Speaking a foreign language can be scary. All those words and grammatical rules floating around inside your head. Plus, speaking happens in real time. Many language learners are not fully prepared for how quickly people speak/respond. And it doesn’t help that 50% of speaking is just listening. If you can’t understand what someone is saying to you, it doesn’t matter how vast your vocabulary, how deep your understanding of grammar.
So, what is a foreign language learner to do when faced with the fear of speaking another language? Perhaps you have an admirable grasp of the vocabulary and you can ask more than the basic questions even, but you JUST. CAN’T. DO. IT. No matter your level, there are ways to help you feel comfortable speaking to someone other than your teacher or your cat.
But first, what is stopping us?
Well, a few things. Maybe you don’t know what to say, how to say it or are worried about the reply. Perhaps you are wondering why someone would want to talk to you— what with your limited knowledge of THEIR language. Or perhaps you are procrastinating until you get the sentence just right, for example. Not knowing what to say or how to say it are the easiest fears to overcome. All the other feelings are really all in your head and you can overcome those as well.
Confidence is Key
It comes down to confidence and you can only obtain that confidence by practicing in safe and non-threatening ways. Then little-by-little, your inhibitions will fall away. Consistently attending your aiaTranslations’ foreign language lessons and being persistent in pursuit of your language learning goals is most important. Then, you can use some- or all- of the tips below to really impress your aiaTranslations’ teacher and help build your confidence as well:
- Join a language community. Websites like italki.com or lang-8.com are online communities that allow you to either chat or write to native speakers, respectively. They can speak with you or correct your writing. Maybe you would prefer a more real-world feel and want to meet people in person. Check out meetup.com, type in your zip code and search for groups who meet to speak the language of your choice. Start slowly, if you need to. Soon you will find people. Those people you are most comfortable with will be key when you are ready to practice speaking, because they will help make your early jaunts into language speaking easier. Once you find a few language partners, maybe you can see if they would like to use Skype to practice your language.
- Write an essay about anything that interests you in your target language. Have someone on lang-8.com correct it. Maybe you need to hear the words to really hear the flow, cadence, intonation. If so, take your text to rhinospike.com and have a native speaker make an audio recording of your prose. While you wait, record yourself reading it aloud. Compare your version with the recording you get back. Practice it. Perfect it.
- Does your textbook come with an audio CD? Try recording yourself reading parts of your textbook and compare it with the audio recording – play them in sync. Do this a few times.
- Learn the lyrics to a song. It might take a few weeks, but it will be worth it. Pronounce the words clearly. Sing it sometimes; speak it other times. Mix up the sentences. Make it fun!
- Become a child again. Say what you see. “The cat is on the table.” “The laundry is piling up.” “I am drinking a great cup of coffee.” Say is all loudly and proudly.
- Get WeChat for your smartphone. This app allows you to send and receive bite-sized audio messages. With a WeChat ID, you can send random messages. It can be silly, but that is another way of practicing your speaking and building that confidence. Also, it is less scary than Skype, because, you can prepare what to say before you hit the “record” button.
- Use a 3-second rule when you want to talk to someone. Why 3 seconds? Wait any longer and you may lose your nerve. After that, that pesky overthinking and worrying kicks in.
- Ask for directions even if you know where you are going. It is a benign topic and no one will question you.
- Learn to develop an interest in anything. If you have a genuine interest in something, then you have nothing to fear. Use that 3-second rule and ask a shop owner, “What is this?” or a dog walker, “What type of dog do you have?” Great conversation starters. If you falter or stutter or forget, no worries. You were being genuine and the other person won’t mind.
- Learn short phrases for everyday situations to help start conversations. Learn phrases you can use in situations you encounter. “Are you waiting in line?”; “Can you help me understand this?”; “What time do you close tonight?”; “Where is this restaurant?” Learn phrase you think you will need and practice them.
Start small. Step bravely and find your small victories. Let them add up overtime. Let yourself falter so you learn and you will work out all the kinks until your fears are replaced with little successes sprinkled on your language learning path. Author David Storey once said, “Self-confidence is the memory of success.” Like a child learning to walk, read or do complex algebraic formulas, success comes in the practice and the patience and the fortitude to keep going. Go now and gather up those memories of success!
By Ilona Knudson