It’s not very uncommon for second-language speakers to hesitate when it comes to using what they’ve learned. This is especially true for beginners (especially beginners undertaking language immersion) who have had very limited experience using the language in real-world interactions.
Some of it is due to each individual’s inherent shyness. Some people just aren’t comfortable in social situations, much less ones involving a language they’ve only been practicing for the last month. If socializing alone causes you anxiety, we’re guessing the addition of a foreign language isn’t going to help you any.
Shyness aside, there are other reasons why people can be hesitant to use a new language. Most of the time, it comes down a lack of confidence. Since you’re not yet competent in the language and you’re all too aware of it, you don’t have the confidence to make use of it, either.
Why You’re Incompetent
We’re not being harsh, we’re being real. There are many reasons why you’re incompetent. Maybe your vocabulary is too limited, your accent is too thick, your tone is all over the place, your sentences are incomprehensible, your pronunciation sounds like a robot and so on. None of that, however, is not to be expected, especially during the early stages of learning a new language.
Your language skills suck not because you’re any less of an intelligent and capable individual. Instead, they’re at that point simply because you’re new to the language. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
You Will Get Better
If you continue sitting through your lessons and doing the prescribed practice sessions, you will eventually get better. And that comes with time. For now, though, you should not let your lack of ability keep you from interacting with the target language — it’s a crucial move that can really boost your development, helping you reach that next level.
The better your competence grows, the more your confidence will be built. In the meantime, you’ll need to swallow your pride and do what you can to muster up the courage to use the language even in your own inadequate way.
1. Fake it till you make it. Nobody’s ever really confident doing something the first few times. But you do it anyway. Chances are, you’re faking confidence, telling yourself you can do something even though, deep down, you’re really unsure. The same kind of behavior and attitude can help you get over your speaking anxieties, too. Sure, the fear and apprehension will still be there, but you can have the ability to act like it isn’t.
2. Don’t think the worst of people. The truth is, most people will be appreciative of your efforts to communicate with them in their native language. In fact, more than a handful of the individuals you attempt to interact with will not just respond positively, they’ll even make a few small gestures to help you out, like correcting your word choice, showing you the right pronunciation and pointing out other things you can do better for next time. As such, don’t go in with the expectation that people will be rude. While you will encounter those individuals, they’re usually rude for their own reasons that have nothing to do with you. Maybe they’re late for work, engrossed in their own problems or just in a downright bad mood. There are, literally, thousands of possible reasons for it, none of which involve your attempts at using the target language.
Even better, try putting yourself in those people’s positions. When a non-native English speaker attempts to ask you something at the airport, do you gladly help them you out? Or do you snicker because they’re speaking English so badly? Chances are, you do the former. Now, just realize that most people are exactly the same way.
3. Take a deep breath before you speak. I know, it sounds cliché, but it remains very effective. A single deep breath can clear out nervousness temporarily, allowing you to speak out loud in a coherent manner. Deep breathing is one of the simplest yet most effective temporary relaxation methods out there — use it to your advantage.
4. Prepare yourself before talking to someone. Remember, this is still a foreign language to you, so you’ll need to regroup your thoughts every time you’re going to use it. Before approaching someone, try to come up with ideas about what you’re going to say in your head. That way, you can rehearse it mentally and have it come out audible when you do speak. Even if you form a wrong sentence, they can, at least, understand what you’re saying and maybe even figure things out from there.
Make sure to take mental notes (or physical notes) of the responses you do get. Those should tell you where to focus on next time, so you can learn new vocabulary that will actually be practical in your current use of the language.
5. Rehearse at home. When practicing phrases and sentences at home, try to imagine yourself talking to people the way you would in real-life. Imagine them responding and respond accordingly. This is the equivalent of shadow-boxing — it can help prepare you for the real thing. Do note: don’t get too comfortable with this. Too many language learners rely solely on rehearsals for their practice that their actual real-life skills end up stagnating. Rehearsals are great as preparation for the really, but it’s actually going out to use the language that can really build your confidence.
You Can Beat Anxiety
Getting over anxiety and using the language, for the most part, is all about intent and execution. Make it your goal to use the language at specific times and follow through.
Will you mess up? Probably. Will you say potentially embarrassing things? On occasion. Will you come out of each interaction alive and well? Most definitely.
Using a target language isn’t a life or death situation. In fact, it’s not even remotely dangerous one, so there’s no real threat other than a temporary slight in your ego. If you can get past that, then you open yourself up to a whole new world of learning — one that will really serve you well in your language learning journey.