It seems to me that every Czech person can speak at least a few words of English even if that is only ‘Hello, how are you, I’m fine thanks, goodbye’. So why is it that many of you are scared, too shy or even ashamed to use the English you already know? (Note that there is a difference between shy and ashamed) So what can you do about it? How can you overcome your shyness or reluctance to speak English?
Improving your spoken English and your ability to understand other English speakers requires you to practise, a lot. So, putting yourself in situations where you have to listen to and speak English is certainly one way of doing it. This takes courage though, and that means overcoming your fears. So what are your fears? Do you think you will be laughed at? Misunderstood? Make mistakes?
Growing your confidence is the key thing. Here are three ways you can do that..
1. Allow yourself to make mistakes and try new things.
School teachers, peers, and for most of us, our parents, started from a very early age to point out our mistakes and chastise us for making them without thinking of the future consequences this has on young children. We are conditioned to feel bad when we make a mistake and not to use it as a learning experience (which is exactly what it should be).
I may be wrong here but I would suggest that your shyness or fear to speak English comes from your upbringing. As a child were you given red Xs in your school books, shouted at or worse and generally made to feel very stupid for not knowing something? Addressing these issues to conquer your fears is the way to building your confidence and allowing yourself to speak and understand more.
If your English teacher is someone who tells you off for making mistakes, I would consider looking for someone new to help you. You want a person who will pleasantly explain your mistakes and help you to practise corrections a few times. If you are consistently making the same mistakes, take some time to look at each one individually and work on it until you feel confident you have corrected it.
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You should also be going outside of your comfort zone in terms of the vocabulary and grammar you use. Yes, you can stick to the same words and phrases you already know but it’s much more exciting and rewarding to try out new things and not be scared to make mistakes when doing so. I know this personally from learning your Czech language.
2. Put yourself in situations where you have to speak.
This could be finding someone to practise with; a native English speaker (anyone English, American, Canadian, Australian, Irish or from New Zealand) or someone who speaks English as a second main language like Indians, Mexicans and many Africans. You will of course encounter many different accents and dialects within this diverse group of people. My wife has excellent English precisely because she worked in a pub in Cambridge, England where there were Americans and Irish people as well as others from all over the UK with very different accents (yours truly included). So that’s two more ways you can go out of your comfort zone; visit a native country for an extended period of time or go to one of the many Irish and English pubs in the Czech Republic’s bigger cities. If you already have a native English teacher then why not practise what you learn on other natives who you will usually find happy to tell you about their homeland.
3. Ask for help.
This can come in two forms; firstly, ask people to slow down and repeat things if you don’t understand what they are saying and secondly, ask them for specific words that you don’t know by using alternative words to describe it. Don’t stop at just using the word once though, repeat the word aloud a few times and use it again in the same conversation to help it stick. As soon as you can, write it down and think of a mnemonic for it; a drawing or visual image or put the word/phrase into a poem or song. If you don’t know about mnemonics go here to find out.
If you follow these three steps you will soon notice a big difference in your ability. You should become more fluent, more confident and even take pride in your level of English, whatever stage you are at.
So why do you think you are shy or embarrassed to speak the English you know?
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