SPEAKING ENGLISH: Is this holding you back?

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Why is Speaking English so hard?

Today, we’re talking about some of the challenges you face when you speak English… And what you can do to overcome them!
Speaking English is different to reading, writing and listening to English… Because there’s a lot more pressure! Your reaction needs to be instant! You’re trying to remember words and expressions, you’ve got to pronounce words clearly, so that you will be understood, and the whole time you have this overwhelming fear that you will mess up and embarrass yourself.

Making MISTAKES is the most EMPOWERING thing you can do with your English. It gives you the opportunity to learn and improve.

NOTE: My video lessons are created to help English learners to improve their pronunciation and speaking skills. Please note that the pronunciation of some of these words and expressions differs between English accents. I speak with an Australian English accent


Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! So tell me, how do you feel about speaking English? Does your heart start pounding? Do you get sweaty palms? Do you feel anxious or stressed out? Its really common!

But you’re here watching this video because you want to improve your speaking skills. You want to feel more confident in English conversations!

You might feel a little more confident reading or listening to English, where you’re taking on information, the information’s coming in. During that time, you’re learning new words and you’re refining your awareness of English grammar.

By practising these skills regularly, you’re building a really big passive vocabulary but you’re not producing English. You’re not having to create your own ideas or opinions, you’re just taking on someone else’s. But you can practise writing English, right? That’s producing English. You have to think of your own ideas and write them down, right? Absolutely! But you also have time to pause and think to look up words, to go back and correct your grammar mistakes. There’s much less pressure. Writing in English definitely helps you to improve your conversation skills because it helps you to organise your ideas and use correct grammar, it’s definitely a good place to start. But it’s not quite the same, is it?

For you, speaking English.. it’s tricky because not only do you have to produce your own thoughts and ideas in English, but you’ve got to do it on the spot, in that moment. And once you do that, then you’ve got to pronounce all of those words correctly.

One of your biggest challenges while speaking English is recalling the correct grammar and remembering the right words to use, right? And to do it quickly. You know this problem, don’t you? It’s happened to you before. You’ve tried to explain an idea to someone in English but suddenly you feel stuck. You’ve forgotten the eword or you just don’t know how to explain it. Well what happens then? In that moment, what happens? Perhaps you get frustrated with yourself, annoyed, angry even. Maybe you feel embarrassed. Maybe you’ve lost a little confidence and maybe you even try to avoid speaking as much as possible because you don’t like that uncomfortable feeling.

I hate this! I really want to help you to overcome these emotions. Making mistakes is the most empowering thing that you can do with your English. It gives you the opportunity to learn and improve.

Okay let’s talk about some of the challenges you face when speaking English.

Expand your vocabulary

You need a decent vocabulary. Broadening, widening, expanding your vocabulary. Of course that’s going to be helpful for speaking English, right? And you can do this by reading books on topics, listening to podcasts, watching movies with subtitles, using language apps, all of those things.

But the most important thing is that you need to be actively participating in these activities, it’s really easy to learn passively, just watch movies and hope that some of the words will stay with you in your mind.

No! You want to expand your vocabulary. You have to do things to make that happen. So when you’re doing all of these activities, keep a notebook with you and write down words and expressions. Look them up. Try to understand them. Make sure that you’re using the words that you learn. Write a daily journal or draw vocabulary maps. You need to keep these words and expressions in the active part of your brain if you want to be able to use them easily during a conversation.

But more than just expanding your vocabulary, you have to train your brain to think of alternatives when you don’t know the exact word that you’re looking for because it happens.

Imagine that you want to buy a vase but when you go to the shop, suddenly you’ve forgotten the word. Should you just give up and go home? No! You can use other words to describe what it looks like and how it’s used.

It’s a box that you fill with water.. and you put flowers in it. You put it inside your house.

So are all of those names the right ones to use for a vase? Absolutely not. But will you leave the shop with a vase? Probably! And the shop assistant will probably remind you of the name as well.

Alright another fun way to improve your vocabulary and communication is to play games. One of my favourite’s is a synonym game. Now it’s a little like a guessing game where you’re given a word and you need to think of some alternative names or different ways to describe it without using the actual name. If you watch this lesson through to the end, I’ll show you exactly how to play it. We’ll play together!

Games like this, they really help you to communicate your ideas effectively even if you forget a word. They’re training you to do that. They help you to keep English words active in your mind and you’ll get better at improvising and getting yourself out of trouble during conversations. Being a more creative thinker will definitely help you even when you can’t think of the word you need. So you’ll be feeling less stuck during conversations.

When you’re speaking English, try to focus less on accuracy, and more on fluency. Just allowing the words and ideas to flow to you and don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Worry about your writing being perfect, but not your speaking. In fact, just forget this idea of perfection at all. I have had hundreds of incredible conversations with non-native English speakers. Some of them the most enjoyable ones of my life. Now was their English perfect when they were speaking? No. But my English isn’t always perfect either when I speak. But did this stop us from communicating our ideas and creating a wonderful experience together? Absolutely not. So perfection should not be your goal when speaking. Your goal should be effective communication.

