This is something my English students hear from me all the time. The class starts and I am asking them about their day, their week, or weekend. When they try to get away with simple “fine” or “good” I force them to speak more and more. The less they tell me, the more I want them to speak. After the first ten minutes of class when I make them describe every detail of their day, I break out my word cards so we can speak some more. In the middle of the lesson we move to grammar. I explain making sure everybody understands and then I again make them speak. To close up our lessons I, for a change, make them speak.
I am sure my students hate me for making them speak all the time. I can see the typical questions going through their heads. What if I make a mistake? What if I don’t understand the question? Or worse what if I don’t know how to answer? Well, it happens and you know what? That is perfectly ok. That is just part of learning a language and we’ve all been there, but speaking is a crucial part of learning a language.
I am speaking from my own experience and from the experience of others. I lived the US for a year. My English at that time mostly composed of basic conversation phrases. I had no one to ask for help, I had no one to translate for me. All I could do was to throw myself into the language and just figure it out. And I did. I took every chance to use it. I read English books, watch the TV, but MOSTLY listened to other people and asked questions every time I had a chance.
The speaking part was the most important because when I asked, people corrected me and I could learn from my mistakes. When I spoke I paid more attention to the way how to form sentences and without knowing it I was learning grammar as well.
After a year of diving into English like this, I spoke fluently. I had no problem understanding written or spoken word. Then when I looked at grammar, I suddenly understood the principles. Through mastering speaking I was able to learn other aspects of the language, and I started working on sounding like a native speaker.