I still remember how nervous I was giving my first speech in my college level public speaking class in high school. My hands got sweaty, my breath picked up at a very rapid pace and I couldn’t get my words out. Everything I said came out either jumbled or didn’t come out at all. What I thought would be a great experience that would teach me to finally be confident in the way I spoke English, turned out to be a disaster. I wasn’t ready yet, because my mindset was not in the right place, and it wouldn’t be for a long while.
When I first moved to the United States from Poland at the age of 15 years old, I didn’t speak English very well. I spoke enough to get me by in a convenience store or to ask for directions when I got lost wandering around the concrete jungle I now called home. But it wasn’t enough to help me start school with my same aged peers. In fact, due to how little English I spoke, I was held back a year enrolling in high school, to allow me to learn English in English as Second Language classes.
When I started high school, I learned to speak English very quickly. In fact, I graduated from ESL classes within that first year. I was fluent in 6 months, and I self-modified my accent within the next 2 years. Given my vulnerable age, I was so desperate to fit into my new home, that I wanted to sound exactly like my American friends. I didn’t realize it at the time that I was doing it, but I was coaching myself on how to change my accent.
Changing my accent gave me the confidence to go to college and become active in the student body events. It gave me the courage to take on leadership roles I wouldn’t have been willing to apply for otherwise. Leadership roles that changed the trajectory of my life.
In college, I learned about speech-language pathology. I’ve never heard of it before, but pursuing this career would allow me to kill 2 birds with one stone. I could work with children with disabilities and I could help English learners like me to modify their accents. I was sold. I became a speech pathologist and an accent coach specializing in helping English learners to speak English with clarity and confidence.
But I have to admit, it wasn’t until I addressed my own public speaking confidence issues, until I knew how to help my clients and students with their own. It took putting myself in multiple vulnerable positions. For example, becoming a resident assistant in college where I was required to conduct meetings and events with hundreds of students. Or starting my own business and hosting Facebook lives and networking with people from around the world. But the cherry on top for me was starting my own podcast. Being in front of that microphone, interviewing incredible people, shifted my perception of what I was capable of. It allowed me to come out of my shell. It pushed me to strive towards greatness, and no longer hide due to the fear of someone judging my voice.
If you struggle with your confidence when you’re speaking English, know that you’re not alone. It can feel very lonely. I know how lonely I used to feel. But it gets better. You just have to believe that you can and you will. Use the tools available to help you get there faster. No matter whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur already or just dreaming of starting your business, it’s never too late to give yourself a confidence boost.