Hey, everybody, this is Amy Whitney from realenglishconversations.com, and this is part two, episode two of a three-part series that I’m doing related to confidence in English and speaking fluency and how these two skills are really closely related together.
If you haven’t listened to episode one yet, I really recommend that you go back and do that because it’s going to make this three-part series make a lot more sense and to really help you to understand how to break this cycle so that you can finally start to feel good and confident when you’re communicating in English.
To get started with this lesson, I’m going to share with you something that happened to me when I first moved to Mexico.
So as a foreigner, that was moving to a country that speaks a different language than my native language and a language that I still didn’t speak fluently yet. This was a big challenge for me and Curtis and I needed to find a place to live. We had an Airbnb rental that we were staying in for a 10 day period, and before arriving, we had already made arrangements with a guy that spoke English and he was going to be showing us different properties and rentals that were available apparently within our budget.
But what actually happened was when we started to look at these different places, everything was above our budget. And he told us, oh, well, it’s just that all of the people from the previous year, they re-rent their property before they leave and go back to Canada for the summertime. Because in our region where we’re living, we have a lot of people that are called snowbirds. And these are ones that live either in Canada or the United States and for the winter months, they come to a warm, sunny destination like Mexico.
And I thought, oh, no, you’ve got to be kidding me. Like, we’re stuck with the leftover rentals. There’s nowhere that we can rent that’s within our budget. And I didn’t believe it. But it was actually a huge problem because we were being forced to sign a one year contract for most of these places. So I went online because I thought, well, I can’t afford these prices.
I need to find something within my budget, so I’m going to look for myself. And I went onto this property listing website and I found some great places that looked like they were within our budget. They were furnished and they were at the right price. So that’s a good thing, right? I was able to find a property that we could rent. The only thing that I needed to do was to pick up the phone and dial the number that was on the webpage.
And that sounds simple, except that that is actually really terrifying or it was something that was extremely terrifying for me. I knew that my listening skills weren’t really that sharp and that when I made that phone call, I was going to have a difficult time understanding the person. Additionally, this is kind of a weird set of vocabulary that I wasn’t used to using. I know that the real estate agent is going to be speaking and the most formal English and trying to sound professional, which doesn’t really match my intermediate level of communication at the time.
And furthermore, I was in a brand new city, so I didn’t know what the names of the roads are. I didn’t know the names of the neighborhoods. I didn’t know where anything was, like I had literally just moved to this city. So I knew that it would be very difficult to understand what they were going to be saying to me. And I also knew that it was going to be a big challenge trying to explain this listing for this apartment or house that I was seeing online and trying to give them the specific details of that listing and seeing if it’s still available, because I’m assuming they have multiple listings and they might not know which one I’m talking about.
So here’s the thing. I was in a situation where I actually didn’t have a choice. I either was going to be burning through my savings that were supposed to be lasting me for two years in the span of one year because I was overpaying for a rental, because I was too scared to make this phone call, or I had to pick up the phone risk sounding like a complete idiot and not understand anything from the other person on the other side and maybe somehow be able to communicate my idea with them to hopefully find that rental.
When you hear this example, it seems so obvious what I should do. But the thing is that there’s a little bit of history here and there was a little bit of, let’s say, traumatization or something that really was a scar on my confidence that happened to me a few months before during the trip that I took to Colombia.
One of my friends wanted us to order something for delivery, I think it was Chinese food and I remember he wanted me to practice, so he handed me the call and he was telling me the address. I didn’t know where we were. I couldn’t look at the address and read it. So I was in a situation where I had to verbally hear the address, verbally hear what we could order from this restaurant and hopefully get it delivered correctly, understanding what the person was saying to me, and also communicating what I needed to communicate to them. And this was a super, super stressful situation for me.
I was unprepared for it. I had to do it on the spot. And it was a very, very difficult thing. It seems so stupid that something like that could affect me so much. But that’s the only thing that I can pinpoint the fear that I had, this irrational fear that I had towards making phone calls.
I think one of the most difficult things for us, people that move abroad and we see our life and what it’s going to be like, we envision that we’re going to have this wonderful communication. We’re going to learn the language so quickly, be able to get the job that we want, have all of these new friends and experiences this new culture and this next stage in our life and from the comfort of your own home where you’re safe and just imagining some of these challenges, it seems like a good idea. But when you’re actually there in the situation, this type of decision where you’re making decisions based on how uncomfortable you are on the communication is something that can have a really big impact.
And I can tell you for this particular situation where I had to make that phone call, otherwise I wouldn’t have enough money to be able to stay and live my life. That was a situation. It didn’t matter how afraid I was, I had to do it. And that’s a really, really uncomfortable situation to have to go through. Something that’s really important to understand here is that this fear that I was facing related to the phone call actually was a sign that I was not very confident.
I was thinking to myself immediately, “I’m not going to be able to understand that person on the other side of the phone. What if they speak too fast? What if they use words that I don’t know and I can’t understand them? And then I was also thinking, how on earth am I going to explain this stuff? I don’t know the vocabulary to be able to do this. I just can’t think that fast. How am I going to do this? What if they can’t understand me?”
