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10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language

jason-oxenham-ceo March 19, 2017, 7:48 pm
You've started learning a foreign language. You memorize new vocabulary words, use flashcards, study new grammar topics, and then comes the moment of truth: you meet a native speaker.

Excited and nervous to show off what you've learned, you start to speak and...freeze.

Wait... how do you say that, again? Will they even be able to understand me? My accent sounds terrible! Am I making a fool of myself?

If you've ever studied a foreign language before, you're probably no stranger to this situation and the fear when it comes to trying out your language skills. Reading, listening, and studying vocabulary and grammar is one thing. But when it comes time to actually speak, it's a whole new ball game.

One of the biggest barriers that prevents many language learners from practicing and improving their language is fear.

Many people are anxious when it comes to trying out their skills. They're too shy to express themselves, and before they know it, they give up and switch back to their native language or use an online translator.

Does this sound familiar to you?

First of all, don't worry: Fear is a very normal part of language learning, especially when it comes to interacting with a different culture.

Today, we'd like to talk about some ways to overcome this fear. Before you know it, you'll be speaking your foreign language comfortably and fluently!

1. Identify the cause of your fear

The first step to overcoming is to identify what it is you're really afraid of. When it comes to learning a language, there are several possible causes of your anxiety. Some of these include:
  • Fear of not being understood
  • Fear of saying something inappropriate or embarrassing
  • Fear of offending native speakers
  • Fear of appearing foolish
  • Fear of freezing and not being able to speak
  • Fear of being laughed at
  • You may even be afraid of all or a combination of these things!
It's important to remember that what causes fear for one person might not be the same as for another. That's why is your job to identify what causes fear for you. When you identify it, it becomes easier to find ways to fight it.

2. Be patient with yourself

Patience is a virtue, and never has this been more true than when it comes to learning a language. It's easy to become impatient with yourself and to let that impatience get in the way of overcoming your fears. This is the surest ticket to giving up.

As frustrating as it may seem, bear with yourself and give yourself the time it takes to overcome your fear. Take it step by step. You can start by repeating what you hear in your language in videos or movies and then move on to talking to yourself (we know it may sound silly, but it really helps!). Then, when you gain more confidence, you can try and find another language learner to speak with. This is especially good if you're afraid of being embarrassed in front of a native speaker. Be patient with yourself and work your way up to speaking comfortably and confidently.

3. Trust in native speakers

We're all afraid of making mistakes and embarrassing ourselves in front of native speakers. As many language learners will probably tell you, it's very easy to make a little slip that can lead to some giggles.

It's important to remember, however, that native speakers are not out to get you. In reality, they're probably thrilled you're learning their language and are able to communicate with them. After all, there's no bigger compliment to a group of people or culture than learning their language. One of the best ways to get over you fear is to trust in native speakers and know that they're not going to try to embarrass you. Changing the way you perceive others is an important step in overcoming your fear.

4. Discover where you get stuck

Some language learners always get stuck at the same time in a conversation. For some people, they can't get beyond the greetings. For others, they just can't seem to transition between topics. This doesn't mean that they should be afraid of their abilities.

In reality, it only means that they just have a few bugs to work through. In many cases, once they master them, they can easy master any other part of the language. Identify where you usually get stuck and start to work past it. It's a lot like playing a video game: You may always get stuck at the same level, but once you pass it, everything feels easier.

5. Overcome your own barriers

Fear is an enemy that comes from within, and we also usually have to fight it from within. What some people call fear is simply the desire not to fail.

Ego is one of the major reasons why many become afraid of speaking a new language. You may be so worried about how you'll look if you make a mistake that you decide to simply not speak at all. This makes you your own enemy. Free yourself from your ego. Recognize that mistakes are an important part of learning a new language. They definitely don't make you look foolish. In reality, making mistakes is one of the best way to learn and remember something in the future.

6. Be an active listener

We learn the majority of a new language by using our ears. Many new language learners ignore this, however. While it is possible to learn some things by reading them, you must listen to a language before you can speak it. Listening helps you to naturally pick up the accent and pronunciation that so many learners use as an excuse to avoid speaking. The more you listen, the better your pronunciation skills will be and the more confidence you will have when speaking.

7. Learn connectors and fillers

This is one of the many great language learning hacks, by the way.

So, when we speak in our native language, we fill our conversations with small or seemingly insignificant words. Of course, these words help us to form connections between ideas and fill empty spaces. Well, as a matter of fact, these connectors or fillers actually help contribute to our language fluency and keep us from sounding like textbook-reading robots.

That being said, by learning these connectors and making them a part of your speaking, you accomplish two great things:
  • First, you sound more fluent and feel more confident in being able to speak your language how you think,
  • In addition, you buy yourself more time to think by using the appropriate fillers!
Seriously, give it a try! Remember, though: don't try and learn them all at once. Pick the most practical and add them to your speaking little by little.

