by Marc Anderson

I CAN’T Increase My Confidence in Speaking English!

Group of Cheerful Young People Relaxing on a Beach

Note: This is a follow up to the post ‘Tips on How to Build up Your Confidence When Speaking English‘.  If you’re looking for additional tips on how to build up your confidence, check out the post.

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Did you ever find yourself thinking those two words  I CAN’T? There probably isn’t a person on this Earth who has not thought these words at some time or another.  I’m sure you even said the words out loud. If you’re honest. Probably, lots of times.  Let’s face it. It’s easier to give up than to work through a situation.  And once you give up, it’s so much easier to give up again and again and again.  Before you know it, giving up has become a habit.  The inverse is that YOU CAN! Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter known for his beautiful, bold-colored and emotional paintings believed that all things were possible:  If you hear a voice within you say that you cannot paint, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

  • Think “I CAN”!
  • Say “I CAN”!
  • Then, do it!

Most people would love to play a musical instrument, be able to run a marathon and publish a book. And most people would love to speak a second language, too. (85% of adults surveyed on a Gallop Poll in 2007 stated that learning a second language is important.  Yet, only about 25% of these people studied enough to hold a conversation in a second language.) You see, for every goal in life, there needs to be some effort.  Many people give up.  They don’t reach their goals.  They don’t use their potential.  When you start telling yourself that you can increase your confidence in speaking English, then you are well on your way to doing just that.

  • Think about a time when you almost gave up but you stuck it out.  How did that make you feel?
  • Think of a time when you used this positive talk and you accomplished something.
  • Think of a time when someone helped build your confidence by reassuring you that you could do it.
  • Think of a time when you may have given someone else that boost in confidence.
  • Think of a time that you had your eyes on a goal, and you worked really hard to achieve it and you did!  How did that make you feel?

Now, tell yourself that you can do it.  Come on. It’s easy.  Think pep talk.  Think positive thoughts. Visualize yourself speaking English and others listening. Think engagement. See others smiling and nodding as they understand more of what you are saying and in turn, they understand more of who you are as an individual. In my last blog post, I touched on increasing confidence in learning a language by such strategies as talking to as many people as possible, practicing with a friend, targeting an area to improve, asking for help, and believing it.  Well, I have been thinking about this whole “building up confidence thing”.  I want to share with you some of these additional strategies I have been thinking about:

  • Review
  • Learn vocabulary
  • Memorize phrases
  • Don’t underestimate yourself
  • Maximize your time

Review Couple Relaxing on the Grass and Eating Apples in Autumn Garden It would be helpful to set aside a time to review your lessons.  Reviewing what you have been taught or what you have learned reinforces key learning so you can build on this.  Vocabulary, skills and concepts will become second nature for you and this knowledge will build understanding for higher level vocabulary acquisition, language skill development and concept application.  Making the review time the same time each day helps to build a routine into the language instruction.  Possibly spend time at the same spot, too.  Maybe you learn best in a quiet room of your house or the library.  Maybe you learn best when others are around like at a coffee shop or with background music. Whatever seems to work. Discover what works best for you and then, do it! Learn vocabulary Secrets It helps to think ahead of what vocabulary you might need to know.  Are you applying for a job or an international driving license? Do you have a test coming up in a subject?  How about an upcoming meeting? It would be helpful to pull together a list of words you need to fully understand whatever it is…the job application, the driving license application, the chapter for the test, etc. Then get out your dictionary and thesaurus and get started.  Count the number of words or pages that you need to learn and decide how much time you have to learn them.  Then target a certain number of words or pages a day.  Look the unknown words up in a reference book and apply them to the written format you have. Before proceeding to the next vocabulary word or page, make sure you have the understanding of the first word(s) and page(s)  Before you know it, you will have become familiar with the entire task and you will have a good grasp of understanding.  You will be prepared and feel more confident that you will succeed.  Tell yourself that you are going to get that job or that driver’s license.  Tell yourself you are going to ace that test. Then, do it! Memorize phrases thinking I will tell you a little secret.  Are you listening?  Well, the secret is that it’s okay that you don’t know everything.  You can memorize important phrases or phrases that you will need to use often or for a specific purpose and then voila!  Use them when the time is right. Let me tell you how my friend (who came to the US knowing very little English) landed a teaching job within 2 months of his arrival.  Well, first you need to know that my friend had a background in being a personal health trainer at a rather large international health club in Seoul, Korea.  So he did have the physical education background.  And he loves interacting with people, especially children. When a small ad appeared in a local newspaper that the parochial schools in the area were looking for a part-time gym teacher, I knew that this might be the answer to my friend finding a job.  So I quizzed him every night on possible questions.  First, I made a list of all possible questions that I thought he might be asked at an interview.  Then together we made answers to the questions.  With a little help from me and with my friend’s positive attitude, he memorized the answers and then would repeat them back to me. Now, here comes the hard part.  I was pretty sure that these would be most of the questions asked, but I was not so sure of how my friend should begin each answer.  So we worked on beginnings of sentences.  For example, if he were to be asked, When did you come to the US that would be different from Why did you come to the US.  Likewise, if he were asked What would you do if…is different from How would you if…or Why would you so if… or Where would you…or even Who would you… Then the interview came. The administrator came to our apartment and had the interview at our kitchen table.  He asked me to come sit with them while he explained the job responsibilities, etc.  I had taught my friend some important things about interviews:  look the person in the eye, smile, don’t interrupt, listen carefully to the question, be positive, etc.  Then the gentleman started asking questions and my friend responded. If I found him getting off track because of the start of the question, I literally kicked him under the table as a (gentle) reminder that perhaps he should answer the question in a different way.  For the most part, my friend did very well and in the end my friend was offered the job.  The Catholic nuns were very accepting of him and the children loved his teaching.  It all turned out really well.  The teaching job helped to improve my friend English and his confidence.  We credit memorizing phrases to getting that first job in America. Think of what you could memorize to become better at English.  Then, do it! Don’t underestimate yourself

