You enrolled in a foreign language class. You love your teacher. You’ve been studying hard. You have all the vocab memorized. You’ve got your verb conjugations down pat. You can read basic stories and news. But when it comes to speaking, you’re overcome with “stage fright.” The language you’ve worked so hard to learn suddenly becomes a brick wall you can’t surmount.
You actually have a real condition known as xenoglossophobia – or foreign language anxiety. This unease often occurs when it comes to speaking – even though you may not feel worried when reading, writing, or listening.
While it’s good to know that the anxiety you feel is a real thing, remember also that it can be conquered. After all, speaking is a vital part of knowing a language. If you find yourself a bit nervous about speaking in your new language, try a few of these tips.
1. Figure Out What You’re Afraid Of
Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” Marie was a very smart woman! Take a cue from her and ask yourself, “Why am I afraid to speak?” You might find yourself responding with:
- I’m afraid no one will understand me.
- I’m afraid of making a fool of myself.
- I’m afraid of saying something embarrassing or inappropriate.
- I’m afraid I’ll forget everything I’ve learned.
- I’m afraid I’ll offend someone.
- I’m afraid someone will laugh at me.
Or, maybe you’re afraid of all of these things. And that’s okay. Just knowing what you’re afraid of can make it a little easier to move forward with the goal of overcoming that fear.
2. Live By The Motto “Progress, Not Perfection”
Of course you want to speak just like a native speaker, but that takes lots of hard work – and you’ll get there. Are you really not going to speak until you’re at that point? Hopefully not. Speaking will help you get to that native speaker-level even faster – that’s why you have to live by the motto “Progress, not perfection.” You’ll probably make mistakes, but don’t let that deter you. Speak and show off your newly acquired language skills proudly – no matter your level.
3. Talk To Yourself
Talk to yourself. Talk to your dog. Talk to the mirror. Spend some time speaking aloud in your new language while you’re alone. This will give you the chance to practice conversations that you might have with others. You can place yourself in different situations and think about what someone might say to you and how you would respond in return. This simple method of practicing can really help you develop your confidence.
4. Start With One-On-One Conversations
Speaking in front of a large group can be overwhelming in your native language, let alone in a new language. So, find someone you’re comfortable with for a one-on-one conversation. Does someone in your class want to buddy up, or do you know a native speaker willing to meet for coffee? You’ll find that you’re less self-conscious about your speaking skills when you have the chance to speak in an intimate and non-judgmental setting.
5. Ask For A Slower Pace / Repetition
Raise your hand if you’ve overheard people speaking the language you’re learning at an unbelievable pace. Did you find it intimidating? It certainly can be. Native speakers talk incredibly fast – after all, they’ve been speaking the language their entire lives. But, don’t be afraid to jump in and politely ask if they could slow it down a bit or repeat what they’re saying. Most people will be more than happy to slow the pace of conversation so that you can more easily understand and contribute.
6. Include Connectors and Fillers
Even when you’re speaking in your native language, you probably find yourself using sayings like, “In my opinion…” or “Of course…” or “Well, I think…” These fillers and connectors give you a moment to think (without even realizing it) and then continue on with your thoughts. So why not use them with your new language? Those few seconds can help you organize your thoughts and pick out the words you want to use in the conversation.
7. Actively Listen To Others
Active listening is an essential part of learning a new language. And while you may think you’re a good listener, a truly active listener:
- Gives the speaker their undivided attention
- Asks for clarification on things they might not understand
- Responds in a way that is appropriate
- Does not interrupt the speaker
- Listens to the accent and pronunciation
- Watches the speaker’s body language and uses body language and gestures to show they are engaged in the conversation
You’ll find that by practicing active listening, you’ll become a better speaker.
8. Trust Yourself and What You’ve Been Taught
With all of your hard work and the skills that your teacher has taught you, you are ready. And when you have trust in what you have learned, you can overcome your fear of speaking.
It’s a very natural thing to feel anxious about conversing in another language. But when you take the steps to overcome that fear and spend time practicing – by yourself and with others – you’ll your fear will dissipate. Just remember to lighten up and not take yourself too seriously - a grammar slip here or there isn’t life or death.
Ready to practice, mess up, conquer your stage fright, and make massive strides toward becoming the bilingual superstar you want to be? Browse Fluent City’s conversation-based language classes.