The biggest obstacle to learning a foreign language is the fear of speaking it. We can all listen, understand, read. But when it comes to speaking, we feel as though we’re mute. We’re afraid that our speech would sound stupid, that people wouldn’t understand us, that we’d say one thing when we mean to say another. We’re just afraid of looking foolish.
A little shyness is completely normal. But some people suffer from paralyzing fear when they have to speak a foreign language in someone’s presence. Such a fear can put them off from learning a foreign language. If you can relate to such a feeling, I suggest that you don’t despair and take steps towards free conversation.
Repeat after me
The first step is to get used to saying the words out loud. Find yourself an opportunity to repeat words and phrases after a native speaker. This can include audio classes, for instance. Ideally, a person would pronounce a word slowly, syllable by syllable, and then with their normal speed, and you’d repeat both times. Can’t find a class? Not to worry. Sing along to a favorite song, the lyrics of which you know really well.
Talk to yourself
By saying the words out loud when you’re on your own, you get used to the sound of your speech in a foreign language. Also, repeating words and phrases out loud helps you remember them better. Start by repeating simple phrases like “Hello, good afternoon, excuse me”. This way, foreign speech coming from your lips would no longer seem strange to you.
Find like-minded people
When you’re united by a common fear, it’s much easier to conquer it, and the fear of speaking in the presence of other people. Perhaps you’d feel more comfortable in a 10-people class, where you realize that you aren’t the only one making mistakes. (Also, large groups are usually cheaper).
If you don’t love the idea of talking in the presence of so many people, you can attend classes with 2-3 other students. This way, you won’t feel a lot of pressure and nobody would make you talk for a whole lesson.
If you’ve used other materials in addition to print ones while learning, you probably sound much better than you think. Yes, you might have a noticeable accent and grammar errors but when you’re talking, people concentrate on what you’re saying, not how you’re saying it.
The best way to boost your confidence is to talk to a native speaker. This can be a little frightening but as soon as you realize that you can talk to a native speaker, your confidence will significantly grow. If you’ve managed to establish contact with a native speaker but you aren’t ready for a proper conversation, begin with the phrases you’ve been learning. Ask your partner if you’re pronouncing the words correctly. He’ll most likely give you a hint. Usually people understand and are happy to help, to explain the meaning of unfamiliar words. This doesn’t mean you’re considered an idiot, everybody knows you’re learning. There’s no need to be ashamed of that. Another trick (and don’t run away screaming now!) is to record yourself. We never hear our voice the way others do. By listening to your recorded voice, you would know for sure how you sound to others. And if your voice doesn’t sound like distorted screams from hell, you’re doing great.
Bonus tip: watch movies!
Watch movies and listen to the words that you can understand. With each time, the number of these words would increase. This takes you out of the academic world and takes you in the everyday speech, you recognize the words native speakers use every day. When you’re just starting to learn a language, all these words sound like a game to you. However, when you hear how these words are used by people (in this case actors), you realize that they work in real life.
Take cultural differences into account
If you feel a chill attitude from native speakers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a dreadful accent or make mistakes while you talk. In some cultures, people are very protective of their language which is reflected in their attitude towards foreigners who also try to speak it. So if you feel that you haven’t impressed your partner, ask your fellow language learners. Perhaps you aren’t the only one who’s been treated coldly. Keep trying and keep in mind that those who are making fun of you or being rude to you probably don’t speak any other languages except their own or are hypocrites who don’t have any language skills that you do. Always remember that you’re making an effort to speak a second language and communicate – this makes you better, not worse in any way.