Is Your English Holding You Back?

I have met many students afraid to speak English out loud.

These same students can understand pretty much anything a native English speaker says to them in English and can read well too. But when speaking or writing they shrivel up.

It is perfectly natural to feel a certain amount of nervousness or anxiety when speaking in public. No one looks forward to making a class presentation or holding a sales meeting in front of their peers.

But unfortunately there comes a time in everyone’s life where they have to stand up and do a talk.

I want to help you overcome this fear. I want to show you what you can do to take large steps and combat this irrational phobia about your English.

Please follow the steps and I guarantee that you will use your English for speaking and writing and not feel any sense of shame or embarrassment.

Are you ready?

Let’s get started.


What is the real problem?

Writing is a great way to collect your thoughts and ideas. It is very useful to use writing as a tool for organising what is in your head but it is not the same as speaking.

With writing, you can write, edit and rewrite. You can change words along the way and rewrite every single word and sentence before you have to show it to any other person.

Speaking out loud is the real problem for most students

But with speaking it is immediate.

Someone comes up to you and asks you a question in English and you have to respond right there and then.

This puts tremendous pressure on you and instead of just trying to answer the question you stand there stuttering and choking on your own tongue.

When it comes down to it, I think this is the main crux that English students are worried about.

When they say to me, I am worried about my English. I cannot use English properly, my English is so poor.

What they mean is this: I can listen to the teacher speak English and I can understand most of what he says. I can listen to a podcast or watch a movie and I can catch almost all the meaning.

I can read books and it is no problem because I can use the dictionary if I come across any words I don’t know. With writing, I can rewrite everything and show it to others to make sure it is good enough.

What I am really worried about is my ENGLISH SPEAKING.

That is the real question.

Nothing to do with listening or reading. Less to do with writing.

It is all about English speaking.

That is the thing you are really worried about. When you say that your English is poor is has nothing to do with listening, reading, less to do with writing and everything to do with speaking.


Work on Your Vocabulary

When I have spoken to students who lack confidence in their English I have found that one of the biggest problems is their lack of vocabulary.

They do not have enough English words at their command to use when speaking.

This is probably the case for you too.

When writing this problem doesn’t exist so much because you can always use a dictionary. If you come across a word you need to use but can’t think of it, then you can look the word up in a dictionary.

The same with reading. In fact, it’s even easier with reading because the word is right under your eyes. You see the word and you think I’ve no idea what this word means and so you look it up.

You can’t do this when speaking to someone.

Someone engages in conversation with you and asks you a question you can’t tell them to wait while you look in a dictionary.

What you need to do is make sure the vocabulary you use in reading and writing is stored into your memory so you can use it in speaking too.

How to do that?

Glad you asked.


Use a Notebook

I find it incredible the number of students who want to see results in their English development but do not use the one basic tool that can help the most.

A notebook.

That is all you need to make notes of new words and phrases. If you want to see a major upward surge in all your English skills, then buy a notebook.

A notebook is a great tool to use to help you with English vocabulary

And don’t give me all that nonsense about notebooks being expensive. Notebooks are so cheap to buy. You can get one in the local supermarket for pennies.

There is no need to buy a Moleskine or Leuchtturm notebook. But if that is what you want and you can afford to splash out then buy one of those.

You can use the notebook can to collect all the new words and phrases that you read or hear. As you are doing any of your daily English reading, you can make notes of all new words. Write the word down and look the word up in the dictionary write that down too.

When listening to podcasts or watching movies, you can do the same thing. Pause the podcast or movie and make a note of the new word.

Another thing you can use the notebook for is writing a daily journal. I wrote about how to do that here.

Why should you make notes of new words?

Because the action of writing helps you to remember new words and then you have more confidence to speak them out next time you engage with a native English speaker.

And why write a journal?

Because it helps you process your thoughts and you can try to include some of the new words you have already learned before.

I really cannot recommend this enough.

It is free for you to do and it will really help you.

So buy a notebook!


Things You Can Do To Improve Your English Right Now

If you are too nervous to speak out loud in class or you don’t have the courage to talk to a native English speaker, don’t worry.

There are some things you can do at home.


Speak Out Loud

You are in the privacy of your own home. No one is watching you. Maybe a member of your family but they want you to succeed so don’t worry about them.

One thing you can do is to speak out loud at home.

By doing this, you will become accustomed to the sound of your own voice. You will hear all the inflexions and tones that you use when you say English words.

No longer will your voice sound alien to you when you are speaking English and this will help your confidence.

What can you say out loud?

So many things!

Any reading material that you have, you can read out loud. And when I say out loud — I mean OUT LOUD.

Don’t be shy, you are in your own house. There is nothing to worry about.

Practice speaking out loud all the things you read every day.

Trust me, this really works.


Speak in Full Sentences

Whenever you have to say something in English always use full sentences. This will help you as you are speaking more and you are saying something using a full meaning with all the correct grammar.

