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What would you do if the learners in your ESL speaking course are reluctant to stand in front of the class for their public speaking practice? Worse, they believe they have a reason to support their reluctance - shyness. I have been teaching English to ESL and EFL learners for 15 years. This dilemma is nothing new. In fact, I have discovered a very interesting perspective on this issue - the reason for their reluctance. It is not really the "shyness syndrome", but a long list of excuses and denials. Sometimes, this syndrome can be remedied, and some reduced to an optimum effect. Most interestingly, by mid-semester, learners are often released of this burden. Recently, at the beginning of my public speaking course, I put up a ballot box on my blog to elicit response from the blogging community. My students contribute to the majority of the demography. The prompt reads: What is your biggest problem in public speaking? From five given options, the result shows that the respondents' biggest problem is lack of knowledge (30%) followed by lack of confidence (23%). Both shyness and fear share the same vote (20%), which is 10% less than the highest ranked problem. Later, I shared the response with the learners in my class and they agreed with the rating. This may not be empirically reliable, but enough to call for our attention as ESL teachers, practitioners, course designers, counselors and coordinators. In situations where public speaking contributes to course evaluation, as in the ESL class, I observe that learners who may claim to be shy in the beginning of the semester respond more positively to classroom practices and later improve in their public speaking assessment. Why is this so and what brings about this encouraging discovery? Below is a list of reflections regarding the "shyness syndrome" in ESL public speaking class: 1. Learners may start as "shy", but when the need for marks and grades supersedes their deepseated feelings, they will be able to come to their senses and confront the task and crowd. 2. Some learners need more attention and encouragement from peers and the teacher. Hence, this group of supposedly-shy learners will be motivated to try out the task when they are provided adequate understanding, care and acknowledgment. 3. "Let's call it something else" may also work. Instead of referring to their problem as shyness, call it 'less prepared', 'not quite ready yet' or 'pass, please'. I've seen this trick working wonderfully. Soon, the label 'shyness' disappears and is subconsciously replaced with a measurement of their readiness for the task.

4. We commonly say "we are what we eat". In this context, "we are what we believe". It is wise to advise learners to develop positive thinking and perceive public speaking class as a learning experience where they practice what they learn gradually. By the end of the semester, this rehearsal will support their final performance because "correct and quality practice makes perfect". 5. No matter what age groups we face, learners always need peer-group support. Small groups within a cooperative learning context, particularly those that remain together throughout the semester, will be able to provide strong interdependence, emotional as well as intellectual support for each other. In brief, how teachers perceive and handle the "shyness syndrome" in ESL public speaking class may help the learners to get over their problem. It becomes a syndrome due to its prevalence and contagious nature that may have detrimental effects to learning and success. Nevertheless, a syndrome requires a cure. Our experience and conscience guides us and we shall prescribe a dose of the cure upon careful observation.

Zuraidah Ali, Malaysia

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