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Improving Your Conversational Skills

cheerful woman having virtual meeting
Source: Canva

Conversation? In English?…like…with a native English speaker?…ermmm…no, thank you!

Is that what you are thinking? If your answer is yes, think again and figure out WHY you are so reluctant to speak English.

Most of the students will say something like this:

  • I’m not good enough
  • I’ll look/sound stupid
  • They’ll laugh at me
  • I feel silly

Now, quick! Go back to the Busting the language learning myths lesson and take a quick look at those myths. They seem awfully similar, right? That’s because they are.

It is all in your head and you are the only creator of this baggage you carry. Just drop it!

The truth is – you are working with professionals. Nobody is about to mock your pronunciation or your faulty grammar. They just need to know what you are working on, what are your challenges and how is your work going.

If you can communicate that much with your team and show that you are doing your best to improve – nobody is going to think that you are lazy, stupid or silly. Moreover, you are turning into a bilingual person, and the science considers to them to be smarter! Isn’t that a great motivating force to learn a language?

So, your online team usually won’t have any unreasonable demands from you when it comes to your language level.

This doesn’t mean that you should not be working on your communication skills. You should! But, you should not allow your imperfect language debilitate you and prevent you from doing the best possible work!

You just need to work on your communication skills and this is where you start.

Firstly, you need to do a lot of reading and listening before you start writing and speaking. But, you already have that part down. All those movies and songs? It all counts. Those are so-called passive ways of acquiring language.

It is now time to be more productive about it and start speaking and writing.

The majority of your work will be done in writing if you are an Copywriter or even a Virtual Assistant, but you have to be prepared that you will have Skype interviews and other types of virtual meetings with your employer.

Not to mention that, if you are about to work in Customer Service, your communication skills are your main tools for work.

Generally, all the communication skills are gained all at once. You can practice one or another, but you learn them concurrently. In order to help you quickly master what you need for online communication, we will focus on your conversational skills, speaking and writing.

Where to start?

Make English an integral part of your everyday life and you will soon realise how natural and easy the communication will become for you.

Immerse Yourself in Language

You need English for communication. For communication, you need good communication skills. 

Dictionary.com will tell you the following:

communication skills
Source: dictionary.com

Ideas? Feelings? In other words – stuff you think about. Right?

Wouldn’t it be much easier to share these ideas and feelings if you already thought about them in English? Sure. But how to achieve that? You need to immerse yourself in English and give it a go.

The quickest way for you to become familiar with English and to stop making a fuss about using it with other people is to make it an integral part of your everyday life. Bit by bit, start doing everyday tasks in English. Here are some ideas:

  • Create imaginary dialogues while showering, entirely in English. Nobody can hear you!
  • Try to travel as much as you can, to the places where you have to use English to communicate with others
  • Set all your phones, PCs and other appliances to English
  • Always set your ATM to English when withdrawing your money
  • Listen to your morning news in English instead of your native tongue
  • Write your daily tasks and notes in English

Check out this video from TED, in which Sid Efromovich is talking about 5 techniques to speak any language.

Did you hear anything you could start using right now? How about those shower talks? They sound like fun. Is your mobile phone near you? Switch it to English right now!

Of course, you will not be much better at English right away if you simply start using your ATMs in English. However, that is not entirely the point of these little exercises.

The point is for English to stop being something foreign in your life. These little tricks should help you feel comfortable using it and they should take the edge off.

What else is there for you to do?

Try to find as many opportunities as possible to speak and communicate in English. Sounds good, but how do you do it?

The Internet is your oyster! Many people are online as we speak and some of them are willing to talk to you. Some of them because they want you to speak your native language with them as a form of language exchange. Others, because they do it for money.

Some of them – simply because you share the same interests.

Exchange Groups and Websites

There are a lot of people online who have the same goal as you do – find a conversation partner, so they can perfect their language skills. It so just happens that their native language is English and yours is, well…you already know that.

Various websites allow you to find your match so you can both practice your desired language. But, you don’t just go ahead and demand TALK TO ME! You have to be a bit subtle about it.

