6 Steps to Unleash Your Potential in English

In this month’s blog post I’m going to walk you through the 6 steps to overcoming your fear of speaking English and really unleashing your potential in this wonderful language. These are 6 essential steps to overcoming your fear of speaking English at work which I’ve developed together with my colleague on this project, Mar Riguero, who is an expert in helping people overcome their fears. Because who hasn’t had that feeling of dread when they have to speak in another language?

I’m going to tell you about these 6 steps, give you some tips for each one and explain how these 6 steps have become the 6 modules in our new course: Unleash Your Potential. You’ll want to get a notepad and pen and write down these tips.

But, first of all, you might be asking yourself: why is this important now? Quite rightly as well. You see, I find it incredible that given that in Spain people are in general very invested in speaking English well (people here spend over twice the amount of money than the global average), Spain is way down in spot number 33 in the global ranking of English language abilities. I know, unbelievable, right?!

However, from my experience, working in companies with teams and CEOs alike, there is not generally a lack of knowledge of enlgish, but rather a lack of practice, actually using the language, and a huge amount of fear.

This is why these 6 steps, which combine knowledge, use and overcoming fear are so important right now to catapult you from feeling like your English isn’t up to scratch to being confident expressing your ideas at work in English.

So, let’s get cracking!

Step 1: Bye Bye Miedo Escénico

Do you know what glosophobia is? Around 70% of the global population suffer from it and it’s what makes you feel fear or be ashamed when speaking English in a professional context. And it has many faces just as my colleague, Mar Riguero, says. What interests us here though is that in most of the cases, the fear of speaking English or that shame we may feel even when we’re speaking with people we know well comes from stage fright, the fear of not being good enough or fear of being ridiculed.

It’s entirely normal to feel this fear. The bad thing that happens in a lot of cases is that this fear stops us from progressing in our professional lives, when we feel so much shame and fear that it stops us from making money, wastes our time and makes us miss out on opportunities.

I’ve been through it myself. You know I’m British and overcoming that fear of speaking in another language that wasn’t my own was a challenge. Even now I have to go back and use my tools when I have to speak on the phone (listening was always my weak spot). Thanks to the resources and tools that I have, I can navigate these challenges and completely understand the message and the intention of the call, being able to take the actions needed.

Thinking about it, I think that if I didn’t have these tools, I wouldn’t be able to run my business here in Spain.

To get these tools, first you need to know your fear, what is it, where does it come from, what can you do to overcome it? Because let me tell you a secret here and now: your fear won’t go away entirely but it will become a platform which you can use to skyrocket yourself and speak English in spite of, or accompanied by, your fear.

In our new programme, Unleash Your Potential, my colleague, Mar Riguero, will help you will all of this process during the very first module.

Once you know where your fear comes from and the actions you need to take to overcome it, it’s time to create your action plan for improving your English.

You can create your action plan by benchmarking your starting point, setting yourself realistic and measurable goals and organising the resources you’re going to use, which might be podcasts, a textbook, videos, apps, games and so on. That’s what I’ll be in charge of during the first module. I’ll guide you through all the steps you need so that you can create a personalised action plan that will revolutionise your English.

To recap, to say bye bye to your stage fright or fear when speaking in English, first you need to get to know your fear and then create an action plan to improve your English. It might take you a while, but it’s well worth it.

Step 2: Get your discurso ready

One of the best strategies to get rid of our nerves about speaking in English is to be well prepared. Just as you’d prepare a presentation or speech in Spanish, you need to do the same in English. I’m sure that you already do this but, in my experience, people spend much more time preparing a presentation or speech in another language, in this case English. In some cases it might take you up to 3 times more! That’s a lot of time!

However, it’s also true that many of your conversations, meetings, speeches and presentations will follow the same structure and you will need the same expressions time and time again to, for example, start off your speech, state your opinion or move from one agenda point to another.

So, here are two strategies that will make your work much easier and save you all that time you’re wasting preparing presentations in English, all whilst shining in your meetings in English: 1) write down and draft out the structures of your most common speeches in English (client calls, sales pitches, team presentations and so on). This way you’ll know exactly what you’re going to say, though it shouldn’t be a strict script as such, but rather an outline to follow.

