Usually, when your ESOL teacher asks for volunteers to stand in front of the class and give a speech, almost everybody will find something far more interesting to look at. Out the window, at their workbook, maybe studying their fingernails... anything to not make eye contact with Teacher.

That's really an unfortunate reaction because public speaking - what your teacher is asking students to do, is one of the best ways to improve your English speaking skills. It offers a lot of other benefits, too.

Still, there's practically no other exercise you could do in class that causes more fear and discomfort. Maybe you're too shy to speak out like that. Or maybe facing so many people makes you anxious - stage fright is a real problem for a lot of people.

And what if you make a mistake and everyone laughs at you?

Your Superprof would like to encourage you to take every chance you can to practise public speaking by showing you just how much it can help you develop your English speaking skills - your communication skills in general.

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Why Public Speaking is a Good Exercise

It's hard to believe that something that causes unbelievable fear in so many people can be so good for you. But that's exactly the case with public speaking.

In my ESOL classes, my students are so scared to speak up that they will often whisper their answers. This causes me to have to stand very close to them so I can hear what they say. That's not totally bad because I can correct them quietly so that they don't suffer embarrassment when they make a mistake.

Also, I can give them an encouraging pat on the shoulder or a high-five when our exchange is done.

New students don't like to speak up in class at the start of the year
Often, new students are too shy to speak up in class. Photo credit: US Department of Education on VisualHunt.com

That's usually how my classes go at the start of the school year, every time I have a new group of students. Eventually, they discover they can receive those same encouraging pats whether they speak from the front of the room or if they stay at their desks, I make it a point to compliment them on their efforts.

The bottom line is that speaking out makes you feel good. It helps to boost your confidence and gives you positive feedback. You might call that a virtuous circle, where good builds more good which, in turn, creates more good. And it's all for you.

Boosting your vocabulary is another reason public speaking is so good for your developing language skills.

As you've probably been learning and speaking English for quite a while, your head is full of so many English words that you hardly ever get to use in the traditional class setting. Giving a speech, no matter how short, is a chance for you to take those dusty old words that you learned long ago and put them to good use.

Public speaking also helps your English fluency.

As you communicate your thoughts and ideas to a large group of people, you'll soon forget about using the proper verb tense and pronoun. You'll be in full performance mode and your brain will go on autopilot - if you can imagine that.

Soon, English words will pour out of you as if you've been speaking English your whole life, without you even having to think about what you're trying to say.

And, even better: if you know how voice modulation can help you with accent reduction, you won't be shy at all about speaking in front of people!

How Public Speaking Helps You Overcome Your Accent

For many ESOL learners, their accent is the biggest barrier to speaking English fluently. It's not that you're not trying hard enough to speak English without an accent; our guess is that you're working very hard to speak English as well as you can.

The trouble is that every language has its own natural rhythm. Speakers pick up on these rhythms when they're still tiny babies; it is the music of our lives. Overcoming such a mighty force is very difficult indeed, so you need some powerful tools to master another language's rhythm.

The best and most powerful tool you have is public speaking.

Your ESOL teacher no doubt told you to listen to native English speakers so you can pick up on how their language flows. Where are the stresses and tone? How do they use tone and syllable stress to give words and sentences meaning?

We urge you to go one step further: listen to yourself speak.

Your teacher might suggest that you record yourself speaking English
Good ESOL teachers recommend that their students record themselves speaking English. Photo credit: rcrowley on Visualhunt.com

Once you understand the importance of syllable stress and tone in English, you can apply your knowledge to improve your speaking skills, but only if you speak out loud. Speaking English in your head... helps a little bit but not as much as hearing yourself speak.

You can start by reading from your textbook or any other book that is familiar to you. Being comfortable with what you're doing is your recipe for success. As you read, be sure to record yourself so you can hear yourself speak.

As you listen, don't focus on what your voice sounds like; nobody really likes the way they sound, anyway. Instead, focus on how authentically English your pronunciation is. Did you say EXport (verb) when you meant to say exPORT (noun)? Did you end your sentences with an up-tone, indicating a question - when no question was asked?

Over time, with this speaking-recording-listening method, you will soon find that you sound more and more like the English speaker you always wanted to be. Then, you'll be ready for the ultimate challenge: public speaking.

After all your hard work, you will have earned all of the praise and compliments you get from your speech.

Just be sure to mind your posture and voice power, they too will influence your public speaking ability.

Understanding the Fear of Public Speaking

The fear of public speaking is just like any other fear: if you don't understand it, it can dominate your life. So, if you understand why people, in general - and you, in particular, are afraid of public speaking, you can reduce your fear to what it actually is.

A tiny thing standing in your way to excellent English speaking skills.

Most people fear public speaking because they're afraid they'll say something wrong - or worse, something crazy. Indeed, if you don't know much about British slang words, for instance, you could accidentally say something you had no intention of saying.

To neutralise this fear, ask someone who knows English well to go over your speech before you stand at the podium. They can help you identify words that are not suitable or those that have many different meanings, that could confuse your audience.

The fear of being laughed at is another reason people are afraid to speak publicly.

You can chase this fear away with the knowledge that people are more likely to focus on your tone and body language than your words. Listening is a passive skill, meaning that you don't have to put a lot of effort into listening.

However, catching differences in tone and watching how a speaker moves as they speak requires active focus meaning that, if you sound and appear confident while you speak, it's more likely your speech will be a success.

Finally, another science fact: outside of your teacher - who is intently focusing on your words, your audience is probably only catching every third or fifth word you say, and their brains are filling in the rest.

So, as long as your tone and fluency hit the right notes and you present yourself well, you don't need to worry about getting every single word right and being laughed off the stage or saying anything bad/wrong.

And if laughter does ring out? Laugh with your audience and move on. That's a great way to show how well you relate to your audience.

It would help if you took elocution lessons, though. Do you want to find out where some are near you?

Don't wait for your teacher to invite you to speak, look for opportunities on your own
You can practise public speaking in many different settings. Photo credit: ianus on Visualhunt.com

Opportunities for Public Speaking

When you think of public speakers, people like powerful company CEOs might come to mind. Or politicians, television presenters... any kind of official. Do you think of your teachers as public speakers? They are, you know. Anyone who speaks in front of people is a public speaker.

And now that you've practised speaking English out loud, you too are ready to be one. Here's where you can put your skills to great use.

  • join your school's speech and debate club
  • participate in speech and debate competitions - either through school or in your community
  • join a public speaking organisation such as Toastmasters International
  • ask if you can give a speech at your local church, community centre or at a cultural event
  • volunteer to read to children at your local library
  • volunteer to read to senior citizens in care homes
  • host a podcast
  • launch a video channel

For some of these suggestions, you might wonder what you could talk about. Don't you know that you're so rich in experiences native English speakers may never enjoy?

You might talk about your people's culture, traditions and celebrations. You could write a whole speech about your favourite native foods, or about the education system in your land or... the possibilities are endless!

So long as you remember the importance of intonation in English, any topic you choose to speak on is bound to be interesting.

Let us know how you get on, won't you?

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.