#299: Practical Steps to Be a Confident English Speaker [Myth vs. Reality]

Jan 10, 2024 | English Confidence and Fluency

I’ll be honest with you. Speaking with clarity, fluency, and confidence wasn’t easy for me.

Yes, I’m a native English speaker. And yes, I’m an English teacher specializing in fluency-building with over 25 years of experience.

But that doesn’t mean that clarity, fluency, and confidence were natural skills for me.

Have you ever thought:

  • I’m too shy to speak confidently.
  • I will never sound confident like [name of person who sounds confident to you].
  • She speaks so fast! She’s so fluent. Why can’t I do that?
  • If I slow down, I’ll sound less fluent and my coworkers will be bored.
  • They must think I’m foolish for forgetting the word and getting stuck.

I thought them, too. In my second language and in English.

But then I discovered these are myths. A myth is a false belief.

When I realized what was TRUE, it changed my mindset, my approach to learning, my motivation to practice, and my ability to make progress in my speaking. Most importantly, it changed my confidence.

I want to help you become a confident English speaker by clarifying what is a myth vs. reality and providing practical steps to help you develop your English confidence and fluency skills.

WATCH THE LESSON

Myth vs. Reality: Practice Steps to Become a Confident English Speaker

Myth #1: Some people are naturally confident speakers. 

This is a myth I believed for YEARS because my husband is a strong extrovert who seems to have NO problem speaking with others and he has always appeared extremely confident speaking English and his second language. It used to make me so jealous! (But not anymore.)

Like me, you might think other people (like extroverts) are natural-born confident speakers because of their personality traits. 

  • Extroverts often demonstrate traits described as outgoing, social, and energetic

The truth is both introverts and extroverts can be equally confident English speakers.

  • Introverts often demonstrated traits described as shy, reserved, and sometimes quiet

Being an introvert doesn’t always mean you’re shy or scared to speak. In fact, it simply means you need time to analyze your audience and think before you speak. 

If you’re naturally introverted and shy… or if you simply feel introverted and shy in English, here’s what I recommend:

Practical Advice #1: Use Your Natural Skills to Your Advantage

Introverted speakers have natural skills, including the tendency to think carefully before speaking. 

By giving yourself time to think, you’ll be able to organize your thoughts more easily and speak with increased clarity and confidence.

Some of the most powerful introverted speakers in the world include Susan Cain, Brené Brown, and, according to an Inc.com column, Barack Obama. Each of these well-known speakers is known for their passion, ideas, mindful word choices, and confidence. Not their personality types. 

Here’s how you can practice this: 

When you can and if you can, always prepare in advance – even if it’s only a few minutes before you need to speak.

If it’s a conversation, pause briefly before speaking to think about the ideas you’d like to express. 

To help, you can tell the other person that you need a moment to think. We call this strategy ‘buying time to think.’

  • Give me just a moment to think.
  • Can you come back to me in a moment? I need some time to think.

Use that time to form and organize your ideas when you can.

You might be thinking, “We don’t always get time to prepare.” And you’re right, we don’t. 

But we have more opportunities than you might think. Moreover, when you practice speaking regularly, you also become better when speaking spontaneously. To get my number method for speaking practice, be sure to download my in-depth How to Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English training.

Myth #2: Fluent English is always fast English.

It’s a common misconception that speaking fast is a sign of fluency in English. 

The myth is further perpetuated by English-language sitcoms and TV shows in which actors usually speak fast for comedic or dramatic effect.

  • Def: to cause to continue or make last indefinitely

The reality is fluency is about smooth, natural, and clear communication. 

Yes, some English speakers do speak extremely fast. That doesn’t mean they are effective communicators. In fact, they may speak so quickly that fellow English speakers don’t understand them. 

And yes, some English speakers sound like they’re speaking quickly. And this may result from how English speakers naturally reduce and blend sounds. 

I have a series of lessons on pronunciation topics to help you better understand fast English speakers and use similar pronunciation patterns. You can get all of those in my pronunciation-focused Confident English lessons.

 

Practical Advice #2: Aim for Clarity Over Speed

To improve clarity and improve overall fluency, aim to use tiny little pauses while speaking. Focus on clear pronunciation, accurate grammar, and conveying your ideas effectively.

You might be thinking, “Pauses?!?! Won’t that sound strange?” Listen carefully to how I speak.

Or listen carefully to a skilled public speaker. A skilled podcaster. A skilled TED Talk presenter.

You’ll notice there are brief pauses. Almost always in between sentences. And after a long phrase or group of words. And, sometimes, before and after important words.

These pauses significantly contribute to clear communication.

For more, review my Speak So Others Listen lesson.

Myth #3: Confident speakers never seek clarification.

You might think that asking for clarification shows weakness or a lack of confidence.

However, the opposite is true. Confident speakers aren’t afraid to ask for clarification. 

It shows that they’re actively engaged in the conversation, paying attention, and committed to understanding. 

Moreover, it’s one of the pillars of active listening in English-speaking culture.

  • Def: A communication skill that involves going beyond simply hearing the words and, instead, seeking to understand the meaning and intent behind them.

