Episode 4: How to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking English

How to overcome the fear of speaking in English

Do you feel uncomfortable when you need to speak English in real situations?

Lots of English learners feel a huge sense of embarrassment and fear when speaking in English.  Maybe it’s because they need to talk in front of their boss, or it might be because they think everyone is going to focus on any errors they make (which actually isn’t going to happen!).

Fear is often irrational and it’s no different when it comes to the fear of speaking English.  The good news is that there are various techniques that can be used to overcome fear and turn you into a confident and successful English speaker.

In this episode I share 8 specific tips to help English learners overcome their fears.  Have a listen and try them out for yourself!

Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

All the best!

Paul

Here is the full transcript:

In this episode, I’m going to be talking about how to overcome the fear of speaking in English. Hi there. I’m Paul Urwin, and welcome to The Business English Community Podcast, where the world of business meets the English language. We discuss culture, strategies, techniques, vocabulary, grammar, and much, much more. Find out more at businessenglishcommunity.com.

Welcome to episode four. I am your host, Paul Urwin, and if you are an intermediate or advanced speaker of English looking to take your business English to the next level, well, you’ve come to the right place. This is the podcast for you. Before we get started, I just wanted to invite you to check out our YouTube channel. We’ve got some amazing videos on there, and a new video every week, so you can check the link out from our website, or simply enter “Business English Community” into YouTube.

So, today I’m going to be talking about how to overcome the fear of speaking in English, but first, our business word of the week, and that is margin. That’s M-A-R-G-I-N. Now, there are a number of different definitions of margin, especially within investment and accounting, but really, a margin is a sort of difference between one set of figures and another, and so I’m going to focus on one of the simpler definitions today, and that is profit margin.

Profit margin is, very simply, sales minus expenses divided by sales. Let me give you an example. If a company has sales of $150,000, and that same company has expenses of $100,000, then the profit margin would be 150,000 minus 100,000, which gives us $50,000, and then divide that by the sales, which were, of course, 150,000. That gives us a profit margin of 33%.

But at its simplest, a margin is simply a difference between two sets of figures, normally expressed in terms of a percentage. So you might hear someone say something like, “Well, we have a 10% margin on this product,” or, “We have 20% profit margin on this particular service,” so normally a percentage difference, and that’s this week’s business word of the week, margin.

Okay, well now I’m going to move on to today’s main topic, which is all about overcoming the fear of speaking English. Many non-native speakers have this fear, so if you feel afraid in certain situations, if you have lots of nerves when it comes to talking in English, then the first thing I would say is that you are definitely not alone, and in this podcast, I’m going to help you to overcome those fears or give you some techniques which you can employ in order to overcome those fears.

But really, it is very, very common. Many non-native speakers have this fear of failure, or this fear of their boss, or that someone is somehow going to find out that they are only an intermediate speaker of English, and that something terrible is going to happen. Well, as we’re going to see in this episode, there is nothing really to be afraid of.

So how do we actually overcome this fear? I think there are a number of different techniques that you can use, and the first one is to understand that nothing terrible is going to happen. Fears are often just that, fears. They are not realities. It’s not an actual situation that is happening, so if you fear that you are going to give a poor presentation in English, well that hasn’t actually happened yet, and you can probably give a good presentation if you prepare correctly. So, I think a lot of fear is completely unrealistic and unfounded, and the level of fear that can consume learners of English at times is just simply not proportional to what could actually happen.

So, I think it’s very important to understand that nothing terrible is going to happen, and actually think about, sometimes, to position the fear, think about what’s the worst that could actually happen. If you step up on that stage to give a presentation, I’m just using giving a presentation as an example, and you are simply not able to give that presentation, and you have to walk off the stage, well, that obviously would not be a good outcome. However, that’s not terrible. That’s not catastrophic, and yet sometimes the fear that we have does seem to be catastrophic, as if something really terrible is going to happen.

Number two is to actively seek out situations in which to practice. The more you can practice, the more you are going to be able to reduce your fear of any particular situation, and that definitely applies to the situations which non-native speakers are confronted with. I might be talking about giving a presentation in English. It might be attending a meeting in English, where your boss is going to be present, or where someone important is going to be present. That seems to be one of the most common fears. It might be talking to a native speaker of English, where a non-native speaker has this fear that somehow, a native speaker is going to find out that their English is not perfect. Well, I can tell you, as a native speaker of English, we don’t expect anyone to be perfect. We are just looking to communicate effectively.

But the more that you seek out these active situations in which to practice, the more you will be able to confront those fears. Sometimes, you need to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation in order to make progress. Sometimes, you need to volunteer to chair that meeting, or volunteer to write that report in English, because that is one of the only ways in which you are going to make progress. It’s to put yourself in these situations, and you usually have to actively seek them out. Many times in life, we just expect to be selected for something. We expect our name to come out at the top of the list. And while that might happen occasionally, normally if you want to be involved in something, you have to put your name forward, so I would encourage you to do just that.

Number three, and the third way of overcoming fear, is to prepare things in advance. Fear just seems to disappear in the face of preparation. And, the more you can prepare, the easier it is going to be for you to be successful in a particular situation. I’m going to give you an example now. If you really prepare your presentation, and I’m going to suggest that you prepare the whole presentation, but let’s focus, now, on the first few minutes.

