How to deal with shyness when speaking English?

One of the most common difficulties that most language learners mention is the lack of self-confidence and shyness that they feel when they need to speak English.

No matter if you are learning English because you need it for your job or you are just learning it for fun or for travelling. This challenge can be real for anyone.

Don’t worry, help is on the way :). It’s all explained and demonstrated in this short video.


Why do I need to change? I am like this, period.

There are people who are more extroverted, and there are people who are more introverted. And this is something that is just part of a person’s character. So, the way you participate in conversations will also be conditioned by this.

The point is what you do about it in order to keep going and not shy away from speaking English just because you are afraid to look ridiculous or to make mistakes.

If you want to build self-confidence in conversational English, you will need to participate in English language conversations. That’s an obvious one.

Similarly, like it or not, if you want to run a business abroad and deal with foreign customers, you will need to learn how to communicate in English both inside and outside the meeting room. That includes presentation, meeting and negotiation language on one hand, and small talking (socializing) on the other hand.

Getting ready for a professional presentation about your company is often somewhat easier than small talking (socializing in English in the coffee break or at a company dinner). This second one is the really “spooky” scenario for many business people who are learning English.

The technique explained in the video above focuses on socializing in English, as it’s equally important and challenging both for general English speakers and business professionals.

But I reeeeaaaally don’t like to be the one to start a conversation

OK, I get it. But what does it really mean that you don’t like to initiate conversations (to “break the ice”)?

Do you have no ideas? Do you worry about not speaking with correct grammar? Or are you worried that your pronunciation is poor or funny? So you prefer to listen more than speak?

Good news is: that’s OK and it can be used to your advantage. You just need to learn how to listen actively. By active listening I mean not being silent and afraid to speak, but to be listening more than speaking, and guiding the conversation in a way that your speaking partner will be happy to say more, yet the impression that he or she will have is that you have participated in the conversation with them actively.

OK, but how to do it?

Let’s take a closer look at what you can start doing right now. Because, let’s face it, if you are in business then you need to communicate now. You can’t put it off, can you? An informal chat over a coffee that you decide to refuse today may later lead to doing business with that person. Why miss such opportunities?

The way to do it is quite simple. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s  simple.

You need to learn how to listen to your speaking partner and find those points where, in addition to asking questions, you can also show interest using “unreal” questions and by simply repeating certain words that your speaking partner has said and you just replicate them (“echo them”).

You need to learn how to mix your questions with conversation filler words and expressions such as “Really?”, “Wow” “That’s nice” and others. These words and expressions are there to fill those empty spaces which would otherwise be just awkward silence between one question and the next one (and silence is exactly the thing you don’t want 🙂 ).

So instead of just staying silent and choosing not to engage in a conversation, there’s another way to go: using empty words, repeated words and questions in the right places can get you going.

Mastering the use of these of course takes practice. The greatest masters are native speakers, you included in your own native language (1st language). Just observe next time you are having a conversation with your friends how many of these elements people are actually using in everyday conversations.

It’s a communication skill, and it is exactly what what you need to begin and practise using if you want to become an active listener and come across as a nice conversation partner, and feel good about it.

Your “real speaking time” may be considerably less than your partner’s, yet the total image of the conversation will seem balanced, because participation was active on both the speaker’s and the listener’s side (active listening).

Why not simply ask questions?

Asking questions is obviously the most powerful way to keep a conversation going and making sure that you stay on the listener’s side. However, if you keep asking question after question, that will soon sound like an interview. That’s not what you’re looking for.

This is why you need to combine these three elements (questions, repeated words and empty words). It shows to your speaking partner that you are listening and that you are interested, and gives you some more variety than just asking questions.

Also, as a result, you will feel more comfortable, because you can stay on the listener’s side (which is where you prefer to be, at least for now). Remember, this post is about handling shyness when speaking English.

So, watch the video above if you haven’t yet to see how repeated words and empty words work in a sample dialogue.

Does this always work?

Of course, you can’t be listening only and making the other person speak all the time. That would be quite unrealistic and unusual anyway. Your speaking partners will be interested in you and ask you their own questions as well, and the conversation may then transition into a new topic.

So, the best you can expect using this technique is to help you be in conversations in order to gain speaking practice (which you need), and at the same time gradually become more and more confident when speaking English.

This is the entrance door to your self-confidence building, which can only happen living the experiences in real conversations. These tools can mean an initial “conversational life buoy” you can hold on to until you find “swimming” in the sea of words and phrases a more enjoyable activity.

Good luck!



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