by Marc Anderson

Tips On How to Build Up Your Confidence When Speaking English

Update: There is a follow up to this blog post.  If you’d like to read about additional tips on improving your confidence in English, please read the post.  Also, I wrote another more recent post on confidence in English learning.  If you like this blog post, please make sure to visit the two links.

Did I fool you?  I don’t think there really is a website by this name. But “talking to everyone” is one way to gain confidence in speaking English.  As an English as a Second Language teacher for over 3 decades, I hope to share some confidence-building skills with you. Thanks to the many students (and my friend who is a non-native English speaker) who gave me these insights through these years. If you make small goals and accomplish them, it gives you the confidence to go on to higher goals.John H. Johnson, Founder of Johnson Publishing, Co., 1st African-American to appear on Forbes 400 (the top richest 400 people in America), author of his autobiography that states, “If a poor boy from Arkansas can succeed, then anyone can.

Speak as Much as Possible

Group of children

Learning a language is just about like learning anything else.  The more you practice, the better you get. That’s worth repeating.  Learning a language is just like learning anything else.  The more you practice, the better you get (by ronke). There, that’s more like it… Maybe you can still remember what it was like to ride a two-wheeler for the first time or to swim your first lap. Stop to think about the first time you got in a car to drive, when you cooked a favorite recipe, or skied down that slippery slope.

  • Do you remember how you felt?  
  • Do you remember when it “just clicked”?
  • Perhaps, you felt a little scared. 
  • Perhaps, you were a little doubtful. 
  • Perhaps, you even wanted to q-u-i-t!

But, do you also remember that each time you continued that you got better and better until finally it became a habit?  How did you feel then?

  • I bet you felt proud. 
  • I know you felt confident. 
  • I think you probably wanted to go and do whatever it was, over and over again.
  • You probably even told someone, or maybe more than one person, about it.

Well, that is the same with speaking another language.  The more you speak, the easier it will be to speak.  The more you speak, the better your English will become. The better you speak, the more confident you will be at speaking a second language.  This will be an incentive to encourage you to speak even more. Before you know it, speaking English will be as natural as riding that bike or swimming a lap, driving a car or skiing down that hill. Let’s think of some of the natural ways you can speak English in your day.

So then, make it your goal to speak to one or two new people each day.

  • Speaking on the phone

Listen to those telemarketers and then respond. Ask them a question or tell them you are not interested in their product or service.

  • Repeating television or radio lines or songs

Turn on your favorite English station and try to mimic what you hear.  This will help you with proper pronunciation, grammar, understanding various phrases, and to practice the speed of everyday speech.  You might even become a better singer!

  • Reading out loud

Find something you enjoy reading.  By reading out loud, you will develop fluency, which is the art of speaking smoothly and having the words, phrases and sentences flow. It’s okay to stumble on a few words or have to look a word or two up in the dictionary. Hey, you can even skip a few words. Just continue to read.

  • Chatting with people on-line

Find opportunities to chat.  You will use many literacy skills. This is a great way to practice listening and visual attention, speaking and comprehension.

  • Talking to people while doing errands (grocery store, post office, library, gas station, bus depot/bus, taxi, theater, department store, etc.)

You probably encounter more people in more situations than you realize.  So that means more opportunity to speak.  For example, you could ask a question to the grocery clerk or ask how she/he is doing.  You could ask about a product or the cost of something.  You could ask the hours that the store is open. You could talk to people in line.  Anything to give you practice with general English conversation.

  • Volunteering

Volunteer to say something. Maybe you raise your hand in class and offer an idea or an answer.  Maybe you help a classmate understand something better.  Maybe you sign-up to help with some event at school, at church/mosque/synagogue etc, in your neighborhood. Is there some community facility that needs help?  How about an animal shelter or a hospital?  Maybe there is a place for those less fortunate so you can help with preparing food, clothing or toys.  Maybe you can talk to elementary students about your country?  Or if your native language is taught at the local high school, you can volunteer to talk to the class one day about your country and culture.  Any of these will get you out of the office or house and meeting people to talk more. And, in turn you will gain confidence.

