I’ve received countless e-mails saying basically the same thing – “Robby, I’m a useless English speaker, when I try to speak with other English speakers – especially native ones – I get very nervous. I’m struggling to say the right words and I hesitate a lot when speaking…”
Well… Maybe you’re right… to a point. You’re useless as far as you believe you are, and the more you convince yourself of it, the deeper the conviction gets ingrained into your mind. It’s the so called self-fulfilling prophecy when something happens just because you believe it will happen ❗
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you should turn a blind eye to the problem and just ignore it. While ignorance may be bliss on some occasions – such as ignoring strangers’ opinion of your level of English simply because they can’t possibly know how well you speak just because you’ve made a mistake when speaking with them – you still have to deal with your emotional and mental issues preventing you from fully enjoying English conversations.
So what I’m saying is – even though the issue is there, you have to change the way you view it. You have to analyze the nature of the issue, make conclusions and see if you really are as useless as you think. Subsequently, you should come to realize that the issue isn’t as bad as you believe it is, and that conclusion in turn should make you into a more confident English speaker.
Essentially it’s the same self-fulfilling prophecy – only now you have to get it to work to your favor!
Now, are you ready to turn your assumption that you suck at speaking English on its head?
Creating a List of Feelings and Emotions
Now we’re going to dissect your assumptions, beliefs, and feelings about you as a useless foreign English speaker. For this purpose please take a blank sheet of paper and a pen and get ready to write down honest answers to the following questions.
I’ll be frank with you – I could give you a ready list of emotions you most likely feel simply because there were times when I was in the same boat. I know how it feels when you make mistakes, struggle for words and hesitate in front of somebody who’s looking at you expectantly. Still, I want you to write your own list because I want you to analyze your own emotions – it’s crucial for the task we’re trying to accomplish here!
Question #1. What do you think your conversation partner thinks about you when you say the wrong word or use a wrong grammar construct during a conversation? What does he think about you as an English speaker and also – what he thinks of you as a person?
Question #2. How do you feel when you make a mistake, struggle for words or hesitate during a conversation with another English speaker? What goes on in your mind, how do you view yourself, and how would you describe the prevalent three emotions you experience at the moment when you realize you’ve said something wrong or quite the opposite – couldn’t say anything despite knowing deep inside what you wanted to say?
Question #3. Think of a particular occasion when you felt humiliated because of your inability to live up to your expectations in terms of speaking English and write a few sentences about it describing the emotions you felt. It can be a job interview where you performed terribly, a conversation where there were a number of people involved and you felt that you stood out from the crowd with your lack of spoken English skills, or a particularly embarrassing encounter with a member of the opposite sex and you messed it all up making completely stupid mistakes when speaking with her or him!
Take your time, and don’t read any further until you’ve accomplished the task, all right?
OK, now when the list is ready, write a big headline on the top of the page: “THIS IS WHY MY SPOKEN ENGLISH SUCKS” and keep the list in front of you while you keep reading this article.
Here’s my list, and I would imagine yours is quite similar in terms of emotions described:
Answer #1. I think that when I make a mistake during a conversation with another English speaker, they think I’m not as good as an English speaker as they are. I feel they start patronizing me and speaking to me as if I were a child; they basically think I’m a loser.
Answer #2. When I make a mistake when speaking English, it makes me very nervous, I get very embarrassed and I also get angry with myself for not being able to speak like other, better English speakers do. I also feel very exposed and vulnerable because I feel as if everyone’s attention is turned on me.
Answer #3. I remember I was offered a promotion when I was working as a Service Desk Operator. They offered me an Analyst’s position where I would be assigned the most difficult customer issues to resolve and also there would be an addition to my salary. Before I could start in the new role, I was told I would have a formal interview with our team’s Mentor. I walked into the room, sat down and right after he began asking me questions, I felt that for some reason I just couldn’t explain myself properly. I got very anxious, I made mistakes in every sentence I said, and I had a feeling it’s not me who’s speaking now. I wished the interview was over as soon as possible and I felt a tremendous relief when we shook hands and I walked back to my work station.
Refuting Your Own Arguments
So now you have a list in front of you which is more or less similar to mine and all that you wrote on it forms your conviction that you suck as an English speaker. And why wouldn’t it be right once there’s so much evidence on your list to back it up, right?
Because I can prove you wrong, my friend foreign English speaker!
Let’s take each and every one of the feelings described in the list and see if we can expose any flaws in them! I’m going to do it with my list – you do it with yours; the main counterarguments, however, will be the same.
They think I’m not as good as an English speaker as they are.
I feel they start patronizing me.
They think I’m a loser.
Now, ask yourself a question – “HOW CAN I KNOW WHAT THEY THINK? Am I some sort of a telepath who can intrude people’s thoughts and know what they’re thinking?”
