Speaking has two aspects: 1) fluency and 2) accuracy.
Fluency is how fast you can speak.
Accuracy is how many mistakes you make.
To improve your fluency, you need to speak a lot and often – every day and every chance you get. Some people are shy and so they speak very little. Shy is a bad thing in Canada! Humility – being humble – is not helpful in Canada. Shy is considered a problem. Self-confidence is a good quality. Confident people get good jobs.
In Canadian culture, people will respect you more if you speak more (but remember to speak politely). They will respect that you are trying to learn and use the language.
People in Canada respect you when you are active, when you take initiative, start conversations and express your opinions. At school, a good student is the one who volunteers to answer teacher’s questions.
In this culture, you need to have your opinion and know how to express it. You need to learn how to express your opinion politely.
To speak or not to speak?
When you start a conversation, you need to watch a person’s reaction. If they are smiling, looking you in the eye and giving longer answers, that means they want to continue the conversation. If they give short answers, look away or turn their body sideways, that means they don’t want to talk to you. Many people in Canada have very busy schedules and have little time to talk – respect their time. The best conversation partners are seniors because they are retired and have a lot of time.
In Canada, not all topics are good for discussion. There are many things that you cannot ask because they are considered too personal, for example you cannot ask a person’s age, if they are married or not, do they have children and why. If you start asking those questions, people may not want to talk to you. To learn more about what questions not to ask and what topics not to discuss, learn about “Small Talk”.
Body language is 70% of successful communication. In Canada, if you stand too close to a person – closer than 45 centimeters – you are in their intimate zone. Intimate zone is only for close friends and family members. Some people will not want to talk to you if you stand too close. Also, if you touch people, they may feel uncomfortable and try to end the conversation. To learn more about ‘Body Language’ in Canada, click here.
Most Canadians are very tactful and polite. Unfortunately, they will not tell you why they don’t want to talk to you. Be careful how close you stand to people, be careful not to touch them. Also, do NOT wear perfume – many people have allergies.
Learn to speak clearly. It is better to speak slowly. When you have accent and speak fast, nobody can understand you. Remember: highly educated English speakers actually speak slower. To improve your pronunciation, use a good dictionary (for example www.thefreedictionary.com) that allows you to listen to the sound of every new word. When you listen to the sound, repeat it several times. If people cannot understand your pronunciation, they will not want to talk to you. When speaking, OPEN YOUR MOUTH and articulate. In some cultures it’s not polite to open your mouth, but in English in Canada it is perfectly okay. Move your lips and do not cover your mouth. Never chew gum when speaking.
To practice your speaking, find a video with subtitles that shows a good Canadian English speaker. Watch several times – notice how slow they speak, notice the pauses, notice the intonation. Watch again and read at the same time – you need to read out loud with the same speed, the same pauses, the same intonation. Copy their speech with your voice – mimic it as closely as possible.
Listening is very important for a successful conversation. Learn about ‘Active Listening’. It is not polite to keep silent – you need to say small words like “Really, Yeah, Right, etc.” and ask appropriate questions. Also, remember that you must make eye contact when speaking and listening – Canadians listen with their eyes. If you are not looking, it means you are not listening.
To be successful in a conversation, you need to learn conversation management techniques. You need to know how to repair breakdowns in a conversation. Do not keep silent. You need to repeat the words you understand (for example “Thursday, okay, yeah, yeah”). You also need to repeat the words that you don’t understand, but with a different voice – with the question intonation (for example “Supplement? Sorry, what does it mean?”)
Remember to smile, be friendly, polite and positive – when you are nice, people are usually nice to you in response. Begging or pushing (insisting) can make some people angry.
Prepare for your conversations
To have a successful conversation, you need to prepare for it. We prepare for job interviews, for doctor’s appointments, for a conversation at the bank, for a conversation with the child’s school teacher. When English is not your first language, you need to prepare more – sit down and write in English everything you want to say to your doctor (for example your symptoms). If there are some words you don’t know, you need to check them in the dictionary, including pronunciation.
If you don’t know what to say in a situation or how to ask, you can ask your English teacher ( or a friend who speaks good English) to help you. Most conversations are typical and follow a pattern. Ask the teacher (or a friend) to help you write a correct English sentence. Practice it and memorize it. Repeat it several times before you go for your appointment. It is very important to ask for help. But is even more important to go and speak for yourself – make independence your goal and you will feel free and comfortable in your new country.
To practice accuracy, you need to set higher standards for yourself. Be your own teacher outside the classroom. Listen to yourself. For example: if you say “Yesterday I go to the library”, stop and correct yourself: “Yesterday I went to the library.” Successful learners are those who learn to control their speaking.