And that is not feeling confident when you’re communicating in a language. And that happens, not only to intermediate people that are just coming into this stage where they’re starting to have spontaneous conversations, but it can come along with us for the ride up to an advanced level. And that negative loop of thinking that you’re constantly saying to yourself before facing a situation keeps you in that cycle. And furthermore, after you go through each situation, you beat yourself up about it and you tell yourself how bad you were at that situation.
And eventually your brain starts to say, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that again. That’s scary. That’s difficult. Why should I put myself in situations like that where I’m going to be embarrassed and feel bad about myself?
The problem here is when that fear starts to come into your life and you start making decisions based on that, I’m going to give you a really stupid example and you can laugh about it if you want. But for me, for example, I wanted to order delivery from my favorite pizza restaurant, and they didn’t have an app or a way that I could do the order without having to make a phone call. And I didn’t order from them. That was a compromise, that’s a compromise that I was making in my life, I wanted something and I was letting the language control me and just the fear that I had to make those phone calls, for example, controlled me where I was deciding to do something different that I didn’t actually want to do to work around my language limitations.
And this is something that happens a lot. And this part of the conversation might hit home and hurt a little bit to hear, especially if you’re somebody who’s living abroad. But we kind of get used to this and we get used to making those decisions that even though it’s not actually what we want, it’s good enough because it’s the only thing that we feel comfortable doing, OK? It could be something simple. It could be deciding not to say hello or start a conversation with your neighbor, or maybe you’re afraid to initiate a conversation with someone that’s sitting there not doing anything. The natural thing to do would be to talk to them. But you’re too scared to do that because you don’t want to feel like an idiot. You don’t want to put yourself out there.
Maybe you’re working in an environment where you have to communicate in English. But instead of contributing to the meeting where you have a great idea and you really want to share it with the team, you end up sitting there quietly, not sharing those ideas. And as a result, your team doesn’t see you contributing in the meetings and you know that it’s not helping you to advance within the company.
And for those of you that are parents, maybe you’re a mom and you’re staying at home raising the kids. Meanwhile, your husband is off working. This is super common situation. We work with students like this all the time. You’re raising your kids bilingually, which is awesome. But because your partner is at work getting better at English and in the house, you’re only practicing your native language. You’re stuck in the type of situation where you’re basically living in your native language bubble and everybody is getting better at English except you.
And unfortunately, that puts you into a situation where you’re more dependent on other people. You don’t feel comfortable to go to the doctor. You don’t feel comfortable to pick up the phone and make a phone call, and you’re relying on the people around you that speak English better than you. The thing is that the situation doesn’t have to be this way. And I just want to reiterate to you, you are not the only one. There are thousands, if not millions of people just living in the United States alone that are facing situations like I have just described.
I have something really special that I’ve prepared for you specifically for this podcast episode. When I had the idea of talking about this podcast, I knew that I would be discussing confidence and I wanted to have the opportunity to speak to one of our students, somebody who has come through the stage where they had very, very low confidence when they first started with us. And in just a period of a month, if you can believe it or not, this person was confident enough to be able to have an interview with me and talk about her situation. And she is brave enough to share it with you guys.
If somebody, on a scale of 1 to 10, only had a confidence level of 5 and she was willing to do a video interview and share it with all of you guys, you can just imagine the progress that she’s made. But what’s really amazing is seeing that she’s not speaking with fear anymore. She’s not afraid to speak. She can just have a conversation. She realizes that she’s not perfect and that she’s still going to continue improving her skills. And that’s fine.
But she’s no longer afraid to communicate in English. In other words, she’s able to communicate in English with confidence. I’ve left the link to this interview in the description area of the podcast. So please go ahead and find that link and be sure to watch the interview. What’s really interesting about this case or this student situation is that back when she was in school, 90 percent of her classmates spoke English and she was one of the only ones that didn’t.
And one of her friends was nice enough to help her through high school and help her to prepare her homework and basically squeeze through high school without having to learn English. But that’s a lot of shame. That’s a history that is really deep and really culturally influenced, something that she’s been dealing with for a very, very long time. So it was very, very special to have the opportunity to work with a student like this and know that through the steps that she followed working with us, she was able to break through that fear and that just general discomfort every time that she had to speak in English. To help somebody to achieve that is awesome.
But one of the coolest parts of this story is that within the next month, she’s going to have the opportunity to continue studying at a university in the United States. And I know that when she arrives, she’s going to be making decisions that are based on what she wants to do instead of not being confident enough to do what she needs to do. And that’s going to be really great for her time there.
I think it’s going to enable her to make those connections that she needs to make to take advantage of opportunities that come her way and just in general, not have to deal with that anxiety every time she needs to speak.
So head over to the website, check out that interview. It’s really good. It’s going to be inspiring for you. And I’ll be back with our last episode in this series where I’m going to explain the next steps that you need to take to break this cycle of low confidence, making you avoid speaking and interacting situations, which is not helping your speaking fluency.
And we’re going to turn it around, where you’re going to be able to practice your speaking, not lose your confidence, have the courage to keep practicing, start seeing the results of your progress and your fluency, which is going to be adding to your confidence every step of the way.