. Listening to music can help overcome these obstacles and improve listening skills.

Recognising words when they are said is more difficult than reading them so you must train your listening skills more than your reading skills.

Typically when students learn the pronunciation of a word they learn them one word at a time. This is too perfect and doesn´t reflect real-life situations (connected speech).

Listening to music will help you identify how words and expressions are pronounced in sentences. Music is also a reflection of how people think, feel and behave so you will also learn relevant vocabulary.

How can you use Music to help you speak and listen fluently?  

Just passively listening to music is not going to be enough you have to interact and and play with it. My favourite tool is lyricstraining.com which enables you to listen to 1000s of songs.

Task One: Listening Exercise   

First you choose one of four levels. Depending on the level you have chosen a number of words from the song will be omitted from the lyrics that appear underneath the music video.  What you have to do is to listen to the song and fill in the missing word. If you don´t hear the word at the first attempt you can replay it over and over again.  If you still can´t hear the word after several times then you can skip and the word will appear in the lyrics.

This tool is very effective as it helps you to identify your listening weaknesses. For every word you cannot hear you now have information about the sounds you need to train.

Task Two: Sound Training 

The words that you were unable to hear give you feedback on what sounds you need to train.

Ask yourself why you were unable to hear the word?  Was it a new word? Strange accent? Or did the words before and/or after affect its pronunciation?

Whatever the reason you can now start working on ways to learn this word and/or sounds.

Lyricstraining.com offers so many opportunities for students to increase their speaking and listening skills in a fun way.


Sound Foundation 

When a person learns to speak a second language, it is natural that they transfer their native phonological system. The challenge for Spanish learners of English is that both languages ​​share the same written symbols that deceive you to believe they can be pronounced in the same way. Although English and Spanish have many similar words their phonological systems are radically different and explains why many Spanish learners, who have based their learning strategy on Reading and Writing, have great difficulty understanding native speakers and lack confidence when speaking.

For this reason, it is important to realise that learning a new language is not just about learning new vocabulary, but also a new set of sounds, as well as new forms of rhythm, emphasis and intonation superimposed on them. Due to lack of familiarity with the sounds of English, adult learners will find it difficult to hear sounds that are not identical to those of Spanish. To make matters worse is that most Spanish learners base their learning strategy on Reading so they will learn the pronunciation of new vocabulary incorrectly, thus making understanding and being understood far more difficult. This is why having a solid base in English sounds, intonation and rhythm is essential to speak English fluently.

I think it is good to always good to remind ourselves what is natural.

Listening and speaking are natural skills, 

reading and writing are acquired skills 

If you have any questions about these three steps please feel free to contact me on jonathanballantine@mac.com

About Jonathan Ballantine

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over seven years. Previously he worked in the Consulting sector for companies based in London, Madrid and Sydney. Jonathan is passionate about personal development and coaching, and incorporates many coaching techniques in his teaching. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.

You never forget a good teacher

English Golf Experience was founded by Jonathan Ballantine, a native English trainer, and certified by the University of Cambridge to teach English as a second language.

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over ten years. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.

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