The Role of Phonetics, Grammar, and Mindset in building ESL Speaking Confidence

Updated: Jul 21

I have worked with many clients who speak English at an advanced level. Yet, despite their English fluency, they often feel insecure about their speaking. As a language learner myself, I understand this situation all too well. Based on my coaching experience and my personal language learning experience, I think lack of confidence boils down to these three main issues.

#1 Phonetics

Phonetics is the study of sounds in a language. In my experience, most everyone who is learning a new language has trouble with at least a couple of the sounds. For me, I struggle with the German z and ch sounds. Consider your English. What sounds are hard for you to create? If nothing comes to mind, consider feedback you have received from others. Is there a word or two that you use that listeners sometimes don’t seem to understand?

For some, creating short vowel sounds (like short e or short i) are difficult because short vowel sounds do not exist in their native language. Spanish is an example of this. For others, creating the s sound at the end of a noun might be difficult because this final s sound does not occur in their mother tongue. Vietnamese is an example of this. When you pronounce a sound incorrectly, it can impact your listener’s comprehension of your speaking, which in turn affects your confidence. Confidence and feeling effective in your ability to communicate go hand in hand.

To strengthen this weak spot, explore pronunciation videos on YouTube or get help from a teacher, coach, or friend who has mastery of the American English sounds. Usually, it is only a few core phonemes that are the underlying problem.

#2 Listening Comprehension