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8 Steps To Overcome Fear Of Speaking Your Target Language In Public

Some people are shy and don’t feel like speaking in their target language while others have no problems getting right into a conversation, even with a small vocabulary. I’m a member of the former group.

fear

I am still learning Spanish, but I’ve taken up German lately because I learned it at school (or tried to, anyway). I have spoken German to Germans before, but it didn’t work as they had no clue what I was trying to say. Recently, however, a German guy – who shall remain nameless until further notice – started working at LingQ and I have decided to practice and speak German to him occasionally.

It isn’t easy, nevertheless here are eight steps to overcome your fear of speaking your target language.

1 – Understanding Your Fear Of Speaking

What exactly are you afraid of? Anxiety when speaking a foreign language is usually the fear of saying something wrong, or getting a negative response.

Fear reduces the brain’s ability to function in the right way, for example, when you have a job interview or an exam and you can’t think of anything to say because it feels like your brain won’t let you. That is also true for a new language. Speaking to someone using brand new vocabulary and the correct grammar can sometimes feel as if your brain just won’t cooperate.

To understand your fear, ask yourself how you would react if someone made an effort to speak your language. Hopefully you’d be understanding and helpful rather than mock the person. I have non-Danish friends who have tried to speak Danish and I am always very impressed by their efforts – that’s what I try to keep in mind.

2 – Practice Your Listening Skills

I said have said this before, but is very important to listen to the sounds of your target language. If you are a relative beginner in a language, you won’t understand every single word. You may even find it difficult to understand many of the words. That’s why we recommend waiting to speak until you have a somewhat larger vocabulary. But once you feel confident enough to speak, you definitely should.

Overcome Your Fear Of Speaking - Listen

However, practice your listening skills in the language through various media and internet resources. You can improve your vocabulary and pronunciation just by listening. It is important to understand that even if you are used to listening to speech in the language you are studying, your brain works much harder during a conversation because you not only need to understand what is said, but also be able to formulate your responses. That’s why listening should be ahead of talking on your list of priorities.

3 – Forget About Perfection

I have been speaking English for eons, but just like Arnie I have an accent. Maybe you are one of those people who learn a language and sound like a native in six months – if so I applaud you and bow at your feet, you are amazing, congratulations. If you are not, however, don’t you worry about it. Most of us will never speak a language without having an accent. There’s no shame in that, in fact, it can be charming.

More importantly, if you don’t speak because you’re worried that you don’t sound like a native or that you’ll make mistakes, chances are you’ll never overcome your fear. The more practice you get, the better you’ll be.

Mistakes are frustrating, but we all make them and the upside is that they’ll teach you not to make the same mistakes again.

4 – Have One-On-One Conversations

If you are anxious about talking, speaking in a group setting can be scary. If you are in a group of people who are at various stages of proficiency in your target language and you’re a beginner, you might not be able to keep up. Also, in a group you have to put up with listening to everyone else attempting to speak the language with varying degrees of success, which isn’t very efficient. It can be fun also to talk in a group, but stay clear of groups in the beginning.

Overcome Your Fear Of Speaking - One-on-one Conversations

Speaking with just one person is easier and less daunting. In a one-on-one conversation, the other person has time to speak slowly, repeat, point out mistakes you might be making and help you correct them.

If you don’t mind talking to a stranger, you can arrange tutorials and Skype chats online through LingQ. Act spontaneously – the longer you think, the harder it gets. Just say what comes to mind and listen to suggestions on how to get better.

5 – Be Prepared To Make Mistakes

Some people you talk to will have a lot of patience, others won’t. Some people are more empathetic and just better at understanding foreign accents. Those are the types of people you will want to talk to. If someone doesn’t try to understand you, it’s their problem, not yours.

It has happened to me many times; even after speaking English for years some people don’t get what I am saying. It happens less and less, but it still happens. I get mad, but it is better not to. Ignore those people and converse with those who are willing to listen and help you improve.

6 – Stay On Everyday Topics

To be confident when you talk you need to know a lot of words, however, there’s no harm in practising certain everyday topics to get you started as they come up fairly often. Ordering food, grocery shopping, having a drink at the bar, these topics will at least get you started.


Fear of speaking - Ordering

Once you have conquered that fear and ordered a meal at a restaurant, your confidence will grow and you will soon be able to move on to deeper conversations about other topics – only if you have the vocabulary to do so, of course.

7 – Being Bilingual Helps

Because I speak English now in public, I am less fearful of speaking German and Spanish in public. I have already tried speaking both languages out loud to people, I think it’s because I know it’s possible. Of course the frustration of racking my brain for words and sentence structure has not gone away, but I feel braver now.

My point is that if you already know a foreign language, everything will be easier the second time around, not just talking.

8 – Slow Down

You probably don’t have much of a choice in the matter if you are a beginner and have a limited vocabulary, but speaking slowly and clearly will encourage conversation partners and/or native speakers to also talk slowly and clearly to you. That way you can keep up with the conversation.

Fear of speaking - Slow down

What do you think?

These are some of the things I do to get over my fears of speaking foreign languages in public, but like always if you have any to add, please do. I need all the help I can get!

