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Get over your fear of speaking in a foreign language (without leaving your house!)

9 Jan 2013

Have you ever tried to speak in a foreign language ... but your mind just went blank?

Then afterwards the words simply came to you?

You are not alone!

Fear of speaking a foreign language is sooo common that psychologists have even given it name: Foreign language anxiety.

According to linguistic Stephen Krashen - one of the foremost experts on how humans naturally learn languages - this anxiety has a strong negative impact on your ability to use a language!

If you want to actually speak in the language you are learning, you will NEED to get over this fear.

However, it's almost never addressed directly in language learning courses!

Today, I'm going to give you some tips for getting over your fear of speaking (without even leaving your house)!

Read more to find out how!

It's a RIDICULOUSLY common problem!

I receive A LOT of e-mail from people asking for language learning advice - probably about 50 messages a day.

I've never done the math but I'd guess that about 50% mention having a fear of speaking! And probably even more have it but don't mention it.

A very, very small number of people are naturally so confident and social that this isn't a problem!

However, the vast majority of us must overcome this fear - especially when learning our first foreign language.

How I overcame my fear of speaking Polish

I personally had to struggle with this fear when I was learning Polish. For me the process took years because I DIDN'T KNOW how to do it! In most situations I avoided saying very much and I constantly worried that I'd make some terrible mistake and everybody'd laugh at me.

However, after a while I discovered that I could talk sort of comfortably with certain people. Not with everyone! But with a friendly enough person in a comfortable situation.

And you know what? I made many mistakes - VERY many mistakes. ;-) But I realized that it wasn't a big deal. The world didn't end.

Slowly the fear subsided when talking with these friendly people. And as my confidence grew, I made fewer and fewer errors.

It turns out that you speak better when you aren't worrying about it!

Step by step, it became less scary in more and more unfamiliar situations - and with less and less friendly people, for example, at the tax office (Urząd Skarbowy) in Poland. ;-)

The best place to conquer this fear ISN'T in a foreign country!

Many believe it's best to be in the country where the language is spoken, because there you are forced to speak.

In a way this is true. There are many situations, for example, in the USA where you can't get by without speaking English.

However, if you're really afraid to speak, you're going to avoid the situations where you're forced to speak.

In fact, those situations are sometimes so uncomfortable that they can even be traumatic!

You can best take advantage the language learning opportunities in a foreign country AFTER you've gotten over your fear.

So, the best place to get over your fear is ...

... in the most comfortable place in the world: At home!

Using the tools like Skype and Mumble, you can use the internet to practice speaking with people from all over the world.

Here is my advice for you:

  1. Find a language exchange partner or a teacher, who is very friendly and you are comfortable with. This may take several tries!
  2. Create the most comfortable situation possible. For example, plan the topics of your meetings in advance so you feel ready for them.
  3. Talk as much as possible!

With each meeting you'll become more and more comfortable and confident. Over time that confidence will extend to more difficult situations!

If you're learning English: meet with my wife and me!

For over 3 months, we've been offering paid meetings over voice chat to English learners.

The original purpose was to help independent language learners maintain their motivation, which can be difficult when you're learning on your own.

However, we quickly noticed that these meetings helped the participants make HUGE progress in overcoming their fear of speaking!

"This makes it increasingly easy for me to overcome my anxiety associated with expressing myself in English. What's more - with each meeting I'm more motivated to continue learning English, which is why I encourage everyone who wants to learn this language to participate!"

-- Maciek (about our premium meetings - translated from Polish)

We meet twice a week in a small group for a one hour conversation in English.

We try to create the most supportive and friendly environment environment possible. We'll never laugh at you for making a mistake!

It only costs 11.87 PLN per meeting!

And if you join us on the premium meetings, you'll also get access to our English course Real Life in the USA for FREE (usually 49 PLN)!

Click here to learn more!

Conquer your fear!

Last week we talked about setting your language learning goals for 2013. If you still haven't decided on a goal, why not conquer your fear!

Are you afraid to speak the language you are learning? Or have you defeated it already? If so, how? If not, what's standing in your way? Please write a comment below!