Read up the great suggestions about How to Get More English Speaking Practice Online (And What to Avoid Doing!) by Jake from ToFluency.

Now that you know how, take a look at some of these language exchange websites and pick the one that you like the most. We will help by telling you a little bit about all of them, to make your choice easier.

What makes this type of communicating great is that it covers all the aspects of communication that you will be using in your online career. Texting, chatting, video calls and phone calls. This is just what you need!

Babel Village helps you with finding the right partner for your language exchange. You speak two languages and you offer each other the chance to practice in your native languages. There are two languages involved.

But, they have a different offer that you should look into. They also have a language practice offer – students of the same language gather to practice it, regardless of their native language. In this case, only one language is involved.

language practice in Babel Village
Source: Babel Village 

This is an excellent idea because your online team will not always be comprised of native speakers of English.

Speaky allows you to login via your Google or Facebook profile. Once you are in, all you need to do is find a partner and start chatting. You can use chat options, but you can also enjoy video or phone calls.

speaky website home page
Source: Speaky 

Lingoglobe also allows for efficient language exchange. Upon registration, you can search for a partner, but you also gain access to many learning resources and materials. Don’t neglect their Forum, either, because you can find a lot of answers to your questions there.

Lingoglobe registration form
Source: Lingoglobe

CoffeeStrap can be very interesting to those that want to be able to monitor their progress and have some more structure in their learning. While they do not offer lessons, but natural conversations, they still offer progress monitoring tools.

Source: CoffeeStrap 

We already established how important it is that you have fun while learning the language and that you need to be passionate about it. This is much easier to achieve if you are talking with people who share the same interests as you do.

MyLanguageExchange is one of those websites that offer complete service to a language learner. Website design is not the best, but don’t let that put you off. This website offers more than simple language exchange, but also a proven method for such language learning.

Here is what they say:

Conversation Exchange offers connection with native speakers through the online means of communication – Conversation Exchange chat, Skype, Google Hangouts and similar. They also offer to find you pen pals for email communication and even native speakers that live in your area for face-to-face meetings.

Tandem offers language exchange via app that you download. It is great if you don’t want to use third party apps like Skype or Hangouts and to have conversations in a matter of two clicks. Finding a partner in this app is called, finding a Tandem. If you like, you can even find a Tutor and book a real lesson.

HelloTalk can be used by everybody, regardless of their level of fluency thanks to the amazing tools this app includes. There are translations, grammar correction and even transliterations if necessary, available at one simple click. You can even create group calls or chats. Watch this review to learn about the best features.

Most of these exchange groups offer their own platform on which you meet people and communicate with them. Once you make contact, you can switch to some other means of communication. Usually, that is Skype.

In that way, you are more relaxed since you have something else for you to focus on and you never run out of the topics for conversation since you can always talk about the game at hand.

Skype Conversations and Speaking Groups

If you, for some reason, don’t want to use the above mentioned websites to find language exchange partners, you can use the following websites to find Skype chatting partners:

Speaking 247 offers you two simple things – join a chatroom and practice English or find a Skype partner to do the same 1-on-1. It is very simple, straightforward and doesn’t require creating profiles.

Language.Exchange gives you profiles of people who want to talk on Skype, so you can try and find those that you feel you can connect with.

Mixxer offers language exchange, but their main tool of communication is Skype, so it comes down to finding a partner and using Skype.

Skype Language Exchange is a Facebook group in which you can find people to swap language speaking sessions with.

Reddit has several topics about language exchange by Skype, so if you are a member, try those:

Tutors

A bit more guided approach to boosting your conversational skills is to hire an online tutor. However, not all ESL tutors are created equal, so read up about How to Pick the Right Language Tutor Online before making your choice.

Now, that you know what to look for, here are a couple of websites on which you can browse for the tutor you like.

My English Teacher is a website that is packed with tipstricks and resources, but also native Australian, British and American tutors. Check it out and find the best tutor for yourself. They have a strong presence on the social media where you can find some very useful content.

They have packages from one 30-minute lesson to 15 lessons. Different packages offer different options, so make sure you study them before committing to one of them.

