The first time you speak in the language you are learning is enough to make you nervous, so the question is how can you remain calm and overcome nervousness? English language learners would eventually be asked to speak English, either in class or in front of someone as their language lesson progresses.
If even some seasoned public speakers admit to feeling nervous before they go on stage, imagine what an English language learner would feel. They may have spent hours or days practicing, but it is a different matter when they are about to speak. How could one overcome their nervousness when speaking English for the first time?
Why people get anxious about speaking in public
Many things bring fear to people. In The Book of Lists that was published in 1977, the number one fear among humans is ”speaking before a group.” Therefore, language learners, you are not alone in having that fear. It is a type of social anxiety that is quite common. Forgetting what to say, mumbling, jitters, stuttering, crying and even fainting are some of the physical evidence that the person is suffering from stage fright.
Fear of speaking in public or a group has several causes. One of them is self-consciousness, which is often the reason given by many people when asked. It is very difficult to follow the advice of speech coaches, which is to remember that the people in the audience are the same as the classmates you talk to everyday. It is hard to keep in mind that the audience is there to listen to what you have to say and not there to criticize you.
2. Fear of looking nervous
Another reason given by several people is the fear of looking nervous. It does not seem logical but for the person suffering from stage fright, this is real. The fear of appearing fearful in front of a crowd could spawn other fears, such as fearing that the audience will notice that the speaker is nervous and conclude that it is because he or she does not know the topic. However, you have to think that they would also feel the same way if they were asked to speak in front of a crowd.
3. Feeling of being judged
Many speakers, especially those who would be speaking in front of a group for the first time feel that they would be judged. Your language teacher would be listening and making notes on how much you have learned. Your classmates would all be rooting for you, since they would also be doing the same later and they hope that you can hurdle the difficult step.
Be consoled by the fact that public speakers feel the same way. Many of them do not understand that the audience is there to listen to what they have to impart and what knowledge they would be taking home with them after listening to the speaker.
4. Failures in the past
Past failures hamper many speakers. They feel anxious because they failed in the past and somehow that experience always comes to the fore right before a person goes up to the stage.
5. Poor preparation
Well, anyone would be feeling anxious if they are not prepared for the occasion. You should do your homework if you want to succeed. Unless being asked to speak in front of the class was done on the spot, there is no reason for you not to be prepared. If you are not ready, you are not going to be confident.
6. Feeling dissatisfied with your own ability
This is one of the things that cripple someone who has been asked to speak. If you feel that you are not up to par and doubt your abilities to be able to speak in front of a group, you will always be held back. As a language learner, you are in the same situation as the rest of the class. So believe that you have learned enough, have diligently prepared and would be able to speak in English clearly.
7. Comparing yourself with your classmates
In addition to item 5, comparing your ability with that of your classmates is a big no-no. You are not being required to be a great speaker. What you are asked to do is show how much you have learned and for the teacher to find if there are still things in the lessons that need more attention. It is all right to stumble. The main thing is to be able to show the class that you are learning at the same pace as them.
This is also true among public speakers who feel inferior to other speakers. Each one has his own style and flair when speaking in public. What are important are the knowledge of the topic and the delivery of the message so the audience learns something.
8. Uneasiness with your movements and your body
Being self-conscious is definitely a showstopper. If you are not confident about your body, whatever size and shape it is, you do not want to be in front of a group, let alone speak in front of them. You’ll be overcome with fear that they would be remarking on how you look. Of course you need to be presentable, which would boost your confidence. Related to this is your body movement. Pay particular attention to how you use your hands to emphasize points, your facial expressions and how you sit or stand would help you to be at ease.
What you should do when you’re nervous
Now that you know the reasons that cause speech anxiety, let us look at some of the ways that can help you overcome your nervousness when asked to speak English in class or with a new person you meet. It is important to keep in mind that making mistakes is part of learning.
1. Breathe properly
Breathing properly is important and this means deep breathing. When you do this, you can keep calm and lower your anxiety. Breathing deeply reduces secretion of hormones that create stress. You must be aware that you are feeling nervous. Before it is time for you to speak, take a minimum of three deep breaths.
2. You do not need to be perfect
Remember that you are still a student, so you do not need to be perfect. Keep in mind that feeling nervous is a normal reaction to what’s about to happen and that even seasoned speakers feel the same way. If you feel that you should be perfect, you only increase your anxiety. What should be your objective is to show what you have learned. It is also one of the ways to know if you are doing good and where you can improve. You can only get better after you have made mistakes.
3. Be mindful of your body language
Your body language has a bearing on how you feel. There are two types of body language: open and close. An open body language helps you become confident. You’ll feel nervous and submissive if you have a closed body language. Remember to have eye contact with the audience and stand up straight. Do not slip your hands into your pockets or cross your arms across your body.
4. Remember the reason why you’re learning English
Remembering why you are learning the English language will help you feel more confident and relaxed. You do not remember your objective only during the time that you are asked to speak. You should remember it every day so you’ll be motivated to keep going.
5. Be prepared
Knowing what you are going to say beforehand will help to build up the courage to speak. Ask your teacher for suggestions. It is easier to prepare when you know what topics to work on. If it is something that you know well, then it makes your preparation easier.
6. Develop your listening and reading skills
Preparation for speaking English should not be a few hours or days before. It should be a continuous process. Be concerned with how others would reply to you, more so than thinking about what to say. You should be reading more to understand more and learning to listen more. These two practices will help you build your vocabulary.
7. Work on your accent
You accent, particularly if it is a strong one, could hamper understanding. If you have a strong accent, it is suggested that you work on reducing it by improving your pronunciation. Learn the proper placement of stresses in English words. Do not speak too fast like most native speakers of English. Learn the proper phasing, which helps reduce your accent and at the same time giving your listeners the chance to get used to your accent so they can understand what you’re saying.
8. Stay calm
When you’re nervous, you may forget what you want to say or in some cases, you end up stuttering, mumbling or speaking too fast. Keep your nervousness at bay by relaxing. When you’re calm (deep breathing helps), you’ll be able to think clearly.
9. Keep practicing
It’s often said that practice makes perfect. While you are not required to be perfect at the initial stage, it is important to keep on practicing. One of the best ways is to practice aloud every chance you get. You have to use your mouth, in order for you to get used to pronouncing the words and training your ears to hearing those English words. Do this by yourself in front of the mirror or practice with a friend.
Because you are not used to speaking in English, it will take your brain some time to process, translate and formulate response to the incoming words. Make it easier for you by using simple words and basic sentences instead of trying to impress your audience with words that you do not yet understand and constructing complex sentences.
When you reach the conversational level in English, your nervousness will disappear. Do not give up and keep on practicing. Moreover, do not forget to smile when you are talking with someone.
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