This is a awesome and energetic post on building confidence from our friend over at FeelGoodEnglish, Kevin Conwell.
Hello there, you lovely person you.
This is Kevin, the “feel good” English guy. I help English learners become confident speakers.
This is a 3-part series on how to achieve the next level of confidence in your English journey.
If you have zero confidence, now is the time to begin building a foundation. I will show you how in part 1.
Part 2 will be for those who are somewhere in the middle; sometimes confident yet sometimes nervous. Let’s get you to that next level.
And part 3 is for already confident speakers that would still be a bit intimidated if they had to speak in front of a group of American Harvard students. You ready for that?
Part 1 – Linus, The Bedroom Learner
Linus is smart and did extremely well in his English course, which finished two years ago. He did his homework, got A’s on tests, and even did well when he had to stand up in front of class to give a presentation.
The other, less studious (and less moral) students always wanted to sit next to Linus in class so he could give them the answers to tests. That actually made Linus feel pretty special.
Linus completed all 64 books his English school had to offer, and it only cost him $10,000! In the end, he got a beautiful certificate to hang on his wall next to his Metallica poster. Yay!
Fast forward to today… Linus, being the motivated learner he is, continues his English studies by watching videos, listening to podcasts and reading books. And he does this all in the comfort of his bedroom.
Little did Linus knew there was an English disaster waiting to happen in his life.
Linus Learns a Valuable Lesson
The other day, Linus was hanging out with his best friend, Charlie. They were having a beer at the dive-bar down the street, when in walked the hot redheaded girl that was visiting Charlie’s company this month.
She was sexy as hell, and Charlie really wanted to get to know her better.
Fortunately, he was with Linus, the “A” student who had an English certificate-of-completion on his wall.
Linus would be able to translate for him, so he thought…
Charlie said to Linus in his own language, “Yo man, you’re going to have to speak to her for me. My English is garbage, and yours is excellent. Help me out bro.”
And Linus responded, “Uh, well, I um.. I can try.”
“I’m counting on you dude. Don’t mess this up.”
Up walked the redhead.
“Hey Chawlie! Having a middy?” (Australian slang for beer)
Charlie looked at her and gave a nervous laugh. He looked at Linus for help.
Linus was so good with English vocabulary that he even knew some Australian slang like “middy.” But the words just didn’t come out of his mouth.
But Linus froze up.
“Uh, hi. I’m Linus.” was all that he could say.
“Oh, that’s nice. Can I join ya for a couple drinks?” she said.
“Ok.” Linus said nervously.
Five minutes of awkwardness pursued.
Charlie would say something to Linus, in hopes he’d relay it to the hot redhead, but Linus was just too nervous to speak correctly, and he didn’t want to make mistakes.
Not only that, but he wasn’t confident around girls so his brain just wasn’t working correctly.
It was all a big failure.
The girl got bored and left their table to find someone she could talk to in English. Lucky for her she found an American sitting by himself at the bar, drinking a Jack Daniels cowboy style.
Poor Charlie. And poor Linus!
The Importance of Building Speaking Confidence
For the first time, Linus realized he wasn’t ready to handle “real” English situations.
WTF? He was so disappointed. He had studied so hard. Did he need to continue learning more grammar and vocabulary? Maybe sign-up for a better, more expensive course?
No. Neither of those things would help. He needed to focus on the deeper problem itself; confidence!
Linus’s situation is very typical. After years of teaching English to hundreds of students, I have discovered that the main issue most of them face is having confidence to speak in real life situations.
Confidence is a huge factor in being fluent in a foreign language, and should be taught as well as grammar or vocab.
How to Start Building Confidence from ZERO
Step 1 – Changing your mindset; the way you think about English
All too often learners think that once they perfect their grammar and build a huge vocabulary, speaking English will be easy for them.
But it doesn’t work like that.
Having confidence issues with speaking does not necessarily mean you need to learn more English. You need to attack the specific problem itself, which is confidence.
You need to face your emotions. Know that every time you feel nervous, you are in a perfect situation to build more confidence.
Do you get nervous during meetings and conference calls? I totally understand why you would, but don’t try to avoid these situations. Use them as opportunities to get better. Think of them as moments to train and improve, and know that with each difficult experience, you are boosting your confidence just a little bit more.
Step 2 – Make it an easier process by starting small
If you have big problems with confidence, you should start by taking small steps.
It would be really intimidating if you had to give a big presentation in front of all the managers of your company in English. So prepare yourself for that possibility by taking action now.
Find more comfortable speaking resources online. There are plenty of resources where you can find people to talk to, and the more conversations you have, the better.
One of my favorites right now is RealLife’s Power Video Chat Activity. This platform is so cool for many reasons, one of which is the ability to talk with language speakers from all over the world, in a very comfortable and friendly environment.
Some online speaking tips:
– You don’t always have to use your webcam, especially if you’re really nervous- on RealLife Global, you need a camera to participate, but you can cover it with a piece of paper. It will be less intimidating if you aren’t worried about the person you’re talking to judging you on how you look.
– Have a topic you want to talk about before starting the class. If you already know what you’re going to talk about, it’ll make the conversation much smoother.
-You don’t need to only speak with native speakers either. Practicing with other English learners is a GREAT way to start. Through talking with other English learners, you will better understand your current level, and most likely be impressed with yourself!.
You will also find that there are English learners who don’t speak as well as you, but are totally fine with making mistakes. This is important for you to see. Making mistakes is totally OK!
Step 3 – Mistakes Can Guide You to Confidence
I have had many students who spend a lot of energy trying to avoid mistakes.
They often are successful in their jobs, and think that their English needs to be as “successful” as their careers are.
But don’t compare your success to how correctly you speak English. They are two totally different things.
Now it’s quite possible you think the other person will be judging you on how you speak. Maybe they will. But screw those people! They obviously are overly critical of themselves too if they are so worried about not making mistakes. They might also just be assholes.
Every time you make a mistake and notice it, it is a sign you are improving.
Don’t expect to say it correctly the next time either. Be patient with yourself. If you stay committed to practicing as often as possible, your speaking and writing abilities will naturally improve.
Linus Has Started on His Path to Feeling Good about English
Linus has already noticed how it is getting easier for him to speak only after a few
online conversations. He needed to prove it to himself that he could use his vast English knowledge for successful communication too.
He stopped worrying about mistakes, and is using each uncomfortable conversation as a sign that he is doing what he needs to do to improve.
He’s not intimidated by speaking online with other learners at all, and is even starting to feel better with native speakers.
Linus has now realized that most people want to know WHAT he has to say, not HOW he says it.
What ideas or information do you have to offer someone? Focus on that, and give people what they really want from you (not perfect English.)
But what about Charlie? He’s not a shy guy in general, he actually DOES need to learn more English. Otherwise, how is he going to ever be able to talk to redheaded Australians?
Find out more about Charlie’s plan in Part 2.
Kevin is the founder of www.feelgoodenglish.com , a resource for people needing to find more confidence in English. A graduate of psychology, long time English teacher and world traveler, Kevin mixes personal development with English learning to help people feel good about not just their English, but also their life.