And 2) you need a vocabulary list of your expressions that you can use to express yourself in English and still sound like yourself. You don’t need a list of 50 expressions to leave a good impression during a presentation, you only need the expressions that you use often. Your personalised vocabulary list will help you in 2 ways. Firstly, you’ll be able to put these expressions into your previously-designed structure and with practice, they’ll become part of your speech. And, on the other hand, you’ll feel more like yourself because you won’t be using just any old expressions but your very own.

In our new programme, Unleash Your Potential, we’ll cover all of this in module 2. Mar will share excellent techniques for structuring a good speech (whether it be for sales, a presentation or for a phone call). The bonus here is that you’ll be able to use these techniques for your presentations not only in English but also Spanish. Also, I’ll help you to prepare your personalised vocabulary list, with advice so that you sound as natural as possible in English. We will also practise the pronunciation of these expressions. And, of course, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to practise them too.

To recap, to get your discurso ready when speaking in English, first you need to know techniques for structuring great presentations, both in Spanish and English, and you’ll also need a list of your own personal expressions so that you feel natural speaking in English in meetings.

Step 3: Expresión corporal or move your body.

There are two essential parts of your body that you’ll need to complete this step: your lungs and your mouth.

You must be thinking well this woman has gone mad. What the heck do my lungs and my mouth have to do with getting over my fear of speaking in English?

I’m not crazy, I promise. Let me explain. There are two key factors in stopping feeling so nervous and anxious when speaking in English in a work context: breathing and pronunciation.

Let’s take them each in turn. First of all, breathing. Breathing correctly improves our diction in any language, which in turn improves our confidence in ourselves, and together with relaxation techniques, helps us to control those nerves, control how fast we speak and ensure that we express ourselves confidently.

Then we have the mouth, key to our pronunciation. Pronouncing words correctly in English can give us a lot of confidence when speaking, it helps you to get your message accross clearly and it can even add a memorable aspect to your speeches which helps other people to remember you later on. For example, I can’t tell you how many times people say to me when they hear me speaking in Spanish “Are you really English? You can barely tell.” I’m not going to lie, it’s a huge boost to my self-esteem because yes, I really am British and I’ve put a lot of effort into reaching a high level of Spanish.

Good pronunciation starts with using your mouth corretly. Each language, or rather each dialect, has its own mouth movements. Spanish, French, English, all languages have their own unique ways that mouths must be moved to pronounce the language correctly.

If someone’s pronunciation is not good, it’s highly likely that their using the wrong mouth movements for their second language, for example, using Spanish mouth movements to pronounce English words. And if this is your case, here’s what you can do to fix it: if you’re going to go solo, I’d recommend you to watch videos in English very closely and pay close attention to how they move their mouths. Also, there are lots of YouTube videos which can help you to get some ideas of how to improve your pronunciation in this way. You also ought to record yourself speaking English and watch it, noting down when and in which words you use the incorrect mouth movements.

But if you come along to our new programme Unleash Your Potential, I’ll be doing an in-depth analysis of your pronunciation and give you your personalised action plan to improve your pronunciation.

Step 4: Navigating common mistakes

Making mistakes is fantastic. Most people think I’m going crazy when I say that but it’s true. Mistakes are one of the best ways you can learn. When corrected, or when you realise the mistake you’re making, the brain makes a mental note of the mistake. It may take making the same mistake many times to correct it but you will eventually get there. And you’ll never ever make that mistake again.

Everybody who goes through a language learning process generally makes the same common mistakes. Even when they’re learning different languages, there’s a set of mistakes that every learner of that language makes. For example, when I was learning Spanish, a really common mistake that I made, and almost every English person learning Spanish makes, is saying “la gente son” instead of “la gente es”. And I’m sure that rings a bell, because one mistake that almost every Spanish person learning English makes is saying “people is” instead of “people are”. So, we all make these mistakes and, as I said before, it’s absolutely essential for us to make this mistakes in order to learn. But, you do have to be aware that you’re making them and correct them. Otherwise, you will make the same mistake forever.

The types of common mistakes that people make are different depending on the level that they’re at. A beginning or pre-intermediate learner, someone who is around the A2 or B1 CEFR level, will make mistakes like forgetting to add the “s” in the third person singular present tense. Someone who is an intermediate or upper-intermediate learner, around the B2 CEFR level, will make mistakes like “despite of” or “people is”. And someone who is an advanced learning, around the C1 level, will make mistakes like not being precise enough in their wordage or making mistakes the uncountable nouns like “advice”.

