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How To Overcome Shyness, The Biggest Killer Of Language Learning

Learning a language is definitely not for wimps. I can admit to being slightly wimpy sometimes, especially when it comes to attempting to speak Spanish in front of others, but as I mentioned in my last post, it is important not to be too hard on yourself during the process of learning a new language. It is OK to take breaks when you need to, allow yourself imperfections, and it’s even OK to complain about how hard it is (trust me on this, I do it all the time!).
I am in week 10 of my 90-Day Spanish Challenge and I am still by no means ready to speak Spanish with anyone. The same thing happened when I was learning English many years ago. I was too shy to talk to people and would write yellow post-its in English if I had something on my mind. I was worried that I would make mistakes and that people would laugh at me. When I finally did start to speak, some people did laugh, but I survived, the world did not implode.
How To Overcome Shyness, The Biggest Killer Of Language Learning

The moral of that story is eventually I had to be brave! I had to get out there and talk to people, I had to let myself be vulnerable. Most of all I had to get my act together and forget about the shyness.
Shyness is a language learning killer and eventually you (and I) will have to talk. It is all well and good that I know 360 words by now and have created 1000s of LingQs, but at the end of the day if I don’t venture out and eventually start speaking Spanish, I will never become fluent. At some point I will have to speak. I have been thinking of ways to overcome this shyness.
But first let’s identify those signs of shyness.
– Do you get all hot, bothered and sweaty when thinking about speaking in your target language?
– Do you get heart palpitations when you feel like you’re on display?
– Do you want to run away from the situation?
– Do you feel like everyone looking at you might be judging you?
– Do you worry about everyone in the room laughing at you?
If any of these apply to you like they do me – then you are screwed – just kidding! But wouldn’t it be nice if shy people like us could get over that way of thinking? I hope to eventually speak Spanish to someone other than myself, so I have come up with some things that might help me get into a different frame of mind. 

Think Differently

Try to put into words how you perceive yourself in situations where you might have to speak your target language. What kind of words come to mind? Stupid? Embarrassing? Lack of Fluency? Insufficient vocabulary? Or perhaps other negative things. If that’s how you think of the situation, then turn it around and think about all the positive things that might happen if you speak out loud, such as the sense of accomplishment, the fact that not long ago you couldn’t string a sentence together, that people might think you are brave for trying. In other words think positive thoughts. 

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Worst Case Scenario

What’s the worst that can happen if you screw up in front of someone? Nothing! Some people may laugh at you, but so what? No one in their right mind will think less of you for trying, or because your pronunciation isn’t perfect all the time in your newly acquired language. On the contrary, like I said before, people will probably think you are awesome for trying. (And if they are real jerks – ask them to say something in your language and then laugh back at them if they can’t). 

How To Overcome Shyness, The Biggest Killer Of Language Learning

Take A Good Look Around

Why am I even shy? Why are you shy? Is it because you care too much about how other people perceive you? This goes for speaking a new language, but also for life in general; be less concerned about what others think about you? It has taken me a long, long time to get to a stage where I care less (I still care more than I should) about what people think. It’s probably one of those things that comes with age, which is why I also think I’ll speak Spanish out loud to other people much sooner than I did English. Also, I refer to the point above: what is the worst that can happen? 

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Just DO IT

Get out there and socialize. Talk to someone – in the Speak section on the exchange in LingQ you can ask a tutor to have an online chat with you in your target language. It can be someone who wants to learn your language and have learned the language your target language, or it can be a native speaker of your target language (that requires slightly more bravery or it can be a tutor. One thing is certain – none of these people will laugh at you because everyone is on LingQ for the same reason – to learn a language. 



As someone who has just started learning a new language, you are often extra shy and you can quickly become a little unsure of yourself – that’s perfectly normal. The more you practice your target language the better you’ll get, so go ahead and speak – you’ll be alright. 

Be Proud Of Small Accomplishments

After everything is said and done and you have uttered a few words to another person in your new language – even if it is just something simple like: ‘Hola ¿cómo estás?’. You deserve to feel good about it. You have taken the first step in overcoming the language learning killer, that shyness is.
Are you shy? Tell me how you overcame it. Or if you haven’t, how it affects your language learning.

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  • Carol
    March 24, 2015 at 6:21 pm

    Hi Lykke, Thanks for the post. I am very shy! I like learning from my books better than talking to people. But I also really like to make other people feel happier if I can. Here is what my husband told me. When I speak Chinese to his relatives and they laugh, it is really because they are happy. Also, I learned recently how very much many people appreciate efforts to speak their language. Even if they know English, a simple greeting or thank you in their language shows consideration, and a respect for their culture. They might think, Wow, you took the time to learn some of my language! So I think it is good to begin to use some of the phrases you know. It is still hard, but it helps to know how much it can mean to someone to try.

