Fear of speaking English

In my personal encounters with Brazilians in the United States and especially in my travels to Brazil, I have noticed an apparent reluctance to conversationally engage in English with native speakers of English. While this phenomenon is common with many other nationalities, I am going to focus on Brazilians because this forum is primarily directed at Brazilians and my most recent experiences are with Brazilians.

I will expound on several examples of this perceived reluctance or fear that I have personally been involved with, starting with Junior, my brother in law. Junior is a well educated man who has a degree in computer engineering, but when I first met Junior and asked him “Voce fala Ingles?”, he replied with the very common “So so.”. Upon meeting one of my nieces, who is a medical doctor I received the same reply. A friend of my wife, who teaches English, gave a better, but still confusing reply of “A little.”. I was beginning to think that I was not from the United States and speaking English, but that I was from Mars and speaking Martian gibberish.

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After a ruminating on this problem for a considerable amount of time I realized that I was actually intimidating all of these people with what they erroneously perceived as perfect English. Upon reaching this conclusion I rapidly developed the theory that my new friends and relatives were afraid of being embarrassed by their; accent, poor pronunciation, improper construction, or poor selection of words. I then vowed to try and understand what they meant rather than what they were literally saying, to never ridicule or laugh at them for errors in English, offer gentle suggestions to improve their English and most importantly to always to emphasize that their English is much better than my Portuguese. To my surprise it worked and all of them opened up and started to speak English to me, even with an English class that I was invited to talk to, by my wife’s friend.

In my humble opinion the only way to correct this problem is to speak English at every opportunity, especially with a native English speaker. In order to accomplish this, one must seek out places and times to practice your English while; never becoming discouraged, accepting any criticism gracefully, and learning from any suggestions. Remember, a non native speaker will probably always have at least a slight accent, which most Americans will find exotic and delightfully fascinating, therefore you have little to worry about.

If any of my friends on English Experts feel uneasy about speaking English to an American native English speaker you need to put away your fears, then go ahead and talk. My professor of public speaking taught me a humorous aside and a secret tool; if one is speaking to a group you can imagine that the individuals (Americans in this case) are nude, and in your mind, but never out loud, laugh at them, because it is impossible to be intimidated by someone who you are laughing at. Above all do not let fear dictate any of your actions.

Words to improve your vocabulary

Sobre o Autor: Bill Slayman tem 66 anos é americano e mora em Pensacola, Florida, USA. Ele atuou no exército americano e hoje está aposentado. Suas paixões são: andar de Harley Davidson, motocicletas, fotografia e qualquer coisa brasileira. Bill é um dos maiores colaboradores do EE.

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52 comentários

  • 11/04/11  
    Samyle diz: 1

    Adorei esse post! Eu me vi conversando com esse cara e respondendo super insegura “so so” qndo interrogada sobre minha fluência em inglês. Eu compreendo bem qndo escuto algm falar inglês, e até sei formar as frases corretamente, mas na hora de conversar cara a cara com algm fico tão tímida e nervosa que me enrolo toda. Vou tentar reverter essa situação, valeu pela dica! :)

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Thank you for your compliments.

  • 12/04/11  
    Flavia Magalhaes diz: 2

    “do not let fear dictate any of your actions”
    tks for this one, Bill

    • 13/04/11  
      sílvia oliveira diz:

      wow flavia, that´s so true! your quote is absolutely right: let us not let fear dictate our will and way of speaking in any language!
      we must believe we have the potential and ability to do that, it´s just that sometimes we´re not confident enough…
      success to you, and to all learners!

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Por nada, minha querida amiga!

  • 12/04/11  
    Rafael Isquierdo diz: 3

    I really agree with it.

    I think when people are asked about their English, they take that as a kind of “challenge” about their knowledge, what it’s wrong!
    Asking people if they speak english or not, is the same thing if you ask somebody if he/she has a Driver license.
    If you have a driver license, you’ll answwer ” Yes, I do have a driver license” if you don’t have it, answer ” No, don’t” or if you’re getting it,
    “Not yet” or “Almost. I’m at driver school making the whole process to get it”….

