Hands up if you freeze at the thought of speaking your new language to a real person?
Yes, the fear is real. No-one wants to make mistakes — and we're terrified of looking foolish. We sweat at the thought of misunderstanding or standing tongue-tied with embarrassment.
But if we want to speak a language confidently, we must summon up courage, control our fear and start to communicate.
With that in mind, here are eight ways that I've used over the years to help beat my fear of speaking a language in front of others.
# 1. Learn The Lyrics Of A Song
One reason speaking is such a huge deal is that it feels disorderly and out-of-control. You often can't manage the speed, summon up the words or cope if the conversation changes tack.
Song lyrics are almost the opposite of regular conversation. They're tangible, manageable and have defined limits. There are only so many words in a song, and some of those repeat time and time again.
When you've memorised lyrics and can sing along to the song, it gives a great sense of confidence and achievement. As a bonus, it often adds words and phrases to your vocabulary that you can use in ordinary conversations.
Just make sure you don't have to sing the whole song first to remember them.
#2. Use Reverse Flashcards
Now, I'm not opposed to flashcards; use them in moderation, and they can be a great memorisation tool. Unfortunately, most people use flashcards in totally the wrong way.
The traditional idea is to write the word in your target language on the front, read it and try to remember what it means. Not a helpful strategy when learning to speak.
Instead, reverse the process and write in your language on the front, which is the side you see first. That simple switch forces your mind to mimic the speech process.
Instead of thinking, “What does that mean?” your brain now asks “How do I say that?”
That's a powerful mind-shift which trains you to recall the words you need quickly.
#3. Write And Learn A Monologue
Monologues are useful because they give you glimpses of what it's like to speak with mastery.
When you write a monologue and learn it by heart, you get to express yourself in slow motion. You have time to think, find the right words and write them down correctly.
So choose a topic that you'll need to use. Maybe for your work, or a hobby you love to discuss.
Write out what you want to say, then get it corrected. Ask your language teacher or a competent friend to check it over for you.
Now it's practice time. Say your piece over and over again until it's fixed in your mind. Using a monologue, you'll experience what it's like to speak correctly, to a near-native level.
#4. Use Apps With Voice Messaging
Two kinds of apps can be hugely useful to language learners:
- Flashcard Apps
- Voice messaging Apps
Apps like HelloTalk and Tandem let you connect with people from all over the world to send voice messages back and forth.
Both of you are learning, so the app gives you time to listen, think, practice and respond. It's a win-win situation which eases you into low-pressure communication with a built-in pause button.
#5. Find Yourself A Language Partner
Tip number five is a step up from using an app. It can be scary to find a language partner. But if you don't have someone to talk to regularly then you're missing out on one of the gold nuggets of language learning.
So, look for someone who speaks the language you're learning and make a regular date to talk and practise. Make it fun – a social occasion down at the pub or on a video call with a wine and cheese.
There's nothing like having regular two-way conversations with someone who makes you feel safe to bolster your confidence and keep that language learning flowing.
#6. Invoke The Three-Second Rule
The three-second rule works by short-circuiting fear and propelling you into a conversation before you have time to talk yourself out of it.
It works like this:
- See someone you want to talk to.
- Take less than three seconds to approach them.
- Don't overthink; count 1-2, walk over and say hello.
The idea comes from an old dating book called “The Game,” by Neil Strauss.
Now, I don't recommend using the book's dating tips in this day and age, but the three-second rule can work a treat when you're travelling and learning a language.
#7. Learn Stock Phrases For Everyday Situations
It's surprising how formulaic many everyday situations can be.
Entering or leaving a shop, greeting a stranger — or a friend, enquiring about prices, going out to eat. All these often involve a limited set of standard phrases and responses.
So, identify everyday situations you're likely to meet and ask your teacher, “What would you say here, exactly?” Write down the answer and memorise it. Practice till those phrases roll off your tongue, then use them whenever you can.
#8. Ask For Directions Even If You Don't Need Them
Tip number eight works best when you're travelling in a friendly country like Argentina.
There, a simple request for directions often leads to a conversation. Most people are happy to help, and it's not weird to ask for directions. And, they'll probably be delighted that you're at least trying to speak their language and want to know all about you.
Beat Your Fear Of Speaking A Language
So, there you have it. Eight tips that I've used with great success whenever I'm learning a new language.
Which one is your favourite tip for beating your fear of speaking a language? I'd love to know, so tell me in the comments over on YouTube.