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 9:24 am

      Hi Carol – At least you are doing it. I went to Montreal on the weekend and had a really hard time even saying Bonjour to people – worrying I might pronounce it wrong. Oh the silliness. I really gotta get over myself. Think your husband is right, they are probably just excited that you are trying. When I was still living in Denmark, I had an American girlfriend from North Carolina, she speaks a number of languages, but I loved, loved, loved when she would speak Danish to me. She sounded so cute. Danish with an American accent. I loved it.

  • Yosef
    March 24, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Thank you Lykke,
    Keep going and never give up!
    Tu puedes, ¡Saludos!

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 9:20 am

      I will do my outmost. I have only a few weeks left of my 90-Day Challenge.

      • maria
        March 25, 2015 at 6:40 pm

        Yo te pyefo ayudar con el espanol , pero debes escribirme . Have a great day.

  • Oscar
    March 24, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Nice post Lykke, inspirational in many ways y ¡Buena suerte con tu español!

  • Alana
    March 24, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    If I had overcome my shyness about speaking Spanish, I would have remained fluent. But I spoke it only in class or around Spanish-speaking friends in school. After we all graduated, I was too shy to speak to strangers. I lost my fluency 🙁

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 9:19 am

      You can get it back, I am sure. It probably just takes some practice 🙂

  • Alana
    March 24, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I agree that people are usually very happy to hear someone greet them in their native language. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I wish I’d known this years ago, but I’m glad I know it now 🙂

  • Luis
    March 24, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    BEST WAY to overcome shyness is, by experience, MOTIVATION..
    NOW, there are levels of motivation.. But there`s one thing about motivation that can not be argued: INNER MOTIVATION is best by far!…
    You can also see it this way Inner Motivation = Personalized, Customized Motivation.. And this level of motivation is hardly achieved by standard institute courses.. or standard coursebooks… because they may be everything but customized!
    FORTUNATELY, in this era, INTERNET allows us to gather a tremendous quantity of LEARNING LANGUAGE material: audios, videos and readings! and Many of them are FOR FREE!… This massive material ONLY needs to be filtered and arranged according to student needs….. I CAN DO THAT!.. I’m a language promoter!.. I’m not a teacher but a promoter!.. and I found a way to get the highest level of motivation with learners: Customized Material for each Learner!!
    Of course, All this is valid for English!!.. Other languages still will need a lot of work in coming years! I expect to be able to help by producing material in my mother language which is Spanish… Meantime, I can only wish you good luck in you journey to learn a new language!
    Look Forward to your next comments!
    Luis Roman

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 9:18 am

      Thank you so much Luis. A language promoter, that’s interesting. Does that mean you love languages a lot? I think you are right with the internet there are so many resources and opportunities that there are no excuses not to learn a language if you really want to.
      It would be great if you could help me with my Spanish (and not laugh at me if I ever attempt to speak it). I did write a post about motivation last week and you are absolutely right, that is definitely the most important factor. If you’re not motivated why would you start in the first place? But the next step then is getting over my fear of speaking out loud and being laughed at. I was in Montreal this weekend and tried to say a few things in French – I supposed my pronunciation sucked, because no one understood me. That was a bummer, but whatever for now I’ll focus on español 😉

  • Sergio
    March 25, 2015 at 4:39 am

    That´s my great problem! But I am quite sure that is not just a problem of skyness, but afraid to act like an idiot commiting erros and mistakes in the targei language. I need a “pulling” to creative way to overcame it and go ahead speaking a second language. I don`t have much time. If I fell that the things are anoying me or for any reason I am not going well, you can be sure that I give up!

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 9:10 am

      Nooo Sergio – don’t give up. What is Targei? I will be googling to find out 🙂

  • Ana
    March 25, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I’m brasilian and spanish is my second lenguage. I’m not fluent and always make mistakes, but when I traveled to Spanish-speaking countries, the people always tried to help and understand me. I think you just learn from mistakes.
    Speak only when you are ready to speak, don’t force speech. Focus on listening(much, much,much) and be patient.
    (and sorry for my English, I’m learning :D)

    • Lykke
      March 25, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks for the tip 🙂 Don’t be sorry, your English is great.

  • FlyingFrog
    March 26, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Thanks for the tips, I will be needing them soon! I think that patience, that you mentioned, is very important, in another sense too: that you are prepared to say what you want to say many times over, and then try to say it in another words, and then use your hands to explain, and then pick up pen and paper and draw it… and finally, when you get your message through, repeat what the other person is saying, and repeat it so many times until he’s at least somewhat satisfied with it. Blush, sweat and shake all you like, but keep on going! You’re supposed to be sweating because it’s tough work!