8. Master one-on-one conversations

If speaking in front of a group is what's leading to your fear, you're not alone. We're all often afraid of public speaking, even in our native language! A great trick to overcome this fear is to start by engaging in one-on-one conversation.

This one-on-one speaking could be with another language learner, a native speaker, or even with another non-native speaker who wants to help out. It doesn't always matter if your partner understands you; the key is to practice until you feel more confident. If you make a mistake or stumble on words, it's much easier to overcome the fear or embarrassment in front of one person. This will help to boost your confidence and prepare you for speaking in front of larger groups.

9. Manage the pace of your conversations

The speed of native speakers is often very intimidating for language learners. Don't let this frighten you. All you have to do is manage the speed of your speaking; you don't have to match theirs.

When you attempt to increase your speed, it becomes easier to make mistakes, which may add to your fear and anxiety. Take a deep breath. Relax. Slow things down. Just because your conversation partner speaks quickly doesn't mean you have to, too. This goes a long way in boosting your confidence in and control in the conversation.

10. Talk to yourself in private

Believe it or not, you are your own best language practicing buddy. It's easy to forget how much time we spend in our own internal dialogues in our native language on a daily basis. This dialogue can be turned into wonderful practice simply by translating that dialogue to the language that we're learning.

Talk to yourself--either out loud or in your head--in your target language as much as possible and in as many different situations as possible. It'll help you to put your knowledge into use and will better prepare you for conversations with others. It really works!

It's natural to feel a little anxious or afraid when it comes time to practice speaking your foreign language. If you keep these tips in mind, however, you'll be on your way to confident conversations in no time.

Happy learning!

By Andrea Reisenauer, guest blogger. Andrea Reisenauer is a language lover, ESL teacher Rocket Languages fan with a Master's degree in Translation. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, and Italian and is currently studying French.
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
lesieur200 March 20, 2017, 12:00 pm
Thanks for this article! It is very helpful. I'll try to get over my fear of speaking French with these tips.
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
drewster March 20, 2017, 12:11 pm
I've found that there is only one main way to overcome this fear. You MUST practice with a real person. My Italian has a long way to go but the first time I spent an hour talking to a real person I was elated (despite the long pauses, mistakes, umm's and aah's). I know now that I can be understood even if I still have a lot more work to do. 
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
jolietil March 20, 2017, 3:07 pm
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
the-hefay March 20, 2017, 5:29 pm
These are great points.  I find that #2 and #9 are probably the most important for me:  Patience and pacing my speech.
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
miketnr March 21, 2017, 2:25 pm
I really enjoyed these tips.  I'm going to make a sincere effort to do #6.
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
loudoniii March 22, 2017, 7:37 pm
Cool ideas, thanks Jason!
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
Matthew-H68 March 25, 2017, 12:56 am
Thank you Jason, this is a very helpful article.
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
KelllaurBailar March 26, 2017, 9:17 pm
When I read "talking to yourself" I thought "Yes!!" then, "But not in front of other people, please..." haha
Great article!
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
trutenor April 2, 2017, 2:23 am
Definitely agree with this list, especially #3.  I can't speak for everyone but I know for myself, whenever I speak to a native in their own language, its a bit of a confidence booster for me, as I feel like I'm trying to walk in their shoes and saying "We may have come from different parts of the world, but we are still part of the same race, the human race".
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
drewster April 2, 2017, 3:48 am
The first time I did an online chat to a tutor I had tears in my eyes, seriously. I was crap, but it was the first time I felt that I might actually be able to do this bilingual thing. 
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
Tatjana-L April 3, 2017, 5:25 pm
Great article, thank you. I allready overcome my fear to speak to native italian, to friends, but...one day I had conversation with a teacher ..oh...I feel like a child again...it was painfull to get corrected again and again...I only told me - it was a bad teacher, he don`t lett me spaek, that is. Maybe I have to try 2-3 differend teacher on Italky to overcome my fear. I know, I can speak!!!
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
drewster April 3, 2017, 9:12 pm
I think that's the skill of the teacher, not you. My current teacher has the perfect balance of letting me go and make my mistakes, and correcting me occasionally. I tend to ask when I want correction most of the time. You definitely don't want to be corrected every sentence!
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
elisery April 8, 2017, 4:53 am
Thank you, this is very helpful!
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language
Grayhawk April 12, 2017, 12:44 am
Thank you -very good points. Had not thought of talking to myself. Will try !!!!  Also thinking of looking for a local German "club" - might help me in listening as well as speaking.  Find listening to German radio is good for tuning my hearing and pronunciation to the way the native language is used. 
10 Tips to Overcome the Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language

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