Many language learners feel a certain level of anxiety when it comes to actually speaking in the foreign language. You may be worried that you’ll look foolish if you make a mistake. Perhaps you’re concerned with not being understood.
Here are three strategies to help you overcome foreign language speaking anxiety.
1. Stick to what you know. When you already know one language, it can be a challenge trying to get your ideas across in another language, especially if you only know a few hundred words in that language. It’s easy for language learners to start talking about a topic and then quickly realize that they’ve run out of vocabulary!
Before they know it, learners have worked themselves into a corner, anxious because now they need to admit that they’ve no idea what’s going on in the conversation.
While this kind of embarrassing situation happens to all language learners, it can make you hesitant to go out and try interacting with native speakers.
One strategy is to stick with the topics you know. If you have 500 words, use those 500 words to do the best you can with your language skills. Talk around the message you’re trying to convey and stick to that message.
2. Find a sympathetic partner. Find a speaking partner or native speaker who is patient and willing to help you practice your language. It can be intimidating to speak with native speakers who are unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives and unwilling to work with you to try to understand your message. A speaking partner who is learning the same language you’re studying is a great way to practice. You are free to make mistakes that are low-risk for your self-esteem.
3. Rehearse. We frequently rehearse speaking situations in our first language, but don’t think of it as rehearsing. Before you go to look at an apartment, you make a list of questions you want to ask the realtor. Before you go to the doctor, you make a list of symptoms you want to discuss. Before you go to a meeting, you jot down notes about what you need to tell everyone. This is rehearsing.
Make rehearsing a habit in your second language! Before you go to catch a cab, practice your lines. Rehearsing is a great way to boost your confidence.
Summing up, if you’re dealing with speaking anxiety, try limiting yourself to the topics you know well and avoid situations that exacerbate your feelings of helplessness. Find a sympathetic speaking partner with whom you’re comfortable enough to make mistakes. Finally, take advantage of opportunities to rehearse whenever you can. With these three strategies, you’ll be well on your way to speaking in your second language with confidence!