Note: This is Part II about not making mistakes in English. If you have not read Part I, I recommend you do that first.
Last week, in Part I, we looked at why people fear mistakes, common misconceptions, and the definition of true fluency.
Just a reminder, we defined true fluency as: Speaking confidently and being able to describe whatever you need in the target language, even when you don’t know certain words.
Fluency is NOT speaking perfectly, and as we learned in Part I, even natives make mistakes.
This week we’re going to get more practical and proactive by looking at how to overcome your fear of making mistakes and reach your goal to speak without mistakes.
How to Overcome Your Fear
As we noticed in Part I, learning English is very similar to learning anything else like guitar, juggling, basketball, etc. But because we relate it to our first language, which we already speak fluently, we feel silly when we can’t speak competently.
However, the most fluent English speakers think of language learning like acquiring any other new skill. And just like learning anything else, the more you practice, the better you get!
So, guess what?
The way you practice your English is by using it. It’s not enough to go to class two or three times per week. If you want to overcome your fear of making mistakes and get fluent, then you have to start speaking as soon as possible. And I promise if you start speaking regularly, you will notice yourself growing more and more confident in your abilities and improving.
So my challenge to you is to start practicing your English as much as possible.
I’m scared people will laugh
Many learners have a fear that goes beyond just making mistakes: That someone will laugh at their errors in the language.
If you are one of them, perhaps you developed this fear because of insecurities developed in school. It’s common that when we are young our fellow students will laugh at us either because A) We speak English well (in many cultures it’s not ‘cool’ to be smart when you are young), OR the opposite, B) Because we speak incorrectly and others laugh because we are ‘stupid’. This usually sticks with us even beyond school.
However, these insecurities are irrational. We’ve learned that making mistakes is an important part of a process. They in no way reflect your intelligence.
AND this is a good problem. Why? Because it means you have a HUGE opportunity.
Overcoming these insecurities will benefit you in every aspect of your life, beyond just speaking English fluently. So if this is you, then it’s time to realize that it is in your hands to change.
When people laugh at others, they are just projecting their own insecurities, for example, an inability to speak another language well themselves. They put you down by laughing at you because they are scared they will never speak another language as well as you.
Plus, if someone laughs at you when you speak, this probably is not the type of person you want to be speaking to anyway.
The more you speak and make mistakes, the less it will matter to you. You’ll have more fun with the language and learn to laugh at yourself.
Cultivating a deep motivation
Before even practicing, you first must build a strong desire to gain fluency. Exceptional learners know that mistakes are the map and a passion to learn is the compass pointing them towards fluency.
Your desire to learn must become stronger than fear of potential embarrassment. Then you’ll be able to speak without problems, even when you’re making lots of mistakes.
And once you start speaking regularly, you’ll be unstoppable. Through your experience you will realize how insignificant mistakes really are. You’ll see that you have spent so much time scared, worrying about nothing. And with this realization you’ll feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders as you confidently move forward on your path to fluency.
A Student’s Transformation:
Let me tell you a story of a student of mine from Japan. Before starting classes with me, speaking was his greatest weakness. He was scared of talking to new people, so he rarely looked for opportunities to practice. After seeing a short TED Talk about 30-Day Challenges (Watch here), he decided to try to speak English every day for a month.
The important thing with a challenge like this is that there is some consequence if you don’t complete it and to have someone hold you accountable.
My student told his mom that any day that he didn’t speak English with someone he would cook dinner for the family. This is a good consequence because 1) He didn’t want to cook dinner, so it was more worth it for him to talk to someone, even if he didn’t feel like it, and 2) His mom held him accountable.
Amazingly he made a change from rarely speaking (mostly just reading and listening, like most learners) to speaking every day for an entire month. And he realized after just a few days that it wasn’t as hard as he thought. Sure, sometimes he had resistance and wouldn’t feel like speaking, but because of the challenge he did it anyway. And more importantly, he’s not scared anymore, he made a new habit.
Celebrate small wins
Small victories like this can help break anxiety and build confidence. And if you’ve never spoken English before, it doesn’t have to be something as big as what my student did. It can be something small, like asking for the time or the price of something, or giving a tourist directions or recommendations. If these aren’t possible in your city, start by speaking online.
You can make an exchange with someone who speaks your language, and you can use RealLife Global (RLG), which we built exactly for this reason. It’s a great way to build your confidence because each conversation is just 3 minutes, so even if you make mistakes, it’s quickly over and you can move on to a new person. Plus, students there tell us that because everyone is a learner or teacher, they don’t feel anxious like they do with a native speaker.
Don’t depend on texting
Something else I want to warn about is text chatting (like on Whatsapp and other social networks). It is ok for practicing your writing and using new vocabulary. However, many learners use it as an excuse not to speak. They say, “First I need to practice more on chat,” but this is a trap. You’re just letting fear and resistance trick you into avoiding speaking face-to-face.
Don’t be tricked.
Fluent English speakers know that fluency comes from speaking, not from chatting, and thus, as soon as they can, they move from text chat to video chat.
Even if you’re scared, you need to realize that text chat does not help you to overcome anxiety and build confidence in the same way speaking face-to-face does. So if you’re chatting on Whatsapp or social websites, ask your conversation partner if they will speak by video. You might be surprised, some people are just as eager to practice as you.
Speak English Confidently and Fluently
Learning another language is difficult. However, as we’ve seen, you can be proud of all of your hard work and speak confidently. You don’t need to be shy and quiet. You don’t need to be scared of people laughing at you.
Confidence is a choice we make. This doesn’t mean it’s always easy and that we never get nervous or anxious.
Start taking small steps to be the fluent, confident English speaker that you want to be (Learn more in this video), and celebrate every small victory. That’s my challenge to you.
I’ve had tons of people telling me how much they loved these two articles and that it’s helped them to boost their confidence. So I’ve decided to create an Ebook that goes even deeper into the subject of confidence AND gives you actionable exercises to help you become a better communicator in English.
This Ebook will be coming out soon, so keep your eyes open (it will also be available for all of our Fluent with Friends students).
I would love to know what you thought about this article and if it helped you, so please, COMMENT below!
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