 

Practical Advice #3: Practice Asking for Clarification

When you don’t understand someone or miss what they said, pause and ask for clarification. 

You may find the following phrases especially helpful:

  • Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Would you mind repeating what you said?
  • I’m not sure I’m following you. Could you explain what you mean by X?
  • Would you say that again? I want to make sure I’ve understood perfectly.

Whether listening to instructions at work, discussing a family matter, or even debating a topic, these are phrases you can use at any point to seek clarification. 

And if you’d like more examples of what to say, check out my lesson, 13 Ways to Clarify When You Don’t Understand.

Myth #4: Confident speakers never have setbacks.

With their confidence and ability to speak smoothly, it may seem like confident speakers never make mistakes or fumble for words. 

  • Def: to make an awkward attempt to do or find something

But oh my goodness. Yes! We all have setbacks. I certainly do.

The truth is that even the most confident speakers forget words, lose their train of thought, and make grammatical errors.

Confidence comes from the knowledge and ability to overcome setbacks.

  • Def: a problem that makes something happen later or more slowly than it should

 

Practical Advice #4: Practice Where It’s Safe to Make Mistakes and Learn How to Overcome Them

As a perfectionist and an introvert who prefers to have all the details organized in my mind before I speak, I hate mistakes.

And I’ve never liked the advice, “Just embrace or accept your mistakes. Don’t worry about them.” 

The truth is, I do worry about them. And I don’t want to make them. 

But they do happen. They always will. When they do, it’s natural to feel disappointed or embarrassed – or simply freeze. 

In that moment, pause, take a deep breath, and then allow yourself to correct or move past that mistake.

To overcome it, you can do one of the following:

  • Go back and clarify (ex., What I mean to say is…)
  • Apologize and correct (ex., Sorry, X – not Y.)
  • Make a joke (ex., Oops, I may have had too much coffee today.)

More importantly, I encourage you to find a community where you feel safe to practice speaking and make mistakes. Or use a method similar to what I share in my How to Get the Confidence to Say What You Want training to practice speaking. 

Doing so will help you improve your speaking and reduce mistakes going forward, PLUS increase your skills to overcome setbacks or mistakes in the moment.

Myth #5: You’re either born with confidence or not.

Right now, you might see confidence as an all-or-nothing trait, something you either have or you don’t.

  • Def: having no middle position or compromise available; doing something completely or not at all

But, every speaker started from the beginning. They learned the basics of clear communication, practiced regularly, learned how to overcome mistakes, and continued to practice their skills until they cultivated that unwavering confidence.

And even after gaining confidence, they continue to practice. At least, that is true for me.

When you listen to a skilled podcaster or an excellent public speaker — or when you listen to a coworker who sounds perfectly fluent and confident in English — what you’re hearing is a person’s highlight reel rather than the preparations they’ve done behind the scenes.

  • Def: a curated and often idealized version of someone’s life or abilities – what someone chooses to share and what you’re able to see 

In other words, you haven’t seen the weeks, months, or years of preparation and practice. 

Confidence is nurtured and developed over time through practice and exposure to different speaking situations and conversations. 

  • Def: care for and encourage the growth of

 

Practical Advice #5: Embrace the Confidence-Building Learning Cycle

No matter what it might be — playing piano, singing in a choir, running a marathon, learning to draw, sharing your artwork, or developing your speaking skills in another language — there is a natural learning cycle to develop confidence. 

The cycle is learn to inform your action to improve your ability to shift your self-beliefs to build confidence to motivate continued learning.

Do you notice that the cycle doesn’t say, “Learn and wait… wait for motivation, wait for confidence, wait for progress…” and then take action?

No. Confidence. Motivation. And progress. These are the results of action.

That means the BEST thing you can do to become more confident in anything — including speaking English — is to take action. And then do it again. And again. And again.

Actions you can take to practice speaking English include: 

  1. Download my training on How to Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English and follow my 4-week plan to build an English-speaking habit no matter where you live.
  2. Join an English-speaking community. This could be an online speaking group or an in-person meet-up.
  3. Join a club or volunteer organization. For example, a book club. Or, as one of my CWC students did, become a volunteer at a local art gallery.
  4. Find a language coach/teacher you trust and take a speaking class. Online or in-person.
  5. Ask a coworker or neighbor you trust to meet with you regularly for speaking practice. (I did this while living in France. I found someone I felt comfortable with, and we would practice 1 day per week.)
  6. Listen to 1 podcast or TED Talk per week. Write down new words. Practice summarizing what you heard to reuse the new vocabulary and practice speaking.
  7. Talk to yourself aloud when no one’s listening. (This is something I often do while cooking dinner when I’m alone. Or driving in my car.)
  8. Join a speaking-focused organization such as Toastmasters.

Do what you can to take action. Start small. Expand your comfort zone slowly. Work with others who will support and encourage you. 

And enjoy the improved ability, positive self-beliefs, increased confidence, and new motivation when you do.

Practice What You Learned

After you watch, I want to hear from you.

What is one practical step you can take today to challenge a myth about language confidence?

Share your thoughts and personal strategies for overcoming the myth. As always, you can share your comments and questions with me below.

~ Annemarie

Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English

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