“I did learn a foreign language, but am still scared to speak in it”
It’s a clear case of xenoglossophobia, whether you heard it from someone or it’s you. It’s nothing to be concerned about: feeling anxious about learning a foreign language is a common problem. Many of us have experienced this at least once in our lives, most likely when we had to take a second language as a requirement for graduation in high school or college.
Moreover, given that this is a common problem, why are there people who can jump right into language learning, possess confidence in holding conversations with poor vocabulary, and do so after only a few months of study?
Most of the time, it’s as simple as this: you have a societal preconception and “assume” the language is difficult even before you begin. Having said that, there are numerous approaches you can take to overcome your fear of foreign languages. The first step is to identify which part of the puzzle you are having trouble with and focus on improving that skill.
Here are 3 major language learning fears
ISSUE 1: I can’t seem to muster the courage to say it.
The vast majority of people learn a language in order to communicate with others. Most learners, however, struggle more with talking than any other aspect of language learning (i.e. listening, reading, and writing), and they may spend many years learning it but never reach the point where they can have a decent conversation with a native speaker. The main reason for this is that speaking occurs in real-time.
Perfect practise makes perfect. This is especially true in language learning, which is an ongoing thing that necessitates frequent review and brushing up. Participate in language conversations and exchange groups with people who share your interests and are facing similar challenges. This way, you won’t feel isolated and will have a support group to lean on when you’re frustrated.
Speaking in a foreign language can be intimidating because you are unfamiliar with the vocabulary and sentence structures (particularly when they are very distinct from your native language), but then in order to reach the phase of basic communication, you must begin somewhere, so why not start now?
Dialogue with a native speaker is a two-way lane, which means you must not only construct sentences but also understand what is said back to you. These are two skills that should ideally be developed at the same level, as frustrations in one will affect your confidence in the other. That introduces us to the next point, which is to listen.
ISSUE 2: Sometimes unless I can speak, I can’t understand what is said back to me.
For some people, the issue is not so much with speaking as it is with comprehension what is being said. This is very likely, especially if you’re still in the beginner stage and your brain isn’t used to processing incoming foreign words. Even within the same language, different people speak with different accents, tones, and speeds.
To keep the momentum going, introduce yourself to your target language every day. Spending 20 minutes per day is preferable to working long hours once every 2-3 weeks.
Language exposure is now possible without having to travel to the country where your target language is spoken. YouTube, online podcasts, and radio channels are excellent starting points for listening practises, and you can choose the one that best suits your skill level. Even if you’re only a beginner, it’s perfectly fine to listen to more advanced resources, such as the news. You may not understand much of what is going on, but simply becoming acquainted with “the sounds of the language” may benefit you immensely in the long run in terms of phonetics, language structure, and stress relief.
The point to remember is to try to diversify your listening resources, because you may become accustomed to one or two people’s speech, but when you listen to a different speaker, you must re-adjust. Expose yourself to a variety of speakers so that your ears become more accustomed to processing different types of speeches.
ISSUE 3: I need to be completely technically accurate and wait for the “ideal” moment before speaking
Everyone knows it’s unrealistic just by reading the title (even in your native language!). If you’re a perfectionist, give yourself a break: it’s completely normal to make mistakes from time to time: language is constantly changing and evolving, and it’s also important to remember that many factors can influence your speech, such as being in a bad mood or feeling exhausted after a long day at work.
But nevertheless, many people who never had the chance to speak their target language will indeed secretly admit that this is precisely why they avoided speaking for so long.
Unidentified words, unfamiliar grammar structures, and foreign pronunciations all contribute to the reasons why people are afraid of languages. Foreign language anxiety and the willingness for perfection are two of the most formidable adversaries in language learning. According to research, the two main reasons we are uncomfortable talking in front of other people are anxiety and fear of negative evaluation.
The first thing to understand is that you are not alone. Anyone learning a foreign language will feel the same way, and this is also true for expert language learners. Unless someone can speak multiple languages convincingly well, when it comes to learning a new language, they will have to start from scratch, causing the same anxiety. The reason they “appear to” have less anxiety is that language learning, like any other skill we learn in life, becomes easier with practise. They understand that feeling anxious is a normal part of the process, and that the more you force yourself outside of your safety zone, the faster you will adapt.
Moreover, you will never be ready to converse a language at a high level unless you first speak a “broken” version of it. It may be extremely frustrating at first because you will be unable to fully express your thoughts and emotions, but as you practise and make mistakes in the process (which you will! ), you will quickly progress and begin to grasp what expert language learners refer to as “the feel” or “the sense” of the language. So, instead of overthinking it, merely take the big step forth and begin practising. The rest will fall into place as you go.
Aiming for perfection is beneficial because it motivates you to produce better results. But nevertheless, if being a control freak prevents you from taking the first step toward speaking and practising a language, it will only stymie your learning process.
So, begin speaking, make mistakes, and as you practise and use more of your target language conversing with native speakers, you’ll notice that our brain cells have the intriguing capacity to innately correct our mistakes along the way. By the time you realise this, you will already be fluent in your target language!
Are you up for the challenge of learning a new language? Here you can select your language.