Work on improving your general English skills
Just because people may have passed courses in intermediate or even upper intermediate English; doesn’t mean that the courses gave them a good foundation in general communication skills. Many English courses aren’t well structured. If you are finding that people have trouble understanding you in English and you yourself sometimes struggle to speak English, then start investing 10 minutes a day just to build your general vocabulary and syntax skills. Remembering and practicing basic grammatical structures that are easy for you happens by figuring out how you could say something in English better- then writing it down and repeating. This is more effective than trying to stress yourself out with thick English textbooks which can have complicated and overwhelming grammar rules and conversation exercises.
Don’t expect to be an expert straight away- start small then improve
Just because you can speak to your teacher or to your fellow students doesn’t mean that everyday English communication will come naturally to you. You may feel overwhelmed listening to different varieties of English and different accents. I always recommend that students research the country of origin of the speakers they wish to communicate with (even if that country is not a native-speaking country). Listen to say Russian people speaking English if you are a Chinese English speaker going to visit Russia.
Eavesdropping is a great, free way to improve not only your listening skills but also to help prepare you for how to say things in different English speaking situations. If you go and sit down in a cafe or restaurant, particularly in a tourist area you will be exposed to many different English speakers and naturally get good ideas, just by eavesdropping (listening to other people in the background).
If you can find someone to practice with, then do
If you are lucky enough to have someone to practice English with, then great. Online friendship groups can be a good start. However, not everyone is so lucky. It can be difficult to find someone to speak English with and it is frustrating to be suggested to speak English with a native speaker if you live somewhere where there aren’t many native speakers. Furthermore, speaking English with just another native speaker won’t fully prepare you because the percentage of non-native English speakers outweighs the percentage of native English speakers.
If you can’t find someone to practice with, then imagine
This is where you speak English to a friend or family member even if they can’t speak English. To assist in this process you can write out a certain number of conversation topics e.g. “sport”, “weather”, “meeting someone new”… onto cards. Get your friend or family member to choose a card and then practice talking about these topics for 2 minutes at a time.
Be an English speaking tourist in your own country
You have to be strict with yourself so that you DON’T speak your countries main language, and you must FORCE yourself to use English. This can be really fun, especially if you take a friend with you. If done properly, this is a fantastic exercise to increase your confidence.
Have 30 minutes a day living like how you expect another English speaker would
If you’re going to be speaking English with Japanese speakers, then why not try to read Japanese newspapers or magazines which have been written in English? When I travel I try to observe local customs, not just tourist things. Even though I risk feeling embarrassed, most locals are more than happy to chat with me and explain their customs to me in English and let me participate to some degree.
Try describing things about your own culture in English, so that another English speaker will be able to understand more about you and your life
Communication is about making people feel comfortable. In order to make people feel comfortable, not only do you need to understand and be receptive towards hearing about other cultures; but you also need to be able to share information about yourself. If you don’t get the right balance of sharing and receiving information, then you risk making people feel uncomfortable. Share, listen, share, listen… and don’t forget to observe local customs and paralinguistic features such as tone of voice, body language, power hierarchies and gender roles.