Help Jenny!

Hello! Long time no blog. I think I found a nice way to get back into it. That’s through an email from a former student. This student is fantastic at English (as we’d expect since she’s a translator.). Jenny (not her real name) was a very strong and memorable student even among future translators/interpreters. 

She wrote the following: 

…I guess my question is what is the best way to improve my fluency and my speaking skills. 

It’s embarrassing to ask this since my job is to translate, but often times, it makes me frustrated not to be able to speak good English (casually).
I am doing what I think I should to to this end (listening&shadowing) but not sure it’s the best way to do it. 
Here we mostly have meetings so we don’t get to do speeches as much as we did in school. It’s a different challenge. 
It would be greatly appreciated if you could give some of your ideas or opinions.
She also wrote some super nice comments to me, which humility prevents me from including (but apparently doesn’t prevent me from mentioning).
I was, in turn, a bit embarrassed by the lack of wisdom or ideas I could provide. I suggested more reading for fun and watching TV/movies. I suggested joining a club (like a book club or some sort of reading club.) I was going to suggest attending public lectures in English. 
So, dear reader, I turn it over to you. What advice would you offer to Jenny?
She told me that she will be checking responses and that the more ideas there are, the more experiments she can do.
Thank you in advance and thank you for reading! 


  1. geoffjordan

    Problem: it makes me frustrated not to be able to speak good English (casually).
    Question: What’s the best way to improve my fluency and my speaking skills?
    Situation: Here we mostly have meetings so we don’t get to do speeches as much as we did in school. It’s a different challenge.

    If you want to improve your fluency and speaking skills, the obvious thing to do is to practice speaking. Mike hasn’t told us enough about you situation for us to be able to recommend the best way of doing this, so the first thing you need to do is to define the things you want to do in English. Who do you want to speak English with? About what? In what situations? The more specific and detailed your answers are, the more helpful they’ll be.

    Once you’ve done that, you’ll have to find opportunities to practice with the people you want to speak to – or find some “surrogates”. In the UK, pubs are good social meeting places, and I dare say there are similar places where you live. A book club that meets every week to talk about a book everybody’s reading, or a help group that meets to talk about some health or personal issue, or a political group that meets….., etc., are all good ways to organise speaking practice. Of course, reading, watching series, etc., helps too, but speaking practice is the key. You might be able to record yourself taking part in “speaking English casually” in order to identify your weaknesses and work on them.

    Good luck!

    • Jenny

      Hello, Geoff. Thank you for your sincere comment. 🙂 I took some time to think about your comment.

      I guess the biggest challenge for me is that I need to translate correctly and fast when I have little knowledge about a topic. In my case, that would be topics from meetings like mostly technical discussions, organization/team’s work process or business models. Since I did not get any training here, It’s my job to pick up the pieces from the meetings and make my own big “picture”. Also they usually talk casually and fast and use a lot of abbreviations, making my job even more difficult.

      As you said, I agree that I need to practice speaking if I want to increase my speaking skills. I think being exposed to unfamiliar situations and topics is the key, (which Mike suggested. Thank you!) So I am thinking I would play a random video about things I don’t know and play it from the middle without no context so that I can be more flexible (not sure if this word fits here) and resilient when I am ambushed and taken aback by crazy meetings. That’s my plan. And maybe I can join a book club or some language exchange groups. I will see how it goes.

      Anyways, I really appreciate your help and thoughts. Your comment made me think more about my situation and where I can improve. Thank you.

      Have a lovely day!

  2. Lina

    When my students ask me the same question I tell them that the only way to improve their speaking fluency is to communicate in English orally as much as possible. There is a website which offers Jap/Eng language exchange meetings. You have to pay to attend, but it is a good way to practise speaking English. I am not sure which country you are at, Jenny, so I cannot guarantee that you find a meetup that suits you (I only know about Tokyo), but still, give it a try. Anyway, you need to socialise in English, as geoffjordan suggested below.

  3. Melissa

    I’m a translator and have always had the same concern as Jenny. I once thought about taking a one-on-one phone call-based (or skype-based) speaking course and I even took the level test. Well, I didn’t take the class because I was too lazy to have a phone call with the teacher three times a week, but they seemed to have a decent, well-organized curriculum. (And I’m leaving this reply to show how happy I am to read your freshly updated post!)

    • mikecorea

      Hello “Melissa”! It was really great to see your message here. As “Jenny’s” senior I can imagine you fully empathize with Jenny. As I told her, I am sure that you are your own biggest critic. Thank you very much for the response! I was thinking I could try to introduce you to Jenny but I guess you are both pretty busy.

    • Jenny

      Hi Melissa. Thank you. I feel somehow relieved to hear thoughts from someone in the field! I did too think about taking one-on-one phone call classes but I was also too lazy to do it. But thank you for your comment!

      • mikecorea

        Hello Jenny! Just to be clear, “Melissa” was also a student in my class. She is your “senior” by a year or so. She was also a great student. I thought about trying to introduce you as well.


    Find a conversation exchange online! I did this for one of my foreign languages and it was great! Just type language exchange into Google. Also, writing or voice recording a diary every day will help- you may not even need to read/listen back to it since your goal is fluency. It helps with putting ideas into words 🙂

    • Jenny

      Thank you for the suggestions. Voice recording a diary is actually a great idea. Thinking about ideas and speaking them out loud are completely different. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Olivia pb

    I think when it comes to oral fluency what a lot of learners struggle with is finding the words or expressions to articulate well. My advice would be to work on coping strategies which provide you with thinking time while you search for the word you’re looking for or think of how to paraphrase. Remember, fluency is all about communicating rather than translation which focuses on the accuracy of the language. Think about words or phrases that you naturally use in L1 and see how they translate in English. Note down interjections and ‘fillers’ that you like from films, interviews etc and try to use a range when you speak as it’s these discourse markers that will make your speech sound more natural. I also agree with the above poster about voice recordings, it will really help get rid of inhibitions which is sometimes half the battle. Good luck

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