Best way to learn spoken English: Online English speaking courses vs others options

If you are looking for a job or trying for better opportunities, regardless of where you live in this world, you are most probably aware of the importance of learning English and being fluent in speaking English. Fluency in English is a key that opens many doors. But you already know that. What most Indians and a majority of the non-English speaking world don’t know is how to get better at speaking English? It is amazing to know that despite studying English for such a long time, many of us are still looking for solutions to improve our spoken English. In this article, we are going to discuss how one can go about finding the best way to learn speaking fluent English. Is it using an online English speaking course, is it going for an English tutor or is it something entirely else?

So, what is the best way to improve English? The subject is complex and the English teaching and coaching industry is highly commercialized, which has resulted in many ways of solutions available today in the market. There are thousands of people, businesses claiming to make you a better speaker with their “unique way” which works “best”. Plus, with the advent of technology, there are many online spoken English courses as well. This makes it tough to find genuine solutions that can help you speak fluent English. It is no wonder that many people end up wasting a lot of money to become a ‘fast English speaker in just 90 days’. In this article, we are not going to attempt to answer the ‘Best and the only way’. We believe there is no one way. Instead, we are going to discuss a variety of techniques that have proven to be successful for many people. Some of these techniques might work for you, most of them will not. The challenge is to identify the ones which work for you. You just need to figure out that and 50% of your work is already done.

Now before we discuss our main agenda, we also need to bust some common myths of learning English. You need to make sure that you are clear about these right from the start of your journey to conquer English.

1. English in 30/60/90 day

If anyone is claiming to make you a master of English in a short period, turn around and run away from such charlatans as fast as you can. Unless you are a genius or already have a very good command over English and just need to improve some specific aspect of English, you will not reach that level of English in just a short period. The number of hours it takes to master English depends on many things, including how many languages you already speak, which languages you speak, your natural language learning aptitude, and what is your current level in English. To reach a C2 level (advanced) in CEFR (Common European Framework of References for Languages), one needs on average 1,120 hours of instructions

2. Fast English is the best English

Another common myth is that speaking English faster is better. What you need to understand is that more than the rate of words you speak, what matters most is how you articulate, the clarity in your voice, your tone, and most importantly, your audience. Native speakers, of course, have a higher rate of speech than most non-native speakers. That does not mean, that you should also start attempting to speak at a breakneck speed. As long as you speak clearly and your audience can understand you, it does not matter how fast or slow you speak. Unless you are working for TV/Radio, it does not matter and if you are, you should not be reading this piece of writing anyways.

3. American (or British or Scottish or Put Any Other Accent Here) accent is the best accent 

Another one of the popular beliefs is that it is better to speak in an American accent. While this could be true for some specific jobs, or if you are looking to impress someone who loves America, spending your money or time on learning a foreign accent is more often than not, a big waste of your time and money. What one should aim for is to have a neutral accent, which anyone in the world can understand. And even if you have some local accent, it is not the end of the world. It comes from the way we speak our mother tongue. And as long as the mother tongue influence is not too overpowering, you should not worry about it too much.

One also needs to be aware of certain aspects of learning a new language or becoming fluent in English before looking for a solution. First, you are probably going to need a lot of time and practice. Second, it is going to get tough and there will be times when you will not feel good about your progress. Third, you are probably never going to speak like a fluent native speaker (not that it matters). You can read more about the five most common obstacles in the path of becoming a fluent English speaker here. Knowing these aspects will help you in setting realistic expectations and save you from a lot of heartaches later on.

Now that we have saved you from some of the common pitfalls of learning English (thank you very much), let’s get cracking on finding that one golden way, that will make all of your dreams come alive. Now, we already know that there is no one perfect way to learn/ improve English. More often than not, a combination of various techniques works well. Let’s discuss all the great ways and techniques to improve your English speaking/writing skills.

1. Complete Immersion Method

This is one of the best and most probably the quickest way to become fluent in any language. In an ideal world, you should move to the US/UK/Canada/Other English-speaking countries and learn English by living there. But for the majority of us, it is simply not feasible. The next best way is to create your little English world. What you need is this. Make English a part of all of your major input activities. We take our input from many places, for example, reading books or newspapers or articles or boring lecture notes, watching movies or tv series or cricket games, listening to music, and speaking with our friends and colleagues. If you try, and it is possible, you can convert the language of all these inputs into English. Completely immerse yourself in English content. It is going to be tough and difficult, but if you persist, you will figure out the type of input that works well for you in the English language. Then go crazy after that input. This will not only help you gain confidence in English but will also introduce you to many facets of English learning, that your neighborhood English coaching center never will. This technique works best for kids. So, if you are looking to improve the English speaking skills of your kids, give them exposure to quality English content in a variety of ways and see which one your kid finds interesting. Then make sure that a lot of the content is available in English and see the magic unfold in front of you.

