This article intends to share a unique way to support the adult students who are in need of learning how to be more confident speaking English, especially speaking English with a foreigner. After six years of teaching adult students in various cities throughout China, I have found one common concern from my adult students of every level: their lack of confidence speaking English.
Adult students are typically studying full-time, working on an internship or working a full-time job, which can be challenging for them to find the time to practice speaking English to build up their confidence for their Oral English skills. In real life when an opportunity presents itself to these students they do not speak English. Many students have told me that they have the English language skills (grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation) but are too nervous to actually use English to speak.
For many adult students, there are not many opportunities for them to practice their English speaking skills that will provide them the confidence to speak English to a foreigner. Of course, most of these students have spent time in a classroom with other students and a foreign teacher at some point in their education, either in high school or at a university. Also, some adult students have attended a class with a tutor or a training school, either one-on-one or with other students in the class. However, many adult students still have little confidence to actually speak English, especially to a foreigner.
So, I started to consider what I could do to help these students to be more confident in themselves and use their English speaking skills. I realized that there was more to do than to teach them Oral English skills, such as vocabulary, pronunciation, stress and rhythm. Adult students are more mature, and I needed a way to assist them with their personal growth in self-confidence.
I remember when I was younger, around six years old, and my father volunteered me to speak in front of a few hundred people in our community. In order for him to teach me to be confident speaking to others, he stood me in front of a full-length mirror and guided my posture while instructing me to look at myself in the mirror. This simple exercise allowed me to see what others would see when I spoke to them, and it naturally boosted my self-confidence in one day. I was comfortable and confident in my speaking abilities after I practiced this with a mirror. In fact, many people in the community complimented me afterwards on how well I handled myself in front of hundreds of people.
Next, I thought maybe this will work with the adult students in the classroom, so I planned an exercise to use to confirm the effectiveness for my students. Then, I purchased a full-length mirror with a stand, and I proceeded to carry it into my classroom each day for 3 years. At first, the adult students were dumbfounded, as they had no idea what was happening and why I had this mirror in the classroom. In addition, many of the other teachers (both Foreign and Chinese) were just as perplexed about why I was taking a full-length mirror into my classroom.
In the classroom, I shared my personal story with my students, and I guided them through the exercise that I planned: Three students will join a group, one student will stand in front of the mirror and the other two students will stand on each side of the mirror facing the first student. Each student will spend one minute speaking English by introducing themself (“Hello! My name is… How are you?”) while looking at themself in the mirror. The other two students will help by answering two key questions: Do they look comfortable? Do they look confident?. As a group, the three students will take turns by standing in front of the mirror for one minute each, or three minutes per group. The group of three provided support to each other and reminded each other to breathe, relax and to truly embrace being unique. The mirror, and the group of three, was placed in the back of the classroom in an effort to not distract the other students from the current lesson and to afford the time and space for each group to focus on the exercise. The teacher would monitor the one minute limit for person, and three minute limit for each group.
The focus of this exercise was simple…to be comfortable and confident with being you when you speak to others. This exercise provided each student a real-life environment to practice, because their body language and facial expressions were easily understood by their group members. The two simple questions (Do they look comfortable? Do they look confident?) made this exercise easy for them to follow while focusing on improving their self-confidence when they speak.
After using this exercise for three years with over 1,100 adult students, the results were incredibly positive. Every one of the 1,100 students, even the students who were the most shy and reserved in the class, improved their confidence within six weeks. The majority of students showed signs of improvement after six weeks. Their non-verbal communication skills improved and they were no longer nervous when they spoke face-to-face with others. Their non-verbal communication skills became natural for them, and allowed them to focus more on their grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation.
During one class, after three weeks of using this exercise in the classroom, one student (who was known to be extremely shy) strolled into the classroom with a entirely different walk and demeanor. His manner of walking had changed so much that I nor the other students even recognized him. He was not over confident or acting. Instead, he was reserved and genuinely at peace with himself, and it truly showed through his non-verbal communication. He told the class that he started to practice this exercise everyday at home by himself for the past three weeks.
This one example has proven to have an amazing transformation in less than three weeks, by practicing for one minute in front of a full-length mirror. He improved his self-confidence and was not shy or nervous to speak to others. He was genuinely comfortable and confident with who he was, and everyone could see it was natural in this body language and facial expressions. After his transformation, his class named this exercise “The Magic Mirror”, since it had provided some “magical” results to improve the adult students’ self-confidence when they speak to others in real life.