How can you build confidence in your spoken English ability? Every language learner dreams of becoming a fluent conversationalist: someone who easily understands everything that people say, who gives the perfect answer each time, and who can also make people laugh!
However, the truth is that even native speakers struggle to become ‘perfect’ conversationalists. When you feel that you experience more failures than successes in English conversation, what can you do? Here are 5 important ways to build confidence in your spoken English:
1. Don’t Take Things Too Seriously
You are a talented and hard-working person. The proof of this is easy to see: by learning another language, you are doing something that few people ever try!
Learning a new language is an amazing, exciting time of discovery. But it doesn’t always feel this way. In most parts of your life, experiencing success may be normal for you. Yet for even the most gifted people, learning language is a huge challenge. Maybe you feel like one English student who said, “In my first language I have respect. But when I try to speak English, I feel that I know less than even a young child knows.”
Such feelings are natural, and they can actually help you to build confidence. The key is, don’t resist these feelings; embrace them! Tell yourself that it’s a good thing to take the role of a learner. Learning language is a place where you can allow yourself to start fresh—to be a beginner who doesn’t know all the answers. With this mindset, you will find a new level of freedom and be less afraid of taking risks.
Will you make mistakes? Yes, definitely. But that is okay—the truth is, nobody is perfect. Maybe you can even begin to laugh at yourself a little. When you’re ordering food at a restaurant and you think the waiter offered you ‘super salad’, but he actually offered ‘soup or salad’, try not to see it as an embarrassing failure. Instead, let it become a funny story that you can share with friends. Giving yourself permission to be a beginner is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
2. Focus on Communication
How do you know when an English conversation has been successful? The answer is to focus on communication. The basic purpose of language is to receive something we want or need from other people. Of course, we all want so many things in life: directions to a restaurant, advice from a doctor, a good relationship with coworkers. Before you enter into conversation in English, ask yourself, “What do I want most from this person and this situation?”
For an important conversation, it may be helpful to write down some notes beforehand about your goals. The conversation is a success if you are able to communicate and reach these goals. Using grammar and vocabulary perfectly? That is always nice and it feels good, but it’s not the most important thing. Communicating and understanding is the true measure of success.
Find opportunities to become ‘uncomfortable’ once again, because this is where new learning happens.
3. Put Yourself Out There
When you first arrive in an English-speaking country, you naturally meet and talk with many new people as you are setting up your new life. Finding an apartment, enrolling your kids in school, setting up your internet service, and traveling around town all require conversations in the beginning. These experiences can be somewhat stressful, but there is a good chance that your language skill will grow quickly during these early days.
However, after some time passes, you may find that you don’t need to talk with native English speakers as often as you used to. Once you learn where to shop for groceries and how to watch your favorite television programs, you may find that having conversations in English about new things is no longer a big part of your day. Slowly, your big new world of experiences can become smaller and smaller.
To build confidence in your spoken English, you must fight against this natural desire to stay in comfortable places. Find opportunities to become ‘uncomfortable’ once again, because this is where new learning happens. Visit a Talk Time conversation group at the local library. Join the YMCA and take a class on a subject that interests you. Join a group to learn pickleball or some other sport. Volunteer at a community event. Slowly, your world of experiences will grow larger and larger.
4. Follow a Plan
We already saw that the main goal of conversation is communication: when a conversation ends with everyone understanding each other better, you know that conversation was a success. Build on this success by following a plan. After you have a conversation, take some time to review: What did you feel good about? Where did you have difficulty? Be as specific as possible, and take notes. This step only takes a few minutes, but it will help you get ready to move forward with your next conversation as you work to build fluency.
Over time, you will see the areas that give you difficulty again and again. When you do, ask yourself the question, “What is one thing I can do today to prepare for success in my next conversation?” If the answer is that you need more listening practice, spend some time watching English-language television or YouTube with subtitles. If the answer is that you have difficulty pronouncing specific sounds, visit a site like Rachel’s English for some helpful exercises. Of course, joining an English conversation class or finding a private tutor is an excellent way to plan towards successful communication. Your instructor will be happy to help with this.
When you have a good language experience, reward yourself with a favorite snack or beverage.
5. Celebrate Small Wins
The final piece of advice for feeling confident in your spoken English is to take time regularly to celebrate! When you have a good language experience, reward yourself with a favorite snack or beverage. Recognize the progress you are making, and let go of some of the pressure you feel.
Learning something new takes time. When you celebrate small wins, you take the large task of learning language and you break it into smaller tasks that are easier to accomplish. Learning a language is like becoming a runner. You may not be able to run a 42.2 kilometer marathon at one time, but if you run a little bit each day, soon you will find that the total distance you have traveled is far greater.
Thanks for spending time with these 5 Ways to Feel Confident in Your Spoken English
If you’re interested in tools for conversation practice, take a look at Speak English Like an American by Amy Gillett (available on Amazon)
You might also enjoy Compelling Conversations by Eric Roth and Toni Aberson (available on Amazon)
Finally, be sure to check out some of my other posts
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