Do you have any special methods that you use to learn vocabulary? I want you to add them to the comments. I’d love to learn some of your tips and recommendations as well. What tools do you use to learn vocabulary? Or what games do you play?

Improving your range of vocabulary and remembering it is important but what else gets in the way of fluent, effective conversation?

Good pronunciation

Good pronunciation is important when speaking English, it helps people to understand you. But English pronunciation is a challenge that all non-native English speakers face. To speak, you don’t just have to work your brain, but you also have to work your mouth, your tongue, your throat, all of these different things. There are so many muscles that go into speaking clearly.

If you decided to try surfing for the first time ever, would you expect that your muscles to know exactly what to do and help you catch your first perfect wave in just a few minutes? No.

Speaking your second language is similar. You have to train your mouth and develop your muscles to improve your pronunciation. Even if you use perfect grammar and expert vocabulary, but your mouth just can’t make these sounds correctly. Well you’re stuck!

So let’s talk about what you can do to train your mouth and develop those muscles. If you can invest in a pronunciation coach or a trainer that will help you to break out of your bad pronunciation habits, then do it. Even if it’s just for a short period so that you can really understand which sounds are making your spoken English unclear.

You could even do this yourself by keeping a list of English words that you find difficult to pronounce.



These are all tricky words, right? I’m sure you’ll make a huge list! Look up how to say each word correctly before you practise. Make sure you’ve got it right. Try and copy a native English speaker, even from a video. Never assume that you know how to pronounce an English word.

So you look at all these words, and you look them up in the dictionary, you review the phonemic symbols if you can. So once you’ve made your list, you check, are there any sounds or groups of sounds that repeat themselves through this list? This is how you can find out which sounds you need to practise. Perhaps there are some consonant clusters there or some final consonant sounds that are difficult for you or a particular vowel sound.

And once you know which sounds are difficult, make a new list of words that include it and practise them out loud. Practise them in sentences, use language apps to record your voice and help you to identify where to improve.

Finally, there is a great way to improve your pronunciation and that is imitation. Repeating after a native speaker is a great way first to hear the proper pronunciation but then to practise it yourself, by imitating them, copying them.

Now I have two whole series of imitation lessons that you can use to practise and improve your pronunciation and English expression. You can use this link up here to check out mmmEnglish imitation courses.


One of the biggest challenges facing language learners is fear. The fear of making a mistake, the fear of forgetting what you’re trying to say, the fear of not understanding the person that you’re talking to, the fear of talking to a group of people, the fear of presenting in another language.

The thing is, sometimes these fears are real. But most of the time, they’re thoughts in our head – that’s all they are. We get to decide which thoughts in our heads are real. But it’s completely possible to tell ourselves that those thoughts are false, they’re just not true. You don’t have to believe them.

For example, we tell ourselves it’s bad to make a mistake. We should know better. We’re dumb. We’re slow learners.

We tell ourselves all of these things but we don’t have to. Instead we could tell ourselves:

Mistakes give us the opportunity to learn and improve.
We’re busy people. Learning a language takes time and patience and I’m doing what I can to achieve my goal.

If you’re waiting for your English grammar to be perfect and to know every word in the English dictionary, then you’ll never actually start speaking. Unlike writing, it’s not necessary to worry so much about having perfect spoken English, right from the very beginning. In fact, most native English speakers that you listen to will occasionally use a wrong word or the wrong grammar. We’re not perfect either.

Let me ask you, have you ever run a marathon? Is it possible to finish a marathon if you’ve never gone running or jogging before? Probably not. Unless you’re some kind of superhuman. You have to train for a marathon and you have to get some momentum. Start off small. Run short distances and slowly you’ll feel stronger, you’ll feel faster every time that you go for a run. With each week that passes, you’ll be able to run a little further. Speaking English is similar, you start out small and with a little bit of training each day, you work your way up.

Don’t wait until you feel like you can join a conversation without ever making a mistake. Because that day just simply won’t come. So instead start off small and let yourself make some mistakes. People will generally understand you anyway and you’ll be improving your pronunciation, you’ll be gaining confidence and experience in that conversation. And guess what? Next time you’ll do it better. And it will get easier.

So deliberately work on your confidence. Tell yourself that you’re capable, that you can join a conversation, that you will find a speaking partner to practise with. Don’t give up when you fail. Just accept that you’re doing to make mistakes and they will make you stronger.

Speak with someone

So once you do all of that, let’s focus on speaking with someone. You need to practise, right? So if you’ve got a tutor or a class to practise with, great! But if not, well you have to get a little more creative. Do you know any native English speakers? You could just offer to buy them a coffee once a week and chat with them for thirty minutes. But maybe speaking to a native English speaker is a little intimidating.

