I used to be one of those language learners who was too shy to speak around other people.
When I first started learning Korean, I never practiced with my Korean friends. I was afraid that I was going to make a mistake and look foolish.
And I did look foolish a couple of times, like when I tried to tell the taxi driver my apartment was number 18 but I accidentally said a nasty insult instead.
It wasn’t until I moved from Seoul, a city with millions of people, to a rural village in the middle of South Korea, that I learned how to be okay with making mistakes. Very few people there spoke English, so I had to use what little Korean language I had to try and be understood.
Over time, my speaking, listening and grammar skills all got better as I was forced into countless situations where I had to use the language.
This post will show you some ways that you can improve your confidence when using English, including some concrete steps you can take to become more comfortable learning, speaking and writing English.
No More Hiding! Increase Your English Confidence with These 6 Super Tips!
We All Feel Self-conscious When We Shouldn’t
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any embarrassing moments in Korea due to me not speaking Korean perfectly. I learned that most people usually have a quick laugh and then move on—or they help me. More importantly, I found out that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
The truth is that most people don’t want to make you feel foolish when you make silly mistakes. And as someone who kept getting the word for teacher and the word for fish mixed up, I know a thing or two about making silly mistakes.
It’s not actually your mistakes that are holding you back, it’s doubt. The truth is that everyone makes mistakes when speaking English, even native speakers like me.
A normal native English speaker tends to break countless rules when speaking. In fact, you probably know more grammar rules off the top of your head than most English speakers do!
Hacking Your English Confidence
If you’re like me, being forced to speak a foreign language in front of native speakers is a nerve-racking experience.
The problem is that feeling stressed makes it difficult to think clearly, which makes you even more likely to make mistakes and doubt your English abilities. It’s a negative cycle, and the only thing that can break the cycle is to increase your confidence.
The first step towards building your English confidence is learning how to relax so that you can learn English with a clear head. If you have a hard time feeling calm and comfortable during English classes or when speaking English out in the world, try doing some deep breathing exercises to relax. This will help you stop to focus and will also calm your nerves.
Another way to increase your English confidence is to make your learning experience enjoyable. That way, you’re so busy having fun that you won’t even have time to wonder if you’re making mistakes.
While there aren’t many people who find grammar book exercises and vocabulary drills to be particularly thrilling (although they are important!), there are other ways to make your English learning exciting. If you like watching movies, take your vocabulary and listening skills to the next level by watching English films. Or you can use music to help you sound like a native speaker, idioms and all.
Whatever your hobbies and interests are, there’s a good possibility that there’s an English version out there. For example, gamers have it especially easy, as there’s almost always an English option for popular console and computer games out there.
Also, the website Reddit is filled with countless English forums for virtually any type of hobby or interest. Simply use the search feature to find message boards—which are known as “subs,” short for “SubReddits”—that cover topics that interest you. You can participate in discussions with people from all over the world on topics like news, television, music and anything else you could imagine.
How to Get Comfortable with English: 6 Confidence-building Exercises
You’ve probably heard the saying “practice makes perfect.” The best way to boost your English confidence is to get comfortable using the language, and to do that, you need to practice often. Here are six great ways to practice English in a positive, low-stress way.
1. Use WhatsApp
If you have friends or classmates also learning English, see if you can start a WhatsApp group together where you can text and send voice notes in English. WhatsApp is great because it lets you practice conversations when you’re ready, so you don’t have to worry about being thrown into the middle of a discussion when you don’t feel like talking.
2. Practice with Telemarketers
Do you ever get those phone calls from random people trying to sell you something over the telephone?
Nobody likes being annoyed by telemarketers, but if you’re going to talk with them on the phone, you might as well practice your English on them. Talk with them and ask them questions until you get bored!
The best part is, they’re trying to sell you something, so they basically have to politely listen to you, and they won’t make fun of you if you make mistakes!
3. Learn the Lyrics to Your Favorite Songs
Practice singing along with the lyrics to your favorite songs so that you feel comfortable with the rhythm and pronunciation of English. Of course, you won’t be singing when you hold conversations with your English-speaking friends, but this will still help you learn how to speak English more naturally.
The website Genius is great for lyrics and other interesting bits of information about popular songs of different genres.
4. Read Aloud
We already know that reading books is a great way to learn a new language, but if you’re not reading out loud, then you’re not maximizing your study time. Next time you’re reading a good English novel at home, be sure to practice reading paragraphs aloud so that you become accustomed to actually speaking English. After a while, you’ll be so comfortable speaking English that holding conversations becomes second nature.
You can also try audiobooks to boost your listening skills as well. The YouTube channel Greatest AudioBooks has full-length audiobooks from different genres—many of which are written by award-winning authors. And if you want to read along with the narrator, simply click the “CC” button on the bottom right and read from the captions.
5. Don’t Depend on Your First Language
Let’s face it, you’re probably not going to become comfortable speaking English if you’re always switching back to your native language every time you come across a difficult word. The reason that I learned how to speak Korean so well was that I was forced to work with the vocabulary I had because nobody understood English.
Unless you’re in a situation where it’s absolutely important to be understood, like when opening a bank account or at a doctor’s appointment, you should step out of your comfort zone and use only English whenever possible. You’ll be surprised how quickly your English confidence improves when speaking English is your only option!
6. Learn English Naturally
Native English speakers don’t learn how to speak English through textbooks, and neither should you. The natural approach to learning English requires you to get out in the world, make mistakes and put your English knowledge to use without overthinking grammar rules and pronunciation—besides, most English speakers love a good accent!
If you want to discover more about learning English without all the textbooks and drills, check out the Go Natural English YouTube channel. They have tons of engaging content and challenges that you can participate in.
Another way to successfully master English through cultural immersion is by checking out FluentU’s English content.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.There, you can browse through endless content that’s not only enjoyable but also relevant because it’s in a real-world context. Give it a free try to feel the immersion vibe!
Remember That English Is Just a Language
At the end of the day, English is just a language that we use to communicate with each other. As long as you can make yourself understood, you’re off to a good start. Don’t let your English studies be the source of your stress.
And if you slip up, don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes. Learning to accept those mistakes and learn from them is how you’ll gain confidence!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.