Monday, May 18, 2015

Realising That I Can't Speak

So a question I get sometimes is "how do you build up confidence in speaking English?" I usually have a go to answer for that, and I'm actually surprised I haven't written it down here yet, so here I shall share that answer.

Back in school, I was never much of a speaker, especially during classes. I could somewhat talk to a certain degree when I was with friends, but I virtually clammed up whenever a teacher was present in class. A former teacher once commented to my father that "Anwar speaks more in just one video than he did throughout his school days." That should give you an idea of what kind of a student I was.

I always knew that I had some degree of proficiency in English (reflected in the exam scores I get), but I was seldom in a position to speak the language other than talking to some of my English-speaking friends (there weren't very much of them) every once and again, as well as when I was singing-along to English songs. So I ended up getting very little practice in speaking in English.

I wasn't too concerned with this reality after SPM, or even after my year-and-a-half teacher-training foundation. I was forced to have a think about it during my first year of degree studies back in the teacher training institute.

It was during a tutorial session for the subject "Philosophy of Education". The lecturer split us up into groups, and naturally I went into the group with the rest of the guys (there were only four males in the class). We started talking about irrelevant stuff in Malay (as per customary in group discussions). It was all going along just like any other tutorial session we had, until the lecturer came up to me and asked me about what my thoughts were on the topic at hand.

You see, I had formulated an answer in my head already. The ideas were all there. But nothing came out of my mouth. I just sat there staring blankly with an open mouth. Things got so awkward that the lecturer walked away from me. It was so embarrassing for me that I was forced to have a think about what happened. I was going to be an English teacher, but I couldn't even speak two words to a lecturer? I immediately felt bad for all of my future students who had to have such an incompetent teacher such as I.

After class, I went back to my room and had a think about what I needed to do. I knew the only way for me to improve my speaking ability was to practice speaking, but how was I going to do that? I spoke almost entirely in Malay with my classmates, and suddenly speaking English with them was out of the question because it would have been so weird and awkward. 

I looked around my room and my eyes landed on my laptop. I opened up the laptop and thought to myself "I can talk to the webcam! Record myself speaking and listen back to it and criticise myself. That's practice!"

So I did that. I talked to myself through the laptop for five minutes at least, everyday for three months straight. I could feel myself improving after about a month, and it turned out to be one of the most beneficial things that I have ever done for myself.

I'm glad that I didn't make excuses for myself. I could have easily said to myself "Ugh, this is hard. I don't want to do it!" or "Everyone's going to laugh at me! The embarrassment!" or "Nanti orang kata aku lupa diri, dah takmaw mengaku Melayu!" or "Macam mana kalau orang kata 'hak elah, eksyen ja Anwat tu dok cuba nak speaking plak!' nanti aku dah takdak kawan!"

Giving in to all those excuses would have dragged me down and kept me from making myself better. I wanted to be the best for my future students, thus I took steps that were manageable for me in order to reach that goal.

Plus, come to think of it, if I had such negative people as my friends at the time, I would wonder what I was doing with such company in the first place. I would want to be a supportive friend, a positive friend, a friend who helps his friends achieve their goals, ambitions and dreams. Why was I hanging out with people who were doing the exact opposite? Was having negative, unsupportive and hateful friends better than not having friends at all?

Fortunately for myself, I found a way to bypass all that. I didn't bother anyone with my daily banter in front of the laptop (except probably my roommate, sometimes), so that was good. I also found that once I took active steps towards wanting to speak in English more, more opportunities to do just that presented themselves for me. I found that my friends were actually supportive and were able to understand what I was trying to do. I found that interactions with lecturers became easier (though not entirely fluent, I was  definitely improving). I found that once I started looking for those opportunities, they presented themselves to me rather smoothly.

And today I am a full-time teacher who is trying his best to teach year 3 students on a daily basis. I am capable of carrying a conversation in English okay-ly, alhamdulillah. I do still have a lot more improving to do though, so I'll continue working on myself to become better.


Aimi Noor said...

same goes here. But I'm not a teacher-to-be.
I can read and my pronunciation is better than my colleagues but they can speak spontaneously and I'm can't. i stuttered, like a lot. haha

Nur Farhana Syafie said...

its the effort that needed bcs once you are good enough ppl will be w you and once you become a loser ppl will not even give a sight. first time to read something that is different from others. thanks! you are such an inspirational person.