    That’s simple!!!

    Do you speak english?

    – Yes, I do speak english!

    – No, I don’t even study English.

    – I’m studying English since yesteday or since 2009.

    P.S: But remember, if you say that you’re good at english, be prepared to be tested anytime.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      You may be tested by an “Ugly American”, but not by me. I just accept what people say to me, unless thay say “So So” hahahaha. My reply to “Fala Portuguese ” is “Meu fala um poquino Portuguese” Please be honest! and we will all be better off.

    • 25/04/11  
      Maicon Felicio diz:

      Porque vc usa muito o “Do”?

      Exemplo:
      ” I do have a driver license.”
      I aprendi “I have a driver license”, é usado assim também ou está errado?

    • 25/04/11  
      Alessandro diz:

      Maicon,

      Veja a resposta no link:
      http://www.englishexperts.com.br/forum/como-usar-do-e-does-t3939.html

      Bons estudos!

  • 12/04/11  
    Athos diz: 4

    thanks Bill.
    As vezes o receio do erro e o medo, até nos atrapalha na pronuncia correta.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Thank you for reading and responding.

  • 12/04/11  
    Marcos Vinicius diz: 5

    Interessante esse artigo, mas comigo acontece o contrario, eu me sinto mais desconfortavel pra falar em ingles com Brasileiros, principalmente com conhecidos meus. mas quando preciso falar com algum americano fico tranquilo.

    • 13/04/11  
      Matheus Cassiano diz:

      Like when a relative of yours ask you for do it, right? I get a little ashamed, even if that person doesn’t know English.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      I am pleased that you think the article was interesting. Thanks for reading.

  • 12/04/11  
    Matheus Cassiano diz: 6

    Sometimes I have the same problem. I know a woman who I speak English with, she is from Boston, I am having conversation classes with her. I can speak very well with her, but I guess that with other people, I can feel a little shy, I ever do. In my mind, I have the right pronunciation, but when I feel ashamed, it doesn’t come correct from my mouth.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      If you think your pronounciation of English is bad you need to listen to me try and pronounce Portuguese words. Keep trying it will get easier I promise.

    • 14/04/11  
      Matheus Cassiano diz:

      I don’t think my pronunciation is bad. When I talk to people whom I know and I feel good to talk, it’s ok, like when my conversation teacher says: “It’s wonderful”, but seriously when I am talking with people that I don’t know (even in portuguese, yeah), I feel shy and fear. (If you have time, can you Skype me? I am asking too much, hahaha).

  • 12/04/11  
    Mari diz: 7

    Very nice!! I work in an American Company and we need to talk to Americans all the time. When I was applying to work here, I thought my English wasn’t enough and I became surprised when I passed. I think I read and write pretty well, but I’m still afraid of talking. I always get very anxious when I have to speak English, specially on phone conversations. It seems that everybody understands me, but I’m afraid to sound ridiculous, like you said.
    Last year, I spent my vacation in New York and I started my trip avoiding talking to anyone that was a native speaker and, after two weeks, I was enjoying having conversations with some people I’ve met. But now, one year ago, I’ve lost a little bit of that confidence.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      As I said in the article seek out opportunities to speak English and grasp them. You will probably never loose you accent completely, but I for one think that a Brazilian accent is delightful.

  • 12/04/11  
    Wisley Vilela diz: 8

    This post is considered by me the better article published in EnglishExperts. Of course, many other posts are very good indeed. But this post touch in a common point for many reluctant non native English speakers, like me.

    Thank you very much!

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. They make my efforts worth while.

  • 12/04/11  
    Renata Rodrigues diz: 9

    Sure! This is one of the best post I have ever read. When I got Australia with my brother I couldn´t speak anything… Not because I didn´t know, but because I was really shy. It´s important to us get to know people like Bill who make us more confident. Thank you!!

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Never be ashamed of your lack of perfection, I sometimes have problems with my English pronounciation, and I have been studying the language for 67 years.