Verbling is a community of native English tutors. One of the best features of Verbling is the fact that it offers unlimited number of trial lessons until you find the tutor you like. Once you find the tutor you like, you can schedule lessons when you both find it the most convenient.

When you have your tutor and you have your scheduled lesson, this is how you start your lesson.

Preply doesn’t only offer lessons in English, but almost any other subject you may imagine. Wouldn’t it be a good practice if you took lessons of a completely different skill, like painting, but in English?

However, there are English lessons, as well, you just need to browse a bit and find the tutor that matches your criteria and your budget.

HowDoYouDo offers speaking practice via text or video chat with native speakers from the UK and USA. The native speakers get compensated for such services, but you get to sign up for free. You can try 1-on-1 chats or group chats, whatever you feel more comfortable with.

English Ninjas connects you with online native English-speaking tutors and you spend a certain amount of time online speaking to them on various subjects. You can book a session with a particular tutor that you like, or you can speak to whoever is online. The sessions are recorded, so you can access them later.

Take a look at one of their lessons. This is just a bit, but it will give you the right idea.

All the tutors have TESOL or CELTA certifications and the lessons are conducted via Skype.

The resources that we offered so far are the online resources. We started with those for two reasons:

  • They are usually more convenient and less expensive to use
  • Your online communication will also improve together with your English

However, you need to do your best to think laterally and discover the opportunities you have for practicing English around you.

Speaking Groups and Local Initiatives

It is impossible that you are the only one in your surroundings who wants to speak English! There are others, as well, and all you have to do is find them. We have a couple of ideas where to look.

American, British and Australian Embassy Websites

These websites usually contain the information about the activities of these institutions in your country. Quite often, American Corner, for example, organises people who want to speak in English. They organise book clubs, movie nights and discussions. All you have to do is keep up to date with them.

For example, this is the network of the American Corners in the Philippines, as found on the US Embassy website.

British Council is world-famous for their efforts to spread the awareness about the English language and culture, so it is worth checking for the local offices and their projects.

Local Expat Communities and Tourists

Another way to get in touch with the English speaking people is to find those that come to your country. If they come to live in your country, they are called expats. Those that just visit it, they are, of course, just tourists. Both of these groups include people who might be willing to talk to you in English.

Reach Out to Local Expats

Some of the expats are new to your country and they could use some help settling in, showing around and having somebody to call if they need anything. Most of them will gladly speak English with you in return.

However, there are those who have been living in your country for years and they don’t really need your help getting around. They may or may not be in the mood to exchange languages and speaking practice.

Everybody is different and it is important that you DON’T ASSUME people want to spend their time talking to a stranger. Be careful about it and give people the time to get to know you first.

Here are some of the websites that gather local expats, so it will easier for you to find ones who would gladly accept some language exchange time.

InterNations is free to join. Once you make your account, you can browse the sections of the website according to your country or your city. This is one of the go-to websites for all expats around the world.

Expat.com is another website many expats use. You can search by country, but you can also search the members according to their nationality. It’s not necessary to practice English with the native speakers, so keep that in mind when reaching out.

global expat community

Expat Forum is also classified according to the parts of the world where people come to live. They post all sorts of questions on the forums, so you can get some practice even there – offering advice and help. In time, when you build your online presence, open a topic suggesting to meet and practice English and your native language.

Here are two more collections of the expat websites, if you cannot find what you are looking for on the ones we suggested: Expat Websites by the Expat’s Manual and Expatriate Websites by Transitions Abroad.

You can always search Facebook for the local expat communitiesExpat Focus created the list of expat Facebook groups around the world.

Still, they don’t always cover all the relevant groups, like Belgrade Foreigners Club for Serbia and the like, so you should search the Facebook for your local community.

Be “The Local” English Speaking People Need

Whenever somebody moves to a different country or comes to visit, they want to feel welcome. The majority doesn’t want just the experience from the touristic brochures, but to get a grip of the more insightful and everyday ‘vibe’ of the place they are visiting.

That’s where you come in! Act as a local guide or a host in the exchange for the opportunity to practice English. Here are a couple of websites that can help you find the people who search for friendly locals. Some of these websites pay you for the tours, while others are on a volunteer basis. Make sure you study the requirements before you sign up.

