If you want to improve at English, then you need both practice and feedback. Practice is important, but… if you keep making the same mistakes over and over, it will only cause those mistakes to be embedded. When this happens, it will be harder to break them later.
As such, you should find situations to use your English every day that allow you the chance to learn from your mistakes. No one likes making mistakes, but it worth remembering that they are perfectly normal. Moreover, you can view them as opportunities to improve.
When you plan your English practice, then, you need to think in terms of:
Getting practice is great. It helps you build fluency and confidence. For example, reading the news every day or talking with someone in English on a regular basis are both great ways of practicing. These will definitely help you. However, it is also vital to get feedback. This is when you practice with someone who will actually point out your errors.
Feedback can feel embarrassing, demoralizing, or counterproductive. Still, you must view it as a chance to get better. It is a time when you can start figuring out your mistakes and then fixing them. Without this sort of practice, you will be stuck making the same errors over and over and over…
In this article, I’m going to list 5 ways that you can get feedback on your English skills, with a particular focus on IELTS. I think that this is a unique collection of suggestions and you will not find these 5 ideas listed together anywhere else! Importantly, 3 of these options are free and 2 of them cost money. I wanted to offer a mix of expert and regular advice.
1. Find a Speaking Partner
This is probably the most obvious thing, but it’s really important and it’s super easy to do, so I have to list it here.
Finding a speaking partner for IELTS is something that every IELTS candidate must do. Put simply, it’s hard to prepare for the speaking test without a good speaking partner.
A speaking partner is someone with whom you can practice speaking. You can ask each other questions and listen while the other person answers. It is a mutually beneficial relationship and so everybody wins in this situation.
I wrote a longer post last year about finding a speaking partner. It contained a lot of rules and suggestions for making the process work effectively. For example, the two people should be of approximately similar levels, or else it is a quite one-sided relationship. Also, you should try to make sure that both people have the same productive attitude. Unfortunately, some people only care about themselves and just want to speak but not listen.
Finally, this list is all about feedback. There is little point in doing this sort of exercise is you are just going to talk and then say nothing constructive. (If that is the case, you could just talk to yourself at home!) You should listen to your partner and then offer some ideas. If you hear them make a mistake, you should point it out. If they talk too fast or too slow, you should comment on that.
You can find a speaking partner in this Facebook group.
When you have a speaking partner, you can use some questions from this list.
|It’s free||Partner is not an expert|
|Easy to find someone||Hard to find someone good|
2. Try Social Media
In the 21st century, the world is connected like never before. If you want to speak with a native speaker, it is actually very easy nowadays. Anyone can do it if they have a computer or smartphone.
Thanks to the internet, you can hop online and visit websites like Facebook and Reddit, where there are communities of millions of people from all different countries (well, maybe not China or North Korea). Here, you can freely interact with people from around the globe to practice your communication skills in English.
There are various benefits and drawbacks to this, of course. First of all, this is not for your spoken English skills. In most cases, these social media platforms exist in written English, so you will be posting messages that you type rather than speak. However, this is still using English and it is still valuable.
Another problem is that you don’t necessarily get direct feedback. If you type a mistake, it is unlikely that someone will tell you, “This is incorrect because…” However, you may still learn by seeing how people respond to your English. If they can understand you perfectly, then you are on the right track! If they ask you to explain something, then maybe you made a mistake.
Interaction is really important whether in spoken or written English. You can learn from these communications with others by taking in the language they use to talk with you. It is quite likely that in a conversation with someone, you will encounter new words or phrases. You should make note of these and look them up. It is not feedback, but it is useful language acquisition!
Why am I recommending this sort of practice if you are unlikely to get direct feedback? Well, I have always believed that language learning happens fastest when people are interested. I have known people who learned languages quickly because of love or interest in a particular culture. If you have something that you really care about, you can search for an online community and then engage with it. For example, there are many related to video games, basketball, your favourite band, a movie, or almost anything else. That’s the great thing about the internet! Find a community and join it, then speak with the members every day. You will find that it really helps your English!
|Anyone can immediately practice their English||Actual feedback is limited|
|You can talk about things that interest you||Sometimes you will be ignored|
|It is easy to interact with real people||There are unfriendly people online|
|It can be done anywhere with your phone||It is possible to keep making the same mistakes|
This is perhaps my favourite suggestion for this list! I’m sure that 99% of you don’t know it, and yet it is such a great idea.
What is Lang-8?
It is a community of language learners from across the world. The idea is that you post your writing there and people give you feedback, such as explanations for grammar mistakes or fixing a spelling error.
It works this way: You need to correct other people’s work before you can get feedback on your own. That way, someone can’t just spam the site with thousands of their own IELTS essays. Instead, they must go out and help others. This makes it a really healthy, productive community.
Most importantly, you will (probably) get feedback from a native speaker! That’s right, the idea of Lang-8 is that you correct writing in your own language and then someone does the same for you. Personally, in the last few years, I have studied Chinese and Japanese, so I correct people’s writing in English and then someone else corrects my Chinese or Japanese. It’s a great system! They get my expert English advice and I get their expert Chinese or Japanese advice. Win-win!
I honestly don’t know why this website isn’t more popular because it’s such a fantastic concept. You don’t even need to post a full essay. You can just post a single sentence or paragraph. It is super easy to start, and you can great really quick feedback on almost any aspect of your English writing.
|Get your writing marked by a native speaker||They may not be an expert|
|Multiple people will offer feedback||It is only for writing|
|If you contribute a lot, you can get vast amounts of free feedback||If your own language is not popular, you may struggle to earn points.|
You can also try the IELTS writing correction Facebook group, but there is not much activity at the moment.
4. iTalki and Cambly
If you want to talk to native speakers and get high-quality feedback on your English, then you’re probably going to have to pay for it, especially if you expect these people to be qualified teachers who can give you really helpful advice.
While it can be difficult to find a teacher locally, you can now go online and find someone to teach you English, to help you prepare for IELTS, or to listen and offer feedback on your speaking skills. Two of the best apps for this are iTalki and Cambly.
iTalki is a platform that has thousands of teachers who will talk with you. It is kind of like a traditional tutoring system because those teachers will charge you a set price per hour and you can usually take a discounted lesson to begin with. You can watch a video of the teacher and read reviews about his or her performance.
Cambly is a bit different. It is less traditional because you basically just get matched to someone and then chat with them quite informally. For this reason, it is much cheaper than iTalki. This is better if you just want to improve your fluency through practice, while iTalki is superior for those seeking a formal lesson and detailed feedback.
I recommend both of them, although they have different purposes. For general practice, Cambly is great, but for expert feedback, iTalki is better.
|Fast and easy||iTalki can be a bit expensive for the best teachers|
|iTalki offers world-class teachers||Cambly teachers may not help you much|
|You can get lessons almost any time||You usually need fast internet for it to work|
5. Get Expert Feedback
If you want the very best feedback from a native speaker, then you will prefer someone who has many years of teaching experience. It’s even better when they have years of IELTS experience.
Every month, I mark hundreds of IELTS essays through my writing correction service, and speak with dozens of students on Skype. I offer total feedback – that means corrections and advice for:
I work closely with my students and stay in contact to help them reach their target IELTS score. I don’t make any false promises, but instead help them to achieve their potential by working hard and fixing their errors.
My students regularly score band 7 and 8 in their tests. That’s because I helped them to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and make realistic plans for success. If you want to put yourself on the track to IELTS success, then give me an e-mail and I will do my best to help you.
|It’s the best way to improve your English||None!|