Practice with a Friend

two beautiful young women having fun in the city

I found the ELL (English Language Learner) students who were the most successful and the most confident in speaking English were those students who became engaged with other English-speaking students.  Join a class or a club.  Go to some community event to meet people.  Join a gym.  Cultivate friendships.  Then practice English with this friend.  You will learn so much more about the culture and you will learn the language much faster. This was the best advice I used to give parents.  When they asked what more they could do for their children to be successful in another language, I encouraged them to sign their children up for something they liked.  Maybe a sports team or scouts. Maybe a camp or lessons in something.  Maybe playing an instrument in a local band or an art class. Maybe a chess club or dance club.  Maybe an exercise class or karate.  The sky is the limit. You just need to do a little looking at what is out there in your community. Read the local paper.  Pay attention to local advertisements.  This will help so much.  You will meet other people, use English, most likely enjoy the activity, feel confident in the activity especially if it something you have chosen to do or already know how to do or it is something you like, increase your confidence in English, begin to understand more of the culture and the language, feel a sense of belonging and assimilation, etc.  I guarantee you, that from this experience your knowledge will build and help you to gain even more confidence.

So then, make it your goal to join one activity this week.

Target an Area

Hand drawing target dartboard with chalk for set goal concept

If you think a bit, you probably can come up with an area of the English language that you need help with.  Maybe it is the use of articles, an idiom you just can’t figure out, or a question of how to use a particular word correctly.  Look at one of these each day, and see if you can improve your English in this area.  Learning new skills, vocabulary and concepts, and applying these to your everyday language will build confidence.  Make a goal to look at one of these areas today and to understand it better. I’ll never forget my friend’s first day in the US.  He took a bus to his language classes at a local college. When he came home, he alerted me that he followed my map and instructions and got on the bus, paid his fare, got off the bus, got to class, and he was able to get home safely and pretty much on time.  But, he had this strange look on his face.  He then asked me, “What’s a pen handy?” I did not know what he was talking about.  But, then he told me this lady who sat next to him on the bus asked him if he had a pen handy.  It was then that I smiled and realized this was just the beginning to a quest to learn another language and to live a life in another culture.  When I slowly explained that this meant “did he have a pen for her to borrow”, my friend was overjoyed that he had learned a new idiom. When he came home the second day, he could hardly wait to tell me that he asked the bus driver when he got on the bus. “Do you have a pen handy?” he grinned.

So, then make it your goal to target an area each day.  Remember, it can be just one simple thing, but bit by bit these simple things will grow into so much more.

Ask for Help

Young woman holding sign Do

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I remember giving a lesson on how to buy gas at the gas station to someone who just moved to the US from Korea.  His first question to me was that he had a rental car and he needed to know what to do to buy gas.  He was afraid the gas was going to run out.  The next class period, this student was very late.  When he finally made it to class, he seemed overjoyed that he was late for my tutoring session. He excitedly told everyone that his warning light went on in the car and he was so happy because he knew what to say at the gas station to put the gas in and to pay for it. You could make a list of what you would like to learn and then see how you can go about learning this.  Practice asking questions you want answered.  Are there any situations that you anticipate being in?  Do you need help with something right away?  Then when you are in those situations, you will know just what to do and just what to ask.  You will feel immediate success just like the student who could fill up his gas tank and pay for the gas.

So then, make it your goal to ask for help to someone for something this week.

Believe It!

Remember, you can do it.  Say it with me:  I can do it!  You can speak with more confidence.  You can learn English and become a better speaker.  Believe in yourself.In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I have the belief that I can do something, I shall acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have had it in the beginning. So then, make it a goal to start today.

Until Next Time…In my next blog, I will continue to offer more helpful tips on how to become a better English speaker. Tips that I learned along the way from students just like you.  Until then, talk to everyone.  And, let me know what discoveries you make in your daily talks.  Did you meet a new friend?  Find an answer to something?  Join an interesting activity?  Volunteer to make a difference somewhere?  Target an area and succeed in understanding it?  Feel like you gained confidence in speaking?  Let me know by speaking to me via the comments section at the bottom of this blog post. Let me know, too, if you have any questions.

So then, until next time…

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

Beautiful young woman with book on her head. Isolated on white.

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.