2. Taking help 

If you are like most of us, who lack the will and motivation to pursue a goal without immediate realization of benefits, then you need to take help from external sources for motivation, practice, and continuous inputs. If you can’t make English a daily part of your life, if you can’t immerse yourself in English in a way that is fun and useful, then you should look for external solutions to learn English. Now comes the question, which solution to choose from. And the answer, like all answers to complex questions, is, it depends. It depends on what you want to improve (speaking, writing, reading or something else), at what level you are and what is your aim, and how much money and time you are willing to dedicate behind this pursuit. We are going to discuss a few of the major English learning solutions, which are very popular and discuss how they help you in learning English.

A. Free structured courses through softwares, apps 

Now if you are new to the English language and just want to start with the basics, then Duolingo is the best solution for you. Not only it is free, it teaches everything from a very basic level. It takes into consideration your current level (you get a test when you download the app) before designing a course for you. It teaches you new words, grammar rules, how words sound, and makes you pronounce words. And all the lessons are in a small bite-size format so that you do not get overwhelmed. You can also find a lot many apps/ services of similar format depending on the country you live in. But generally, Duolingo is the best among such apps. The only issue with Duolingo is that many people leave their English journeys after using the app for just some time. And actually, that’s an issue of motivation. People want to immediately be able to speak fluent English and set wrong expectations. Nothing wrong with Duolingo. Further, if you want to practice real-life conversations, then Duolingo will not help you. Its app structure is designed to make you speak phrases or small sentences. So, Duolingo works well for students who are at a basic level and just want a free solution to get started on their English learning journey. 

B. English improvement tool 

If you like writing (which is generally a great way to find out how proficient one is in any field), then Grammarly can be a great tool for you. Grammarly correct your texts and gives you the correct usage and sentence structure. It is generally a great way to find out how are your grammar skills. You can simply type any text (in Microsoft word, notepad, any note writing app) and then go to the Grammarly website, and paste the text, or you can upload your document. It will nicely highlight all the errors in the text (errors in grammar, wrong spelling, and many more). If you want to improve your English writing skills, this is one of the best ways to get great feedback, and that too for free. Give it a go.

 C. Listening to learn English

Another way of learning English, which used to be very popular before the recent technical progress, was learning from audiotapes. One of the most popular ones in this category is Rosetta Stone (although today they have moved much beyond just giving audio tapes). It’s essentially a standard course, where you listen (in their latest offering, reading, and writing as well) to a set of instructions, words, grammar rules, phrases, sentences, etc. and gradually the level of instructions becomes more complex. It is called the dynamic immersion method. While it was a good solution in its days (and still very popular), its effectiveness in teaching a new language has been doubted by many experts over the years. These types, of course, are rigid, don’t adapt to the level and aptitude of the student and most importantly, don’t give any real useful feedback to the student. Today, you can find much better courses at much better prices.

D. Learning from content immersion 

If you like watching movies, videos and have a knack of learning something by hearing and watching something in an interesting context, then you can try out Fluentu. Fluentu uses a variety of interesting short clips (from popular movies, tv shows, commercials, and interviews) and interactive subtitles to engage you in interacting with the language. It also uses quizzes to test your learning. However, it also faces the problems of all the solutions we have discussed so far. It does not allow you to have a real-life conversation. Plus, you also do not get human feedback. So, unless, you love this way of learning, you can probably find better ways to spend your time and money.

There are many more of similar solutions available today, but we have discussed only the most popular ones. So far, we have discussed software-led solutions, does not involve human instruction and feedback, and mostly depends on the motivation of the student to see it through.  So, unless you are motivated to learn (which most people are not), the chances are that the average person will not realize their English dreams with the above solutions. Plus, the majority of learners are looking to improve their fluency in speaking English, and that requires interaction with other people.

E. English Coaching Centers

The next solution we are going to discuss is the most popular and the oldest. Teacher-led instructions. In almost all the countries in the world, it is the most popular way of learning to speak a new language including English. This type of solution (popularly called Spoken English Coaching Institute in India) is popular for a variety of reasons – its teacher-led, it’s easier to complete because usually, you know how many hours/ classes of instructions you will have, and involves other learners in the process. However, it is not without some shortcomings. First, we will discuss what are the advantages and shortcomings in this way of studying and then how technology is improving this time-tested method.

The major advantages are:

  1. You are learning by speaking with a qualified teacher and other learners. In most solutions we discussed, there is no human element involved. But in these group classes, you will get a chance to interact and get real-time feedback on your English skills.
  2. Since you are studying in a group, you also get to learn from others. There may be learners of a similar or higher level than you in your English coaching class and you will get to learn new words, concepts by interacting with your fellow learners.
  3. Usually, these coaching classes are for a set schedule (the most popular one in India is – 90 hours of English coaching). So, you know what is your commitment towards your goal and this makes it a little easier to finish the course.

Sounds great. Right. But over the years, commercialization has led to some major shortcomings in learning to speak English this way.

