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7 Tips for becoming a more confident speaker – what I learnt on my journey as a language learner

One issue that comes up a lot with my students is that they don’t feel confident when they are speaking English, but I know students of all languages have this problem. How do I know? Because I was one of them! I also know this a problem for students at every level, because even students who are proficient speakers say they don’t have much confidence when they speak.

I can totally understand this, as in the past I really struggled with speaking Spanish for the same reason, and, although I still have moments when I don’t feel completely relaxed, I have learnt a lot on my language-learning journey that I want to share with you. Another good thing about my experience is that I think it makes me a better, more patient teacher, too. So, in this article, I explain six things I’ve learnt that you can do too.

Before we begin, I just want to point out that I’m talking about learning English in this article, but we could be talking about learning any language, so if you’re studying Japanese, Italian or any other language, the ideas are the same.

A Short History of my Experience Learning a Language

I started learning Spanish when I was 12 at school and I fell in love with it. It became my dream to live in Spain and, it’s no surprise to hear that I decided to study the language at university. As part of my degree, I spent a year in Madrid, Spain. Although it was one of the best years of my life (I had so much fun!), I didn’t learn very much Spanish at all. Why? I was too scared to speak!

When I graduated with a degree in Spanish, I had a lot of knowledge about the grammar, could understand quite a bit and had learnt about the culture, but I still couldn’t speak! So, when I was given the chance to go to Mexico, I knew it was my opportunity to really work on my speaking skills. Luckily, I was one of only a few native English-speakers living in the city – and I only met one for a couple of hours once. So, the fact I didn’t have many opportunities to speak my mother tongue really forced me to speak Spanish. Plus, I had a Mexican boyfriend who didn’t speak English, which is always a good way to learn! But, if that’s not an option, here are some other ideas.

1. Regular Practice is Important

I improved so much during that year in Mexico and I was fluent, if still not really confident, when I returned 10 months later. As soon as I was back in England, I had the excuse that there was no one to practise with around me, and over the years I practised less and less. As a result, my confidence gradually became less and less, and so my Spanish got rusty*. What I learnt from this is the importance of regular practice if you want to improve or just maintain your fluency and get confident in a language. Just like any other skill, you will only get better if you do it regularly.

* If a skill you had is rusty, it is not as good as it was because you have not used it.

2. Identifying Your Fears and Facing Them!

It’s probably not a big surprise to hear that the biggest thing that stopped me from having the confidence to speak was the fear of making mistakes. So, to begin to get braver about making mistakes, I decided to start giving myself permission to make them.

How could I do that in a ‘safe’ way? By being creative! I started making art for fun and NOTworrying about doing it perfectly. So, I started drawing and I didn’t worry about if I was doing it ‘right’. I focused on enjoying the process and not worrying about the result. I focused on getting good at just allowing myself to express, not on becoming a better artist. After all, art is a way of communicating, just like speaking. For you, it could be playing music, acting, singing or some other form of expression. Once you start to feel comfortable making mistakes while you are doing something creative, it will be easier to accept your mistakes when you speak. In fact, this has actually been one of the most important things I have done that has helped me relax when it comes to making mistakes.

3. Practice speaking by talking to yourself

As I said earlier, over the years my Spanish skills had got worse, as I rarely practised. So, I decided to look for a teacher. I found one in my city and booked a class with her. My teacher lived about a forty-minute walk from where I worked, and on the evenings that I had classes with her, I would walk over to her house. It was quite a long walk and I would be feeling nervous, so to try and calm down I would begin to talk to myself in my head. But the key thing was, I did it in Spanish! It wasn’t intentional, but I soon realised just how helpful it was. By switching my brain from thinking in English to Spanish, I was activating the vocabulary and grammar in my mind. So, in the same way we warm up before exercise, I was warming up my brain in preparation for the class. Then, when I arrived, I felt ready and more relaxed about speaking Spanish.

4. Find the Right Teacher and Language Partner for You

Lucila, my fantastic teacher from Argentina, was the perfect teacher for me Here’s why: Lucila was very chatty and so I never felt there were uncomfortable silences I needed to fill, but she could sense when I had something to say and she would give me the space to say it. If she asked me a question, she waited patiently, and tried to help me, without saying the words for me. I really began to enjoy my classes with her.

The other thing about Lucila was that she was very sociable and a lot of fun. At that time, she was studying at university and so we would go to events organised by the Mexican Society, which gave me lots more opportunities to meet other Spanish speakers to practise with while I was enjoying myself.

The other person who had a huge impact on my confidence level, and has also become a great friend, is Gabriel. Gabriel is Mexican, so I have always found it easy to understand his accent and the words he uses, because they are familiar to me. Also, when I met him, his ability to communicate in English was much weaker than mine in Spanish, and so it was easier for us to speak in Spanish, which also obviously encouraged me to speak. There were also other things about Gabriel’s personality that helped me relax. First of all, he tends to speak quite slowly and he pauses a lot to think, and secondly, he is very relaxed and kind, so I have never felt like I have to express my ideas quickly or that he is judging me.

5. Have a Beginners Mind

Another thing I like about Gabriel is that he reminds me of a child in some ways, and that makes me feel like it’s ok to be more like a child when I’m learning, which is how it can feel when you can’t express your ideas well or just make a sentence easily!

Recently, I have been reminded of what it is like to learn something new as a child, because my daughter learnt to walk. When she started learning, she was slow and steady, she’s didn’t rush herself, she wasn’t embarrassed about her progress or worrying about her mistakes. She was open and eager to do it. She did not care what I thought about it, she wasn’t trying to impress me, and she did not put a time limit on her learning. She just took her time, practised everyday and, of course, she’s becoming more and more confident in her ability to walk, and now run, everyday. Even if you are at an advanced level, you can study with a beginners mind.

6. Combine Learning with Doing Things You Love

Gabriel is still a close friend and we continue to have interesting conversations and fun together. I am very interested in different cultures, and through our friendship we have shared many cultural experiences, such as celebrating the Mexican festival, the Day of the Dead. We have also had lots of fun, memorable experiences together such as going camping together, going for walks, having picnics in the park, and seeing performances at the theatre – all things we love doing.

Me and Gabriel

This has reminded me of how important it is to find a way to practise speaking with someone you really like and doing something you enjoy. In fact, this is essential! I would say that whatever aspect of your English you are trying to improve, try to combine it with something you love doing. So, for example, if you want to improve your pronunciation and you are interested in psychology, find a talk on YouTube on the subject, put on the subtitles, turn the volume down and say the words out loud, and then you can listen and check the pronunciation with the volume on.

7. Identify Your Limiting Beliefs

There is a famous quote by Henry Ford, the first developer and manufacturer of cars, who said:

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” ― Henry Ford

I understood early on that the way I was thinking was not helping me, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Over the years I have increased my confidence using the techniques described above, as well as others, to help me. They have definitely been useful, but the biggest changes have come through exploring my subconscious thoughts related to language learning and questioning them. This takes time and is a process, but anyone can do it.

So, my homework for you is to complete these sentences:

  • I have no confidence when I speak because…

  • I find it difficult to speak because…

  • Speaking in English makes me feel…

I then invite you to question these statements and find out if they are really true.

Want to know more?

These are just some of the things that I have learnt, both as a language learner and teacher, and there are many more! If you need help with this, feel free to book a class or package with me. I also offer coaching sessions, which allow you to explore any limiting beliefs you have about your language learning. We will work together to explore, question and overcome the limiting beliefs that are stopping you from achieving your language learning skills. Since the technique I will show you can be used in any area of your life, you can also expect to become the best version of you in everyarea of your life.

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