An Exercise for Fluency: Self-Talk

This is a guest post by Alexandre Coutu, the polyglot and translator who recently published the excellent course “Le Québécois en 10 leçons”.

A tip: read this article in your target language by clicking on one of the flags above!

It is hard and next to impossible to develop conversational ability in foreign languages without actually having conversations. However, conversations can be scary, especially at the start. Fortunately there is a method to help you gain confidence when speaking: self-talk. Do it anywhere you can and as often as you can, even if you can’t find a partner or tutor to assist you. 

1. Choose a story. Pick a story you want to tell. It can be a newspaper article, a TV show, a book chapter, a movie, etc., or even something that happened in your life. Make sure your story contains sufficient details. 

2. Understand the story. Read the story or watch the video. Look up important words and write down the ones you think you might use. You might want to take notes of the events in the story as they unfold; this will later help you remember what you need to talk about. 

3. Use self-talk to tell the story in your own words. (Self-talk is the most important part of the exercise and you must do it orally only – do not write anything down!) It’s now time to tell your story! Pretend you are talking to a friend or an audience and make sure you speak clearly. It’s preferable to do this out loud, but you can also do it in a low voice or even in silence, although it’s best if you actually move your lips to form the sounds. Don’t hesitate to make more complex sentences if you can. You can use the dictionary all you want to look up words you need to express yourself, or even grammar books, if needed, and try to use that information in your story. Pretend to be a native speaker and use expressions and intonations you’ve heard native speakers use. Don’t worry about making mistakes unknowingly; this exercise is about improving fluency and confidence. 

4. Polish your pronunciation. Whenever you hesitate, stop or pause as you tell your story, finish your phrase or sentence and start again from the beginning. Repeat it over and over, however many times you need, until the entire sentence feels relatively comfortable and you are happy with the results. The goal is to improve both fluency and pronunciation, so do this until you are satisfied. This part of the exercise is essential because repeating this way is impossible in real life and can only be done when you are alone. Make sure you look up any pronunciation you are unsure about in a dictionary or online, or else ask a native speaker, and integrate that new information when you repeat. 

5. Tell the story to a live audience. If you have a language partner or tutor, telling them your story in person is the most powerful conclusion to this exercise. Allow yourself to repeat a part or a sentence you weren’t satisfied with. If your partner looks unsure, take the lead and explain yourself again with different words, or say things in different ways and ask them which they prefer. Let them also ask you questions about your story. Be sure to tell them that you want their corrections, and rebuild your sentences integrating any correction you receive. Repeat words whose pronunciation was corrected. Pay close attention to how your partner rephrases what you say: this will help you find more natural language to express yourself. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you can’t correct them unless you make them.