  • FlyingFrog
    March 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Worst case scenario: My mother was being laughed at for her Russian pronunciation. She told the person who laughed at her: “Hyvä on, me voidaan puhua loppuilta suomea jos minun venäjäni ei ole tarpeeksi hyvää!” (=Ok, we can speak the rest of the evening Finnish if my Russian is not good enough). They stopped laughing at her.

    • Lykke
      March 26, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      Good on your mother – she told them. But it’s true – I’ve done it myself. People (my husband who can be a bit of a bully) laughs at my English pronunciation sometimes (Bus and boss always sounds the same when I say it for instance) but then I’ll just say something back in Danish and he’ll look like one big question mark. He lived in Denmark for two years and can’t speak Danish at all. I am determined to speak Spanish to native speaker sooner than I did English. Finnish is so different to other Scandinavian languages, some consider Finland part of Scandinavia others don’t, but either way it’s so different. I can only count to 3 in Finnish yksi, kaksi, kolme (is that right?).

      • FlyingFrog
        March 27, 2015 at 5:51 am

        That’s correct! Would you like to push it a little bit further? Yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä!(one, two, three, four)

  • Marcio Lima
    March 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Hello Lykke, how are you? It is the second time that i read your post and i want to compliment you because of your willingness to help others with your tips and i am quite sure that you will reach your goal of speaking spaninsh in no time due to your motivation and passion. I completely agree with Luis that you can learn whatever language you want because of the number of resources you can find in the internet.I know that i am not a good english speaker but i am a good example of that. I have been learning english for two years through internet because i have passion for english language since i was a kid but, i could not afford for an english course class in Brazil because it is very expensive and today the internet is helping me a lot in this process. I am very excited about your next post. Be well an good luck with your Spanish.

    • Lykke
      March 26, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Are you kidding me with “i am not a good english speaker”? – I bet you are – your written English is near perfect. I am very happy to hear that you are finding this useful, it isn’t always easy to figure out what to write about so if you have any suggestions – please let me know 🙂 I am hear to help (and learn Spanish too of course). The Internet is good for many things, so grateful that we live in this day and age where all this is possible. I love the idea of the global village, where everyone from everywhere can communicate with each other. It is a beautiful thing.

  • Séamus
    March 26, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Listen to “ask” by the smiths for inspiration!!!

    • Lykke
      March 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm

      Ha ha ha! I love the Smiths -Morrissey is my hero. He’s such a weirdo 🙂

  • Yağmur Aktürk
    April 5, 2015 at 3:07 am

    Please talk with me 🙁

    • Lykke
      April 6, 2015 at 10:10 am

      Sure – what would you like to talk about?

  • Daniel
    April 10, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    I just found this post really helpful. I’m not shy at all anymore. I used to be when I first learned English at school some time ago (6 years ago) I’m actually learning Polish. But this post surely is useful to help other people having the same problem: shyness and low selfsteem. I really appreciate all the information given to us throughout this post .

    • Lykke
      April 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm

      I am from Denmark – we all have low self-esteem. It’s part of our national identity 😉 We call it Law of Jante and it goes something like this:
      The ten rules state:
      You’re not to think you are anything special.
      You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
      You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
      You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
      You’re not to think you know more than we do.
      You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
      You’re not to think you are good at anything.
      You’re not to laugh at us.
      You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
      You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
      So thank you so much for your nice words Daniel, as you can see I really needed that 😉 .

  • cheapguccioutlet
    April 26, 2016 at 9:30 pm

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  • Haley
    February 7, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Old article, but I want to comment. Before deciding to self-learn Japanese, I suffered from social anxiety for many years. There is a Japanese test called the JLPT that has 5 levels, I passed 2 without every speaking Japanese to another person. I felt awful and like a phony Japanese learner. Even though I had anxiety, I knew I had to speak Japanese to a Japanese person before taking another level of the JLPT. I bought a mic and signed up for italki. For a few weeks, I just spoke with no mic, but the entire hour lesson, my heart would be pounding and I was sweating and shaking the whole time. But after a few weeks, I bought a webcam! My anxiety ended up turning into excitement. It felt like a rush talking Japanese for an hour and eventually I stopped shaking and sweating. I guess my advice is to take baby steps. Start with short 30 minute lessons and eventually increase it to an hour, for example.

    • Haley
      February 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm

      **I just spoke with a mic and no webcam

    • Jahrine
      February 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      Hi Haley,
      Good on you for stepping way outside your comfort zone and speaking Japanese! How have you progressed since your first conversation? Do you have any plans to talk with someone in person or visit Japan? I lived there for three years and I left a piece of my heart there <3 Such a special place.
      Jahrine (LingQ team)

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