Solutions for some common challenges around speaking English

This post was first published as a guest post on Fremdsprachen-Jobs.

As a language learner, I’ve always found that speaking skills are the hardest to develop. I love to read. I search for interesting content that helps me to develop my listening skills. When I’m writing, I have time to think about what I want to say and to fix at least some of the mistakes. But speaking? That’s harder!

When I decided to learn Romanian last year, I knew I had to look for opportunities to speak. Otherwise, I just wouldn’t speak, with the result that my other skills would develop faster, whilst my speaking skills remained at the level of the average 2-year-old! I didn’t want that!

It’s not just my problem. Many of my customers say that having spontaneous conversations in English is something that they struggle with.

5 common challenges and what we can do to overcome them

1. I don’t want to make mistakes or feel stupid

This is a big problem, particularly for those of us who talk a lot or who know that we can express ourselves well in our first language.

Perfectionism can motivate us to learn. However it can also hold us back, especially when it prevents us from trying out new ideas or saying the things that we would really like to say, but which may not be perfect. But then, nobody is perfect! I heard somewhere that the only people who never fail at anything are those who never try anything. I don’t want to be like that!

Also, I’ve learned three important things:

  1. People rarely judge you as harshly as you might judge yourself.
  2. Our mistakes are opportunities to learn something new.
  3. It does get easier, the more you do it. However, sometimes this means that you have to actively put yourself in situations in which you have to speak – even when this is the last thing that you want to do.

2. I can’t say what I want to say – so I don’t say anything

I think that most language learners have experienced this at some point on their learning journey. You have so many ideas, a really good story or a convincing argument, but you don’t know how to put it into words in the new language. You either get frustrated and give up, which means that nobody hears what you wanted to say and they think that you don’t have anything to contribute, or you revert back to your native language if those around you can understand it, which means that you don’t get any language practice. I’m usually too stubborn to do the latter, so often I’ve just sat there in silence with the ideas swimming around in my head with no way out.

However, it doesn’t have to be like that.

Although you may not be able to talk about something in as much detail as you would when you speak your first language, if you simplify what you want to say, you can still try to get the main points across. The most important thing is that the other person understands you.

3. I can’t think fast enough

If you’re writing an email, you have time to think about what you want to say. You can look up the words that you don’t know. Then you can read through the text again before sending it off. When you’re speaking, you don’t have any of these luxuries. You Just have to respond spontaneously if you want the conversation to keep flowing. This takes time and practice.
However, the more you get into the habit of thinking in English, the easier this will become.

Thinking in English and thinking of what you want to say as you are going along are skills which need to be developed. The best way to develop them is to do these things regularly.

4. I first need to develop my vocabulary

This problem can have two causes.

If you need to converse at a higher level than you feel able to at the moment, you need to find ways to develop your general vocabulary, or to focus on areas where you have knowledge gaps. This could involve attending training, practising with someone who can help you, or looking for information on that topic so you will see how people talk about it. Maybe you can find some relevant events to attend or articles that will help you to learn new words.

However, sometimes this can be a story that we tell ourselves. Sometimes, in Romanian meetings, I tell myself that my language level isn’t good enough. It certainly isn’t as good as all of the other people in the room who, unlike me, are using their first language. But if I think about my core message, I can often convey it, even if it’s not as polished and articulate as it would be in English.

So yes, I need to develop my vocabulary, but I also need to stop focusing on the fact that I think my language skills are not good enough yet!

5. I don’t get enough practice

If you don’t speak any English all month and then expect to speak beautifully and eloquently at the monthly team meeting that’s held in English, you will probably find it more of a challenge.

There are two keys to success here:

  1. Practising regularly – so that your brain gets into the habit of thinking in English.
  2. Practising in a situation in which you are not under pressure. This means that you shouldn’t use a job interview or a team meeting in front of your whole department as a way to improve your language skills.

I would like to help people who struggle because they don’t have opportunities to speak English. I’ve set up an English conversation club with online meetings for general conversation, meetings for business owners, and meetings for employees. Participants will have the opportunity to speak English and develop their skills in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. If you’d like to find out more about this, you can visit the language club’s page.

I hope that some of these tips will help you. Also, it would be great to see you at the conversation club if you would like to attend one of the events.
If you have any questions, you can contact me via the form on the club’s page.

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Kirsty working with students

Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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