How can I improve my English speaking skills?

Answer by Pritam Kumar:

Since I posted my first answer on Quora (Pritam Kumar's answer to What does it feel like to be poor?), I got more than 20.7k upvotes, more than 1000 messages and 444+ comments in 7 days. I have been asked by many people how I improved my English when I only passed 10th grade from a Hindi-medium school (Indian government school). That makes me write this answer. I don't know if anyone will find this answer effective. I am a mediocre English speaker and writer, so forgive me for my poor writing ability. But I'd love to share my experience about how I managed to sell 50-60 novels in Bangalore traffic every day, with the power of the little English that I knew.

I came to Bangalore two years ago in search of a job. The first two months, I searched for a job but did not get any, because of my age (16) and qualification (10th pass). So I went to the nearest railway station and was recruited by a shopkeeper to sell novels and newspapers. I was ecstatic, but increasingly nervous at the same time because I had never sold anything before. Commission was fixed by the shopkeeper: twenty-five paise for each newspaper sold and three rupees for a novel. I still remember the first day, when I managed to sell twelve newspapers and two novels in a whole day and earned Rs. 9; and next day Rs. 13. But that was insufficient to get even a single meal.

Since my Mom was sick and unable to go to work, I had to earn enough money to send home. That was indispensable, and more important than feeding myself. Bangalore’s weather was always cool and breezy, but I did not have warm clothes. I was feeling feverish every night, coughed a lot and got up every morning with a headache and sore throat. I was just unable to understand what to do. For me, it was either DO or DIE. I was completely freaked out. I had to come up with a creative way to increase the sales, in order get enough money to survive. I did not sleep whole night. After thinking a lot, I came up with a solution: I thought I would read the novels and newspapers and tell them why they had to buy them; what some of the interesting things printed on the newspaper were that day, what the hottest news of the day was or what the specialty of the currently in-stock novel was.

Every day newspapers were coming in at 4 AM. I woke up around 4:30 AM, read all of the three best-selling English newspapers (TOI, Deccan Herald and The Hindu) and reviewed once more before leaving for the job. I used to read novels at night and in the middle of the job. In the beginning, my English was so poor that it made people laugh. Some people encouraged and supported me. Others laughed and disheartened me by saying something that generally hurt. I took it personally, but always apologized saying "I’m speak a little English, but I’m always improving." and used it as an opportunity to try harder.

My fear of speaking strengthened. Remember, when you don’t face your fears, they only get worse. Trust me, it’s better that you speak English confidently and make a million mistakes, than if you speak perfectly but sound unsure of yourself, shy, or scared. People will feel much more comfortable if you are able to communicate openly. I got so many trusted customers who just took my reviews before buying novels. People slowly started appreciating my hardwork. I increased my sales and I started getting enough money to have food two times a day and save some to send home.

After a few months, I got shifted to one of the roads with the busiest traffic in Bangalore to sell only novels, and no newspapers. I was almost doing very well at the railway station, but I shifted. I was quite disappointed for some time. I lost my permanent customers. After I shifted to the new place, I got enough experience on how to make more sales. My target was to read at least one novel in two days. In the beginning, it took a lot of time: about six days to finish a novel. I got a dictionary, a notebook (I call it a vocabulary notebook) and a diary. Whenever I read or heard new words, I wrote it down in my vocabulary notebook, so that I could prime my brain to learn that word at some point in the future. I also wrote down how to use that word in a sentence. That's very important.

I maintained a daily diary and I wrote down whatever happened during the whole day. I used to go to work at 8 AM and come back at 8 PM. Every ten minutes, there was a red signal for two minutes. And these two minutes were my sales time. I still remember I used to get around 60 opportunities (2 min/stop) everyday, about 120 minutes in total, and my target was to sell at least 50 novels per day. I used to go to each car or bike guy and give them a brief about the novel and end it in a very interesting place, so that if they didn't buy it that day, they would at least come back the next day if they were interested. People used to get more interested in buying novels from me because of 3 reasons: 1. They used to get honest feedback and review from me about the novel, and they knew I loved retaining my customers. 2. They liked my confidence and attitude of selling things. 3. They loved to hear my mediocre English.

I improved my English, talking to my customers, reading newspapers, reading novels and writing down new words in my vocabulary notebook and maintaining a daily diary.

TIP #1: They say if you have got 10,000 words in your mind, you can write a novel. Just 10,000 words. Learn 100 words per day and you can make it in just 100 days: a little more than 3 months. It's the first step for improving your spoken English.

TIP #2: Read at least one newspaper every day for a year. You can definitely improve your English.  So many people disagree with me, but it works.

TIP #3: Read at least one novel every month.

TIP #4: Try to write something every day.

TIP #5: Talk to people.

TIP #6: The human brain easily captures visual things and remembers it for a very long time. Because when we see something, our brain keeps a copy of that image or visual representation. So whenever you read or do things, try to have a visual representation of it so you can remember it for a long time.

For example, if we consider a word — banana — our brain exactly visualizes the image of a banana. Because we read it, saw it, ate it and we already have the image in our brain. So we could remember it easily.

If I say the name of the Titanic movie, I hope you realize what your brain visualized just now, after seeing the name Titanic.

But if I ask you what your Gmail password was a year ago (and if you changed it 4-5 times)? Most people wont remember it, because we do not have the visual image of the password in our brain; so we have forgotten.

TIP #7: Love English, Live English, Dream English.

Hope this helps.

How can I improve my English speaking skills?

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