I deliberately asked the first question about what you think of the other person’s opinion about you so that I could prove that it’s actually YOU WHO FEELS THAT WAY! The other person can only be a catalyst for your own insecurities and every hint of their disapproval of your spoken English skills gets magnified tenfold because you become very, very sensitive when you make mistakes when speaking.
Basically you make yourself believe that your conversation partner thinks you’re not as good as they are and that you’re a loser, and you also start being paranoid about being patronized.
Also, on those occasions when you’re convinced you’ve been speaking with someone who looks down on you and makes assumptions about your level of spoken English, you should bear in mind that arrogant behavior quite often is just a facade for feeling insecure inside. You may think the guy you turned to for technical advice at work was irritated with the way you asked the question while in reality he had had a terrible row with his girlfriend that morning and you were just an outlet for his emotional built-up!
LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS: You’re trying to rationalize your own insecurity by blaming your conversation partners. Your statements regarding what others thought about you are flawed because you can never know for sure what opinion the other person has! It’s also called second-guessing and can’t be possibly used as valid evidence that your spoken English sucks ❗
You can put a big cross over whatever negative statements you wrote in the first section – and now we can move onto the second question!
Making mistakes makes me very nervous.
Fair enough – but did you know that making mistakes is a very natural thing? Everyone makes mistakes in all aspects of life, you can’t become good at something without the trial and error stage, and speaking English is no different.
What you have to do now is – remove the negative aspect of the word ‘mistake’ by recalling a situation when somebody made a funny mistake when speaking English – such as a spoonerism – and everyone had a laugh about it – including the speaker. See – mistakes can be a great course of amusement and after all – how could we ever learn anything without making at least some mistakes? You can rarely get something correct right off the bat!
I get very embarrassed
I get angry with myself for not being able to speak like others.
I feel very exposed and vulnerable because I feel as if everyone’s attention is turned on me.
All right, so you experience all these feelings… But… what’s it got to do with the actual level of your English? Emotions, emotions, emotions – they’re all very individual and for the most part they aren’t good enough as objective criteria. You get embarrassed when making a mistake during an English speech; your conversation partner, on the other hand, might feel intimidated by your physical characteristics despite being quite fit and good looking himself.
It is human nature to compare yourself with others and judge yourself more harshly than the others ever would; therefore you can’t really trust your emotions to make a claim that you suck as an English speaker.
LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS: Your emotional insecurity can’t possibly be an indicator of your spoken English skills. You see – we all have experienced disappointment in terms of our performance in nearly all aspects in our lives at some stage. By the same token, you should say that you suck as an employee because you sometimes feel frustrated when you can’t solve some problem at work; you suck as a computer user because you can’t type as fast as your colleague sitting next to you and you feel ashamed when he’s watching you typing…
You suck pretty much at everything, right? Well, I hope you start seeing why focusing on the negative emotions isn’t going to get you far.
What you have to do is – draw a large cross over the second section because your negative emotions don’t prove anything. Let’s move onto the third section – a description of a very bad experience from the past!
So we have a very vivid example of a situation that has made you feel bad about your spoken English and has done a terrible damage to you confidence levels. After a dozen such situations you’ve started approaching any similar occasion – talking to a stranger, a superior at work, or a native English speaker – already expecting a failure. It’s a vicious circle you’ve fallen into, and it evokes all those negative feelings you mentioned on your list.
What you have to do is – you have to bring back memories of situations when you’ve had conversations with people you’ve felt comfortable with so you didn’t even focus on your spoken English performance. It can also be a self-practice session when you have a conversation with yourself; anything goes really – you just have to be able to clearly remember the scene of you speaking fluent English.
Next – write down a couple of sentences about 3 such occasions when you had a perfect conversation in English with someone and you could feel your fluency being at its best – you’ve surely had such moments.
Now, read through these descriptions again and again and try to describe your English skills. Do you feel your spoken English skills sucked at that moment? I don’t think you do, right?
LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS: If we remove the negative memories and focus on the positive ones, we can get a much different perspective on our spoken English skills. You should realize that if you’ve been able to perform very well on a good number of occasions, you can’t possibly suck at spoken English – such generalization is simply wrong! Yes, you may suck at speaking English SOMETIMES – but that’s an entirely different matter altogether.
Put a line through the headline “THIS IS WHY MY SPOKEN ENGLISH SUCKS” and write a new one – “I’M A FLUENT ENGLISH SPEAKER”.
And now tell yourself – “I just PROVED I’m a fluent English speaker and despite having my ups and downs I believe in my abilities as a foreign English speaker.”
I hope this DID help you – and if you found this method useful – share it with your friends using the social bookmarking tool below!
P.S. Are you ready to get on the fast track to spoken English fluency? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!