You completed numerous English courses and invested hours in doing repetitive grammar exercises. You have no problem watching movies and reading books in English. And yet, every time you try to have a conversation in English, you freeze as though someone put you on mute. You are not alone! Most English learners encounter the same language barrier at some point during their journey. Read on to find out why you understand English but can’t speak.
1. You lack proficiency
Most obvious reason is simply lack of proficiency. You may recognize words and grammar structures, so it is relatively easy to grasp the general meaning. However, you haven’t quite mastered the skill of structuring your own sentences. You may still be unsure how to choose the right tense and conjugate the verb accordingly, put words in the right order or make sense of all these confusing prepositions. English language has a lot of important intricacies and you need to make sure your grammar game is strong.
Take additional lessons to fill in the gaps or keep learning on your own with these free resources.
2. You lack confidence
You have perfected your English grammar but still unable to speak… You are replaying the speech in your head but just can’t push it out. Are you feeling shy or nervous?
Apart from the general personality traits that make people feel this way in all social contexts, many language learners experience mental blocks due to lack of confidence. You are scared your partner will not understand you and give up trying altogether. Or you decide to give it a shot and mumble something indecipherable, which confuses your partner and makes you feel even more intimidated.
Don’t underestimate your abilities! Believe in yourself and speak clearly, you will see how rewarding it is to step over your fears and insecurities!
3. You are embarrassed of your accent
Somewhat related problem is being too conscious about your accent. Some people are naturally better at imitating sounds, others need to put extra work to sounds more like a native speaker. If you do your best but are still unhappy with your pronunciation, don’t make it stop you from speaking!
Come to North America and you will hear all sorts of accents from all over the world. This is what makes you unique! It makes people curious to find out more about you and your background, it makes them appreciate your efforts and courage.
4. You overthink it
Your grammar is impeccable and you are feeling confident of your skills. But you can’t get over the hesitation every time you need to speak… Am I saying it right?
The problem is that you don’t have time to plan your message, sort through the list of words with similar meanings to find the one that is better suited for the given context or test it out to see if it makes sense. Just go with it. Even if you make a mistake, no one will judge you (unless you said something completely inappropriate or your partner is just a jerk). There is nothing wrong with confusing a verb tense or choosing the wrong synonym at first.
You can analyze it in detail after the conversation is over and do better next time.
5. You need more practice
By far the most common reason why you understand English but can’t speak is simply lack of practice. Understanding a speech and producing your own are two different processes that require different mental resources. By training one you are not necessarily improving the other.
While understanding is based mostly on recognition, speaking requires mobilizing all of your available knowledge on the fly to translate abstract ideas and thoughts into words. If you want to speak fluently, this should become an automated process with minimal thinking.
This is why is it is so important to practice speaking skills themselves. While reading and listening is definitely beneficial, it is not comparable to the effectiveness or real life speaking practice. I totally understand that this can be a very challenging task!
Luckily, we are here to give you an opportunity for regular speaking practice. Check out our monthly English Challenge to learn how you can incorporate more speaking practice in your English learning activities!
Share your experiences below and we will be happy to get you a personalized advice!