Anonymous's picture

Yeah I've been suffering from this quite a lot. I've come to a point where my pronunciation of French words is enough to get me understood but I cannot overcome my speaking anxiety enough to actually talk to him. I instantaneously become flustered and can't get a word out. I am still working on French every day but I'd like to finally feel comfortable enough to take the wheel and try a conversation because I know after that point it will only get easier

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 11:41
David Snopek's picture

Thanks for sharing!

Yeah, absolutely! Once you get over your fear of speaking you'll have a whole lot of new learning opportunities and awesome experiences. :-) Please let me know how it goes!

Good luck!

Regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 13:23
Anonymous's picture

I ran into a funny situation last night. I realised that when I try to say french words while holding a conversation in English I tend to 'americanise' my pronounciation. The added idea that my pronounciation and accent are so off results in more speaking anxiety. It's like I can't switch my tongue to a more neutral or french accent without warming it up first.

On the bright side I did go to Quebec city two weeks ago and after my initial deer in headlights experiences with being surrounded by only francophones and wanting to cling to English(one who was particularly rude) I convinced myself that I would for at least one excursion overcome my anxiety to at least exchange some money at the bank. It took a lot of self pep talk beforehand and maybe it is only 2-3 phrases I had to come up with but I successfully managed to do the exchange only in French and ACTUALLY was understood.

Still anxious about speaking with my boyfriend (it's predominantly over skype) but I think that's more to do with expecting too much too soon of myself which makes the situation more stressful.

Posted by: Evelina (not verified) | Friday, January 25, 2013 - 10:13
David Snopek's picture

Hi Evelina!

Thanks for sharing your story. :-) I also have lots of problems with switching languages and it takes me some time to warm up to each language. I even need to time warm to English (my native language) after I've been speaking Polish for a while.

That's awesome about your experience in Quebec! If you keep slowly increasing the frequency and length of your French attempts, I'm sure you'll get there!

Having a boyfriend who speaks the language you're learning is a great motivation. ;-)

Best regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Sunday, January 27, 2013 - 13:25
Anonymous's picture

I found this thread by googling "tips to warm up quickly in a foreign language" . I have to go between English and Portuguese a lot & I need a minute to warm up in Portuguese. Then when I have to go back to English (I'm English) I seem to lose lots of words & continue speaking to English people in Portuguese! Like it takes time for the dictionary to load.

If it's just one other person then it's no issue - but if there are a few people you can suddenly forget everything!

Posted by: jakejake (not verified) | Monday, May 6, 2013 - 17:51
Anonymous's picture

Yup, completely agreed, I've been saying for years now that I think the single most useful resource for a language learner is a language exchange site (plus skype, of course).

You can even start off easy by sort of doing it "half way" by chatting with natives in Spanish first and then moving on to actually talking to them in real time via skype.

Great post, keep up the good work.

Cheers,
Andrew

Posted by: Andrew (not verified) | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 14:46
David Snopek's picture

Thanks, Andrew!

BTW, do you have a favorite language exchange website? I quick searched on your blog and couldn't find anything under "language exchange" (hint, hint - maybe it's time for an article! ;-)).

I'm always looking for more good ones to recommend.

Take care!
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 17:54
David Snopek's picture

Er, actually on second look it appears to be part of the "bribe" for signing up for your mailing list. :-) I never did it because I'm not learning Spanish, but I just decided to give it go out of curiosity.

Posted by: David Snopek | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 17:57
Anonymous's picture

Yup, I've been meaning to do an article on language exchanges for a long time now, it's just a time issue (I'm spending almost all my time right now on my book).

By far the best language exchange I've tried (and I've tried most of them) is iTalki, hands down. Seriously, go there first before you try anywhere else.

Cheers,
Andrew

Posted by: Andrew (not verified) | Thursday, January 10, 2013 - 21:22
David Snopek's picture

This contradicts what you just sent me in your e-mail autoresponder sequence. :-)

"1. The Mixxer - This is the largest, most popular, and, in my opinion, best language exchange site out there. Start with this one."

In any case, there were a few in the e-mail that I didn't know previously! Great stuff, thanks!

Regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Sunday, January 13, 2013 - 12:10
Anonymous's picture

Yup, that's old, I need to edit that. I need to update my whole e-mail series but I'm spending all my time on my book right now.

Cheers,
Andrew

Posted by: Andrew (not verified) | Monday, January 21, 2013 - 15:30
David Snopek's picture

Ah, do you have an estimated timeline for your book? I'd love to read it! If it's not too Spanish specific, I'd be happy to do a review here too. :-)

Good luck with your writing!

Best regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Monday, January 21, 2013 - 19:00
Anonymous's picture

Thanks so much David, I will definitely be looking for people (mostly fellow language learners) to review rough copies before it's published, I will definitely talk to you then.

No clue on when it'll be ready, a few months at least. The potential publication date keeps getting pushed back over and over as I find more stuff I want to add or change, haha.

Again, thank you, I mean it.

Cheers,
Andrew

Posted by: Andrew (not verified) | Monday, January 21, 2013 - 21:01
Anonymous's picture

A website I like using for language exchange is interpals.net. It's kind of like myspace for people interested in other cultures

Posted by: Eloise (not verified) | Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 18:52
Anonymous's picture

Great post!

Posted by: Jacob (not verified) | Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 12:53
David Snopek's picture

Thanks! Your blog looks interesting but unfortunately I don't speak Vietnamese. :-) So, I guess it's the Google Translate of your blog that looks interesting. ;-)

Take care!

Regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 14:20
Anonymous's picture

People always have the idea that you have to be in the country to speak to a native speaker, but technology has made it possible for us to sit at home and speak to a native whenever we want. You forgot to mention Verbling, this site has speaking practice on demand. Also I didn't know about Mumble before thanks for that.

Posted by: Jade (not verified) | Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 16:33
David Snopek's picture

Hi Jade!

Absolutely! BTW, I took a look at your blog - looks interesting! I love ninjas. :-) It's great that you have multiple contributors who are learning different languages. You can cover a lot of ground that way!

I've subscribed and I look forward to seeing your future post. :-)

Best regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, January 12, 2013 - 19:13
Anonymous's picture

Thanks and I've subscribed to your feeds too.

Posted by: Jade (not verified) | Sunday, January 13, 2013 - 13:39
Anonymous's picture

Great content, great blog and great teacher also !

Posted by: Simple English (not verified) | Friday, January 25, 2013 - 09:30
Anonymous's picture

[...] of course, all of my more advanced advice starts to apply to you! For example, how to get over your fear of speaking and how to practice speaking over the [...]

Anonymous's picture

Hi.

I`m not afraid to speak in english. I know a lot words and it`s make me confident. I do a lot of mistakes, but it`s not problem for me, beacause I`m still learning and I know the people can understand me. If I will be in England I will not have problem with communication. Does not scare me.

Posted by: Ada (not verified) | Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 10:56
David Snopek's picture

Hi Ada!

That's really great that you don't have a fear of speaking English! Congrats! I still have a fear of speaking Polish in certain situations. :-) But I'm good in most of them now.

Best regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 11:25
Anonymous's picture

If you want to be more confident and wise in learning foreign languages you must first know the purpose of learning. Learn Bahasa Indonesia Ubud is good for me which I am able to interact with the locals effectively. However, learning bahasa you’ll be a bit particular with accents and stresses on each word.

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 02:03
Anonymous's picture

If you are going to learn other languages you must be confident enough and know the reason why you are going to learn a certain language. I have my Ubud Indonesian teacher where instructors are very passionate to teach their students about Bahasa Indonesia. Through this, I’ve learn a lot especially the correct use of grammar, phrases, and vocabularies and also in speaking wherein I am able to communicate with others.

Posted by: Nancie Baxter (not verified) | Sunday, April 14, 2013 - 22:35
Anonymous's picture

Really nice article!

I agree with your Skype/Mumble/Internet advice for people afraid of speaking, my mom is a living example. Twice per week she has a Polish-Russian conversation hour with a friend from Moscow and since then her (and his) fear of speaking reduced a lot.

