For most learners of English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL), speaking is the most important part of their learning experience. For most students, to know a language is to be able to speak the language. There are various courses available: general courses with a speaking component, and others that focus solely on speaking skills. Any English course will help to some extent with learning to speak English.

Types of Courses to Try

Try a general English course. Any decent general English course will include a large speaking component. This is true whether the course is one-to-one or in a group. Teachers plan lessons to allow students plenty of opportunities to practice speaking. Activities should be a combination of those that deal with one area of grammar or vocabulary, as well as fluency activities in which students can talk more freely about everyday topics. A good general English course also will include elements on speaking discourse. This refers to the way we hang our speech together, using fillers ("hmm ... what I mean is ... so, ...) and other tools and conventions when we speak. General courses also should include functional language and an element of punctuation. Functional language refers to expressions we use in conversations, such as "Could you open the window, please?'' When looking for a course, ask how the lessons are structured to help with speaking English.

See if your local institute or school offers conversation classes. Generally, each class will focus on a topic. There might be a short text to introduce the topic and some new vocabulary, followed by activities focusing on discussion or role-playing. In these lessons, the focus in on fluency rather than teaching new language. These courses are beneficial if you have a good level of basic English grammar but want to improve your conversational skills.

Save money by finding a language exchange partner. In a language exchange¸ you might have, for example, a Spanish speaker who is learning English and an English speaker learning Spanish. Students will speak to each other in English for a set amount of time and then switch to Spanish. In this way, both learners get to practice their target language. Language exchanges work out best if the two learners have something they want to talk about and are at a similar level in their language learning.

Consider finding a course or a few lessons that focus on pronunciation. Normally a pronunciation course focuses on clear, rather than native, pronunciation: The aim is for learners to pronounce English in a way that others will clearly understand. Due to student demand, however, there are now some schools offering lessons focusing more on elocution, i.e., on speaking English with a native-speaker accent.

Search online for a course that appeals to you. Some courses are self-study. These focus largely on conversations and the language and expressions you might need in certain situations, such as at the airport. The language is presented in audio or video format. Other courses have elements of self-study activities combined with one-to-one sessions with teachers. These one-to-one sessions use Internet technology to make cheap calls so the student and teacher can talk to each other and the student can practice speaking. If you want to focus on speaking in English, you really need a course that allows plenty of speaking, with a teacher and with other students.