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Speak Confident English Even if You're Shy

Kevin Naglich
Founder, Deliberate English

If you're shy like me, don't worry! You can still learn English! It took me a while to figure out how to learn a language as an introvert, but I finally did it!

You can go from being too afraid to have conversations with native speakers to spending weeks (or years!) abroad speaking only in English.

Below is the story of how I did it with Spanish. It's a good opportunity to learn from my mistakes and start improving faster than you thought possible.

TALKING TO PEOPLE IS SCARY, APPS ARE EASY

A few years ago, I decided to learn Spanish. After living in Chicago for years, I wanted to start helping people through volunteer work in the Spanish-speaking community.

Despite taking Spanish classes over a decade ago in High School, I didn't learn anything. I was basically starting again from scratch. 

So, where does somebody who has no idea how to learn a language start? In a free language learning app. 😅

The app was a great way to get started as a true beginner, but my problem was that I spent way too much time working ONLY with the app. In fact, I spent about 6 months with it. 

The main reason why I never tried to do anything else is that I'm an introvert. I prefer staying home and playing the piano or a video game. The last thing I want to do is go out to a bar and start conversations with strangers, even in English!

That meant speaking to anybody in Spanish before I was "fluent" was really scary.

I was so afraid of talking to real people that I went so far as to look for apps that let you have fake conversations with "chatbots" as practice. 🤖

As you can imagine, after 6 months, I was really good at answering questions in apps. When it came to actually speaking and understanding Spanish, however, I could barely do either.

WHEN I WENT TO SPAIN, I COMPLETELY FAILED

My big wakeup call happened when my wife and I went to Spain on vacation after those first 6 months. 

The first day we were there, we went to a restaurant for dinner. I was nervous but also excited about trying to talk to the waitress in Spanish. 

So she walks up to us, says something in Spanish, and I completely froze. 😬

I couldn't understand anything the waitress said and had no idea how to respond. She then did every language learner's least favorite thing - she started talking to me in my native language instead.

I was so disappointed. 😔

I got better towards the end of the trip, but there were still far too many instances where I had to use  English. 

I GOT ENOUGH COURAGE TO TALK TO PEOPLE, BUT IT WASN'T ENOUGH

When I got home, I knew I had to try something different. My trip to Spain gave me enough confidence to download another app, HelloTalk, that lets you have conversations with native speakers of any language. 

I was still nervous about talking to people, so I started with just texting for a while before finally getting the courage to start sending audio recordings.

Working with HelloTalk gave me more confidence and was an excellent opportunity to practice what I already knew, but something was still missing. 

I still had to use online translators to figure out how to respond to people, and it was still difficult to understand what they were saying. I started to think I just wasn't talented enough to learn a language and was ready to quit.

I REALIZED I WAS LEARNING THE WRONG WAY

That's when I discovered deliberate practice, and it changed my language learning forever. The first thing that I learned was that I didn't have a talent problem, I had a noticing problem. 🤯

Anytime a Spanish speaker did something I wasn't used to, like a weird pronunciation, sentence structure, or expression, my brain just ignored it. Instead of learning from these experiences, I wasn't even aware they were happening.

That's why people don't always become fluent in the local language after moving to a foreign country. A ton of immersion is no good if you don't focus on the details of what makes native speech different from yours

YOU NEED EXERCISES THAT CHALLENGE YOU TO NOTICE DETAILS YOU USUALLY MISS

Deliberate practice changed that. I learned new techniques that forced my brain to pay attention to details that it usually ignored. Methods that forced me to use new expressions and structures.

The big difference with deliberate learning is the idea of active versus passive practice.

  • Passive practice is what you do when you watch TV or listen to a podcast without doing anything else. It's good to test what you know, but not so good for learning new things. 
  • Active practice means interacting with what you consume and producing language simultaneously. For example, writing down everything you hear, repeating sentences from memory (out loud!), or trying new expressions in different contexts. 

Now, don't get me wrong, deliberate practice isn't a magic bullet. It will challenge you, and it won't make you fluent in a week. It requires daily practice and patience, but it is incredibly effective.

ONCE I STARTED PRACTICING DELIBERATELY, EVERYTHING STARTED TO CHANGE 

Over the next year, everything changed for me.

I started to understand a lot more, and I could actually talk in complete sentences. My confidence continued to grow, and I started having conversations with strangers, after all. 

I even gained the courage to start volunteering at the local high school giving English classes to Spanish speakers.

My biggest test was when I had the opportunity to go back to Spain. Instead of completely freezing and spending most of my time speaking in English, I spent the entire week talking ONLY in Spanish. 🎉🎉🎉

Of course, there are always new things to learn, and I continue to study Spanish even today. Still, thanks to deliberate practice, I finally achieved my goal of speaking a foreign language.

YOU CAN DO THE SAME THING, FASTER, BY LEARNING FROM MY MISTAKES

Everything I learned about learning a language, I teach in the Deliberate English Community.

The community is designed to help you improve your business English through active practice. You won't just be watching videos, you'll be speaking and using English at the same time. 

Everything you do will be reviewed and corrected by native English speakers. This will help you you notice your blindspots and start to sound more natural.

You'll also be surrounded by an active community of motivated students who will challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and boost your confidence.

Click here to learn more and join the Deliberate English Community

Thanks for reading and good luck!

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