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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!