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Don’t Be Shy, Just Say Hi! How to Overcome Your Fear of Speaking in a Foreign Language

As language learners, we know we can’t gain proficiency in a new language without speaking it. And yet, talking to others, especially native speakers, in your target tongue probably seems to be the most daunting part of language acquisition. What if they don’t understand you? Or laugh at you? What if you say the wrong thing or put your foot in your mouth? All these worries (and loads more) probably race through your head whenever you’re about to engage with someone in a foreign language. But, while that apprehension may never completely go away, there are some methods you can use to help you get over your fears and start talking!

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1. Identify your fear

It’s important to know what’s scaring you before you try to tackle a particularly intimidating task. Take a step back and really analyse what it is that frightens you about the idea of speaking a foreign language. The source of anxiety differs from one person to another; while you may find the idea of not being understood to be the most frightening, someone else may fear making too many mistakes. Once you identify what it is that scares you the most, you will be able to narrow your focus towards solving the source of your angst!

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2. Visualise success

It may sound silly, but visualisation can play a huge role in helping you to succeed at whatever you set your mind to. After all, if you don’t have a clear picture in mind of what it is you want to achieve, how will you achieve it? When it comes to language learning, visualisation can be incredibly helpful in building the self-confidence needed to actually speak the language. Close your eyes and imagine you’re successfully carrying out a conversation with a native-speaker. Try picturing yourself with a confident posture and imagine you are receiving positive responses from the person you’re speaking to. And lastly, remind yourself why it is you decided to learn the language in the first place. Spend a few minutes every day doing this, and you’ll be surprised at how much more confident and enthusiastic it can make you feel!

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3. Trust the native speakers

I think one of my greatest fears when it comes to speaking is the idea that I’ll make a fool of myself in front of a native-speaker. Whenever this dread rears its ugly head, I remind myself to trust the good nature of the native-speaker. As hard as it may be to believe, locals aren’t out to get you. In fact, the grand majority are usually delighted that you’re putting in the time and effort to learn about their culture and language! Change your perception of other people and trust in the fact that no one is going to try to embarrass you.  Put yourself in their shoes: if someone from another country approached you and tried to speak English, would you make fun of them or put them on the spot? No! You’d probably be more than happy to take a little extra time to try to understand them.

4. Pinpoint your barriers

Different language learners struggle with different aspects of a new tongue, and it’s vital to be able to pinpoint where you’re hitting a snag if you want to keep progressing. Apply this analysis to your speaking. When you carry out a conversation, at what point do you usually find yourself hitting a wall? Formulating a response to a question or comment might be where you struggle, or perhaps it’s understanding when someone says something to you in the first place. Usually, one ties in closely with the other, so if you figure out which one it is, you can find ways to address it, bringing your overall conversational level up!

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5. Go one-on-one

It goes without saying that one-on-one conversations are a lot easier for language learners to manage than having to speak in a group. With a group of speakers the conversation tends to speed up and grow more complicated, and you may wind up feeling like you’ve been left behind in the dust. Find someone willing to practice one-on-one with you and give it a go! It doesn’t matter if they always understand you or not, the key is to keep practising until you feel comfortable and confident enough to tackle speaking to a stranger.

What methods do you use to help you overcome your fear of speaking? Share a few with us in the comments section!