Have you been trying to learn a new language (or even English–aren’t we always learning?) and can’t seem to get really comfortable speaking? You do your homework, review your notes, try to consume English-language media…but when you have to turn around and talk to a real person, it just doesn’t feel so fluent?
You are missing one thing. You should be talking to yourself.
Crazy, you say? Not so, according to PsychCentral, who asserts that talking to yourself is a sign of sanity and may even make you smarter.
And how else are you going to get in hours of practice conversing in a new language without frustrating the kind native speakers who volunteer to talk to you or picking up other learners’ bad habits?
I spoke to myself a lot, both when I was learning French and when I was learning Dutch. Especially in the Netherlands, I always got comments on how fast I was improving and how fluid my speaking was becoming. It didn’t happen all on its own. I had to talk to myself a lot to get there! I am now no longer actively learning either, and have noticed that the less I practice speaking, the less easy it is the next time I need to do it for real.
It’s easy to practice reading and listening–you don’t need anyone’s help. But usually people shy away from practicing speaking because they worry about what others will think when they make mistakes. When the only audience is you, you don’t have to worry. Just put it out there and listen to how it sounds. Correct yourself. Say the same sentence five times until it feels right.
Does the idea of talking to yourself still feel a little funny? Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Read out loud to yourself.
2. Ask yourself questions, then answer them.
3. Tell the story of your day as you’re brushing your teeth at night.
4. Practice giving your opinion on a topic that interests you or a topic that came up in conversation last week that you weren’t prepared for.
5. Practice planning a get-together with friends or talking about what you do for a living.
6. If you’re a more advanced speaker, then you have to do the same things native speakers do: practice that sales pitch out loud. Practice your presentation out loud.
Remember this: you can’t improve your speaking unless you speak. Speaking out loud is different from imagining a conversation in your head. Your vocal chords and mouth have to get used to new forms and vibrations.
Plus, if you talk to yourself, then the next time you speak to the native speakers they are that much more impressed because they don’t know about the time you put in practicing when they weren’t there. Good luck!