When I was living in Japan and in Africa, I occasionally met a non-native English speaker who spoke almost fluent English with clear pronunciation, natural intonation and mature vocabulary and had great listening skills. Naturally, I assumed that they must have spent time in an English-speaking country or had English-speaking friends or a tutor, but all of them told me that they had never left their country and had little contact with English speakers. However, I soon learned that all of them had one thing in common: each of them had developed their oral skills through one fairly simple technique.
The technique involved taking a recording in English and transcribing it. However, there were some informal “rules” that they all had discovered on their own.
1) The recordings could be a monolog or dialog, but they tried to avoid speakers who used a lot of slang or spoke too fast.
2) It was important that they actually wrote down as much as they could understand. According to them, just listening to a recording or watching a movie with English subtitles had little positive effect on their skill development.
3) As they were listening, they would frequently stop the recording in order to transcribe what they heard. If there were words that they couldn’t understand or hear clearly, they just skipped those in their transcription.
4) They tried to do this consistently but the amount of time varied from 20 minutes a day to an hour four or five times a week.
Some of them found an interesting side benefit from this technique. If there was a word or sentence in the recording that they couldn’t quite understand, when they had a chance they asked a native-speaker to help them with just those parts. They found that this was a good way to meet native-speakers. In fact, one of them met his American girlfriend this way.
Even though I am now teaching in the U.S. where my students are surrounded by native speakers, many of them are still hesitant to interact with Americans because they feel their oral skills are too weak. They are worried that they won’t be able to keep up the conversation or that the American interlocutor will soon get tired of speaking “special English” with them. So even here in the U.S., I’ve shared this technique with my students. And the results have been quite impressive.