  1. It’s usually a group class and due to limited time and a high number of students, individual attention is very limited. As the popularity of these courses has increased, so has the number of such English coaching centers. Most of them are quite similar (use the same standard format) and have no distinctive advantage over the others. So, they compete on prices. For business viability, this has led to a significant increase in the number of students in every class. The high competition in this market has led to large groups of English learners per class and students are deprived of individual attention they deserve and need.
  2. Since it is a group class, these classes involve a standard set of instructions. Usually, its grammar led, because many of the beginner and intermediate students make many mistakes in grammar. Plus, it is easier to teach Grammar as there are defined set of rules and easily available content. However, this leads to a loss in the speaking time of students. Students just end up listening to one-way grammar instructions from their English tutors and don’t get to practice speaking, which is one of the most important factors in becoming a fluent speaker.
  3. Poor quality of teachers. Since, this is such a cut-throat competition, to lower their prices to lure learners, coaching/ training centers skimp on paying to their English tutors, which leads to attracting poorly trained and less qualified teachers.

Many of the English learners realized these shortcomings and demand better education from these coaching centers. Today, students want smaller groups, well-qualified and well-trained English tutors, and a lot of speaking practice time. Many premier English coaching centers try to cater to this demand, albeit at a much higher price. However, even with smaller groups, it is still difficult to adapt the teaching method to each student’s individual needs. Plus, even with a group of 5-6 students, a student ends up with the speaking practice of just 5-10 minutes in an hour-long lesson. So, what is the solution now?

F. Online English speaking courses

Technology has come for rescue for English learners. Technology, specifically live video calling has transformed the way people learn English. It has made English learning much easier in a variety of ways. First, let’s discuss what it is. Today, there are a lot of cost- effective English learning solutions, where you can participate in a teacher-led class from the comfort of your home through a video calling platform (Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, proprietary solutions like OpenEnglish, Cambly, etc.). This has revolutionized the business of teaching and learning to speak English in a major way. Before we discuss how this is one of the best ways to improve your English speaking, first we will see the different types of solutions available in this category.

  1. Private/ Group classes – There are both types of classes available. You can either take a one-on-one English class with a teacher or you can take a group class (which usually have 5-10 people)
  2. Content – There are several platforms who along with spoken English classes, also provide interactive content. Students can learn various concepts by reading, listening, and writing, and test their level by giving short quizzes. There are some platforms where you can also get feedback on your writing skills by a well-qualified online English tutor.
  3. All Ages/ Kids – Some of these platforms target only children (like VipKid) while some of them are for all ages.
  4. Native/Non-native teachers – Some platforms allow you to speak with native English tutors (from USA, UK, Australia, Canada, etc.), while some businesses provide both native and non-native English teachers. Usually, non-native teachers are from South Africa, Philippines, Serbia, and India.
  5. Businesses/ Individual teacher – Some businesses hire teachers to provide on-demand English lessons. Another option is that you will see some individual English tutor willing to teach you online. Usually, with individual teachers, you will face difficulties in scheduling and you might end up paying more. So, chose wisely before you make a decision.

You should read this if you want to know how to choose an Online spoken English course.

Now that we have discussed various types of Online English speaking courses available, let’s discuss why these are the most effective solution available today for improving spoken English skills.

  1. Student Speaking Time – The major and most important advantage of this method, is that students get to speak for a whole lot more than in traditional classes. Especially, in the one to one spoken English class, the student can practice speaking up to 50-70% of lesson duration. This increases the chances of becoming fluent. However, students have to be beware of joining group classes. Not only, the speaking time becomes limited (its simple math), due to technology and other constraints (students in the group may have bad internet, poor quality microphones, students may not be adept with the video calling software), it can be quite difficult to have a meaningful discussion in an online group class. 
  2. Highly customizable – Since you will be the only student in the lesson, the teacher can completely adapt the lesson as per your requirement. The teacher can focus on your weak areas and give you topics to speak on to help you with the mistakes you make. Another advantage that is not possible with group classes or offline English coaching centers.
  3. Well-trained teachers – As these platforms strive to compete with each other, they are hiring good teachers and training them well. Chances are that you will find a better teacher in an online English lesson than an offline one. Further, since you will be the only student, teachers can’t hide away behind the standard grammar lesson. You can easily point out to the teacher your preferences and the teacher will be forced to teach your way. Only well-trained teachers will survive in such a model.
  4. Saving on time – This goes without saying. You save a lot on time because you don’t have to travel. Plus, the better among these platforms like Speechify gives you to choose the time of each lesson at your convenience. You can also cancel the lesson. It does not get better than this.

So, if you can stick with one of the above techniques, and don’t fall victim to common pitfalls of learning English, you will have a solid chance to become a fluent speaker with regular practice. So, go ahead, and find the way that suits you the best and makes you a better speaker. Keep practicing and happy learning.

1 Comment

Leave a comment