About LLS:

Throughout my career, I have received thousands of questions regarding languages and I have finally decided to answer them objectively with no strings attached. If you have any questions or feedback, please leave your comments below.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Afraid of speaking a foreign language?

There are plenty of reasons why someone is afraid of speaking a foreign language. If you are one of these people, and wonder what brought this curse upon yourself, don't falter because at a certain point you will have to realize that nobody truly cares about your abilities to communicate but yourself. Sadly, words and advice don't fix the problem and many confuse intellectual capability with psychological blockades.

Often students who have been learning and practicing a foreign language for many years blame it on their weak memory and opt for a more aggressive approach as to correct the problem, but what if your problem wasn't knowledge related? The reality is that you have to speak hours and hours in order to improve, as much as musician has to spend countless hours honing his craft. The truth is that in the end, there is no way to escape that fact. If you can't find the self-esteem to do it, your efforts will be all in vain, no matter how many classes you attend per week.

Why am I afraid to speak? There are various reasons why, but let’s cover the most popular ones according to my work experience as a teacher. Read the descriptions below and identify your type.

Fear of being judged by others:

Some individuals get nervous when speaking in front of large crowds or to strangers. If you are able to speak a foreign language unproblematically with close friends but are unable to do so with strangers, you are perhaps this type of individual. The comfort of having someone that you know, makes you more open to the idea that he or she likes and tolerates you no matter how well you speak. If you have ever approached a beautiful person on the street with the hopes of scoring a date, then you understand that the anxiety is proportional to how deep the weakness lies. You must not underestimate the amount of people who have that exact same problem. If I had to make an estimate, I would say that at least 50% of the population suffers from this type of fear to a greater or lesser degree. If everybody were courageous, we would all be dating polyglots.

Fear of imperfection:

This is actually very rare, but some students prefer to be very good at something at first before trying it out which is kind of self-contradictory. Usually it’s the other way around and this is why it makes it so difficult. Firstly, they build a sentence which they correct over and over again until they lose the confidence to continue the conversation often interrupting themselves with "no" and "eh".

Low Self-Esteem:

Logic dictates that if you are a social recluse, the chance of speaking a foreign language is also very dim. When I say "social recluse" I mean that the amount of social interactions are limited to work, school and grocery shopping. If you find that your life is but a routine accompanied by loneliness, don't expect a few hours of English at your local language school to be of any help. Modern psychology has been trying to solve this problem since the beginning of mankind and there simply aren’t any obvious answers to why this happens.

Ultimately, no matter how hard I try separating those definitions, they are all but one of the many forms of social anxiety.

Believe in yourself, because others won't.

How about a drink?

As silly as this might sound, ask yourself a question, is your ability to communicate better when drunk? It’s a known myth that alcohol temporarily converts the monoglot into a hyperglot able to speak fluently from broken drunk English to perfect Arabic. How can that be when alcohol should decrease your abilities? Surely, if alcohol was a performance enhancer, it wouldn't be illegal to drive under the influence.

Without getting into Freudian explanations, the reason is quite obvious. People's language skills decrease when they feel judged and evaluated by others even if the average citizen couldn't care less. Knowledge has nothing to do with it and please stop using it as an excuse to explain your inability.

Below is an interesting article on the topic.

Are you fluent in drunken gibberish after a couple of shots?

Generally, we can consider extroverts to be more adept at learning and retaining foreign languages not because they are more talented, but because their time spent practicing exceeds those of introverts. They are probably used to making fools out of themselves, therefore, maximizing their results.

The cure:
There are 4 steps you must follow in order to get rid of your anxiety while speaking a foreign language. It won't be easy, but you can take small steps.

1- Visualize:

Take a couple of minutes every day picturing yourself using a foreign language in front of a crowd of people which tend to make you the most anxious. Picture them laughing and judging you behind your back until your brain concludes that it isn't all that scary. Do this every day, before and concurrently while speaking. You will be surprised to see how your brain tires of judgmental behaviors after prolonged exposure. Take a look at prostitutes, politicians and strippers. They aren't afraid of being judged anymore.

Haha, who cares, really?

2- Make a fool out of yourself:

Start by approaching people on the street with casual "small talk" in your own language. Start shifting your personality towards a more extrovert one. Try flirting with more people, and get rid of your shyness. You must push your comfort zone limits!

Which is harder? To flirt or to speak a foreign language? Try both at the same time!

I recommend reading the article below:


3- Mistakes aren't natural, they are obligatory:

There are certain things in life which are inevitable such as making mistakes. Nobody learns without them. I don't care how talented someone is, there are no ways to escape the shame of making mistakes. All the greatest were once bad, perhaps, some had a better start then other. When you speak a foreign language, make as many mistakes as you can and calibrate as you go. 

Don't think about what you want to say, just say it! A good example would be to compare a prize fighter to a student. A boxer doesn't think about technique, he just does it because he learned different reflex patterns. If he had to ponder on every movement, he would get knocked out pretty quickly. A spoken language is all reflex, grammar just supports the understanding.

Reflex is the reason why we speak our native language so quickly.

4- Practice! Practice! Practice!

Join language tandems, social clubs or start travelling abroad. No matter where you find contact with the language you have chosen to learn, as long as you’re practicing it at least 5-10 hours weekly, you should be fine.

There are language exchange tandems everywhere!

Peter. M

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LanguageLearningShortcuts! by Peter Masalski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://languagelearningshortcuts.blogspot.com/.
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