Think bigger concept

When you underestimate yourself, you really limit your life experiences. You hold yourself back from accomplishing your goals.  You find reasons to talk yourself out of doing the things that interest you. You should try to look at the situation in a more positive light, and just go for it. Don’t underestimate yourself! These words are probably easier said than done.  But they can be etched into your brain so the words are repeated.  You can say the words before you raise your hand to speak in class. You can say the words before you give an oral speech. You can say the words before an interview.  You can say the words before you open your mouth in any number of everyday situations like the last blog suggested in talking to everyone, and speaking as much as possible, and in asking for help. There are no mistakes.  The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they are necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. – Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Living Seagull would have thought it perfectly fine if you made “mistakes” when you talked. He credited mistakes as a way to learn.  Without them, there is little learning.  So ask yourself.

  • Do you want to learn English?
  • Do you want to speak it well?
  • Do you want to converse easily?

Then tell yourself that you are doing a good job.  Tell yourself that it is okay to make mistakes… no it is more than okay…. Tell yourself that it is a good thing to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. You can’t become better at something, if you don’t make mistakes along the way. Set your goals and then don’t underestimate yourself.  Outline your steps to reach them and then… make some mistakes…you won’t remember them a year from now…and neither will anyone else.  But you will know the progress you made and others will, too.  Just, do it! Maximize your time A suggestion is to carry something English with you at all times.  Maybe it is a book or magazine, a CD or newspaper, an English book or dictionary, or even some flashcards.  Whenever you have a free moment, you can pull this out and practice your English.

  • Do you carpool or take city transit?
  • Do you have a few minutes waiting for a ride or between classes?
  • Do you have a little free time at lunch or during the day?

Fantasy bookThen focus on your English.  Tell yourself to read so much a day or listen to one song or chapter on tape, or read so many English vocabulary words in the dictionary a day, and then before long, you will have accomplished so much more.  You might want to get in the habit of making some flashcards out of small slips of paper or index cards.  You can put the new term (i.e. vocabulary word, skill or concept) on one side and the definition or explanation on the back. Flashcards are an easy, inexpensive and sure way to review learning and to help maximize your time spent in learning. Remember, that you can practice these flashcards with a friend, too. Practice with a friend was one of the tips from the earlier blog.  Or you can read out loud or talk on a tape recorder, and then listen to yourself.  If you do this on a regular basis, you will soon note your improvement. Before long, others will notice your improvement in English and tell you.  This will undoubtedly make your boost your confidence which will encourage you to:

  • Review
  • Learn vocabulary
  • Memorize phrases
  • Don’t underestimate yourself
  • Maximize your time

And I bet that you will find yourself thinking and even saying out loud  I CAN! I CAN! I CAN! Until next time, let me know some of those favorite spots of yours to study and practice English.  Do you have some tips to share or a story about how reviewing really helped?  How about some important vocabulary you might have learned or how memorizing phrases just got you something that you always wanted?  Do you have an example of how you either encouraged someone to do something or how someone might have encouraged you?  Is it the words that were used?  Something that was done?  How did you know that you did not underestimate?  How did it feel when you valued that person or the person valued you?  How did it feel when you reached high for your goal and kept reaching until you were able to grasp it?  Do you have something to share about finding time to study and learn?  Do you have a story about maximizing your time?  I look forward to hearing from you so please take the time to share. Just do, it!

Now it’s your turn – what other tips do you have for improving your confidence? (Write them in the comments section below!)

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.