To Speak or Not to Speak?

I’ve recently launched a Google Form where you could ask questions and I could help you find the answers. So guess what the most popular question is! Yes, it is exactly that one – “How to start speaking English without fear of making mistakes?” Well, i do understand the popularity of this question as long as i’ve heard it lots of times already. So here we go, i made a little research on the web, did my best to blend most useful tips and my own experience and came up with some pieces of advice, that hopefully will work for you. 

What they say on the web:

– Trust your teacher

From my own experience:

This is the first thing you should do. I’ve been teaching for about 8 years and yes, must confess, the first thing i do –  try to make a student feel comfortable and relaxed. Only when this stage reached – educational process can go on successfully. So before the actual learning/teaching process starts, some psychological background should be set – make sure you can feel free with your teacher and share your English mistakes with him/her. Believe me, it’s boring for a teacher, when you don’t make mistakes:) Your mistakes are our challenges:) 

What they say on the web:

– It’s never as bad as you imagine

From my own experience:

Absolutely agree here. When it comes to teacher-student communication, in most cases students that came to my classes spoke much better, than they described it when calling me. Well, human nature is probably the key here. We quite often tend to underestimate our abilities in order not to look/sound silly. There’s been only one case in my experience when a student was rather confident of his speaking and, you know what, i didn’t spend time on comforting him, we got down to the learning/teaching process straight away! Saved time!

What concerns student-student communication – always keep in mind – you and the other person – are in the same boat – both of you learn the language, both of you have mistakes, both of you can learn from each others’ mistakes! I’m a student as well, i’ve been learning German for 3 years already in a group of 12-15 people. I speak my “not-that-good-as-English-German” in class, i hear the mistakes of my group mates and yes, they hear mine as well! The teacher is not able to follow each of us when we speak, so it’s really useful, when my group mates notice my mistakes and provide me with a chance to pay attention to them. No, it doesn’t hurt my self-esteem or anything like that:)

The hardest is probably your communication in real life – at work, when traveling, meeting people, etc. If you talk to native speakers, bear in mind – it’s you, who did/are doing a great job and learned/are learning “their language”. Being a teacher of Russian to foreigners as well, i’ve heard a number of foreigners speaking Russian. Yes, a lot of mistakes. No, nothing funny. A feeling of admiration only:) Russian is hard:) As well as any other foreign language. 

What they say on the web:

– Practice every moment possible

From my own experience:

Triple YES here! When a foreigner asks for help on the street it is that very chance that you shouldn’t miss. When you go abroad, don’t explain using the “language of gestures”, make yourself sound, even if this sound is not that good. When learning a language, every step counts. The more chances of speaking English you have the quicker you start speaking fluently. Yes, i’m talking about some really obvious thing now. Basically, practice makes perfect. I’ve visited Germany a few times, Austria and Switzerland once. My “not-that-good-as-English-German” was the only language i used. Yes, i could have used English (all three countries can boast of really good English), yes, the communication could have been quicker and easier with English, but i used my chances – had some practice in “asking for the way”, “ordering food in a restaurant”, “shopping”, “small talk”, etc. For most people these kind of chances happen rarely, so when they do, better use them:) None of the classes you take will provide you with such an opportunity to practice.

What they say on the web:

– Most English speakers are happy to help

From my own experience:

I travel a lot and have already been to 15 countries, where Russian is not spoken. I’ve never experienced any negative attitude because of the way i spoke English/German and French a bit. When talking about communication with English native speakers, it’s you, who made their life easier, they didn’t spend time learning your native language and yes, they appreciate that. If it comes to communication with people whose native language is not English, but they speak it when talking to you, see above – you’re in the same boat:)

What they say on the web:

– Making mistakes when learning English is good!

