1. The First Steps Towards Confidence in English
We have a saying in English: “Fake it till you make it.”
Have you heard it? If not, can you guess what it means?
It means that confidence starts on the outside. You need to act confident and sound confident, even if you don’t feel confident.
So, if you lack confidence when you speak English, you have to ‘fake it’. You have to act confident, even though you don’t feel confident.
This is important to understand: there isn’t some sort of magical switch you can flip and suddenly feel confident. Feeling more confident is a journey which will take time and work.
Remember: to improve your English confidence, you need to accept that you might not feel confident right away. That’s okay! The first steps towards confidence in your spoken English are on the outside.
So, what can you actually do?
2. Control Your Speaking
When you’re not confident in your English, you’ll probably do three things:
One: you’ll speak too quietly.
Two: you’ll try to speak too fast.
Three: you’ll speak in fragments, using single words and phrases instead of full sentences.
“Martin, did you have a good weekend?”
“Not bad. Just stayed at home.”
Did that sound, or look, confident? Not really!
Let’s try again.
“Hey Martin, did you have a good weekend?”
“It was kind of boring, actually! I didn’t go anywhere or do anything. What about you?”
See the difference? Even though I still had a boring weekend and didn’t have anything interesting to say, I was still able to sound confident and comfortable.
There are three things you can do here, but before you start, I’d like you to do something: record yourself talking in English for one minute.
Introduce yourself and talk a little about your life. Go on, pause the video and do it now, then come back!
Listen to the recording. How does it sound? Do you sound confident?
Next, let’s get back to what you can do to sound more confident in English.
First, control the volume of your voice. Confident people speak at a high, clear volume. You don’t have to shout, but your voice should be loud enough that anyone in the same room could understand you clearly.
Secondly, control the speed of your voice. When you’re nervous, it’s normal to try to speak faster.
If you try to speak too fast, you’ll sound less confident, and also make more mistakes.
Slowing down will help you in many ways. You’ll sound more confident, you’ll be easier to understand when you speak English, and you’ll make fewer mistakes.
Finally, speak in full sentences. If you’re not confident in your spoken English, you’ll try to say as little as possible. To sound confident, you should show that you’re not scared of speaking English. So, use full sentences.
Now it’s time to make another recording. Even better, make three recordings. Each should be around one minute. Talk about yourself and your life, like you did before.
The first time, focus on the volume of your voice. Try to speak loudly and clearly.
The second time, focus on speed. Try to slow down and speak at a clear, controlled pace.
The third time, focus on speaking in full sentences.
Listen to the recordings. Compare them to the first recording you made. Do they sound better?
Next, try to use these points when you talk English in real life. Remember, you might not feel confident, but you will sound more confident.
If you sound more confident, people will respond to you differently. Try it—you might be surprised how much difference these simple points make!
When you see how people respond to you, you’ll feel more confident in your English.
3. Never Apologise For Your English!
Do you ever say things like this?
- “Sorry about my English.”
- “Sorry. I know my English is really bad.”
Here’s a question: why?
No, seriously, why say these things? What’s the point?
When you say things like this, you get two results:
One: you reinforce your negative feelings by expressing them.
Two: you show the person you’re talking to that you don’t believe in yourself. And, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?
Neither of these is a good result. So, what’s the solution?
Very simple: stop apologising for your English!
It’s a waste of time. First of all, if you’re talking to me, and your English is really bad, I can see that already. I don’t need you to tell me.
More importantly, most people won’t judge you for your English. Most people in the world aren’t interested in your English at all.
If someone’s talking to you, they’re talking to you to be friendly, or because they want something from you, or because they’re interested in your ideas. They’re not talking to you to see how good your English is.
And even if the person you’re talking to is judging your English, what can you do about it at that moment?
Nothing at all.
So, why apologise? Why feel bad? It doesn’t help.
Okay, maybe you can’t help feeling bad, though you shouldn’t.
But, you can control what you say. Don’t apologise for your English. Never apologise for your English.
Here’s something about me. I don’t speak Tamil, or Slovenian, or Xhosa. Not one word!
Should I feel bad about that?
Should I apologise, and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry about my bad Tamil, and my bad Slovenian. Oh, and my terrible Xhosa, sorry about that, too. And sorry about my Navajo, and my Finnish, and my Korean, and…”
Okay, Martin, okay. We get it.
