English Communication Confidence Blog

Reducing Anxiety When Speaking English As A Second Language

Oct 17, 2023

Many non-native English speakers experience anxiety when asked for their opinions. Actually, this is a common sentiment for people in their native tongues, too. Let's face it, public speaking causes stress. That's why I've identified ways to help you tackle these fears so that you can improve your English communication skills. Read on for more.


Reducing Anxiety When Speaking English As A Second Language

“And you? What do you think? Can you share your opinion?”

What happens when you hear these questions at work, a family gathering, or a casual chat with colleagues or friends? Do the words echo in your mind and leave you like a deer in the headlights? Do you feel a surge of excitement that feels like a pang of anxiety?

Maybe you start to feel a quickening heartbeat, nerves jangling, sweaty palms, restlessness, or the urge to leave the room.

This is quite normal and more so when it happens in your second language!

When you find yourself in this flight mode instead of the fight mode when faced with the prospect of speaking up, you just need to consider a few simple hacks to get back in the moment.

Let's start with this fact: Did you know that excitement and nerves come from the same physiological response in the brain?

Yep! I mean, you can turn those nerves around quickly simply by putting your attention on enthusiasm rather than fear. It's actually a mental choice.

We all know that it's tough to speak up when we're not prepared and that doing it eloquently in a foreign language can, most certainly, be harder. Instead of staying stuck in this belief, however, let's look at some ways that you can overcome these daunting feelings, speak from an authentic place of confidence, and turn this ship around.

FOCUS ON ONE THING. When you're faced with needing to share your opinion quickly, it's natural for your mind to buzz with a multitude of ideas, causing a mental entanglement that often leads to confusion. The key?

KISS--keep it simple stupid (a little acronym we use when teaching public speaking, nothing personal, I promise ;)

Here's how you can keep it simple.

Scan your mind for the first couple of thoughts that it produces. Narrow your response down to the idea that excites you the most--you know, the one that you're passionate about.

Make your first statement. Remember to pause and breathe and then keep sifting through the ideas that your mind consolidates and quickly choose the next thought that is most inspiring to you.

By focusing on inspiration, you will engage yourself and then your listeners.  

AVOID OVERWHELMING YOUR AUDIENCE Another reason to keep things simple is that you can't overwhelm your listeners with too much to think about. Then, they'll walk away with nothing.

I don't want you to think that simple means dumb, by the way.

You can use sophisticated vocabulary and technical terms, but you've got to know WHO your audience is, and how much they know. Then, take them on an informative journey one point at a time inviting them into your perspective as a way to reduce your nerves and connect with them.

A good way to do this is to imagine yourself as the audience while you are the speaker.

If you're confused yourself, so are they. If you're getting bored by what you're saying, so are they. If you're off-topic, so are they.

Trust your instincts when it comes to your audience, and always remember less is more. There's plenty of time for fruitful dialogue after you get your initial thoughts out. 

REPHRASE YOUR SENTENCE. Feeling at a loss for words is a common struggle and can really cause anxiety. As you search for the right terms to convey your thoughts, you may stumble over your speech, resorting to hesitant sounds like "umm" or "ahh." Has that happened to you? It has, me!


Instead of judging yourself, why don’t you consider rephrasing your sentence? Think of it as navigating a hill; if one path is blocked, you seek an alternative. Similarly, in expressing your ideas, remember there's not just one perfect word. Find another way to express your idea.

Whatever you do, be sure to avoid fixating on finding that single elusive word; keep going and articulate your thoughts in different ways.

And here's the amazing thing! You can even pose it as a question to the people who you're speaking with: "What's the word I'm looking for here?" Or, "Do you know where I'm going with this? I'd love your thoughts."
Tossing the communication back to your audience is a skillful way to gain your composure and get back to that excitement that will drive your speech more effectively. 

REFRAME YOUR OPINION OF YOURSELF WITH VISUALIZATION. If you are one of those people who constantly shut down whenever you speak, or you feel you are the laughing stock in the room because of one pronunciation mistake, it's crucial that you don't make the feeling bigger than it needs to be.

You are allowed to make mistakes, you know?!

Here's what you can do. Reframe your thought process with visualization.

Take any negative thoughts you have and start by breathing into it. Watch in your mind's eye as the fear and negativity burst like a balloon right in front of your eyes. 

You can use visualization even with your eyes open. Start by noticing a negative thought that comes up. See it as an image in front of you or sitting next to a person in the room. Establish it as a "thing."

And then, ask it to walk away...

It will go away. Do you know why? Simply because you acknowledged it. And then, you can welcome in that enthusiasm and playful character who will help you navigate the topic at hand.

Don't forget that excitement is the same physiological response in the body as fear. 

So, when you change your mind, you transform your mistakes and nerves into a chance for personal engagement, and I'm pretty sure that's what you're looking for, right?

Finally, always take the chance to use the fear and nerves you experience in English as a pathway to self-improvement.

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