How to Overcome the Fear of Speaking English?

Very often in my teaching practice I come across people who say they are afraid of speaking. When I ask them what they would like to achieve learning English, the vast majority say they would like to start speaking. What stops us from doing it and how to change it?

First you need to realise that everyone is afraid of something. For some it is wearing a bikini, for others heights while others are scared of doing a presentation at work or asking a question in a class? Why do feel fear? Sometimes it’s because since it’s new and unknown and we don’t know what to expect. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t done it before and we don’t know how we’re going to handle it, but most often it’s because we fear the judgement of others. We’re looking for validation that we are not totally hopeless and we live under the impression to get others’ approval we have to be absolutely perfect. However, in my opinion perfectionism is the biggest and most severe punishment we use against ourselves. No one else suffers because of it more than we do. Your boss or people at the beach whom you’ve never met and you’ll never see again do not know what you’re going through internally to get the perfect body and those sleek slides, or to muster up the courage to ask a question. Only you know the price you’re paying for chasing perfection. If you are under the impression it is costing you too much, maybe you should let it go.

Let’s look at all this from the angle of learning a language. Do you really believe that when you ask for directions in a foreign country and say ‘Where bus station?’ instead of ‘Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the bus station, please?’ you will not be understood? Let’s break down ‘Where bus station’ into fundamental elements of an utterance.

  • Communication goal: learn the way to the bus station. Did you convey your intention? YES! These three words showed what you are trying to find out. You specified you are asking about a place and which place too.

  • Language correctness: if we assume that the right way of asking is ‘Where is the bus station?’ in your question you used 3 out of 5 words, which gives you a success rate of 60%. If we assume you aren’t talking to a native because you’re communicating, e.g. in Greece, a Greek person will probably understand you’re asking about the bus station and not just any bus stop, so the determiner ‘the’ will probably not matter to him/her as much, your correctness increases to 80%!

Now consider this. If a foreigner came up to you and asked you ‘Where station bus?’ in your native language, would you understand him/her? If you heard a question like that, what would your first thought be? ‘Omg, such an incorrect sentence! I can’t understand what (s)he’s saying.’? Or maybe you would think ‘Wow, this person is speaking my language’ and you’d try to explain the way to the bus station in the easiest terms possible? If you’re leaning towards answer number 2, why do you assume if the situation were reverse, you would be judged for speaking English as in the first scenario?

All right then, we already know perfection is not required when you know what you want to achieve in your communication. I need to make it clear, though. I am not encouraging you to rest on your laurels, stop developing and just speak broken English. Growing linguistically is necessary, especially if your goal is to easily communicate with foreigners or native speakers. Then what can you actually do to develop your English?

  1. Step out of your comfort zone – if you don’t change anything in your behaviour, nothing will change in your English. Do you live in an English-speaking country? Go to a local shop, try to buy a coffee and cake in a café. Do you live in your motherland? Use the resources available to you. Groups like ‘Angielski bez Spiny (No Stress English)’ are for you. Start being active :-)

  2. Take responsibility for your education. If you don’t make time to learn, you won’t have any results. I know life happens in a rush now. The key is to stop saying you don’t have time. Instead, use the time you have for learning wisely and cut all the things that aren’t useful to you.

  3. Internet gives you infinite possibilities. Find a pen pal, change the language of your social media profiles, try to understand your favourite song, put on a short video and watch it as many times as it takes to make out a new word, etc.

  4. Set achievable goals for yourself. If you don’t speak the language, you shouldn’t aim at having a conversation with a native about Donald Trump’s politics. Try asking the staff at a store where you can find eggs instead.

  5. Believe in yourself. I believe in you and know your knowledge and creativity are bigger and better than you think.

So start doing things. Little by little, step by step, day by day, but just start. Today. And good luck 😊


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