Most people in any language just use one- or two-word answers to questions. This is perfectly normal.

Speak in FULL SENTENCES every time

I have met many students who just say one word as an answer if I ask them a question. They are not speaking enough and therefore they are not practising enough.

For example, if someone asks you: How are you?

You can reply: I am very well today, thank you for asking.

Is it strange to say something like this? Yes, a little because it is so formal, but the great thing about doing this is that you are practising a FULL sentence in English and that will help you a lot.

Compare this to a normal one-word answer where most people just reply: Fine.

Use Full Sentences Every Time.

More practice and it will lift your confidence.


Use All the English that You Already Know

You must know some English. If you are reading this far, then you must have a great level of English.

If you want to increase your confidence in English, then practice the words, phrases and sentences you already know in English.

You might think this is a waste of time, but in fact, by using these well-known words and phrases in English again and again you are proving to yourself that you can speak English, that you are an English speaker and you can communicate in English.

Use all the English you know as often as you can.


Watch Movies

I have written about this here.

Believe me, this is a fantastic way for you to improve your English speaking. It can really help you with your pronunciation and listening too.

Just follow the steps in my guide above.


Do Not Worry About Your Accent

Accents are wonderful.

They add colour to a grey world so do not worry about if your accent doesn’t sound like ‘real English’.

As long as your pronunciation is decent and people can understand you, you have nothing to worry about.

The world is full of wonderful accents

I have met thousands of students who have accents and it did not stop them from communicating with me in English. People from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Brazil, France, Italy and many more countries. I have spoken to these people from these places and I could understand all of them with ease.

Just concentrate on pronunciation and you will be fine.

If you are worried about your pronunciation…

Then practice it.

You can do this by yourself in a variety of ways. One is to sing English songs. This is an easy and effective way to improve your pronunciation. Just find some English songs that you like, search for the lyrics online and practice.

I wrote about how to do that here.

But you can also watch movies to practice pronunciation. I mentioned this before. Go here for my useful guide on watching movies to practice English.


Talk Around Difficult Words

I have often heard students say they cannot remember the word they need to use.

So they just stop trying. They just think to themselves; Well, I can’t remember the word I need to use, guess I better just shut my mouth forever.

This is silly!

There is no need to stop talking just because you can’t remember the exact word you need to use.

Let’s imagine a scene.

Imagine you are going to a supermarket and you need a can-opener. Just for the record, this is what a can-opener looks like.

a can-opener

So you get to the supermarket but you can’t remember the word can-opener.

What do you do?

Run out the supermarket in embarrassment?

No, of course not. What you do is talk around it. And that means you DESCRIBE IT.

It’s easy.

Imagine the assistant in the supermarket is looking at you and has asked you what you want. You say something like this:

I need something to open cans. It’s a small object and you can use it to open a can. It’s made of metal and you hold it in one hand and you turn these two little things on the side and it opens the can for you. Do you know what I am talking about?

And I guarantee the assistant would say back to you: Oh, you mean a CAN-OPENER. Let me show you where they are.

That’s all YOU have to do anytime you get stuck on an English word that you can’t remember.

Think you can do that?

Of course, you can.


Fear is Nothing

But the main thing that is stopping you from using your English is nothing but fear itself.

And fear is just fear.

When you speak English outside or with a native English speaker is it a dangerous situation? Is it life-threatening?

No, of course not.

It may make you feel very nervous and insecure but the more you do it the better you will feel about it.

You are not jumping out of a plane.

Just open your mouth and try.



Remember to smile.

Whenever you speak English, always smile. This will help you feel more relaxed and then you will feel more confident.

Smile. And everyone else around you will smile with you.


Don’t Worry What Others Think

Try to push out of your mind what other people may think of you as you speak English.

Chances are they are not thinking about you at all or they want you to do well. Very few people wish bad of others.

Only think about how far you have come and how great an opportunity you have to speak English.



I think the two main things stopping anyone from opening their mouth to speak English are:



And you can fix both issues.

If you don’t have enough English vocabulary, then study more English words in the methods I outlined above. If you make a good plan of studying, then you can see a very strong development in your word power. But you must put in some effort to see the right results.

And for confidence — you need to step outside of your comfort zone and just try. Just take a small step and each time your confidence will increase a little. Challenge yourself every day and you will soon be chatting to anyone and everyone in English.

Good luck with your progress and let me know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Is Your English Holding You Back?”

  1. The two reasons you mentioned preventing students from speaking are valid and very common! But I also think teachers must make sure ESL/EFL classes primarily focus on oral skills from day one, through interesting and fun practices. If they progress naturally from concrete to abstract it will make it easier for them to cut loose later when they have to.

    1. I think this is definitely true in Asia. Many students just do not have to opportunity to speak English on a regular basis. It’s changing albeit slowly.

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