English for Advanced ESL Speakers–2 tips to take your spoken English to the next level

advanced techniques to fine-tune your spoken English

English learners often ask me how they can improve their spoken English by themselves. Especially with inflection, accent, and pronunciation. Actually, there is an enjoyable way to do this by using videos from YouTube. But not just any videos. These are speeches made by public figures to students on graduation day. They are transcribed, and you can find the text online. In this article, I will share with you two advanced techniques to fine-tune your spoken English by using these commencement speeches.

This article has been updated on March 20, 2024.

2 Tips for Advanced English Learners

First of all, the people who are asked to speak at graduations have most likely already made many speeches. Generally they speak clearly and slower than usual. One of the most famous ones is Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speeches. Others include Oprah Winfrey, Hilary Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres. Just type in your search box “best commencement speeches” and choose the one that interests you most.

Next, print out the text of that speech. With the YouTube video and the text in front of you, you are ready to improve certain aspects of English all by yourself.

1.  Imitate the inflection of a language

Learning the inflection of a language is one of the keys to improving your spoken English. Have you ever noticed that people from different countries can say the same words, but sound different? They may place the accent on different syllables. This is one of the reasons why native speakers may not recognize the words. Actually, it is the inflection. The music of the language. If you learn the inflection, the music of a language, you’ll go a long way in sounding like a native speaker. And you’ll notice fewer people ask you to repeat.

So, using the video of the commencement speech, listen to the inflection of the speaker. Where does her voice go up, and where does it drop? Spend time doing this until you can at least mentally imitate her while you are following the video. If you spend time on this skill alone, you’ll see a difference in your spoken English.

2.  How long do you hold a syllable?

Yes, this question makes it sound like you are learning to sing, doesn’t it? Well, in a sense, learning a language is in part learning its music. Now that you have worked on the overall inflection of a sentence, you can take it a step further. You can now focus on the individual notes.

If you play the piano, you are familiar with the term staccato. It means to play each note separately and you let go of the note quickly. The next time you go to an event where you can hear different languages spoken, try this. Listen to the sound of the words (the music notes.) Do you hear more staccato? Or do you hear a connection between the notes? More melodic? Some languages have more staccato notes, and others, more melodic ones.

Do this to take your spoken English to the next level

If you imitate the staccato or melodic notes in the commencement speeches, you will take your spoken English to the next level. Some syllables will sound very short, and some you will hold longer.

When you are watching those speeches, listen for these short and long notes. Train your ear to listen for them. Imitate them.  At least mentally.

Then pick 1 or 2 sentences from the speech and practice the length of each of those syllables until you can match the speaker. Some people find that if they do this silently first and pretend they are the speaker in the video, they can imitate faster. Experiment to find out what works best for you.

One more thing.  If the person you are imitating speaks fast, it’s not as easy to identify which syllable is shorter, and which is longer.  What you can do is to click on the Settings button on the video, go to Playback Speed, and change from Normal to .75, even .5, and you’ll be able to hear the length of the syllables easily.


If you practice these two techniques alone, you will notice a marked difference in your own English. And others will hear a difference in you too. Use commencement speeches that you enjoy listening to. Imitate the inflection of the speaker and the length of time they hold a syllable.

Please experiment with these, and share your results with me at estrellachan@gmail.com

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Learning New Sounds In A Foreign Language.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a free demo session with her, please email estrellachan@gmail.com

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