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I started to learn English about 15 years ago. I cannot say that I was learning it all the time but I use it almost every day (reading, listening, sometimes speaking).

My English level is not high, but I still have a solid grammar base. It happens to me quite often, though, that I make very basic mistakes while speaking to others (e.g. saying he instead of she, forgetting 's' in 3rd person, using present instead of past). After I make such mistakes, I usually notice them right away, and correct myself. Still, I am making them.

I would say that 15 years of experience should be enough to overcome this problem, but it is obviously not.

What is a good way to get rid of basic mistakes in spoken English?

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There are a few things I would like you to take note of:

  1. Read: Don't stop reading. Try reading aloud and attentively. Try to listen to your own reading. The more you read, the more your ears get accustomed to normal English constructs.

  2. Write: The more you write, the easier it is for you to remember new words, grammar usage etc. Practice of writing would make your thought process fluent.

  3. Learn and memorize new words: Increase your vocabulary. The more words you learn, the better you'll be able to express your thinking to a correct degree and in the correct way. Learn synonyms and antonyms. Synonyms will prevent you from feeling at a loss for words to express yourself. Antonyms can also help you remember a certain word in certain contexts.

  4. Watch English: Yeah, no kidding! I have tried it on myself. It works the same way as reading helps you. Your ears are likely to remember common constructs in English. But please don't go for learning dialects at the start. They would confuse you.

  5. Think in English: Most of the time, the basic problem with non-native speakers is, they first think something up in their mother tongue and then translate it into English, which on the one hand makes your thought process lengthy and on the other hand several errors may be added to your speech even before you realize it. So when speaking in English, stop thinking in your mother tongue and try to think in English and express yourself in English directly.

  6. Practice: There is no short cut for it. The more you practise the more you will improve. If you have nobody around you, talk to yourself standing in front of a mirror. This would help you observe yourself during speech. I often imagine myself within a debate and talk as if I were having a conversation with several people at once. Believe me, it helped me a lot.

  • 8
    Excellent! and 7. Keep a sense of proportion. Much of my daily work is spent reviewing videotaped interviews, and I can assure you that no native speaker utters three consecutive sentences without making a mistake. – StoneyB Feb 6 '13 at 22:55
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    I especially like the idea to try reading aloud and attentively. That sounds like a great idea I have not tried yet. (reading, speaking and listening all together) – MasterPJ Feb 7 '13 at 8:51
  • @StoneyB Sir, can you please answer to my question, ell.stackexchange.com/q/9425/2401 – Pranit Kothari Aug 26 '13 at 13:06
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    @Mistu4u: Great advice. – Pranit Kothari Aug 26 '13 at 13:08
  • @StoneyB- Can you please elaborate what you mean by 'Keep a sense of proportion'? I checked the meaning of proportion but couldn't really understand what you want to convey. If I've to guess, I would say you are asking non-natives not to have too much pressure of always being correct because it's okay to make mistakes. Is that what you want to convey? – Ramit Sep 23 '13 at 20:00
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Slow down.

Speaking is a skill, like playing guitar. It's made up of a bunch of smaller skills, including:

  • Physical skills, like pronouncing a particular sound, or transitioning between two sounds; as well as
  • Mental/memory skills, like remembering how to use a particular grammar pattern, or remembering what the word for rollercoaster is.

The more you practice these skills, the more quickly and accurately you can perform them. But speed doesn't come from practicing quickly; it comes from practicing slowly. That's because, when you slow down, you can make sure you're making the physical motions correctly. You can make sure you're putting your words together the way you want to. And most importantly, you can pay attention and avoid making the same mistakes over and over.

Why is that important? If you keep repeating the same mistakes, you'll practice those mistakes. That means it'll get easier and easier for you to make the same mistakes every time you speak! The only way to avoid that is to give yourself plenty of time for slow practice.

Of course, you have to make mistakes to learn. You can't be timid, and you can't be afraid to fail. But your goal should be to identify your mistakes, then fix them and practice the correct skill slowly. Making mistakes is good; repeating mistakes is bad.

Since the brain develops skills over time, the most effective form of slow practice is to keep practicing slowly every day. Ideally, when you're learning a new skill (such as saying the [θ] sound, or learning a new grammar pattern), you want to practice every day for at least five days before you even try speeding up.

If you find yourself making mistakes with skills you learned a long time ago, do the same thing. Pretend you're a beginner and practice as slowly as you need to. Later on, when you use the skill again, you'll find it's easier and easier to do it properly!

We often feel like we're under pressure when we're speaking a foreign language. We feel like we should be talking faster, or we feel like we're expected to perform at the same level and speed as a native speaker, even though we're still learning. But if you relax and take it at whatever pace you think is best, you'll actually end up communicating better. Imagine talking to someone learning your native language:

  • Would you rather hear them speak slowly but clearly?
  • Or would you rather hear them speak as fast as a native speaker but with mistakes that make them hard to understand?

I think the choice is clear.

  • Nice point there, I was playing bass and it was as you said..you have to start slowly or will never put it together. I like especially your last point, I would much rather hear a men speaking my language slowly and correctly then otherwise. The problem in my particular case is that I am not surrounded by native speakers so probably if my colleagues do some mistakes I tend to learn them as well. – MasterPJ Jun 21 '13 at 9:25
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It happens to me all the time too, but I guess unless you do speak English everyday, you won't get rid of those mistakes. You say that you speak only sometimes, which makes your mind still too bound to your native language. You have to find a way to forget your native language for some time, maybe spending some time in a foreign country.

  • actually, when I wrote speak sometime I was referring to all 15 years. Last year and a half I live abroad in Croatia (English is not official language here). I do speak here every day and I still make mistakes (probably less but still) :( – MasterPJ Feb 6 '13 at 15:37
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It's most important to "hang out" with native speakers who speak good English, and who will be kind enough to correct your mistakes.

Basically, your ability in a language will rise (or fall) to the level of those with whom you speak the language the most.

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