You stand in front of a young person looking at you with a smile. You know he is foreign. You want to smile too and start a conversation. But instead your hands shake. Sweat runs down your forehead, you feel your cheeks turn red and your heart beats faster.
It’s fear. This person doesn’t speak your language.
A thousand thoughts go through your mind in a second. What if you make a mistake, what if he laughs at you, what if you don’t understand each other. You are not ready. You haven’t been learning long enough. It’s not time yet.
Eventually you smile nervously. You look away. And walk away.
So how to manage the fear? Breaking the language barrier seems paralyzing. How to start speaking a foreign language?
Breaking the language barrier. How to start speaking a foreign language?
1. Remember. Only you pay attention to your mistakes.
All your school life everybody was telling you that doing mistakes is wrong. That you’ll be punished with a bad mark and an angry look of your teacher and parents.
Mistakes are the best things you can do while learning a foreign language (and not only). You learn through mistakes. And you will always do them, there is no way you will reach a level of a native speaker.
Nobody else analyzes your sentence. Nobody else goes over the grammar mistakes, direct translations and using a feminine article when you speak about a guy. Nobody cares. Nobody laughs, nobody will be mean about it. Even when someone corrects you – it’s to help.
When I was volunteering in Russia I mixed a word for “to write” with “to piss”. In my defense – the only difference is accent. We all laughed our heads off… And thanks to this I’ll never do this mistake again 🙂
2. Begin with non-native speakers or in mixed company
I know. Everybody says the best way of learning a foreign language is to go to a country where it is spoken. It’s true. But from my experience, if you’re covered in cold sweat only thinking about speaking a foreign language, placing you in the environment using this language might be a traumatic event.
When I went to Russia I spoke Russian well. But I didn’t feel confident. I’ve never used it in normal life situations before – lesson isn’t the same. When I arrived there I had to start speaking immediately – the girls who hosted me didn’t speak any English.
The only thing I remember is terrible stress. Despite the fact that I was speaking well, I had a feeling that I suck. I wasn’t nearly as good as my interlocutors (guess why… 🙂 )which made me feel shy all the time. After 6 weeks I got used to speaking – but the shyness stayed.
Till now I am more shy in Russian than in any other language. Even though I speak Russian better than French, I feel less confident. Speaking Russian is stressful for me.
Browse the Internet, Facebook or Couchsurfing and look for people learning the same language in your neighborhood. Look for language meetings. Watch others who aren’t afraid despite the fact that you get a headache listening to their mistakes. And start speaking 🙂
3. Improve your understanding
Your barrier is caused partly by the fact that you don’t feel confident about understanding the language. In order to improve it you need to listen to podcasts, movies, music… but you can’t listen to it passively. You need to be active. Stop it sentence after sentence, repeat what you hear. Learn to recognize where one word ends and another one starts. I wrote about it more in my other post – how to learn a foreign language without cramming grammar and vocabulary.
Listen to different accents. You will hear different English if you go to London, different on a trip to Dublin and something else in the USA. It is the case with other widely spoken languages like Spanish too.
4. Improve your accent
You’re ashamed of your strong foreign accept? Time to change it 🙂 Again, you need to listen and repeat. Check the lyrics and sing along to the songs you like. Read the written text with the recording and imitate native speaker’s pronunciation.
Record yourself. Yes. I know you hate listening to your own voice. So do I. But this way you hear your own mistakes and you can work on them.
5. Talk to yourself or to someone who doesn’t understand you anyway
You’re alone at home, in the car, under shower? Say your thoughts aloud in the foreign language. Tell yourself what are you seeing, doing, planning for tomorrow. Watch a short video in the language and tell it to yourself, to your cat, partner, mum, even if they don’t understand a word.
6. Drink a beer
Everybody communicates in every language after alcohol, right? 🙂 But seriously, I’ve seen many people already who claimed they don’t speak English at all – having advanced conversations in fluent English after a couple of shots.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to end up in a state when you can’t even speak your own language properly 😉
But a beer will make it easier for you to stop being shy and realize you can actually speak – and you definitely can do it without alcohol too.
You stand in front of a young person looking at you with a smile. You know he is foreign. You smile too. And you start a conversation.
Isn’t this scenario more tempting than the first one? 🙂
Don’t ever lose motivation if you feel you’re stuck. It is worth learning a language – you might be surprised with the benefits it brings. You only expected to improve your communication skills but it brings you so much more 🙂 Here’s 5 surprising reasons to learn foreign languages. Also don’t miss my proven ways how not to forget a foreign language.
But no matter how many languages you know, during some trips you won’t be able to communicate in any of them. For these cases check the easy tricks helping travellers communicate with locals.
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