How to Improve Your English If You're Shy

If you’re a shy person, you may be finding it difficult to improve your English speaking skills.

As an introvert and fellow shy person, I know how hard it can be to speak in my native language, let alone the target language I need to practice!

And, there are so many reasons you might be feeling shy when speaking English.

Inside, you might feel a lot of frustration or shame about not being able to speak English fluently, even though you’ve been studying for a long time. And outside, people might be interrupting you, or not allowing you to have a chance to practice having a conversation in English. If you’re at a party or event, you might have even felt that you need a couple of drinks to calm your nerves and “be yourself.”

And I’m not here to condemn anything you’ve had to do to get through a conversation in English. I’ve been there! But I am here to give you some ideas for how you can improve your English as a shy person.

Because it’s possible!

The best way to improve your English if you’re shy is to get to the root of your shyness. In today’s post, we’re going to look at this in terms of problems and solutions. Look at the different types of shy people and see which one might describe you:

  • Shy person 1: I’m outgoing in my native language, but I don’t know enough English to speak, so I feel shy, and people think I’m shy, too.

  • Shy person 2: I’m a naturally reserved and quiet person. I don’t have much to say in any language.

  • Shy person 3: I haven’t always been shy, but something happened to make me feel embarrassed when I try to practice speaking English. 

  • Shy person 4: I never feel like there’s a good moment for me to speak in English, so I never do.

  • Shy person 5: I’m embarrassed about my accent or my English pronunciation.

So, if you’re ready to overcome the things holding you back from improving your English speaking skills, keep reading!

Improving your English if you’re shy

Shy person 1: I’m outgoing in my native language, but I don’t know enough English to speak, so I feel shy, and people think I’m shy, too.

This is such a common experience for anyone who has been forced into an English-speaking environment before they feel ready. And you might be feeling this way if you’ve moved to an English-speaking country or started a job in an English-speaking company. 

This experience can even make you feel so lonely and uncomfortable that you’re forced to find a community of people in the English-speaking environment who speak your native language. 

And that’s not a bad thing to do, but it doesn’t help you get enough English practice.

If you can’t find a community of people who make you feel comfortable, you may decide to push yourself to practice anyway because you have no choice. But you may also get so discouraged that you decide to give up on opportunities or experiences that you’ve always dreamed about.

The solution: Find a supportive and encouraging teacher or group class where they only speak English.

An English class is great, but it’s even better if you communicate honestly with your teacher. 

Think about the specific things that made you so outgoing in your native language:

  • I used to tell the best jokes. I always made people laugh.

  • I’m a really good storyteller. People loved to listen to me.

  • When I had an opinion about something, people always wanted to hear it.

  • I give really good advice, and people always asked what I thought they should do.

  • I love connecting with other people. People love to come to me to talk about their feelings.

Write down a list, and mention these things to your teacher. The right teacher will love it! As a teacher, I love it when students can be really specific about what they want.

And make sure that your teacher will only speak English with you. If they speak your native language, that can be useful if you need it, but it won’t help you at all if they teach you in your native language. 

Read further: How Do I Get Confident Enough to Speak English in Front of People?

Shy person 2: I’m a naturally reserved and quiet person. I don’t have much to say in any language, so it’s hard to practice.

Some people are naturally more introverted, which means that they prefer to spend more time alone to rest and restore their energy. But it doesn’t mean they don’t like people! 

On the other hand, some people are naturally reserved and quiet, and they don’t feel the need to talk. They don’t feel embarrassed about talking, but they simply don’t need to.

You might be an extrovert who likes to hang out with groups of people, but you don’t always feel like you have to say something. 

So, if you’re a naturally quiet person, it can be hard to practice your English speaking because, well, you just don’t speak as much as other people! 

The solution: Practice functional phrases and expressions you can use to start or have a conversation.

I suspect that, if you’re a reserved person who doesn’t always feel the need to speak, you might struggle to make small talk.

Because, while we all have to make small talk sometimes, we don’t all love it. It can feel boring and pointless to some of us, and we’d rather be talking about our interests or deeper subjects.

But, it’s important to have a few functional phrases to make small talk in English if you ever need to. For example:

  • Isn’t this an interesting place?

  • Have you been here before?

  • Do you live around here?

  • How long have you lived here?

  • What do you do?

  • Can you believe this weather?

  • I’m [Name], by the way.

Read further: Tips for Small Talk in English

Shy person 3: Something happened to make me feel embarrassed when I tried to practice my English, so I’ve become shy.

True story: When I was a kid, I was incredibly sensitive and would cry at the drop of a hat if someone laughed or smiled at me. I always thought people were making fun of me.

I’m still a sensitive adult, and while I have things I want to say, sometimes I feel embarrassed to say them. And when I have to say them in a different language, it’s twice as hard!

If that describes you, you might be a sensitive person, like me. 

