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How to Overcome Your Fear Of Speaking When English Is Not Your First Language

You’re in a meeting and someone suddenly asks you to give an update on a project you are working on. English is not your first language and you are not as comfortable speaking English as you would like to be so you stumble over your words as you try to speak to the group. Afterwards, you feel a little humiliated. 


Or maybe you are walking down the hallway and someone from another team stops you to ask for more information about a project. You wish you had time to think about what to say and send the information in an email but they want a response right then and there. You struggle to find the words to tell them what they want to know. When they walk away, you feel like you did not do a good job telling them important information about the project.


When you struggle to respond as well as you would like, you begin to develop a fear of speaking English. You avoid conversations with other English speakers because you fear they will not understand you or that they will make fun of your language skills. You are not alone.


You would like to be able to respond effectively in English and with confidence. So how do you overcome your fear of speaking English?


Overcoming your fear of Speaking:


1. Focus on small goals to improve your English.

An example of a small goal would be to work strictly on pronunciation. Practice common words and phrases that you hear and use frequently at work or in business. Take extra time to improve the way you pronounce these words and phrases. 


Another small goal would be to learn the most common phrases or idioms used in business. Idioms are used so often in business that you really can’t afford to not learn the most common ones. It’s so important that I have put together a free 6 day video course you can sign up for and start learning these important phrases immediately.


Can you think of any other small goals to help you improve your English?


2. Use short simple sentences or rephrase your responses.

I have noticed that English learners on average tend to attempt a lengthy response when responding to others. Is this you? It is completely unnecessary most of the time, even for native English speakers. 


Attempting wordy responses can often be a confidence killer. Try to speak with shorter sentences that include only the information needed to get your point across. 


For example, you may attempt the following sentence: 

We are going over the specs for the project again later today in hopes of eliminating any unnecessary steps that would delay the project.

That sounds like a great sentence doesn't it? But it can be a chore to speak when English is not your first language. It’s also not necessary.


Here is an easier way to say the same thing:

We are removing any steps that may delay the project.

See the difference? The shorter sentence remains professional and polite and still gets the message across. 


3. Think in English.

Many English learners translate their thoughts from their native language into English when speaking. This will always make it more difficult for you to respond as well as you would like. The trick is to think in English.


When you have an English vocabulary, you should be able to think with this vocabulary without the need to translate words from you native language. Translating in your head is a habit not a fact of how the brain processes language. It’s something most of us do before we have a sufficient vocabulary in another language. But once you have that vocabulary, you should no longer have to translate.


Practice thinking of 3–4 sentences in English without translating. Do this just in your head at first. When you are comfortable, do this out loud. Think of your 3–4 sentences in English as you speak them out loud.


4. Practice, record, listen and improve.

Hopefully by now you understand the importance of practicing when you are learning a new language. Another way to help you overcome your fear of speaking English is to practice out loud. Once you are comfortable, record yourself speaking out loud. It would help if you come up with your own conversation based on real questions you have been asked at work or in business and practice responding to these questions.


Once you have recorded yourself speaking, listen to it and think of ways you can improve your response. Look for sentences that can be said with fewer words. Then look for words that you can pronounce better. Double check your sentences for grammar mistakes, incorrect word choices and sentence structure. You can also go over your recording with an English trainer to help you improve.


5. Practice with an English trainer.

Sometimes it’s not enough to practice on your own. You need feedback from someone who can identify problem areas with your speaking and help you fix them. It is worth the investment to take lessons with an English trainer who will work with you on the language skills you are most concerned about. They will be patient while you speak and give you time to respond with no pressure or judgment.


When you work with an English trainer, you can ask them if there are better ways to say the same thing so you can learn to speak more effectively. You can also ask them to help you pronounce words correctly and explain any words or phrases you don’t understand. This is the fastest way to improve your English skills.


6. Give yourself time to compose your thoughts and respond.

My clients tell me that the main reason they fear speaking English is that they feel pressure to speak quickly without having enough time to think about what to say. They freeze up with this pressure and forget words that they know. They are often surprised when I tell them they don’t have to respond quickly when speaking to others. 


It is OK to take your time when responding to others. Just take enough time for your to think about an effective way to respond and then say it. They will wait. I don’t mean take an hour, etc. but at the very moment that someone is waiting for a verbal response from you, break your thoughts up into shorter bits and give yourself time to think in-between. So speak a little bit, think, then speak a little more. Eventually you won’t have to do this.


7. Do not compare yourself to other people.

You are your own individual self. It is unfair for you to compare yourself to others. You will learn English at a different pace and in a different way than anyone else. You have a right to. You have a right to be yourself. 


You are not a native English speaker and there is nothing wrong with that. You can and will achieve a native English proficiency level in your own time if that is your goal. No one else has a say in that but you.


You are a part of the growing masses of people learning another language. Now is a wonderful time to do so. People have become used to meeting and communicating with people from another country or culture. They are far more understanding and patient in this area than they once were.


Give yourself permission to make mistakes and improvements. But to make the improvements you have to be willing to work through the mistakes and to make the mistakes and the improvements, you have to open your mouth and speak.




Thumb twhite3
Senior English Trainer and Ruby on Rails Developer who has worked for over 20 years in the Information Technology industry. I have worked in IT departments at some of the largest companies in both the world and the United States such as JP Morgan Chase, Hewlett Packard, Raymond James Financial, Bank of America, IBM, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, etc. I am also an avid reader, writer and lover of the English language. 

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