 

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12 Comments

  • Chris
    August 4, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I enjoyed reading your blog post, it’s reassuring to know others have the same fears of testing their speaking skills. The most effective point you made is the one about how you feel when other language learners speak to you in your native language. I realize I sound much the same to them when trying to speak their language and I find a lot of comfort when I find they are eager to help me overcome my *many* mistakes. That reminds me that maybe you could add to #5 that every mistake is just another learning opportunity.

    Great post!

  • Athcub
    August 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    Hi everyone

    When I first learned a new language I hadn’t really a chance to opt out on talking. I was 10 years old and we just moved to Germany, whicht was going to be my new home. After acquiring a basic vocabulary, I started recording TV shows (my favourite was Star Trek Enterprise) on my tape recorder, and re-playing it over and over again, mimicking the actors’ voices. It helped me to 1. overcome my shyness of speaking, and 2. get rid of my accent fairly fast.
    To this day, when learning a language, I keep repeating sentences out loud, trying to get the accents right.

    And here is another good speaking exercise: practice with a friend or a family member at first! Keep it simple! Make up small dialogues. Talk about the weather, food or your hobbies.
    If neither your friends nor your family speak your target language, try to at least formulate your response in the new language during conversations before delivering the answer in your mother tongue. Who cares when you don’t get it right 100%? They don’t understand what you are saying anyway, do they? 😉 Sure, they won’t be able to correct your mistakes either, but you will occasionally become more comfortable using the new language. And that’s what you wanted in the first place, isn’t it? 🙂

    Greetings from Germany
    Athcub

    • Lykke
      August 4, 2015 at 2:29 pm

      Thank you. That is some great advice. The younger you are the easier it is to get rid of the accent. I am curious to know if you are learning any other languages now? 🙂

      • Athcub
        August 10, 2015 at 2:23 am

        Actually yes, I took up Spanish just recently and been making good progress ever since. I listen to audio books, read simple books for beginners, and do my language exercises every day. I do of course repeat vocabulary regularly, too, but my focus is on listening and reading mainly. In my opinion these are the keys to understanding a new language more quickly and easily. Rather than just repeating vocabulary on its own you actually acquire vocabulary in its “natural” context.

  • Oliver Jensen
    August 4, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Hej lykke. Har brugt de sidste 2 timer på at læse og forstå alle dine artikler. Jeg kunne rigtig godt bruge din hjælp til at besvare nogle af de spørgsmål jeg har med at lære et nyt sprog. Jeg er lige flyttet til Tyskland i en 8 måneders praktik og håber du har noget erfaring/gode råd som jeg kan bruge. Kontakt mig meget gerne på min mail ?

    • Lykke
      August 4, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      Hej Oliver – Det skal jeg nok, skriver til dig. I mellemtiden kan du se nogle af Steve Kaufmann’s videoer https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFED4984055236DDE. Han taler en del om at koncentrere sig om input dvs. at lære så mange ord som muligt istedet for grammatik som man ofte gør i skolen.

      Spændende at du er flyttet til Tyskland – Det lyder da som en kanon-oplevelse. Vi snakkes ved 🙂

  • Lauren
    August 5, 2015 at 2:00 am

    “If someone doesn’t try to understand you, it’s their problem, not yours.”
    I find this to be a very comforting quote. It’s really true and I didn’t think of it like that before. It reminds that we must remember communication works two ways so any miscommunication that occurs is due to both parties! Don’t blame yourself. 🙂 With German, I have days where I can’t understand a thing in a conversation and I forget some grammar rules… and it gets me down. When I was listening to German radio and watching TV in German, my speaking was a lot better. You have to expose yourself to the target language and make it a habit, I find. The best thing about habits is that they stick around. Well, this is my piece of advice anyway. Make a habit of being involved with the target language and your speaking will benefit hugely. 🙂

    • Lykke
      August 5, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Thank you for your piece of advice – I like those and I am thrilled that you found comfort in something I said 🙂

  • Simegn
    August 5, 2015 at 6:31 am

    OH! great advice for minimize stage fright during speaking. Hope you will share more on such issues.

    Thanks,

  • OLESEA CHIOSA
    August 5, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    A great post!
    It covers a lot of good points. I can totally relate to “under fear, your brain is not cooperating” part. I was learning French, for over 9 months with the help of Duolingo and felt pretty confident. The moment I had to give directions to Parisian taxi driver, I was terrified. He could not understand what I was saying. His French( I couldn’t tell if it was true French or his second language) was very different from computer generated speech.
    Another obstacle, I found is when learning a new language online, it allows you to memorize certain sentences, yet it doesn’t give you a random situation to speak to a person. So that was an eye opener, but if you are willing to spell each word out in the beginning, people are more willing to listen and it gets easier from there.
    Another trick I learnt, is to watch your favorite movies with target language subtitles, or to watch old movies in target language. French Harry Potter is actually much funnier 😀

    • Lykke
      August 14, 2015 at 9:03 am

      I’ll try and watch Harry Potter in Spanish maybe 🙂 Thanks for your comment

  • Leesa Johnson
    May 4, 2016 at 3:05 am

    I enjoyed reading your post and it’s amazing for me to know the different fear of speaking the target language. According to me, one should practice it in front of the mirror so that he/she can get confident while communicating with others.

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