How can I improve my English if I am afraid to speak?

Last Updated on February 11, 2022 by Estrella

Photo by Jessica Devnani from Burst

Many ESL learners want to improve their English, but are afraid to speak because others may not understand them. Or they are afraid they would make mistakes when they speak. So, they feel stuck. If they don’t practice speaking, they can’t improve. And if they are afraid to speak, they can’t practice. So what can they do?

This is actually a very common dilemma. The educational system we grew up in probably has something to do with this. In some educational systems, we studied foreign languages using grammar books, writing answers to exercises. The teachers would correct the answers the next day, and mark them as correct or incorrect. So the idea of making correct sentences was instilled in our minds as students.

Then we see those individuals who are comfortable speaking in English even though they have poor grammar. Yet people understand them, and they are enjoying conversations left and right. Wouldn’t it be nice to be one of these people but still have correct grammar?

How to improve your conversational English even if you are afraid to speak

Here are some thoughts on how you can get started. Pick someone you feel comfortable with. This can be anyone in your life who speaks to you in English. Even if English is not their first language, and even if they have an accent, it’s okay. The purpose here is for you to feel more comfortable speaking in English. Often, ESL classmates are more comfortable speaking to one another than to an American because they know they would be understood.

After you find this person (or persons) look for opportunities to chat with them. Choose easy topics. For example, ask them what they did over the weekend. Or what are their plans for the coming weekend. You may think this is too easy. But don’t dismiss this ease. You want to build a feeling of ease in yourself when it comes to speaking in English. Build up this ease any chance you have. Confidence is a big part of becoming comfortable in a new language.

ESL activities in community group ELLA

If you live in the Eastside, you can visit They have conversation groups for adults. Some meet in the morning, and some in the evening. And if you have young children, there is a group for parents and children (International Play Group) so you don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter.

International friends in community group Turkcha

Another group is Turkcha. This wonderful organization is founded by Dilek Anderson, who wants to help immigrant women from around the world feel comfortable in their new country. There are events on all kinds of interesting topics, including health, money, English, and cultural understanding. Dilek herself is an immigrant, so she has insights into the emotional needs as we transition from one culture to another. And for some, that includes leaving behind a successful career behind and starting from scratch here.

From these groups and others you might find through library events, community events, and meetup groups, you’ll meet others who share some of your experience. And you’ll have an easy time starting a conversation. Soon, you’ll feel much more comfortable using English, and off you go!

If you find this article helpful, here is another one on Where to find native speakers to practice English conversation.

Estrella Chan  coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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