When I was learning languages at school, I was always afraid to speak in class. I think it was because I was worried that people would laugh at me if I made mistakes. I got OK grades in French and German, but was never able to speak fluently.
Later in life, when I needed to learn another language to live overseas, I decided to try learning a different way. I forced myself to speak to people in that language outside class right from the beginning, and do you know what I found out?
That’s right! There was nothing to be afraid of all along. Nobody laughed at me even though I was a complete beginner. In fact, they seemed even more encouraging because of it. The more I spoke, the more confident I got. The more confident I got, the more I experimented and learned different ways to use the language. The more comfortable I got, the more my skills improved.
There’s nothing to be afraid of when speaking a new language. Sure, if you’re in an exam or giving a presentation, you need to speak accurately. But in other situations, it’s fine to make mistakes. It’s even a good thing because without making mistakes it’s not possible to learn and expand your range.
Most of the time when you are speaking, the listener is paying attention to the content of what you say; the actual information you are giving him. He won’t notice the occasional mistake unless it interferes with the meaning of what you say and, even then, the worst thing that might happen is him asking you to repeat it.
In order to develop real mastery of a language, you need to have a good range and be able to use a wide variety of sentence structures; and the only way to do that is to play around and make mistakes from time to time, as long as you learn from them.
My experience of learning a language in this way is part of what inspired me to become a teacher. I wanted to make my class a safe place for people to feel comfortable speaking a language and not worried about making mistakes.
Helping people with those mistakes and how to say things right is what makes being a teacher interesting and it’s what lets me know my students are really trying hard to be better speakers.
So, don’t be afraid: stand up and speak English today!
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