This post is based on episode 191 of my English with Kirsty podcast.
I had had the idea for this content for a while, but it took me some time to plan out my notes, and even longer to put it out on my platforms. It’s easy to give other people advice, but I need to take my own advice too!
That’s the thing with being a language teacher. You can know all the right things to say, but if you’re a language learner as well, you have to be willing to put them into practice – otherwise people will see the double standards and you lose some credibility!
Why do we need to listen>
In most language courses, listening is an activity that we do so that we can obtain information. We need to be able to understand spoken language, extract information, and respond appropriately.
However, today I’m talking about why it’s also important to listen to yourself speaking English, or any other language that you want to learn or improve.
This is not just to look for pronunciation mistakes. You can do that if you want to. Sometimes it’s useful, because you may not notice them as you are speaking.
However, it’s also good to get used to hearing yourself speak the other language. It may seem strange at first. You may not want to hear it. But it probably isn’t as bad as you think, and if you become desensitised to hearing it and focusing on that, it will become easier for you to focus on other, more constructive things.
Most of us are not used to listening to ourselves speaking – unless we make a lot of videos or recorded learning materials. I’ve been making the podcast for a while now – we’re up to episode 191 – so over time I’ve got used to the sound of my voice. However, I find it more uncomfortable when I make sound files for one of my beginner students because there is a mixture of German and English and I’d rather not listen to that! It’s even worse for me when I get to my third and fourth languages!
This is relevant for all language levels
This advice is important for those who are starting a new language.
I recently started learning Romanian and at the moment I am very shy about speaking it. I’m not used to hearing myself speaking and I feel very self conscious – because it’s new! I need to address that.
The teacher on my course doesn’t say that there is a problem with my pronunciation, but I would rather listen to other people speaking than myself! I’m not used to hearing my voice pronouncing those words.
Most people reading this blog are not complete beginners, but the point is relevant for intermediate and advanced speakers too, especially if you find yourself in situations at work where you need to communicate with others in English.
For me, with German, Turkish, and now Romanian, my learning has always followed the same pattern. I enjoyed reading and listening. Writing was ok, as long as I had enough time to do it, check things multiple times, and nobody was waiting for me. Speaking was a challenge. It’s the same – every single time. I get better at it as I progress with each language, but when I start a new one, I follow the same pattern and start back at the beginning.
Some things get easier with each new language, such as knowing which learning techniques will work for my particular style of learning. It’s easier to spot patterns in grammar when you’ve studied multiple languages. But speaking is still the hardest skill for me to master, closely followed by listening to myself doing just that!
Is speaking really the problem?
Part of the challenge is actually language production. Sometimes we find speaking hard because we’re frustrated by the fast and spontaneous nature of the activity. I’ve told people before “I’ll speak when I have something intelligent to contribute!” Sometimes I don’t mind the act of speaking when I can think and produce language fast enough in the other language.
But part of it is the delivery. My voice sounds less confident – because I really am less confident and I don’t particularly like that. Fortunately it doesn’t have to stay like that, but it does mean a bit more work and willingness to feel vulnerable, which can be a challenge.
Why should we care about listening to ourselves?
Sometimes the way that you feel about hearing yourself can change the way you deliver your words. It can make you speed up, which in turn makes it harder for you to be understood. It can make your voice go higher – which needn’t be a problem, but it’s not your natural voice. It can make you quieter, which could make it harder for others to hear you, or it could communicate the message that you don’t really believe in what you’re saying. You’re not speaking with authority.
I had a German teacher who said “Kirsty, it doesn’t matter that what you say is 100% correct if nobody can hear it!”
Sometimes this can become a cycle. If you know that you sound less confident and assertive, you can start to feel that way too.
This is actually quite annoying, because you can find that people start to treat you differently from how they would treat you normally, when you are using your normal voice and communication style. Sometimes it can be a good thing – I’ve seen people notice that I was struggling and try to help me out. However, it can also be negative if people see you as an easy target or someone who is not likely to stand up for themselves.
So what can you do?
If this is something that you struggle with, try to get used to listening to yourself:
- Talk to yourself or the dog! Animals are very understanding! I don’t mean you should wander around speaking aloud, but you can do it when you’re alone. Say the words rather than just thinking them.
- Talk to people who won’t judge you. Build up your confidence with them so that when you’re in a more challenging situation, for example at work, you’ll have already had some experience listening to yourself.
- Read aloud. If language production is challenging for you, take that part out of the equation. Read from a book or find an interesting article and read it aloud. You can practice your pronunciation without thinking about whether what you are saying is actually correct.
- Record yourself. Most people don’t enjoy this activity, but listening to it can help you get used to the sound of your own voice.
- Talk at the beginning of a meeting. Even if it’s just a few words. The longer you sit in silence, the harder it is for you to break that silence and contribute later.
- Be kind to yourself. Most of the time, people won’t judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. Most of the time they won’t even notice the things that you are thinking about.
- Don’t try to be perfect. It’s always good to want to be better tomorrow than you were today, but there are times when wanting to be perfect can prevent us from actually being really good!
I need to take all of this advice
How do you feel about listening to yourself speaking another language? Have you found other techniques that have worked for you? Why not share them in the comments!
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