Do you ever feel scared or worried about speaking English? Perhaps you get sweaty hands or your heart starts beating fast. Those are signs that you might be feeling anxious. People often feel anxious about speaking in front of classmates, speaking to native speakers, making mistakes and various other things.
Anxiety is very common, but if the worries stop you from speaking, then you might miss opportunities to practise your English. You also can't get much feedback on your speaking from the teacher or other people. Other people miss out on the chance to hear your ideas as well.
It takes time to overcome anxiety about speaking English, but it can be done! Here are some tips.
1. Set yourself a goal
Start small. Set a goal that is a bit challenging but achievable and not too scary. For example:
- Say 'How are you?' to a classmate or an English-speaking friend.
- Ask the teacher one question in your next class.
And here are some more challenging goals.
- Chat with somebody for a few minutes.
- Speak in front of an audience.
- Speak on the phone.
Remember, the goal is not to do these things perfectly, it's just to do them! Search for opportunities, and if you achieve your goal, that's great! Increase the difficulty of your goals over time.
2. Think positively
Tell yourself positive things: I can do it. I've got this. It will be OK! Whether you are a beginner or an advanced-level speaker, thinking negatively will limit what you do. Thinking positively will help you to do your best and improve.
3. Face your fears (gently)
If you feel anxious, you may want to avoid speaking. It might be easier to do something totally different, such as reading or grammar exercises. However, avoiding the issue can just make it grow bigger and scarier. Don't wait – start speaking little by little. It will be OK!
4. Look for a good partner
Try to find someone who you feel comfortable speaking with, perhaps somebody who is patient and kind and keen to speak English too. If you can practise speaking regularly, it should help to reduce anxious feelings.
5. Plan what to do in case of problems
We often worry about having problems like these and not knowing how to deal with them.
- What if I forget a word?
- What if my mind goes blank?
- What if I don't understand what the other person is saying?
By planning what you will do and say if these situations occur, you may feel less anxious. If you forget a word, for example, prepare some phrases such as I can't remember the word. What I mean is … and then try to describe the word. You could perhaps use synonyms (It's similar to …) or antonyms (It's the opposite of …). Or if somebody says something you don't understand, you can say Sorry, I didn't get that or Sorry, could you say that again? Write these phrases in your notebook and practise them.
Communication is never 100 per cent smooth, not even for native speakers. Overcoming such problems is a very normal part of speaking.
6. Accept problems and mistakes
Learning a language is not easy, and you will definitely have problems and make mistakes along the way. Everybody does! But making a mistake can teach you a lot and help you to improve your skills. Remember that good speakers are not people who speak perfectly all the time. Instead, good speakers can solve communication problems when they occur.
7. Note your progress
Over days and weeks, experiment with different ways to reduce and cope with anxiety, and keep notes of what works for you and what doesn't. Note down your speaking goals too and tick them as you achieve them, so that you can see your progress and build up positive experiences of speaking.
8. Reward yourself
If you try hard and make progress but your reward is just to do more practice, it might not be very motivating. So, reward yourself with something nice like eating a chocolate, buying a new notebook, taking time off to relax or whatever makes you feel good. Reward yourself when you achieve a goal, overcome a problem, learn something important or do something challenging.