Hopefully, you see how unnecessary it is now.
Even if your English is bad, so what? Don’t be sorry; go get better instead. Never apologise for your English!
4. Set Challenges To Build Your Confidence in English
I want you to do something for me.
Pause the video and write down three situations where you would feel nervous about speaking English.
Have you got three situations? What are they?
Maybe you wrote something like:
- Talking to a native speaker.
- Making a speech in front of my class.
- Making a presentation at work.
Now, for each of your three situations, I want you to create three different levels: easy, medium and hard.
What do we mean here?
Let’s take the example of talking to a native speaker. Many English learners have told us that they feel nervous talking to native English speakers.
So, we need three different levels of this situation: easy, medium, and hard.
Here’s a suggestion:
- Easy: say ‘hello’ to a native speaker.
- Medium: introduce yourself to a native speaker and ask 1-2 questions.
- Hard: have a 5-minute conversation with a native speaker.
Okay, so what now?
Go out and do them, of course!
Start with the easy challenge. Repeat it several times, if you want.
Then, go to the medium challenge. Again, you can do it more than once.
Finally, try the hard challenge.
Of course, this isn’t something you can just do. This might take you days or weeks.
Also, the exact challenges you set yourself will depend on your English level and your situation.
The key points: the easy challenge should be really easy—something that’s not a challenge for you at all.
The medium challenge should make you think, “That’s difficult, but I can do it.”
The hard challenge should make you think, “Can I really do this?”
Let’s do another example. Let’s take the idea of making a presentation at work. We need three challenges:
- Easy challenge: ask a question or make a point in a meeting.
- Medium challenge: make a short presentation to a small group.
- Hard challenge: volunteer to make a longer presentation to a big group.
Again, these are just examples. You should think carefully about your challenges, because they should be personal to you.
So, let’s review. You have three situations which make you feel unconfident.
For each situation, you should have three challenges: easy, medium and hard.
Make a list of your challenges and put it somewhere in your home.
When you complete a challenge and you think you did it well, cross it off your list.
Imagine crossing off your first hard challenge. Think about that feeling.
Wouldn’t it feel good? Wouldn’t it feel good to know you did something you thought was too difficult for you?
You’re not there yet. You should start small and build up gradually.
Remember, this isn’t a quick fix. This might take weeks, or even months. When you finish your first nine challenges, set yourself nine more. Start again.
You might not be able to do every challenge. You know what? It doesn’t matter. You’ll be doing something and taking action, which will help you to build confidence in your spoken English.
5. Keep a Journal
Let’s look at one more practical tip.
Writing about your thoughts and feelings in a diary or journal can be very helpful…
First, imagine a situation: you have a group of English-speaking colleagues. They’re all friends with each other.
You never talk to them. You just talk to your other colleagues in your language. You want to talk to your English-speaking colleagues, but you don’t feel confident enough.
At this point, take out your journal and write down all the worst things that could happen. Take your biggest fears about the situation and put them in a list. For example:
- They’ll laugh at me.
- They won’t be interested in what I have to say.
- I won’t be able to say one word in English when I speak to them.
- I’ll feel stupid and useless.
Go and talk to them, of course! If you want, you can make a challenge ladder, like we did in part four. Set yourself easy, medium and hard challenges, and work through them.
After you talk to them, next to your list of fears, write down what actually happened when you spoke to them. For example:
- They’ll laugh at me. → They talked to me and asked me questions.
- They won’t be interested in what I have to say. → They were friendly and polite.
- I won’t be able to say one word in English when I speak to them. → I could have a basic conversation.
- I’ll feel stupid and useless. → I felt a little uncomfortable, but also good about doing something I was scared of.
Of course, it’s not certain that everything will go well. Maybe sometimes your fears will come true.
But, you’ll find that most of the time, the things you’re afraid of don’t happen.
By writing things down like this, you’ll be able to see how your fears are just in your head. You’ll see that reality is often a lot more optimistic than you are!
Writing down your feelings like this will help you to understand that other people aren’t judging you and your English.
This way, you can feel more free and confident when you speak English!
Do you have any other advice to help people feel more confident speaking English? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for watching!
See you next time!