How about non-native English speakers? It’s a really common misconception among my students that you have to practise with a native speaker and that’s just wrong. While you build your conversation confidence and try to become more fluent in conversation, practising with non-native English speakers is awesome! They have more time and are willing to practise with you, especially practise regularly. You have the same goals as each other so you can help each other to reach those goals. You’ll feel less bothered by your mistakes because your partner’s making them as well. You’ll have a study buddy who you can solve your English problems with. Plus, you can find partners who are at a similar level as you and that will help you to feel less intimidated about these conversations.

Remember, we’re focusing on fluency not accuracy so this is the perfect way to practise. Now finding this person or finding these people is the hardest part. You need to spend some time trying to find someone who’s the right fit for you. You get on well together. Someone who’s available regularly at the same times as you. Someone who motivates you and helps you to practise even if you don’t really feel like it.

There are so many online groups that help you to connect with other English learners who share specific interests or goals – ones that you know focus on presentation skills for professionals or ones that focus on travel, food. You’ll find people who share similar interests with you. And those people will help you to feel motivated and excited to speak with them. Try to find someone who’s willing to meet with you regularly – once a week, for example – you need that commitment from someone.

Now I run an online community that’s specifically for women who are trying to learn English, The Ladies’ Project. We focus on conversation topics that women care about and deal with particular challenges that women face when speaking English. We connect our members with other women who are learning English and help them to make new friends around the world. If you’re interested to learn more about it, then check out the link right here.

No matter where you look for your speaking partner, like any relationship, finding a genuine speaking partner that you get along with takes work. It’s not going to be anyone but it’s worth the effort. Practising with them is going to prepare you for future conversations with native speakers, prepare for job interviews or that moment when you see your favourite American movie star across the street and you run over to say hi.

There are just so many complex parts to speaking in English. So being able to quickly recall vocabulary and use grammar correctly really helps you to communicate your message effectively in English. As does good pronunciation. But the fears that we just spoke about are more complex issues that require you to think more deeply about the person that you are and what you need to do to try and reduce those fears. I’ll be making a few more lessons about this soon but right now, we’re going to have a little fun in the extra practice section. So keep watching for a few minutes. And let me know in the comments if you have any other suggestions or recommendations to improve your speaking skills.

Do you have any other strategies that we can try? Share them in the comments below. You know that I love to see you all helping each other and supporting each other on your English-language journey. It’s a tough journey but you’re all in this together and I’m definitely here and I’ve got your back.

So are you coming with me to practise a little more? Let’s go!

Shah: So this synonym game..
Emma: Yeah.
Shah: How does it work again? I’ve totally forgotten.
Emma: So what you do is you think of a word – and this could be any word – you could have a list of vocabulary that you use or you could even just look around you and look at the things that are around you for inspiration. And what you need to do is think of alternative ways that you can describe or talk about that thing or that feeling for example. So what it’s good for is to help you to get a little creative with your English vocabulary. It’s good for pushing you a little bit further to help you think of alternatives for describing things and this is great when you’re in a conversation and you get stuck. You know that feeling when you get stuck for a word, but you need to quickly think of new ways to describe or talk about that thing so that you can keep going in your conversation right? So it’s just a bit of fun but it’s the kind of game that you can play on your own, any time like when you’re on the bus on your way to work, when you’re going for a run, anything like that. You can play it on your own but you can also play it with friends which is kind of cool. You can challenge your friends to, you know, different words and they’ve got to think of new and alternative ways to describe or talk about that word. So do you want to try it with me?
Shah: Sure!
Emma: Okay you think of a word and I’ll show you what you need to do.
Shah: Okay. Playground.
Emma: Okay. Playground. This is a place where children play. It’s like a park for children actually and usually you can find swings and slides and monkey bars. It’s even called jungle gym in some countries.
So do you get it? Now you know how to play it right? So I’m going to choose one for you. Okay, exercise.
Shah: Exercise. Things like jogging, running, fitness, things you do with your body for like losing weight, something you do in a gym.
Emma: Okay now you think of another one for me.
Shah: Okay. Peaceful.
Emma: That’s a tricky one. Peaceful. So some synonyms for peaceful are calm, relaxed, tranquil, not stressful. Alright, I’m going to think of one last one for you now. Okay, beach.
Shah: Beach? My favourite place. Beach.
Emma: It’s just over there.
Shah: Beach. Okay. Sandy coastline, a place to have fun in summer. Did I say where the sand meets the water? A place to make sandcastles. The edge of the sea.
Emma: Awesome! That was really good! Okay I’m going to give one last one here and I want you to think of the alternatives, think of the synonyms and add them into the comments below this video. Okay? I’ll be down there to check them in a minute. The word is enthusiastic. So how can you describe this or use alternatives for this word?

If you enjoyed this lesson then make sure you subscribe to the mmmEnglish channel just down here. And when you’re ready, let’s go check out these next lessons together. I’ll see you in there!

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