From my own experience:

Sounds weird, right? However, we learn from mistakes, doesn’t matter if it’s about English, driving or cooking. I’ve never met a person, who doesn’t make mistakes. English is my lifetime partner – about 25 years together and, just imagine, i also make mistakes sometimes! My students won’t probably be happy to hear that, but okay, if it can help you overcome your fear of speaking, i can sacrifice my professional reputation:)

What they say on the web:

– The desire for perfection may be holding you back

From my own experience:

I’ll start with an example here. Lots of software is being released nowadays, 21st century, you know. I doubt, that any of that software was launched without any bugs/problems/failures. Let’s take “Apple” or “Microsoft”, even these smart guys provide trial versions, they quite often ask or wait for feedback from users. It’s almost impossible to make a perfect product right from the start. The same goes for the language you learn. No, you won’t speak it fluently, if you don’t start speaking little by little, even if you’ve learned all grammar rules and tonnes of vocabulary, did all possible exercises, still no. Start speaking at the very beginning, make mistakes and ask for feedback. Do like those smart “Apple” or “Microsoft” guys do:) I’ve launched my “not-that-good-as-English-German” version after first 2 lessons:)

What they say on the web:

– Control the speed of the conversation

From my own experience:

Again, agree. When speaking English, don’t hurry. Yes, probably you won’t sound very natural, if you speak slower, but it might help both you and another person to communicate. For you it’s the way to have some time to think before producing some sentences, for the other person it will be easier to understand you. Just imagine, if you speak quickly and make mistakes at the same time – double trouble:) Get rid of one of the troubles, control the speed of your speech.

What they say on the web:

– Practice your listening/expand vocabulary/improve grammar – constantly

From my own experience:

Any questions here? My students make me happy and surprise themselves as well, when here and there new words or grammar structures come out of their mouth:) Of course, it’s all about hard work that learning a foreign language requires. I’m sure you know it: the richer your knowledge is the less fear you experience.

What they say on the web:

– Rephrase/paraphrase/use synonyms

From my own experience:

An incredibly useful tip! It’s well-known that the language spoken on the streets and the one on business meetings or academic events differs. Probably your business partner or your examiner would like to hear some very sophisticated phrases/words/structures, but, when it comes to everyday survival communication – you don’t have to speak like the queen. Instead of trying to recollect this very hard word “exuberant”, you can say “very happy”. If you can’t provide a synonym, define the word, describe the object you are talking about. And yes, you’re understood. Easy as that!

What they say on the web:

– Smile

From my own experience:

This is the best way to overcome any confusion or misunderstanding. Nobody will judge you, when they receive a smile in case some misunderstanding appears. Actually, smile is a solution to quite a number of situations, not only linguistic ones:)

To wrap it all up, here’s the shorter version of all that text above:

– Trust your teacher

– Don’t underestimate your abilities

– Practice all the time everywhere when and where it’s possible

– English speakers are not that bad as you might think, they are ready to help

– Make mistakes to learn the language

– Start speaking right after the 1st lesson – “launch your trial version of English”

– Don’t hurry when speaking English

– Always “update” your vocabulary/grammar, refresh your listening skills

– Speak simpler or say it in another way

– Smile:)

And yes, there’s also a list of useful phrases you can always use to make sure you understood the speaker:

Pardon? / Pardon me? (mostly American)

Pardon me, could you repeat that please?

Excuse me? (mostly American)

Run that by me again (spoken)

You what? (very informal)

Come again?

I’m sorry

Sorry, what did you say?

I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.

Could you say that again?

I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said. 

What did you just say?

Would you mind repeating that (speaking up), please (formal)

Did you just say … ?

You can also use a wh-word to check part of what someone has said:

– I’ve just met Jane.

– Who?

– Jane.

If you think you heard what someone has said but are not sure, or are surprised, you can repeat it, or repeat only part of it, making it sound like a question:

– There is some good news for you.

– Good news?

– Yes.

You can also add the word ‘again’ to the end of your question when you are asking someone to repeat something that they have told you:

– What’s your address again?

– 34, Baker Street

I hope you will find it useful:) I know it’s hard, but i do believe you can open your mouth and start speaking!

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