But, you might also have had a really difficult experience when you spoke English. Maybe someone made fun of you when you were speaking English, and you still remember that feeling every time you practice, too

You might have had a few too many miscommunications or you translated something incorrectly. All of those negative experiences have added up to ruin your confidence and make you feel too shy to speak anymore.

The solution: Do something in English that makes you feel confident.

When you feel embarrassed or hurt about a situation, you should do something that makes you feel good and reminds you that you are capable and that your English is good.

Here are some ideas:

  • Write a list of everything you’ve accomplished in English, such as “I took an English lesson,” “I spoke for four hours in English this month,” “I applied for a job in English,” or “I had an entire conversation in English.”

  • If you like music or singing, find an English song you like, and sing it.

  • Figure out something that you know a lot about. Do you know a lot about movies? Are you an expert on computers? Give a short presentation – to friends or to yourself – about that thing that you’re interested in. 

Read further: How to Respond to a Rude Person in English


Shy person 4: I never feel like there’s a good moment for me to speak in English, so I never do.

It can be almost impossible to have a real conversation in English, or any language, in a large group of people. Lots of people are competing for a moment to share their thoughts. People are interrupting each other, and everyone is speaking at once. 

Group conversations can feel like chaos, and in that chaos, you might feel like you can’t contribute even one word to the conversation.

On the other hand, you might have even found it hard to speak with only one or two other people. You might have had experiences with English teachers or language partners in which the other person dominates the conversation.

And, I’m sorry to say, some English teachers forget that they need to allow their students to practice speaking.

In this case, you might feel like you’re “shy” because you can’t contribute to a conversation. But you might not be shy at all! The problem might be that others are not allowing you an opportunity to practice your English.

Solution: Dedicate time with your teacher or by yourself for speaking without interruption.

Start by figuring out where your specific challenges are when you’re speaking with others. Do you mostly struggle with large groups? Do you also have a hard time in one-on-one conversations? 

Maybe you find that you struggle in particular situations, like at a work or community event. Or maybe you have a hard time when you’re interacting with different types of personalities or people who have certain interests. The more specific you can be about this, the better

Again, find a teacher or language partner if you can, but if you can’t, make time to practice speaking alone.

Try to imagine the last time you felt like you couldn’t contribute. What was holding you back? Was it the subject matter people were talking about? Was it one or two people who always did the talking? What were some ways that you could have contributed?

Practice having a conversation with your teacher or with yourself. When you get more confident, try to recreate a conversation where people are interrupting you.

You can also practice some of these phrases for making a polite interruption:

  • Do you mind if I interject?

  • Could I just say something?

  • Sorry to interrupt, but I just want to say…

  • If I could just jump in, I want to add that…

  • Could I add something?

  • Yes, and I want to add to what he said. I think...

Further reading: How Can I Build Up the Confidence to Start and Carry an English Conversation with Anyone?


Shy person 5: I’m too shy to speak because I’m embarrassed about my accent or my English pronunciation.

Maybe you speak English at an intermediate or even advanced level, but you still feel shy because you feel like you have a “bad accent.”

Or maybe someone has told you that your accent is too strong, and now you doubt yourself and feel embarrassed when you speak.

First of all, I want to tell you: There’s no such thing as a good or bad accent. 

And, if you speak English with an accent that comes from your native language, that’s okay! Your accent, no matter where it comes from, is a wonderful and important part of your identity.

But, if you feel that people sometimes don’t understand you because of the way you pronounce certain words or phrases, you can improve in that area.

Solution: Figure out what sounds or words are hard for you to pronounce, and practice them.

There are a lot of sounds, words, and phrases that are difficult to pronounce in English - even for native speakers! 

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to improving your English pronunciation, talk to a teacher! They can listen to you and help you identify where your problem areas are.

Here are some common areas of struggle for many English learners:

  • Words with -ed endings, such as “worked,” “solved,” and “wanted.” Even though they all end with an -ed, we pronounce them all differently.

  • Consonant sounds such as th or sh

  • Words that end with a p, t, or k sound

  • Certain vowel sounds, such as the i in did, or the schwa sound in “under”

  • Stress and intonation in different types of questions

  • Stress and intonation to communicate emotion or intention

Read more: How to Improve Your English Pronunciation in 7 Easy Steps

Don’t forget to celebrate your successes!

Improving your English can sometimes feel so time-consuming and stressful that you start to focus on the negative moments. 

We only remember those times when we made a mistake, when people laughed at us, when we forgot a word, or when we pronounced a word incorrectly.

But that’s only going to make you feel frustrated and depressed every time you need to practice.

Instead, try focusing on your successes. Every time you have a conversation in English, you remember a difficult grammar structure, or you do something you couldn’t do before, speak it! 

Say to yourself, “Wow! I just did that! My English is good!”

The more you train yourself to celebrate your most successful or your proudest moments in English, the more you’ll want to go back and seek more successes.

About the writer

Marta is an online ESL teacher who works with students from around the world. As a writer, language nerd, and content contributor for In English With Love, her mission is to empower English learners with knowledge and positivity.

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