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Do you struggle to speak confidently in English? In this episode, I’ll explore practical tips and strategies to help you build your confidence and improve your speaking skills in English, so you can communicate with ease and confidence!

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Why is Speaking in English Challenging?

Speaking in a foreign language is an intimidating and challenging task. We all know this. I can’t begin to describe the number of times I’ve been speaking (or trying to speak) Japanese in front of people and began to panic. I realise that I don’t know how to finish my sentence, my brain starts racing searching for any vocabulary I know, and many times I’ve ended up stuttering, misspeaking, or using weird expressions.

Why? Why is speaking in a foreign language challenging?

The fear of making mistakes, being misunderstood, or not being able to express yourself effectively causes anxiety and self-doubt. These anxieties come from a lack of confidence in your abilities, a fear of other people judging you, or simply a lack of exposure to English.

Language barriers, such as differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, can also lead to a lack of confidence when speaking English. The difficulty of understanding and producing the sounds and structures of a new language can make you feel self-conscious and unsure. And cultural differences can make it challenging to navigate social situations and use appropriate language and etiquette in conversations.

Furthermore, the fear of making mistakes can be a significant source of anxiety. The fear of being judged or ridiculed for grammatical errors, pronunciation mistakes, or word choice can cause us all to hesitate and second-guess ourselves when speaking, hindering our ability to communicate effectively.

Ultimately, building confidence in speaking in English or any foreign language requires overcoming these anxieties and language barriers.

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Strategies to Build Confidence in Speaking

Now, I will discuss a few practical strategies for building confidence in speaking English. By setting realistic goals, regularly practicing, and exposing yourself to the language, improving pronunciation and intonation, embracing mistakes, and building vocabulary, you can become more confident and effective communicators. These strategies can help overcome anxiety and self-doubt, and ultimately lead to greater fluency and proficiency in speaking a foreign language.

Setting Realistic Goals

Setting goals is a crucial part of language learning and can be particularly helpful in building confidence in speaking. By setting achievable goals, you can focus your efforts and track your progress, which will boost motivation and provide a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve talked about setting realistic goals before (in the episode on New Year’s Resolutions) but let me give you a short recap.

When you set goals, be realistic and specific. Rather than setting a vague goal like “improve my speaking skills,” set a more concrete goal like “have a 10-minute conversation in English without feeling nervous.” By breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones, you can set yourself up for success.

Celebrate your small successes along the way. Recognizing progress, no matter how small, can help build confidence and motivation. I like to reward myself for achieving a goal by treating myself to one of my favourite foods.

Regular Practice and Exposure

Regular practice and exposure are probably the most important strategies for building confidence in speaking English. The more you practice, the more comfortable and familiar you will become with the language. It is simple.

This is the purpose and idea behind my conversation clubs, Patreon, and Discord server. We challenge Thinking in English listeners to speak in English about new topics every week (sometimes multiple times a week), with new people from around the world. And for the people who regularly attend… the developments in confidence are clear and remarkable!

Practicing speaking with others is crucial for building confidence. And there are many ways to do this. In my own language learning journey, I have used language exchange apps, attended in person language exchanges, joined conversation classes, and spent hours in a cafe/bar in Tokyo speaking only in Japanese.

For you guys, language exchange partners or conversation groups can provide a supportive environment to practice speaking without fear of judgement or negative evaluation. Through regular practice and exposure, you can gradually become more comfortable and confident in your speaking abilities. This is why you should all join my Patreon, attend conversation clubs and the many other events every week!

Also, seek out opportunities to use the language in real-world settings. These experiences can be nerve-wracking at first, but they can also provide a sense of accomplishment and boost confidence. I’ve been staying with my partner’s family recently (none of whom speak any English) which has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding in terms of my language confidence!


Pronunciation and intonation

Effective communication in English involves not only using the correct words and grammar, but also using proper pronunciation and intonation. Mispronouncing words or using incorrect intonation can not only affect the clarity of your message, but also impact your confidence.

I’ve made a whole episode on improving pronunciation and intonation a few months ago (I recommend you all listen to it). In the episode I mention there are many different ways of practicing your pronunciation: listening carefully to native speakers, practicing difficult sounds in isolation, recording and analysing yourself, online resources, and much more.

Perhaps the most important thing is immediate feedback. Whether the feedback is from yourself after listening to recordings, an AI computer programme, or an English teacher, getting feedback on what you are doing wrong is really important.


The value of making mistakes and learning from them

One common reason why language learners lack confidence in speaking a foreign language is the fear of making mistakes. Back when I was teaching in Japanese schools, I was always frustrated how so few of the students would be brave enough to answer questions and speak in front of their classmates.

