Studies shows that getting involved with the community helps university students increase their language confidence (see Allhouse 2013 and Hummel 2013).
I Want to Increase My Confidence
This 6-minute video on "Communicating with Confidence" will help you show, say, act, and believe with more self-assurance. [University of Minnesota students: to access the video click "Sign in" > click "Sign in with your organization portal" > type "umn.edu" > enter your internet ID and password.]
Do you feel lonely or shy? Join a student group to start meeting people. This can help you make friends and give you more opportunities to practice English.
Are you nervous about making mistakes?
Everyone gets nervous sometimes! If you start to feel nervous about making mistakes in English, think about the following:
- Assume people are supportive. Most people will be patient and willing to communicate with you. They want you to succeed.
- Notice how often people survive after giving wrong answers. We all make mistakes, and we all lived through it! Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Separate yourself from your mistake. If you make a mistake, it doesn't mean YOU are stupid. Maybe the situation was difficult or you were having a bad day. Don't let the mistake affect your self-esteem.
- Be willing to laugh at yourself. Again, we all make mistakes. Laugh it off, learn from it, and move on.
- Practice, practice, practice. The more you use English, the stronger you'll become. Keep practicing, and your confidence will increase (while your mistakes decrease!).
Ten Ways to Build Confidence
1. Talk a lot.
The more you practice, the more your fluency, accuracy, and confidence will grow. Set daily goals, such as:
- Recording speaking journals of yourself talking for 5 or 10 minutes each day.
- Repeating phrases you hear on TV or on the radio.
- Making small talk with people in stores, classes, and buses.
2. Use confident body language.
The first 3 minutes of this "Making Introductions" video will tell you how to make your physical energy, body language, and eye contact more confident. [University of Minnesota students: to access the video, click "Sign in" > click "Sign in with your organization portal" > type "umn.edu" > enter your internet ID and password.]
Other confident body language tips include:
- Use good posture and stand up straight
- Don’t fidget or make nervous hand movements
- Don’t hide your hands in your pockets
- Use your hands to clarify what you’re saying, or for emphasis while you’re talking
- Make eye contact (look at the speaker about ⅔ of the time he/she is talking)
3. Speak at a good volume.
Speak loudly and clearly enough to be understood.
4. Practice with friends who speak English.
Don’t spend all your time with people who speak your native language. If you do, agree to only use English together. Meet other people with common interests and spend time with them. Or, get a conversation partner.
5. Ask for help.
If you are comfortable with some friends, ask them to correct your English and help you improve. (People probably won't correct your English unless you ask them to.)
There are also many resources on campus where you can get help with your language, including tutoring through Student English Language Support or classes with the Minnesota English Language Program.
6. Have some questions ready.
Learn some common conversation starters and practice them so you are ready to begin a conversation without feeling awkward or shy.
7. Learn a few charming phrases.
Learn some local slang, compliments, or cultural references, and be ready to use them in conversations:
- Talk about something you really enjoy in Minnesota. Do you like tater tot hotdish or wild rice soup? Say so! Did you enjoy going to the Minnesota State Fair or do you think Gopher sports games are a lot of fun? Tell people what you like about Minnesota!
- Explore local activities and events. Do you want to try ice fishing? Are you curious about American football? Do you want to know what a Juicy Lucy burger is? Let people know; they will be pleased that you’re interested in local culture (and they MIGHT invite you along).
- Learn and use Minnesotan expressions like “you betcha” or other local phrases.
- Think of a helpful way for people to learn to pronounce or remember your name. For example: "My name is ___. It rhymes with ___."
- Learn a song lyric, proverb, or other famous poem or saying. You might find situations where you can reference it (and impress people with your interest and knowledge of American culture).
8. Create opportunities where you can succeed.
Put yourself in environments you enjoy. If you have a hobby, join a student group so you can enjoy that hobby while also speaking English. If you want to speak more in class, choose a class where you feel most comfortable and try to ask a question or volunteer a comment each week.
9. Actively listen in conversations.
When you listen with your full attention, conversations can become deeper and more meaningful. You might learn more about the person you’re talking to and the topic. If you look truly interested in a conversation, the other person can see that. This makes it more likely that THEY will react positively, and make you feel better about your communication skills.
10. Be willing to laugh at yourself.
Be willing to laugh if you make a mistake, and don’t take it personally. We all say the wrong thing sometimes. Some people might be willing to help you if they get the feeling that you are trying to learn and improve your English.
Five Things to Remember about Confidence
1. We all lack confidence sometimes.
Most people are a little nervous when they meet a new person or are in a new situation. You're not the only one who feels nervous! Keep giving yourself opportunities to use English, meet people, and keep improving, and it will get easier each time.
2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
No one speaks 100% perfectly all the time. Just speak. With practice, you will become more fluent and smooth.
3. Many people like accents.
Many people are impressed that you can speak more than one language and like the way that English sounds with different accents.
4. Knowing English makes you cooler.
Think about why you started learning English, what your goals are, and how you're getting closer to your goals every day that you study in the US. If you remember your reasons for learning English, that might make you feel stronger when you face a challenge here.
5. Believe in yourself.
You've already studied English enough to be admitted to the University of Minnesota—that's an accomplishment that shows you already have strong English skills. Believe that you can continue to improve and your confidence will grow stronger.
I Want to Be More Fluent
Practice is the best way to reduce hesitations, strengthen spoken grammar, improve pronunciation, and raise your overall confidence. A good way to give yourself more speaking practice is by recording Speaking Journals every day:
Speaking Journals Instructions and Topic Ideas
Learn and Use Common Phrases
You can also improve your fluency by having some common phrases ready to say. When you use common chunks of speech like "You know what I mean..." or "I was going to say..." or "It seems to me..." your English will sound smoother and more natural. These chunks of speech can also give you a little extra time as you think about the next idea you want to say. The most common English formulas are listed here. You probably already know several of them; try to start using more of them when you speaking.
You can also use common phrases for discussions and common phrases for group work.
Talk to People
The more you spend time with friends speaking English, the more you'll practice and increase your confidence. There are many student groups and events you can join for more opportunities to talk to people.