For me, on the other hand, it works way better to go abroad and practice there. I have a strong phobia/hatred towards all kinds of voice devices/programs - phones, Skype etc. etc. I barely talk to my own husband when he goes abroad, so you can imagine how much I avoid talking on the phone ;) But - going abroad and talking to people on the streets works just fine for me, though with every new language it's a challenge repeating :)

Posted by: Guarana (not verified) | Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 08:53
Anonymous's picture

Cześć David,

odkryłam Twój blog niedawno i przyznam, że jestem pod wrażeniem Twojej osoby :) Twój optymizm jest zaraźliwy. Potrafisz swoimi artykułami dodać otuchy osobom, które straciły już nadzieję, że kiedykolwiek opanują angielski. Ja bardzo dobrze mówię w języku niemieckim i szczerze mówiąc nauczyłam się go bez problemów. Niestety znajomość niemieckiego przeszkadza mi w nauce angielskiego. Zawsze gdy próbuję ułożyć zdanie w języku angielskim, wychodzi mi jakaś mieszanka niemieckiego z angielskim. Masakra!

Nigdy nie doświadczyłam strachu oprzed mówieniem w języku niemieckim. Zawsze wychodziłam z założenia, że mam prawo popełniać błędy ponieważ jestem obcokrajowcem. Z angielskim jest inaczej. Boję się mówić, bo wydaje mi się, że jest to tak popularny język, że absolutnie wszyscy się nim posługują, tylko nie ja ! Oczywiście wiem, że to nie jest prawda ale i tak nie potrafię się przełamać.

Myślę też, że obcokrajowcy uczący się języka polskiego są w lepszej sytuacji niż Polacy uczący się angielskiego. Jesteśmy zakompleksieni. Polski nie jest językiem popularnym, dlatego każdy obcokrajowiec uczący się polskiego... schlebia nam. Z tego powodu wykazujemy życzliwość i zrozumienie w stosunku do osób robiących błędy. Myślę, żę Polak próbujący mówić w języku angielskim, nie zawsze może liczyć na takie zrozumienie.

Best regards!
Joanna

Posted by: Joanna (not verified) | Saturday, December 21, 2013 - 09:36
David Snopek's picture

Cześć Joanna!

Dziękuję bardzo za miłe słowa. :-)

Myślę, że każdy może się liczyć na wsparcie od native speakerów języka, którego się uczymy. Jeśli Polak (albo ktokolwiek inny) rozmawia po angielsku z Amerykaninem, ten pokaże mu życzliwość i zrozumienie. Uwierz mi! Nigdy nie słyszałem o przeciwnej sytuacji i rozmawiam z wieloma osobami uczącymi się różnych języków.

(No, może z jednym małym wyjątkiem: słyszałem, jak uczniowie języka francuskiego skarżyli na Paryżan ale mówią, że inni Francuzi są w porządku. ;-))

Pozdrawiam serdecznie,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Friday, December 27, 2013 - 22:13
Anonymous's picture

I have a huge fear of speaking Russian language to my boyfriend. I have studied Russian for a year so we could move together, but I can't even say the most simple words to him out loud. It took an hour for me to say a list of 5 words to him. This problem is with him and my family alone, I have no troubles to speak Russian to my teacher or my fellow students!
Irritating problem, which I am trying to get over but nothing seems to help. :(

Posted by: Tanja (not verified) | Monday, January 6, 2014 - 18:26
David Snopek's picture

It can be very difficult to speak with people whose opinion we care a lot about. Frequently, people will have a fear of speaking with native speakers, but not others. Anyway, it's easy to understand why you might have a fear of speaking with your boyfriend. :-) You obviously value his opinion!

I recommend speaking as much as possible with people you are comfortable with. Then, slowly, start speaking with people you feel a little unconformtable with. Once you start feeling more comfortable with them, find more people your a little uncomfortable speaking with and so on. It could take you a while to get to where you can speak with your boyfriend - but it will happen!

I hope that helps!

Best regards,
David.

Posted by: David Snopek | Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 12:29
Anonymous's picture

I'll try this and do my best, thank you!

Posted by: Tanja (not verified) | Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 13:08

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