Do you remember the last time you stood in front of an audience to speak English?
You memorized what you needed to say, but you felt nervous, and perhaps your voice was shaky at the start.
Afterwards, you scanned the room to see if anyone liked your presentation, looking for feedback from the faces around. Your boss makes eye contact and you hope he didn’t notice how anxious you were.
Does this sound like you? Maybe you were in the same position not long ago?
Many people I’ve taught were very nervous when it came to speaking English in front of an audience – some even tried to completely avoid doing these types of presentations.
While there are many methods to improve your English, having confidence in your abilities is just as important as vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and everything else.
So what is confidence?
Confidence is knowing the value you provide and acting in a way that shows it to other people.
Why should I care about confidence?
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”
-Norman Vincent Peale
Having a healthy sense of confidence is a motivator when you are learning English. Confidence in our abilities and our potential encourages us to push ourselves more.
Studies show that increasing your confidence will also help you at work. Confidence in your own skills at work will mean that your boss will have more confidence in your abilities, which could lead to more responsibilities at work.
When you are confident in your abilities you are more open to learning opportunities, such as professional development courses at your company.
Not only that, but if you are responsible for dealing with clients, your confidence will make them trust you more.
Now that you understand why you need to have confidence when learning English, let’s discuss 8 techniques to help you improve.
1. Master fluency
Part of being confident is speaking well. If you speak clearly and loudly, you will appear and feel more confident. A simple technique that will help is learning to read with fluency.
What does that mean? It means that you practice reading a piece of text so that you sound confident not only in what you say, but how you say it.
Some tips to get you started:
- Start with reading material you are already familiar with, such as something from your lesson or a piece of text you’ve read before.
- Read it aloud in front of a mirror. Notice what your body language is like. Are you standing up tall or hunching over? Speaking loudly, or quietly?
- Work on changing how you stand and how you talk (your body language has a surprisingly large influence on your confidence, which we’ll look more at later).
- Use the same text until you memorize it, and you can now start working on how you speak to your audience.
- If you want to track your progress, film yourself reading the text the first time, and then again after you memorize it. Seeing these changes will help to further improve your confidence. Go ahead and practice with a trusted friend when you feel more comfortable.
2. Mimic English TV news presenters
If you’re not sure how to act confidently, a great way is to study people.
You want to be able to understand what they do that makes them so confident. There’s no better way to understand this than by watching people who have to speak in front of millions of people every day – news reporters and presenters.
While it may be tempting to watch the news in your native language, it is better to watch it in English.
First, you get to practice your listening skills. Second, you want to be able to mimic their tone and pronunciation so you can do the same in English.
If you don’t think you can do this, just remember that even native English speakers have a hard time speaking in front of an audience. Those newscasters can do it because they have practiced for many hours over many years.
You, too, can be as confident as them – but you need to put in the time and effort.
To get started, pick one news show to watch daily. It helps if you pick out one person you like. For example, try the BBC One-minute world news.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you watch the videos:
– How do they sit?
– What is the tone of their voice like?
– How quickly do they speak?
Finally, pick a video. Watch it, then watch it again. After watching it a few times, it’s time to mimic what the news reporter says.
Speak simultaneously with the reporter until you feel comfortable saying it without needing to watch the video.
Then try again with another one.
3. Understand your body language
There is a lot of research about the influence of body language and its affect on how other people see you, and also how we see ourselves.
This TED talk by Amy Cuddy explains a technique called power posing and how it can actually boost your confidence, even if you don’t always realise it.
I encourage you to watch it and start trying out some power poses right away:
4. Share your struggles with someone you trust
Sometimes all we need to feel better about learning English is knowing that we’re not the only one who struggles, and that others also struggle with some things, such as how they appear when talking to their boss.
Go ahead and share your struggles with a close friend, your spouse, a teacher, or even a trusted co-worker.
This is not about complaining. Rather, it’s a time to share what you don’t feel confident in, or what you are struggling with.
Don’t judge yourself or contemplate why you don’t feel confident, that will not help. Instead, say what you have to say, and move on.
Sometimes letting our frustrations out is all we need to feel better. That way we can get back to improving our English.
5. Prepare conversation starters
It can be nerve wracking when going to networking events or even speaking with co-workers who have better English than you. In this case, it will help if you prepare at least 10 phrases to use as conversation starters.
That way you’re not standing around with awkward silences which would only make you more nervous and less confident.
You can prepare conversation starters for various scenarios. So, no matter where you are, you will be prepared for any situation.
To help, our guide to socalising in English has tips and example phrases.
To start, think of what you normally talk about in that scenario and write down some questions.
6. Work on solving problems in groups
Part of being confident means understanding that other people might be struggling with the same problems.
Studies show that when we recognise this, it helps with our self-esteem, and in turn with our confidence.
In this study teachers found that they can help students gain confidence by encouraging them to reflect on past classes, and how important it was to share their struggles with teachers and students alike.
It’s important to work with someone you trust – if you don’t feel comfortable talking about your problems, then how are you going to solve them?
It is helpful to talk to trusted colleagues, or perhaps join a mastermind group in your local area – a mastermind group is simply a group of professionals who meet together to discuss a topic of their choice, in your case, improving your confidence in English.
These are informal groups that are organised by their members, created to help each other learn and exchange ideas, or just to network.
There are no official organizations to sign up for, but you can try getting a group of people together, such as your work colleagues, a local social group, or even other professionals from a forum or LinkedIn group you participate in.
7. Read success stories about people who have learned English
Learning a new language is not easy, and it seems like there is a never ending amount still to learn.
We all sometimes need a little encouragement, and I’d encourage you to read about people who have successfully learned English. Reading about how others have been successful helps to encourage a positive outlook.
These success stories will also help you understand what techniques they have used to gain more confidence.
Was it because they believed in themselves? Or was it because they practiced a lot? Make some notes and refer to them again later when you are studying.
8. Reflect on your achievements
Reflecting on what you have achieved so far will help you realize how much you’ve actually learned. It is also a confidence boost because it shows just how hard you’ve worked.
Here are some suggestions:
- Keep a journal or a learning log where you write down every day what you worked on or accomplished
- Create a survey/feedback form to give yourself positive feedback on your skills (make sure you ask people who have better English than you)
- If you are doing a course, talk to your teacher regularly and ask what they noticed about your progress in English. You can speak with colleagues who you use English with as well.
- Start thinking about your errors as opportunities to learn. For example, instead of saying you’re not good at using certain verb tenses, rephrase it as an opportunity to keep practicing.
- Remember that, just as you have overcome previous obstacles in your life, you can also overcome this!
Learning English is not easy, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be confident in the abilities that you have right now.
If you work on any 2 of the 8 tips above, within weeks you’ll feel better and more confident. The people around you will start to notice, as well as the people you work with.
Don’t forget that having confidence will automatically give you more confidence, and this virtuous circle will help motivate you to improve even more – it might also help you get that promotion you’ve always wanted!
If you’ve read this far and reached the end of this article, you’ve got what it takes to excel in English – you just need to believe in it.
Work hard for the next 2 weeks following the advice above, and I promise you’ll feel differently afterwards.
Why not choose 2 of the techniques above and write them down now on a post-it, or set an alert on your phone, to remind you to put them into practice?
So which 2 tips will you try first? Let us know in the comments!