Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Speaking English in a social setting can make you feel both excited and nervous – excited to use your skills but nervous that you will make a mistake or be misunderstood. In fact, one of my favorite podcast hosts using the made-up word nervousited to explain this feeling. Feeling this way is a natural part of the process of learning a new language, but you can make it a little easier on yourself by following these steps:
5 Steps to Increase Your Speaking Confidence
1. Talk to yourself in English.
I know it might sound funny, but it works. Give yourself a topic (for example, your family or a movie that you recently saw) and practice talking about this topic for one minute to yourself. Give mini-presentations like this while you are making lunch, doing the dishes, or driving.
In fact, author Ron Brackin makes a great joke about this:
“What I like best about cell phones is that I can talk to myself in the car now and nobody thinks it's weird.”
It's so true! But in all seriousness, feel free to talk to yourself. Sometimes you make your own best audience. There is no one around to make you feel nervous, and you still get valuable practice time.
2. Remember that most people you meet are generally nice people who want to help.
I have been told many times by clients that most Americans they meet are very friendly. In fact, you might have to encourage Americans to correct you and give you feedback because we are afraid of offending you! Let people know that you need help, and most people will enjoy the opportunity to lend you a hand.
Yes, you will meet people who might be impatient or even rude when you are trying to speak a language that is not your native language, but most people want to understand you and help you. If you see situations with this perspective, you will attract many helpful people!
3. Join an ESL meetup or a free ESL class at the library.
Yes, you might be nervous the first time you attend a meetup, but all it takes is finding one person there with whom you can practice your skills. You will feel so great about yourself after you attend a meeting. Most major cities have more than one well-attended ESL meetup where both teachers and students come together to enjoy the English language and help one another. There are some very active meetups here in Houston.
In addition, local libraries—at least the ones here in Houston—often offer a variety of ESL classes that are free to the public. These are a great chance to meet new friends and try out some new language skills. If you really want to challenge yourself, offer to do a presentation on your home country to the class!
4. Try an app like Duolingo, Memrise, or Babbel.
Man, there are so many language learning apps out there, and if you are the type of person that likes to make a game out of learning, then there is one for you. For example, Duolingo offers many opportunities to practice saying English sentences. Plus, it lets you know if the program understood what you said or not.
I get it—apps are not a real person. But using them can increase your speaking confidence if you use them consistently. Make a goal to use a language learning app every day if you want to see results. Even if you meet with an ESL teacher or coach on a regular basis, using an app is a terrific way to supplement your learning!
5. Know that it is necessary for you to make mistakes.
It is an important part of the learning process. So, throw perfectionism out the door; it is not your friend when learning to speak a new language! I know it's hard when you know that you are a competent and well-spoken person in your native language. Struggling to express ideas in English can be extremely humbling. That's why compassion and forgiveness will help you immensely on this journey.
Learning English will be one of the hardest and most rewarding things you ever do. It takes hundreds of hours of practice to master, but that is good news! That means you have hundreds of hours of opportunities to have fun and learn!