When it comes to speech and communication, there is a lot more emotion involved than many people realize. In fact, part of my graduate level training included study and supervised practice of counseling techniques with a focus in counseling multicultural populations. Communication is such a pivotal part of our existence, it can be distressing when we are unable to effectively communicate who we are (or who we want to be) to others.
When speaking our native language, communication comes relatively easily. However, when speaking a second language, it can be more difficult to convey your message. It takes guts to speak up in a second language, whether you’re asking for directions or trying to engage someone in conversation. Embarrassing situations are inevitable. Feelings of failure may come up.
…speaking English fluently without fear is something you can learn to do. After all, you learned English, a language that is notoriously difficult to learn.
Speaking English as a second language becomes a challenge when feelings of fear turn the simplest interactions into stressful situations. It can be easy to give in to the fear and stay quiet. But just as you have overcome other challenges in life, speaking English fluently without fear is something you can learn to do. After all, you learned English, a language that is notoriously difficult to learn. Say goodbye to fear and speak English with confidence with these tips.
- Speak English as much as you can.
If you want to speak English fluently without fear, then you have to ensure that you can speak English fluently. Use your English everywhere you can. Talk to strangers. Talk to people you know. Go to English conversation groups, like the one hosted by Lingua East on alternate Tuesdays. Seize every opportunity to use your English. The more you do that, the more you will develop your communication skills.
- Get comfortable with your fear.
As you’re using English is different situations, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Take note of where you feel your fear, and what it feels like. Does it feel heavy? Does it feel light? Maybe you feel it in your stomach, or in your chest. Maybe it feels like you’ve just jumped from a tall height; maybe you feel your heart beating faster and the blood pumping through your body. Notice the scary script running through your mind. Later, when you’re not engaged in conversation, examine what was in that scary script, what the fearful thoughts were. They’re going to laugh at me. They’re going to think I’m stupid. These are thoughts that many speakers of English as a second language have. I’ve had the same thoughts when speaking a second language. And the truth is, sometimes those things will happen. Sometimes people do laugh, and sometimes people think we’re stupid… even when we’re speaking our first language. But that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you work through these difficult experiences knowing that with every mistake you make, you learn something new and become a better speaker because of it.
“They’re going to laugh at me. They’re going to think I’m stupid.” These are thoughts that many speakers of English as a second language have.
No matter what it is that we do, we all, at some point, doubt ourselves. We doubt our abilities and our capabilities. We hear a small voice in the back of our minds, whispering negative thoughts. This is the voice of fear. But we learn from experience that we shouldn’t listen to that voice; we learn, little by little, to conquer our fears. This happens whenever you want to learn and gain proficiency at something new, whether it’s snowboarding or an artistic endeavor or speaking a second language. When we confront our fears and move ahead with the things we want to do – getting out on the slopes or learning watercolor techniques or picking up the phone for a phone call in a second language – we take control of our lives, and the fear subsides.
- Identify situations that are particularly difficult.
When dealing with fear around speaking situations, you may be able to identify moments, people, and places that pose particular difficulty. These are the scenarios that make your heart beat faster and your palms sweaty. Maybe it’s talking to your child’s teachers at school, communicating with your doctor, or taking your car in to get serviced. These are likely interactions that do not happen every day, but tend to be rather important.
Once you have identified the situations that cause extra difficulty, extra fear, you can begin to practice scripts for how they might go. You might find it helpful to write the script down. Try to think of all the things you might want to say and the potential responses from your listener or listeners. Practice saying these sentences to increase your comfort with them. Try saying them with different tones of voice, at different speeds, and with different expressions on your face. Get silly with it. This can help to reduce the tension and fear associated with these lines.
For an extra challenge, take each line of your script, and come up with an alternate way of communicating the same message. This might involve using different words with similar meanings, or changing the grammatical structure or word order of the sentence.
- Practice patience.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You may not be able to completely eliminate the fear from speaking English, but you can definitely reduce it by a significant amount. Just be patient, keep working on your communication skills, examining your fears, and practicing the difficult scripts, and little by little, change will come.
- Keep a journal.
Aside from the personal benefits of journaling, writing down your experiences in English can strengthen your ability to communicate your ideas in the written language. Written practice in recounting events that you might want to tell friends about can help you get the words just right, so when you’re in the middle of a conversation, the words will come to mind more easily… without any memorization!
Just like most things that seem scary at first, the closer you get to them, the more you learn about them. The more often you try something, the less scary it becomes. Each time you speak up in English, it gets a little easier. When speaking a second language that you learned later in life, mistakes are inevitable. You can still speak English successfully with mistakes – it’s not about being perfect, it’s about getting your message across. In order to do that, you have to conquer your fears and speak out.
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