At VOA Learning English, we sometimes get questions like this: “How can I speak English with more confidence?”
That is a great question. No matter what language we are learning, we would all love to speak more confidently.
Yuliana Vasquez is an English teacher. She also trains teachers and is a language researcher at the University of Panama. She said lack of confidence can come from having trouble with pronunciation and not having a wide enough vocabulary.
If you lack confidence when you speak English, you may do one or more of these things without realizing it:
- Speak in short phrases
- Speak too softly
- Speak too fast or unclearly
So today, we have several pieces of advice to help you gain confidence in your English-speaking ability.
Use positive self-talk
Believe it or not, the most important person you talk to every day is yourself. In other words: Your thoughts matter.
So our first piece of advice is to use positive self-talk.
If you lack confidence as an English speaker, you may tell yourself things like, “English is too hard and I will never improve.” When you talk to other people, you may say things like, “I’m so sorry for my English.”
But if you keep thinking and saying such things, you are sure to start believing them.
Magdi Saleh is an English teacher and teacher trainer based in Cairo, Egypt.
Saleh said many English learners need to show themselves more patience because progress takes time:.
“You have to be patient with yourself and talk positively with yourself.”
He said you can tell yourself something like, “Today, I will learn this thing and tomorrow I will learn other things.”
So the next time you are using your English, pay attention to what you tell yourself or others. Be sure to replace unhelpful thoughts or ideas with better ones.
Speak louder, slower
The next tip is to speak louder and slow down your speech.
When I taught English at a language school in Washington, D.C., I noticed something about my students: Those who lacked confidence spoke too softly. And they did not enunciate well. Often, I had to ask them to repeat themselves a few times.
To sound more confident, speak loudly enough that anyone in the same room can easily hear you.
And try to slow down your speech if you speak too fast. Many English learners worry that speaking too slow will make them sound inexperienced. But speaking too fast may cause more mistakes. So avoid worrying that you are speaking too slow for the people around you.
Speak in full sentences
Our third tip is to speak in complete sentences and give longer responses when possible.
If you are not confident in a language, you will likely try to say as little as possible when you speak. Trust me: I know! When I visited Brazil, for example, I remember asking a building doorman for the fitness center key. In Portuguese, I said just, “Good afternoon. Fitness center key, please.”
Saleh says this is a common problem for language learners. For example, if you ask an English learner what their favorite color is, they may give a short, direct response like, “My favorite color is blue.” But a native English speaker is likely to give a detailed and less direct response, like this:
“Well, to be quite honest, I don’t really have an actual color. I guess that if I were buying clothes, I would go for something like blue or grey.”
Using complete sentences and giving more detail in responses shows listeners that you are not afraid to speak English.
Read out loud
Now, we move to tip number four: Read out loud.
Reading out loud can help build confidence in how your English sounds. So the next time you are reading a website, book or something else that you enjoy, take a few minutes to read the material aloud.
Vasquez offers a possible plan of action.
Before reading aloud, read the story silently first. The second time, if there is audio, you can listen to the speaker as you read along silently. Then, try to read the story out loud alone. Then, try listening to the speaker and reading out loud at the same time.
List words you have trouble saying and then, later, check their pronunciation on Google Translate or in some other place.
Saleh adds that learners should read for pleasure and enjoy what they are reading. So he advises not stopping to check word meanings in a dictionary while reading.
Don’t worry too much
One of the biggest barriers to confidence in speaking a second language is the constant worry about making mistakes.
So our next tip is: Do not worry too much about mistakes.
Understand that making mistakes is a natural part of the language learning process. Yes, you will make mistakes. But keep in mind that the purpose of speaking a language is to communicate. And many English learners communicate very well, even with mistakes.
Vasquez notes that mistakes can be a good thing. The more experience you get, the more you will know what is and is not correct, she explains.
Set realistic goals
Our final tip is to set realistic goals.
If your English-speaking skills are at the beginner or intermediate level and you try to do something too difficult, you may fail. This can harm your confidence. But, if you do something that matches your level, you are more likely to do it well.
As you learn English, it is natural to lack some of the skills you need to communicate well. Often, when we lack skills, we lack confidence. But remember that, as your skills grow, your confidence will, too.
Vasquez advises learners to make a plan for daily practice and spend at least 30 minutes each day practicing your English.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
confidence –n. the feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed
pronunciation –n. the way in which a word is spoken
vocabulary –n. the set of words that a person knows
phrase –n. a group of words that express an idea but do not form a sentence
positive –adj. good or useful
enunciate –v. to pronounce words clearly and understandably
key –n. a special piece of metal used to open a lock
guess –v. to suppose, to think that something might be the case
silently –adv. quietly, without sound
intermediate –adj. relating to a level of knowledge that is not of a beginner or of an expert