If you have really prepared the first few minutes of that presentation, then by the time you get through those first few minutes, using English that you are completely comfortable with, and that you have checked beforehand, then after those first few minutes have passed, you are going to be pretty relaxed, you’re going to be more comfortable, and you are going to be able to get through the rest of the presentation confidently. But if you haven’t prepared those first few minutes, then that’s when the fear could overtake you, and the whole thing could collapse right at the beginning. But very easy to avoid. How? By preparing in advance.

Number four, I think it’s important to find the right pace in the right volume for your speech in English, and don’t let fear take you to a point where you’re talking simply way too fast, or way too loud, or way too quietly. Try and find a comfortable volume and a comfortable pace for your speech, and use it whatever the situation, and that will help you really confront this fear in a productive way rather than reacting by changing your voice, which is not going to help.

Number five, it’s always good to read aloud in English. This is a really, really good exercise, and simply helps to increase your confidence in the English language. Lots of students complain that they don’t have enough time to practice conversation with a native speaker, and I can completely understand that. It’s difficult, if you live in a country where English is not the first language, then you really have to seek out these opportunities to speak with a native speaker, although there are, of course, more opportunities online these days.

Nevertheless, reading aloud can really help your conversation to improve. It can give you confidence in the way that you express yourself, and help you to overcome any fear. If you are used to talking in English, even if it’s reading aloud, on a daily basis, then when you are in a live situation, you are going to be much more sure of yourself and much less fearful.

Okay, number six is to remember that other people have fear too, and that native speakers are secretly impressed that you are talking about a particular topic in a language that is not your own. Remember, many, many native speakers of English do not have a working knowledge of another language, so what you are doing is clearly very special. And remember that other people who are non-native speakers, we might be talking about your boss or your colleagues, they also find these situations difficult, talking in live situations in English, so they are certainly going to respect you for giving it a go in certain situations. You are not alone. You are not the only person who has a concern about talking in English in public, or in front of other people, but you can really make an impression by trying, by putting yourself in that position, overcoming that fear, and improving.

Number seven is to talk with people in a similar situation. Talking really helps to calm those fears and to understand that the situation is perhaps not as concerning as you might initially think. I would talk with the right people. You might find a trusted colleague, or you might find a trusted friend who works in a different company, so you can talk in confidence with them about your fears, and you might find that talking about your fears really helps to reduce them, helps you to see them for what they are. They are only actually minor concerns. They are not really fears. Fear is such a big word, but actually, the situations that you are going to encounter should not correspond to a fear, but rather a small concern that can certainly be dealt with effectively.

Number eight is to understand that some form of failure is absolutely a stepping stone to success. So, if you have a fear of failure, then why? Why do you have that fear if you know that failure of some kind is a necessary stepping stone to success? It’s all about positioning these situations in the correct manner in your mind, and if you can really figure out a way to do that, then you will find that the fear of speaking in English in public situations just disappears.

So, that’s my list of recommendations for overcoming fear when it comes to speaking English. I’m going to give you a very quick recap now. Number one is to understand that nothing terrible is going to happen. Number two is to actively seek out situations in which to practice. Number three is to prepare things in advance. Number four, find the right pace and volume for your speech. Number five, read aloud. Number six, remember that others have fear too. Number seven, talk with people in a similar situation. And number eight, understand that some form of failure is a stepping stone to success.

So, in conclusion, fear is often unrealistic. The fear that you are never going to get better at English is unrealistic. The fear that you won’t make progress is unrealistic. And the fear that something is going to go terribly wrong if you put yourself into one of these live situations in English is completely unrealistic.

Remember, action eliminates fear. Take action, practice, prepare, talk about it beforehand, and you will find that you do have the language ability, so this is not even about your language ability or your level in the English language. It’s about this irrational fear. You may have heard that expression, “Irrational fear,” and what does irrational mean? Well, that it’s not logical, or that it doesn’t make sense. Once again, it’s a way of expressing the fact that this fear that you might have is just not logical. So, yes you can do it, yes you can find these situations, and yes you can perform really well in English, if you just give yourself a chance.

So that’s my advice. Go out there and achieve something in the English language. Put those fears to one side and focus on what you can do. You can do this. You can do that presentation. You can attend that meeting. And you can do all of these things in English. I absolutely assure you that.

So, that brings us to the end of today’s main section. Just to wrap things up in this podcast, I’m going to give you this week’s phrase of the week, which is to give the green light, to give the green light. Well, this relates to a green light on a traffic light, and the green light, of course, means go. So, to give the green light means to go ahead. Let me give you an example. Martin has given us the green light, so it’s time to get to work. Martin has given us the green light, so it’s time to get to work.

Well, that’s it for today. Thank you so much for downloading this episode. Don’t forget to check out the other episodes. Don’t forget to check out the YouTube channel as well. And, if you enjoyed today’s episode, I invite you to check out our online learning platform and communication, at businessenglishcommunity.com. The Business English Community is the essential resource for intermediate and advanced learners, that’s you, who want to take their business English to the next level. We offer extensive audio and video libraries, live webinars, and ask me anything calls, and very importantly, an active community where you can get answers to all of your business English questions. If you really want to take action to improve your level quickly, then sign up at businessenglishcommunity.com.

That’s it from me for this week. Thanks so much for listening. All the best, and until next time.

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