The reason why we learn a foreign language is so that we can speak and yet it is also the part that terrifies us the most and so becomes the least practised skill.
I am not generally a nervous person and once I get to know people, I am really quite outgoing BUT in those initial stages I am very much the introvert.
I also have a very embarrassing issue. When I am in a very stressful situation I break into cold sweats. In the past it’s been things like my driving test, interviews, presentations – that sort of thing. We all do in these situations though right? Not like this, what I am talking about has much more in common with Niagara Falls and when I started language learning, I discovered that speaking my target language had the same effect too.
Why am I telling you about such a disgusting flaw? Overcoming shyness when you start out feels immense and when there is such a visible sign to your speaking partner then that feeling is magnified. With me, the thought of speaking with a native was almost enough to induce a panic attack.
I don’t tell you this to scare you but I am hoping that at least one person is reading this and nodding as they go. Here is the thing though – now I don’t suffer at all, I love speaking in my target language and look forward to my language exchanges.
It wasn’t an overnight change but it also didn’t take a long time and it wasn’t nearly as petrifying as I imagined.
I’ve read many blogs that say to speak from day 1 and I agree with the whole philosophy, I really do but I just couldn’t.
So how did I overcome it? Easy, I cheated!
Keep reading and I will share with you the process I followed to overcome fear completely.
7 Steps to Overcoming Your Fear
Step 1 – Find a teacher
…but you just said…
I know, I know – don’t panic just yet. The speaking part comes later. Keep reading.
Use a service like iTalki to find a teacher. If you have never heard of iTalki, it’s a site that allows you to find teachers and tutors in a huge number of languages and schedule online lessons at a fraction of the cost of mainstream lessons.
If you are just starting out in a language then it’s much better to select a teacher rather than a tutor as they will provide the structured lessons that you need at this stage.
Read the teacher profiles, watch the video intros and read the feedback. When you have found a teacher that you think you might click with, move on to step 2.
Step 2 – Contact the teacher
Tell them why you are learning, tell them how you feel and, this is the important point, ask them if they would be prepared to send you the lesson materials the day before your lesson so you have a chance to look it over.
Once you find a suitable teacher that agrees, book a lesson. Don’t think about it, just do it now.
Step 3 – Find a tutor
What? But I just found a teacher, why do I need a tutor too?
Keep reading, it will become clear shortly (trust me!)
Follow the same process of checking profiles, videos and reviews like you did for the professional teacher in step one but this time look for an informal tutor. Most are aspiring teachers that are either not yet qualified or just starting out, but that’s OK. Book a 30 minute lesson.
Step 4 – Study the materials your teacher sent you
One of the reasons for panic and fear is the unknown – if you know the materials you are about to cover, you have already lessened that somewhat. Don’t worry if you can’t completely follow the materials, that’s what the teacher is for. This is just to familiarize yourself with what you are about to do so you are not put on the spot.
Step 5 – Have the lesson with your teacher
You’ve booked the lesson, you have studied the materials, now it’s time to take the plunge.
Forget that knot in your stomach, this will be much much easier than you think it will be. Paid teachers deal with this sort of thing all the time and are very good at putting you at ease.
Fight the urge to study the materials immediately before the lesson too. The key here is to put yourself at ease before it starts, not to frantically study. What I do is listen to calm music in my target language for 15 minutes before the lesson starts. This helps to tune my ears to the sounds of the language in a completely non-stressful way.
Also, don’t worry about speaking in English, that’s allowed at this stage too. The idea here is to get to know your teacher a little and speak at least a little in your target language. Most teachers are exceptionally good and you will end up speaking much more than you think.
Step 6 – Study the materials again
After the lesson, go through the materials again. This will consolidate the lesson and next time, it will come to mind so much easier. Focus on anything that you had difficulty with in the lesson with your teacher.
If you feel that you need more practice without the stress, practice in a mirror. I’ll admit it feels a little silly to start with but it is good practice.
Step 7 – Have the lesson with your tutor
In this lesson, all you are looking to do is practice what you have learned so far. You’ve studied it quite a bit now and already practised speaking it. By the time you have finished this lesson, you will already be starting to feel much more comfortable.
That’s it! If you have followed my process then you will have had not one but two conversations already. Well done, you are awesome. Take a bow and a huge virtual pat on the back from me, I am very very proud of you!!.
This process worked for me time and time again until I was comfortable – now I don’t even have structured lessons at all, I just tell my tutor what I want to talk about and, guess what, you can get there too!
Don’t believe me? Try it even if it’s just to prove me wrong!