I’m at that point now, around B2, where I can discuss a range of topics without too much difficulty. I still stop every few minutes in a conversation because I’m missing vocabulary, or I’ve constructed a sentence in a way that sounds confusing.
My question is: Will these errors simply disappear with lots of speaking practice and general input (reading and watching lots of TV), or is it a case that I need to target these mistakes by practising speaking accuracy? I’ve searched the internet for advice, but found it difficult to find anything on speaking accuracy and corresponding exercises. I’d like to know how you improved accuracy in speaking, especially at the higher levels.
Really appreciate the help.
I think that’s a simple question to a very complicated answer because the answer is different for each person.
Obviously the more vocabulary you acquire and the more practice you get in, the better you will become at putting sentences together. And the more accustomed to the language you get, the more you will be able to understand when engaging in conversation. It’s just a matter of putting in the time.
You also need to stop worrying so much about every mistake that you are making right now. As long as you recognize the mistakes, you will learn from your mistakes and you will improve with each subsequent conversation.
But a whole nother aspect to ‘speaking accuracy’ is pronunciation. Some actors and other professionals hire dialogue coaches to improve their accent, that is, to make themselves sound more native or to get rid of their accents altogether. After you have put in the time, improved your vocabulary, have no trouble putting sentences together, have no trouble engaging in conversation, if you REALLY want to sound like a native, you may want to invest in a dialogue coach, acting coach, take acting classes, listen to anything you can in German. Stop watching English television shows and movies and only watch German. Keep a journal and only write in German. Make grocery lists in German. Immerse yourself as completely as you can.
As one example, take a look at this interview with Famke Janssen.
Even though her name is about as Dutch as you can get, most people don’t even realize that she is Dutch. She has effectively gotten rid of her Dutch accent. You would think she was born in the United States — not moved there when she was 20! You can actually compare her English accent to the Dutch interviewer or Dutch audience members and there is a world of difference between the two. Even when she is speaking Dutch, she sounds American. Check out the whole thing. It’s a really great interview.
As you read and listen a lot, some grammatical patterns and vocabulary will be reinforced so you will probably self-correct in how you say some of the B2 level material… For most people, speaking is harder than silently reading and passively listening. It’s quite normal not to be able to say correctly all the things that you understand when reading. As in all skills, the more you practice it, the better you become.
Yet other mistakes won’t automatically self-correct unless you yourself recognize (or someone else points out) that you’ve made a mistake and you know what the correct version should be. If you are having Skype sessions with a tutor and he/she provides you with written corrections, I would recommend reviewing them and consciously writing/saying correct versions. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time but I know for me, sometimes just writing the correct version is often sufficient for me to use it correctly going forward. Pick the highest priority mistakes first – e.g., if you are repeatedly not using a basic grammatical pattern correctly or misuse two words that are translated similarly in English but nevertheless are used differently in your target language. Also pick expressions that you anticipate wanting to use again. Tackle only a few mistakes at a time or even just one, depending on how difficult/complex it is. (For example, misusing the subjunctive verb tense is a complex issue and probably won’t be “fixed” in a single study session while learning an irregular noun plural is a quick fix.)
Keep in mind, that as you acquire more vocabulary and are exposed to more complex grammatical patterns, you will undoubtedly make new mistakes precisely because you are trying to express more complex material. This is normal. When you want to talk about intermediate level material, you will make intermediate-level mistakes.
What you don’t want to do at an intermediate level is make the same mistakes you did as a beginner. If you are, then that signals you need to do some focused work on those basic errors. As in math, if you are still making multiplication errors, you will not be able to do algebra effectively.
In short, get used to the fact that you will still be making mistakes as you progress but they will be different mistakes.
<< My question is: Will these errors simply disappear with lots of speaking practice and general input (reading and watching lots of TV), or is it a case that I need to target these mistakes by practising speaking accuracy? >>
If you can speak on a variety of topics and you don’t have to stop for several MINUTES and only then do you have an awkward phrase or pause for missing vocabulary, you sound pretty damn “fluent.” It probably depends on when you notice you’re doing that (a certain topic, phrase, etc.)
Regardless, to answer your question with my own experience in Spanish:
If you continue with your reading and listening input activities, so much the better as it will expose you to more of the languge, patterns, etc. You’ll notice more, get refreshed, find more vocab etc.
Speaking practice is the best thing. Keep it going.
Writing practice is very good for this too. You can also submit it for correction too.
I have found (and Steve K has said) that speaking and writing are good because they can “highlight your gaps” and show where you are getting stuck. If you find that you are repeatedly having issues with or shying away from saying something, using a word, phrase, etc. you can “target” it with specific study of that point. Even if you forgo doing that, you’ll at least notice more when doing your input activities.