Teaching for over 7 years now in Japan, I can confidently say Japanese English language learners (ELL) lack confidence when speaking English. This is despite the fact that Japanese ELL spend a total of 6 years learning English in both junior and senior high school (where it is mandatory). This does not include their time learning English in elementary school as well as university (which are optional). Therefore, it is not unheard of some Japanese ELL studying English for 10 years if not more! Despite this lengthy endeavor, many Japanese ELL still struggle to speak English. While the answer to why this is the case is multifaceted, I believe one key reason is lack of confidence.
But why do Japanese ELL lack confidence when speaking English? This is a good question that must be answered in detail, however in another post. Instead today's post is discussing about why confidence is important, and why as an ELL you should be trying to build it up and avoid tearing it down.
So why is confidence important? Confidence is important because it makes you use your target language (in this case English) more. The more confident you are about English, the more you will use it. The less confident you are about your English, you likely will use English less. You could be saying to yourself "So what? So I speak English more? Why is that such a good thing?".
The answer to this is how we learn languages. Learning languages is not simply knowledge transfer, where the teacher teaches you information and you absorb it. Rather language is learnt like a skill. In fact, languages include four skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. You learn by doing the skill sets in a language. Language emerges from within you, it is not given to you by your teacher. English teachers are simply facilitators, we help you practice the language skills and point out your errors. So to put it simply, the more you speak English, and interact in English, the better you will get at speaking. To speak more English you need to increase your confidence in English.
But how can you do that? When you are a beginner and you have no confidence. At this stage you can barely speak and you have zero confidence! First and foremost do not be hard on yourself (I also need to remind myself of this!). It is very easy to think negatively, and put yourself down. Preferably, think positively and know that you are improving, and that it takes time. It is completely okay to make mistakes, actually that is how we learn. When you learnt how to ride your bicycle you fell many times at first, however you got back up and tried again, and again. The same applies for learning languages. Second, find yourself a good study group and a good teacher. Do not spend time with people who will constantly criticize your English. Find people who will raise you up and not put you down. Find people who give you confidence, people who support your growth in your language studies. It is good to get corrective feedback when you make mistakes, just make sure that it is done in a way that is supportive and not overly critical.
So to summarize:
Why confidence is important?
Confidence helps you use English more.
Using English more results in more practice.
More practice results in improvement.
How do I build more confidence?
To help build confidence, don't be hard on yourself.
It's okay to make mistakes.
Be with people who support your language learning.
The last thing I want to leave you guys with is this video by Akane. She does a great job about discussing the topic of confidence regarding her experiences with learning English. In fact, her video inspired me to make this post.