• Daiane Publio Dias

"I understand everything, but I can't speak English"

Do you know why your listening comprehension seems more advanced than your speaking? Speaking requires different strategies to develop. Once you understand this, no obstacles in the world can stop you from speaking English with clarity and confidence.



While listening, you are the one who receives a message. You don't have to know all the words to understand a story because your brain can grasp the meaning as a whole through key words or other communication tools such as gestures, intonation, facial expressions, etc. Hence, you feel that your understanding of the language is better than your speaking.


However, when you speak, you are the one who delivers a message. And this is challenging because you have to turn words and structures in your head into a narrative that is understandable to the listener.


Sometimes the ideas in your head are clear and organized, but you get stuck when you try to express them. The reason why this problem hunts you is that you neglect the practice of speaking. No wonder great leaders rehearse before a speech and professionals rehearse before a presentation or a workshop: they have to build a channel between the brain and the mouth.


"I read a lot, but my English doesn't improve"


As with listening, reading won't turn you into a Winston Churchill, a great orator of the English language. Reading is an excellent exercise to expand your vocabulary, but that vocabulary will never come out of your mouth if you don't speak. Same oldie: you understand everything, but you get stuck when it's time to speak.


In short: to speak well, you have to SPEAK.

  • Don't waste any opportunity to speak English;

  • Allow yourself to make mistakes, analyze them, and learn from them;

  • Repeat everything you can OUT AND LOUD.


Now that you know that you have to exercise your English speaking skills, I will show you some techniques that you can put into practice today:


Tell a story a thousand times: this technique allows you to measure your evolution clearly over three days:

  • Choose a story. Read this story as many times as you wish, writing down key words to structure a presentation.

  • When you feel prepared, tell the story out and loud to yourself.

  • Record yourself and then listen to your presentation, paying attention to what you could improve (e.g. grammar mistakes, pronunciation, etc.).

  • Repeat this technique (read, speak, record and listen) over three days. At the end, listen to all the audios. You will clearly see the difference between the first and the last one.


Shadowing: improve your pronunciation and speak more naturally. All you need to do is to select a part (approx. 2-5 minutes) of your favorite movie, series, documentary or podcast and have access to the English text or subtitles.

  • Watch or listen to the excerpt following the English subtitles or text.

  • Watch or listen to the segment and at the same time read the subtitles or text aloud, trying to keep up with the rhythm and intonation of the speaker.

  • Remove the subtitles or put the text aside and try to repeat what the person says out and loud, following their rhythm and intonation.

  • Remember that all of the above steps can be repeated over and over until you feel confident.


Taboo: you can play Taboo in English with yourself or with friends. And you don't have to spend any money, because you can easily find Taboo cards (from beginner to advanced levels) on Google.


Talk to yourself: it's a strange exercise, but it works. Explain to yourself what your job is like, what projects you are currently working on, etc.


Did you like these tips? I challenge you to try at least one of them and then tell me if you feel a positive difference in your speech.




Written by Daiane Publio Dias

CELTA English Teacher

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