Making mistakes is a natural part of the language learning process and can actually be a valuable opportunity for growth and improvement.

Making mistakes helps you to identify areas for improvement. You can take steps to correct your mistakes and prevent them from happening in the future. This is a feedback loop and can lead to greater fluency and confidence over time.

Mistakes can also lead to a growth mindset. A growth mindset emphasizes the importance of effort and perseverance over ability or talent. If you embrace a growth mindset, mistakes should be viewed as opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than as indicators of failure or inadequacy.

Personally, I actually find mistakes give me a sense of relief and reduce anxiety in speaking situations. Once I accepted the fact that I make mistakes in my Japanese and that they are a natural part of learning, I began to feel more comfortable taking risks and more open to trying out new language without fear.

I’ve also found that native speakers of a language often appreciate when we attempt to speak, even if our grammar or pronunciation are not perfect. Making mistakes is a sign of effort and commitment. And I’ve discovered that making mistakes while speaking is so much more enjoyable than being silent and never trying to have a conversation!


Building Vocabulary and Grammar

Another important step in building confidence in speaking English is building your vocabulary and grammar. Without a solid understanding of these, you will probably struggle to express yourself clearly and confidently. This is by far my biggest weakness in speaking.

How can you improve your vocabulary? There are many methods. Some people focus on the most common words and phrases used in English. Some use flashcards, vocabulary lists, or online tools to practice and memorize new words. You could also practice using context clues to infer meanings of unfamiliar words and focus on words that are most relevant to you.

In terms of grammar, it is important to understand the basic rules and structures of English. Practice the most important verb tenses and sentence structure. Online resources, textbooks, and language exchange partners can all be helpful for improving grammar skills.

Most importantly, you need to practice using new vocabulary and grammar structures in context. There is no point learning every word in the English language if you can’t use them in actual sentences. Try speaking or writing about topics or engaging in conversation with others. Use new vocabulary and grammar in real-world situations, and you will quickly become more comfortable and confident.

English learning is a process. Building a strong foundation in vocabulary and grammar takes time and effort. You should aim for progress, not perfection, and be patient!

The Role of Mindset in Speaking Confidently

I want to finish this episode by briefly talking about mindset. I think, when it comes to speaking and confidence, mindset is perhaps the most important factor. My Japanese is not particularly good – most of you listening are probably better at English than I am at Japanese.

But I am confident, curious, and inquisitive. I like talking (this is why I’m trying to make a podcasting business… because I like to talk). And when I’m in Japan, this means I like to talk in Japanese. I will talk to people in cafes and bars, friends and family of my partner, and even people who stop me in the street. And I love to talk at every opportunity.

I don’t think about making mistakes. I don’t worry about my vocabulary or grammar. I just like speaking and talking with other people. I want to ask questions, learn about the people I’m talking with, and express myself. The mindset that you bring to learning will have an impact on your confidence.

One mindset that can support confident speaking is a growth mindset. This is the belief that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Learners with a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement and are less likely to be discouraged by setbacks or mistakes.

In contrast, a fixed mindset can harm your confidence. A fixed mindset involves the belief that your abilities are natural and cannot be changed. Learners with a fixed mindset may view mistakes or challenges as evidence of their limits and natural weaknesses, which can lead to feelings of discouragement and a lack of confidence.

Another mindset that can impact confidence in speaking English is the idea of a “learner identity.” A learner identity is the way that a learner views themselves in relation to their language learning journey. If you view yourself as someone who is actively engaged in the process of learning, you may feel more confident and motivated to speak English, even if you are not proficient or high level. But, if you view yourself as someone who is not good at learning languages, you may feel more discouraged and less confident.

It is also important to note that learning can be influenced by external factors, such as societal attitudes towards language proficiency or English. For example, if you are frequently told that your accent is difficult to understand, you may feel self-conscious. And when I was a teaching in schools, I was often annoyed by my colleague who would tell the students that English was a difficult language – this only reinforced that it would be too difficult to learn.

In summary, your mindset can play a significant role in your English-speaking confidence. By embracing a growth mindset and viewing yourself as an active learner, you should feel more confident and more motivated to continue developing your language skills.

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Final Thought

Speaking confidently in English can be a challenge, but it is a skill that can be developed with practice and the right mindset. By embracing a growth mindset, learning from mistakes, and building a learner identity, you can improve your confidence in speaking a foreign language.

Remember, confidence comes from within, and with dedication and hard work, anyone can become a confident and proficient speaker. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes, embrace challenges, and keep practicing. With time and effort, you will achieve your language goals and become the confident and fluent speaker you aspire to be.

How did you become a confident English speaker? How will you become one?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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