Try exploring the opportunities on these websites:

ShowAround is a website that offers tourists a local person as a guide. That local person could be you. Not only will you be able to practice some English, but you will also get paid.

However, since the tourists are paying for this service, don’t expect for the focus to be on your learning experience. The website requires from you to create a profile and communicate with the visitors in order to create a tailored experience for them.

WithLocals is a similar website, but some may feel it is too much work. You need to create a tour and the set of activities, but also, you need to get verified by an ambassador, who will come and meet you to confirm your application to be a guide. You don’t have to go out on a tour, you can host a dinner with local specialities and invite people to join you, instead.

Similar websites with slightly different concepts (on some, you are not compensated, for example) are discussed in the following articles:

Tour guides are not the only types of experience you can offer in order to meet new English-speaking people. If you offer to share your hobby with them, it will be a great way for both of you to learn more and have loads of fun.

Couchsurfing is a website on which people create profiles in order to meet local people, find free accommodation and have a pleasant experience in cultural exchange. No money is exchanged, though. So, you can contact people coming to your area and offer a cup of coffee or even your sofa for the night.

For example, every Friday in a cafe in Paris, there is a quiz night for all Couchsurfing hosts and guests. You can visit such a place and talk in English with people all over the world for an entire night. Such events are always posted on the website and they are easy to find.

Airbnb started as a community of people offering their spare rooms and beds to the tourists for a small fee, or at least smaller than what the hotels charge. It has grown since then and today, people even offer ‘experiences’ or ‘immersions’.

If you host one of those, you are sure to get a lot of practice with your English. Make sure you read the guidelines for hosts carefully.

Meetup is your opportunity to enjoy the company of people who share your interests. There are two ways you can make this work for you – you can create a meetup of people who want to practice English, or you can join the meetup hosted by English speaking people. Here is how it’s done:

If you want to explore a similar community, you can also try City Socializer. It works like Meetup and you can use your Facebook profile to log in.

In Summary

Conversational skills are important for every online employee because they facilitate your work and they are necessary for your communication with the team and your employer.

Both written and spoken conversational skills are important, but based on your role. You may want to give more attention to one or the other.

Most of the time, Virtual Assistants, Copywriters, Designers and similar employees will communicate via email, different work platforms and other written media. Customer Service Representatives, on the other hand, need to be more proficient with their spoken language.

This will become easier if you already feel confident in conversing with both, native and non-native English speaking people.

In order to gain that confidence, you need to immerse yourself in English and get as much practice as possible. First, make English a part of everyday life by using all your appliances, phones and electronic devices in English. Practice imaginary dialogues in English, read the news and listen to the radio shows.

For more impact on your language itself, find an online tutor, language exchange groups or local speaking groups.

If you want to enjoy more face-to-face experiences with your language, you can try to reach out to your local expat communities and even tourists that come to visit your area.

There are numerous websites that you can use to offer your guide services, host events or just hang out with those that want to meet local people. All these are precious opportunities to practice your language.

1. You can learn English simply by switching your smartphone, ATMs and PC to English.

a. Yes. That should help you a lot with your English.

b. No. It can help, mainly with your confidence to use English.

c. No. It has nothing to do with your language.

2. How can you find a partner for language exchange?

a. You just need to be patient and somebody will show up.

b. You should visit language exchange websites.

c. The only way is to enroll in an English course.

3. Should you only speak English with native speakers?

a. Yes. That is the best way to learn.

b. No. Non-native speakers can speak excellent English and your eCommerce team will hardly be comprised only of native speakers.

4. Do all expats want to talk English with the locals?

a. Yes. Why not?

b. No. You need to be respectful of their wishes. Everybody is different.

5. How can you surround yourself with English speaking people in your area?

a. Offer tours in English and host events.

b. Move to England.

c. Stalk them on Facebook.

6. How can you use foreign Embassies to improve your language?

a. You should ask them to help you.

b. You should checking their websites for projects and initiatives that offer speaking groups.

c. You cannot. They have nothing to do with promoting their culture in a foreign country.

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