You’re speaking English, and you feel like you’re not breathing normally. You’re not zen. Your brain is working really hard, trying to remember verb tenses, vocabulary, pronunciation, etc.
You feel like you’re in the spotlight. You feel like if you say something “wrong”, people will laugh at you. You feel like if you say something stupid, people will think you’re stupid.
All of this makes you nervous. You just wish you could go back to your native language and be your smart, articulate self. You wish you were just as fluent in English as you are in your native language.
In fact, our brains are amazing organs. When we hear other people make “mistakes” in our native language, our brains correct them automatically if the message is clear.
The reason we listen is to communicate and to respond to you, not to ridicule you.
If we don’t understand, we’ll ask you to try again. Maybe you spoke too quietly, maybe there was a noise, maybe we were lost in our own thoughts.
But now you’re more nervous, because you had doubts about your sentence, and now you have to say it AGAIN?!?!
If you’re one of those people who think that “fluent” means speaking English exactly the same way that you speak your native language, then you will never be fluent!
Fluency does not equal absolute perfection.
Fluency is telling people what you think, asking people what you need, understanding their answers, and being able to respond to their answers if necessary.
In other words, fluency is communication where nobody feels lost because they can't speak or understand.*
It’s normal to be nervous. In English, most topics are probably new to you. It’s almost like you’re learning to be an adult again. I don’t know about you, but I was super shy and had no confidence when I was a teenager. I had no vocabulary to express myself even in English.
Guess what? Nobody knows you’re nervous. Nervousness doesn’t show on the outside like a big red pimple on the tip of your nose. You can present yourself as confident, and nobody will know that you're dying on the inside.
“But I can only be confident if my English level is better.”
False. There is no “right” amount that you can learn before you feel confident. The more you think like this, the longer it will take for you to finally feel confident. Because, with this mindset, you will never be.
Language learning is not always a clean straight line going up. There are times when your English will be better than others. There are also times when you’ll feel like you’re going backwards, getting worse, losing your English. That’s normal and it’s part of growth.
Think of a slingshot. Click here if 'slingshot' is new vocabulary for you. You have to pull it back before it can launch forward. The farther you pull back, the farther it will launch. It takes more and more effort to go the farthest distance.
The point is, you’re putting in effort. Putting in effort is worth much more than doing nothing, complaining, and believing you’ll never succeed.
Your efforts may seem like they are not getting results, but language learning is not an overnight process. Continued efforts will give you results in a year, three years, five years, etc. Everyone’s brain is different. Your English fluency journey will never look the same as anyone else’s. Never compare your progress with anyone else’s.
All this to say that it’s normal to be nervous when you speak English. You just need to understand that no one’s objective in life is to mock you, or laugh at you.
If you do say something funny, they are not laughing at you, but at what you said. It feels terrible, I know. I’ve been laughed at a few times for things I’ve said in other languages. Unless it was something highly sexual, most people will forget what you said the next day.
If you feel comfortable, you can ask why it was so funny, and turn it into a learning situation. If not, you can ask someone else, or find your answers on the internet.
Your English is a lot better than you think it is. Speak with confidence, even if it’s not “correct” and see how much more people listen to you and respect you.
There is an expression in English that goes,
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Being nervous is normal. Just don’t let anyone know.
How do you deal with your nervousness? Let me know in the comments.
*Two native English speakers could have a conversation and one of them could feel lost because they are not familiar with the topic. This is a different level of lost. Learn how to distinguish why you feel lost. Is it the language, or is it the situation?