When I came to the US, I assumed that my English skills were quite passable. However, my first visit at the local supermarket proved me wrong. It took me a while to figure out that the cashier asked me if I need help to bring my items to the car. I only got it when someone grabbed my cart. Convincing him that it’s actually not necessary caused even more confusion on both sides.
I realized pretty soon that my English might be good on a reading level but everyday life is another story. Saying ‘hi’ to someone or telling how delicious a meal was turned out to be not that easy. American English in general and everyday life vocabulary in particular differ a lot from the English I learned in school. Therefore the first weeks in the US were really exhausting while my ears and mind got used to American slang and pronunciation.
So I decided to improve my speaking skills right away and two happenstances helped me. Firstly, I met a native English speaker (if Canadian English counts… who has become one of my closest friends. Chatting on a personal level about all the world and his brother helps a lot. And secondly, I joined a Toastmasters Club.
I heard about Toastmaster in the Public Speaking class at the Bechtel International Center. I attended this class during the winter quarter in 2009 and really liked it. The class was based upon the Toastmasters’ concept of giving speeches and getting evaluations. You work on 10 speech projects that focus on different aspects of speaking. Step by step you learn what skills you already have and what can be improved. There are a lot of clubs in the Bay Area (e.g. Stanford, Palo Alto, Menlo Park). Usually they are open to everyone. You can check them out as a guest and if you like it, you can become a member.
I’ve been already a Toastmaster for one year. Right now I’m working on my 7th speech project and I really like the weekly meetings. It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with native speakers, learn something about American culture and have fun. These clubs are also useful for native speakers because they help you to overcome your fear of speaking in front of a bigger audience. So don’t be shy. Go for it and improve your speaking skills!
Tips & Insights:
- Test several clubs before you decide to join. You can be a guest three times at one club.
- If you decide to join a club, make sure that it fits your needs in terms of club size, meeting times and demographic structure.
- Watching TV also helps to improve your conversational skills.
Manuela from Germany blogging from Menlo Park