4 steps towards speaking performance

Over the last 25 years I have met English learners from all over the world, from countries such as Brazil, Japan, Italy, Thailand, France, Cambodia, South Korea, Chile, Vietnam, Russia […]

Jonathan Ballantine - 22 September, 2017 || English Golf Experience

Over the last 25 years I have met English learners from all over the world, from countries such as Brazil, Japan, Italy, Thailand, France, Cambodia, South Korea, Chile, Vietnam, Russia and Slovakia.

From having this opportunity to speak with so many different types of people I have been able to identify how native languages and cultures can affect learning English. I can also state that language ability and confidence are not always correlated. I have met many people with low levels speak with great confidence (French & Italians), and have met many people with high levels speak with low confidence (Spanish & Japanese).

My purpose and focus is to help people speak English clearly and with confidence. For most people this requires a paradigm change in how you need to learn. From my conversations with global learners of English only Spanish people take an academic approach.

In this article I present the four steps towards speaking performance. 


I often see Spanish people very confident reading English texts or completing grammar exercises. However, when they have to Speak English they become nervous or ashamed. Why do you think Spanish learners are not confident when they speak? The answer is linked to how they practice.

Purposeful practice is the key to performing well in pressurized situations. Why do you think professional sports people, actors and musicians practice? Two reasons why:

  • To develop their skills
  • To develop their confidence

There are three types of practice:

  • Technical
  • Skills
  • Confidence

The first type of practice is learning the technical concepts. This provides you with the basic platform and is good if you want to pass an exam. The second type of practice is developing specific skills such as pronunciation. The third type of practice is about building competitive confidence. By competitive, I mean ¨real-life¨ situations such as speaking with other people, listening to natives, making a presentation. In all of these situations there is a LIVE factor.

In every profession or activity there is a transition between the Training mode and the Performing mode. As the situation becomes real it becomes more pressurized. For example, a pilot in flight school feels no pressure while flying the simulator. However, once they progress to a real plane with passengers the situation changes and there is more pressure. Therefore a significant part of their training is focused on handling pressure.

This is what I mean by Competitive Confidence – they have trained their skills so that they feel confident to perform within a pressurised situation. Everybody needs to increase their Competitive Confidence in order to perform at their best.

How have you have trained your speaking and listening skills in order to perform in pressurised situations?



Most leaners do not a have a specific reason for why they want to learn English. Asking yourself WHY? is a very powerful exercise and creates the foundation for sustained motivation. A key ingredient on your journey towards fluency.

Why do you want to speak English fluently?

For example if you said ¨work¨ this is not specific or personal enough. Achieving any worthwhile goal is going to be a long and painful process.

Remember English fluency is not only about grammar, vocabulary or even phrasal verbs, it is about professional and personal development, social interaction, connecting with people, discovery and, yes, having fun experiences.

By clarifying your purpose for wanting to learn English and connecting it with what you already do and enjoy, you will be more motivated and committed to the process.



Living in Spain for 10 years has enabled me to understand the cultural and structural background to language learning, and I am not surprised that many people are not motivated to ¨study¨ English during their lunchtime, after work (10pm?) or on the weekends. Why would anyone want to work all day long and then go home to sit at a desk and read through English grammar books or dictionaries? So, yes I can fully understand why motivation and participation for this chosen form of learning is low.

Building confidence for speaking is a key factor for Spanish people. I know many people who will speak to me in English but when somebody they know (another Spanish person) joins us they will start speaking in Spanish even if that person speaks in English.

The key to confidence is competitive practice – training your communication skills under pressurised situations. Thus if you have only read books then speaking with other people becomes more difficult.

An effective form of practice for speaking is to prepare in advance typical situations that you may have to speak at. For example, a meeting, a cocktail reception, a formal presentation, or a social dinner. Better than studying grammar a more productive tactic would be to rehearse possible speaking interactions. For a cocktail reception you will need to practice Small Talk, learn how to make a 30 second introduction about yourself and practice how to ask questions. An evening dinner would go a little deeper and you would need to practice functional aspects of conversation such as giving opinions, expressing ideas or storytelling.

Every speaking encounter has a person, a situation and a function – all of which can be practiced and rehearsed before.

Preparation is key to building confidence.



Probably the biggest cause of poor learning is the lack of short-term goals. Most people who learn English see the end of the course as the goal. This could be one or two years away. To increase the effectiveness of your daily learning sessions you should set daily/weekly goals, where these mini-goals help create the bigger goal. Remember the pyramids were built stone by stone.

It is important that you can see daily or weekly progress as it builds confidence and sustains motivation.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me I would be happy to help you increase your confidence for speaking English.


Image Source: embercarriers.com

About Jonathan Ballantine

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over seven years. Previously he worked in the Consulting sector for companies based in London, Madrid and Sydney. Jonathan is passionate about personal development and coaching, and incorporates many coaching techniques in his teaching. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.

You never forget a good teacher

English Golf Experience was founded by Jonathan Ballantine, a native English trainer, and certified by the University of Cambridge to teach English as a second language.

Jonathan has been living in Spain for over ten years. He is also passionate about sports and outdoor activities.

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