  • 12/04/11  
    monique diz: 10

    Eu tenho esse problema. Fico tímida e nervosa falando com nativos, tenho medo de pronunciar uma palavra errada ou de não conseguir formular frases corretamente. Isso acontece comigo mesmo falando com brasileiros que tem o inglês fluente. Ontem encontrei um ex-colega de trabalho(brasileiro) e ele veio me cumprimentar em inglês…Não hesitei em responder em português porque não me via conseguindo continuar um diálogo com alguém que fala nglês tão bem…
    Eu acho que até leio, escrevo e ouço direitinho, mas pra falar…
    Gostaria de perder esse receio e tb de ter oportunidades de conversar com nativos…Esse post me ajudou mto!

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      When in Brazil I always try to speak as much Portuguese as I can, although sometimes I have to use English, Portuguese, and sign language I can usually get by. The funny thing is that the people seem to appreciate my efforts to communicate with them. Of course I always finish any contact with “MUITO OBRIGADO”, and a smile.

  • 12/04/11  
    Otávio diz: 11

    I used to have this problem, but after I spent a month in Canada I lost it:D Now I don’t care if I make mistakes, If I do, I try to correct them later, the importante is to be understood.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Great attitude, trying is the most important thing to do.

  • 12/04/11  
    Lucas Guidolin Cavalcante diz: 12

    Muito bom, conheci pessoas pelo facebook de Springfield e Albany, nos Estados Unidos, e com a moça de Albany, converso todos os dias por skype, sempre fico com medo e falo meio que travando, apesar dela já ter me dito que não tem problema se eu errar pq com certeza eu sei falar inglês muito melhor do que ela conseguiria se estudasse português por conta própria, até mesmo o espanhol que eles estudam. Lendo esse post vou ficar mais a vontade com certeza.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      As you said, Skype is a very valuable asset, as well as MS Messenger, and Facebook. Keep up the good work and English will become easier.

  • 13/04/11  
    Leonardo Matos diz: 13

    I really liked this post. Good text Bill. It serves not only for speaking in another language with natives of other countries, but still for speaking with anyone. Good tactic. Thanks a lot.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Thank you for your support of my efforts to help all of my Brazilian friends.

  • 13/04/11  
    aroldo bruno diz: 14

    Sometime, I met a american man that was travelling with me in a bus. Actually, he was sitting besides me, so he did the feared question: “Do you speak English?” I quickly give the answer, “just a little”. Although I’d love to try speak a little with this man, just for try, he don’t talk to me anymore.Acutally he ignore me since that.Was terrible, I could speak but I had afraid, so I lost a great opportunity, I think.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      You should have said something like this, “I have just started to study English, and would like to talk to you and provide any help that I can.” You can rest assured that I would never ignore a seatmate like that “Ugly American” did, I always try to remember that while in another country that I am the foreigner!

  • 13/04/11  
    Mauricio diz: 15

    My Gosh Arold, you really lost an amazing experience. You should go ahead and try to speak with him. I have some problems in speaking too, but I have found some friends, who live in United States, and we are chatting and speaking every day. I think this is helping me to much, to learn english quickly. And I have figured out, that sitting at the chair of the school, just learning what your teacher says, will not take you to have a good english. Of course classes are important, but you need to try by yourself. GO AHEAD, listen english a lot, and I bet that you will get your goal soon. I tried, and I’ve been making a lot of improvements.

    And now I have to say: I’m totally addicted in learning english.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Excellent advise, grasp any chance to practice.
      Remember the three best ways to improve are to practice, practice, practice.

  • 13/04/11  
    cleonice diz: 16

    Hello Bill, it was so nice to read this article. I really felt so comfortable and suddenly I wanted to speak and speak and speak…….
    Tks a lot for the nice and touching words.
    May I put this article in my blog? I’m gonna give due credit, of course. See you.

    • 13/04/11  
      Alessandro diz:

      Cleonice,

      Os artigos do EE não podem ser replicados em outros sites, isso nos prejudica nas ferramentas de buscas. O que você acha de fazer um post com seu texto e indicar o artigo do Bill com o link aqui do EE?