So, in order to unleash your full potential in English, first you need to use the language so much that you make lots of mistakes. Most people who don’t make mistakes aren’t speaking the language enough. Then, you need to make a note of the mistakes you’re making. This could be done by talking with a teacher and asking them to note down all of your mistakes. Alternatively, you could record yourself speaking for about 10-15 minutes and then listen to it back and write down any mistakes you’ve made. Also, it helps to be aware of the really common mistakes that almost everybody makes and listen to your recording to see if you’re making the same mistakes. Then, once you’re aware of the mistakes, it’s time to practice, practice, practice. You might need to do grammar exercises, read more or simply speak more. The mistake won’t correct itself overnight and you’ll probably continue to make the mistake for a while until your brain rewires itself to use the correct word or expression.

I’ll be going into all of this in module 4 of our new programme Unleash Your Potential. I’ll go in-depth on all of the common mistakes people make in English and Mar will go into where people generally fall down in terms of using the psychological fear-beating tools she will explain in weeks 1, 2 and 3.

Step 5: Let’s do this

I could also have called this step the importance of implementation. Or the reason why most people don’t speak a language well.

And the main reason is, to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, a lack of practice. We have an expression in English: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, meaning that any skill that is not practised gets rusty and eventually lost. OK, it might not be lost entirely but it will certainly get quite rusty and be harder the next time you come to use it. For example, I know how to ride a bike but it’s been perhaps 15 years since I last rode one. So, the next time I ride one, it won’t be easy the first time. It’ll take time for my brain and my muscles to remember that skill. Well, the same happens with language skills. For example, I spent a year learning beginner’s level Polish when I was at university but I haven’t used it since then. So, I can remember about 3 sentences now. Last summer, I spent a month not speaking Spanish and when I got back, despite having an advanced level, I forgot certain words and my language wasn’t as fluid as before. I recovered quickly because of all the practise I’d had before but it still happened.

So, it is absolutely essential to practise as much as possible. With that in mind, let’s have a look at some ways you can use English:

  • keeping a gratitude or achievements journal in English
  • listening to podcasts, TED talks, or even random YouTube videos on a topic you enjoy
  • practising speaking with a friend or co-worked who’s in a similar position
  • follow UK or US accounts on social media and read, watch and listen to English content daily
  • finding a language exchange either online or in-person
  • read a book, magazine or even a blog
  • subscribe to a newsletter of someone who inspires you

Those are just some ideas and I’ll be going into many more in module 5 of our new programmae Unleash Your Potential. The whole of week 5 in the programme is dedicated to getting stuck in and using the language in all of the sessions.

Step 6: The final challenge

The final step in successfully unleashing your potential in the English language is what I like to call the final challenge. It’s keeping the momentum going beyond your initial motivation, it’s building successful habits and keeping things novel.

There’s a lot to learn when you’re learning a new language, not just vocabulary and grammar but a new way of viewing the world and new cultural elements you’d perhaps never had to think about before. Although some people try to reduce it down to a simple skill, speaking a language fluently requires effort.

And, let’s be honest, sometimes making that effort over a long period of time to achieve a higher level of English can get boring.

I understand. I see it in my students. I’ve experienced it myself when learning a language for a long time. But this is where habits, routines and novelty come into play.

Think about the way you’ve learnt English up until now. I imagine your journey has followed a pretty standard journey of: sign up to a language school, buy a course book, do the course book from start to finish with a major focus on vocabulary and grammar, finish the course terrified of the final listening and speaking exams because you’ve had so little practice. Rinse and repeat.

This is why it gets boring and this is where the element of fun is essential.

You can incorporate fun into your English learning journey in many ways. For example, you could play a video game in the language, virtually playing with other people from around the world – I know a woman who used to do this and her language improved no end, you could sing in English (which is great for your pronunciation), you might set up a time to speak in English with a friend who also wants to learn English, you could go to a language exchange, read a book or magazine, watch a film, play a new board game, the possibilities are endless.

As well as fun, you need to make sure you build great habits. By getting into routines and perhaps making the use of a language learning tracker or something similar, you’ll find it becomes much easier to keep learning English even on the days when you don’t really feel like it. Using English, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, should become an integral part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth.

To recap, make sure you don’t leave out the elements of fun and routine on your English learning journey – it’s where most people go wrong.

Remember, these elements are all part of the finall challenge at the end of our new programmae Unleash Your Potential.

If you’re ready to get cracking and join us on the programme, check it out here.

Onwards and upwards!

Published by teachernicola

English teacher in the south of Spain.

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