Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking English

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 @ 03:49 PM

how to overcome fear of speaking EnglishToday you are going to hear some advice that probably goes against everything you have ever been told about fear. I want to share this little-known method to help you see real improvement with your English. Interested? If so, keep reading!

When was the last time you began a conversation with a native English speaker, made small talk for a few minutes, then politely excused yourself from the conversation before it went too deeply into any specific topic? Why did you do that? My guess is that you did it because you were afraid that you wouldn't be able to understand the person if the conversation became too complicated or that the person wouldn't be able to understand you.

When was the last time you had an opportunity to chat with some native English-speaking acquaintances at a party, but shied away from them and made your way to the group of friends from your home country, who were speaking your native language?

 

English learning, how to overcome fearWhat should you do when you are in these situations?

Well, conventional wisdom might tell you to wait until you are really prepared to begin a conversation with native speakers. Conventional wisdom might say that you should wait until you are in a quieter place like a library or in a silent classroom with your tutor before you strike up a conversation with a native speaker. Conventional wisdom might also say that you should take baby steps and find someone who speaks clearly, patiently, and slowly if you must speak with a native speaker. WRONG! Today we are going to throw conventional wisdom out the window!

Those are excuses and they will only help you to procrastinate longer and longer before you actually begin speaking and practicing in real situations.

That means it will take long for you to get better. Is that what you want?

There is another alternative. You should move directly TOWARDS the thing that scares you, not away from it. Today I am going to show you how to do this.

I would like to share a story with you. This story was originally told by Pema Chodron, a meditation teacher. I have heard it at least 2 or 3 times in the past few months and I think it could help you develop a new perspective on risk-taking as an English learner. Check it out:

 

 

What You Can Learn from a Tibetan Buddhist Master

 

 

story about fearlessness in languages

 

I am not trying to tell you to run towards every angry, rabid-looking animal that approaches you on the street. Please don't do that! What I want you to do, as an English learner, is to start taking more risks.

The moment you enter a situation that feels scary (like a party with all native English speakers, or a meeting at work where you need to contribute your thoughts in English), this is the moment where you need to run towards your fear, not away from it.

Although the lesson from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's story might seem couterintuitive, it is true. You may have been told to run away from your fears, avoid them, plot strategies so that you won't have to encounter them. But do you know what happens if you try to do that? They don't go away. They get worse. And if you are trying to learn English, running away from challenging opportunities to practice won't help you get better.

 

 

How to Move Towards Your Fear of Speaking English

 

 

1) You bump into your neighbor in the hall of your apartment building


 coffee and talkingYou have passed your native English-speaking neighbor many times before and she has always seemed very friendly, but you haven't had the chance to get to know her.

You make eye contact and she comes over to strike up a conversation. After a few minutes of small talk, she suggests a coffee at the local coffee bar down the street. You would like to join her, but you start to worry that if the conversation goes any deeper, you might not have the right vocabulary words or even worse, what if she can't understand what you are saying. Your mind races and you think to yourself, "I better find my way out of this conversation now before I make a mistake and look silly."

So you excuse yourself and say that you cannot go to the cafe because you have to go cook dinner. What a shame. You missed out on a real opportunity to connect with someone and practice your English because you backed down from the fear. What would happen if you continued the conversation despite the fear?

 

2) Your boss wants someone on your team to present your new research

 

overcome fear of speaking EnglishYou have been working on a new project at work for weeks and you know the project better than anyone else on the team.

You are, without a doubt, the most qualified person to give the presentation, but you are also the only non-native English speaker on the team.

You are about to raise your hand and volunteer and then you start to imagine what would happen if your presentation didn't go well. Would you look silly if you made a grammar mistake in front of the whole company? Would they be able to understand you?

Once again, this is a key moment to move towards your fear.

By delivering a presentation like this one, you could not only improve your professional English, but you could gain credibility in your company.

This is a risk worth taking isn't it?

 

I hope find this advice helpful! Remember, the situations that you are most afraid of as an English learner are probably the situations where you will learn the most and benefit the most if you accept the challenge. However, you must accept the challenge by moving INTO the fear! Try it once and see what happens. Good luck and keep practicing!

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: girls in the cafe: AnyaLogic, woman giving presentation: Highways Agency, fox: spencer77, dog in story: State Farm,

Topics: Advice for English Students, How to Learn English

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