      Abraços,

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      Your flattery is almost too much, however it is appreciated. Please feel free to put a link in your blog to any article that I write on EE.

  • 13/04/11  
    Gil diz: 17

    hahaha you’re rigth i have this “fear”.

    • 13/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      To quote U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” So go ahead and speak English!

  • 13/04/11  
    Bill Slayman diz: 18

    To all my friends on EE,

    I am truly humbled by all the positive comments that I have received on this article and the others that I have submitted.

    MUITO OBRIGADO meus amigos e minhas amigas.

  • 14/04/11  
    Daniel Macedo diz: 19

    Hi man,is very interesting your post!

    Everything i have learned until now was by myself and i know that i have i big way in front!
    But i never had fear of try,i don’t care if my language still very poor,i’ll keep trying!

    Your text has a lot of different words that i have to introduce in my vocabulary…thanks!

    Cheers!

    • 14/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      I am very happy that my posts help you, and appreciate your kind words.

  • 15/04/11  
    Regiane Duarte diz: 20

    This post is very important to me. I can´t speak english and I know that the errors is the part of the process, but my mind don´t understand or don´t want understand.
    I´m so sad for this reason and I wonder: “How can I change?” I know some methods and I try to apply them but is so hard to me.
    My problem is psychological and it´s terrible!
    So, someday I´ll get it! I hope so.

    Thanks for your post Bill! It´s very important to me!

    bye bye

    • 15/04/11  
      Bill Slayman diz:

      The best advise that I can offer you is to practice every time you get a chance, even with your fellow students. If you can afford the time and tickets go to the U.S., or another English speaking country if even for a week or two, and practice. Another option is to watch American movies or TV shows, paying attention to the way the mouth forms the sounds, and practice.

      Did I mention practice? ;-) :-)

  • 16/04/11  
    Plínio Jr diz: 21

    Isto já aconteceu comigo. Um dia, na Universidade, um casal estrangeiro me perguntou se eu falava inglês e eu respondi, em inglês, que eu não falava muito bem. Eles me olharam espantados (talvez porque eu tenha respondido corretamente) e continuaram me perguntando como fazer para encontrar determinada sala de aula. Eu acabei ensinando a eles como chegar até a tal sala (tudo em inglês). Eles me agradeceram e foram embora provavelmente sem entender nada!! Sem dúvida, o que mais me atrapalha é achar que eu tenho que falar inglês perfeitamente, sem nenhum erro ou sotaque estrangeiro. Mas para isso eu teria que ter nascido em algum país onde o inglês é a língua nativa!

  • 17/04/11  
    lekegf diz: 22

    This is a lesson that I’ll take with me the whole life, but of course, always trying to improve my English.

    And when I see a foreign speaking Portuguese, it’s awesome! It’s very nice to see a person doing its better to speak in another language. We must encourage the people, not laugh of them.

    Ps.: sorry for any mistake.

  • 20/04/11  
    Sergio Maranhão diz: 23

    bom, ate hoje nao encontrei um artigo que falasse sobre uma coisa que acontece no titulo do post
    fear of SPEAKING english, por que o verbo speak, termina com ING ?
    sempre quis entender isso, mto obrigado a todos, o site sempre tem me ajudado muito !

    • 04/12/11  
      Chris. diz:

      In this sentence, the word “fearing” has -ing because it comes after a preposition (of) and we always put -ing on verbs after prepositions.
      And the title is completely agreeing with the text…

  • 12/05/11  
    kennia diz: 24

    I love this article. So cute! It is exactly what happen with me sometimes. Thank you!

  • 14/05/11  
    José diz: 25

    esse comentario foi otimo.
    vou tentar isso na proxima vez( pensar q eu falo inglês melhor do eles falam português ) valeu gente.

  • 17/05/11  
    Igor Victor diz: 26

    Thank you so much Bill!
    I’m a little shy when trying to talk to someone who knows more about English, and also some friends think that I’m knows a lot about English, even if tell that I’m just started to learn^^
    And thanks to the English Experts too! I learn a lot here!