You walk into a café. You notice a group of locals. They’re sitting at the table, chatting in their native foreign language. It’s the one you’ve been trying to study for months. You think, “Do I approach the table?” Anxiety when speaking a foreign language kicks in. Your heart starts pounding. Your palms are clammy. How do you overcome it?
It’s too late. Your friend is with the group, and they’ve noticed you. They’re smiling and waving at you, prompting you to go over there. You know that you’re about to face the challenge of speaking the foreign language you’ve been practicing. The moment comes. There are friendly greetings. But your mind goes blank. The foreign language you thought you knew better just doesn’t come. And you need to start speaking it.
Does this scenario, or another like it, sound familiar? If it does, you’ve experienced foreign language anxiety.
The good news is that, here at Taalhammer, we completely understand. And we’ve got some top tips for gaining newfound confidence.
- What is Anxiety When Speaking Foreign Language?
- Causes of Anxiety in Language Learning
- 7 Ways to Overcome Your Anxiety of Speaking a Foreign Language
What is Anxiety When Speaking Foreign Language?
Foreign language anxiety, also known as xenoglossophobia, is the fear of speaking a foreign language. It refers to the feelings of anxiety that a person might experience when forced to speak a foreign language. This anxiety has happened to almost every language learner at some point.
It’s a problem shared by people throughout the world who communicate in a language that is not their native tongue, and it can become a massive obstacle to learning. That’s because it effectively stops you from communicating.
Consider this. Your mind becomes flooded with grammar rules. You desperately try to remember the correct pronunciation. Your heart rate is high. You feel your cheeks turning pink and you freeze. You can no longer process the language coming your way from the other speaker. And as speaking requires listening and responding, you can quickly fall behind in a conversation.
Whether you get anxiety when speaking a foreign language or you’re learning in general, the anxiety you experience can be overwhelming.
Foreign language anxiety can also:
- Discourage you from communicating in a foreign language
- Cause you to avoid situations where you might have to speak the foreign language
- Make you experience other anxiety-related disorders such as panic attacks
- Make you believe that you don’t have the talent needed to learn a language
- Make you lose motivation for learning, so you give it up.
Causes of Anxiety in Language Learning
Communicating in a new language can be particularly anxiety-inducing because you naturally want to succeed. Keep in mind, it’s completely normal to experience anxiety at any stage of your learning journey. What’s important is to understand why you are experiencing this anxiety in the first place. Once you know the cause(s), you can start to look for solutions.
Here are some of the main causes of anxiety in learning a language, with simple tips to help you overcome them.
Fear of Being Judged
If we are quick to judge ourselves, it follows that we may also think others are judging us. Learning a new language takes a lot of time, effort, and confidence to speak. And sometimes we let our pride get in the way after all the hard work we’ve put into studying.
Often, people who experience foreign language anxiety are afraid of being judged. It’s a common experience to feel judged by those to whom we’re trying to speak – especially if they’re native speakers of the language.
“What if they think my pronunciation is bad? I can only speak in the present tense. They’ll think I speak like a child.” They might also be worried that other people are eavesdropping and laughing about any mistakes they have made. In reality, it’s usually the opposite. When you are speaking a foreign language, you are taking a risk and you are showing you are talented enough to communicate outside your native tongue. Native speakers like you because you are taking a genuine interest in their culture.
The truth is that communicating in your non-native language will make you feel vulnerable. A great tip is to realize that in order to succeed, you must find a way to be OK with your vulnerability. Then you’ll be ready to make mistakes and make progress in your language-learning journey. There is just no way to learn a language.
Fear of Saying Something Embarrassing
We’ve all heard horror stories of people saying the wrong words and ending up in comical situations – like the proverbial Asian minister who, during a speech after winning elections, thanked the audience for their “erection” instead of “election”. This happened because most Asians do not use the distinction between “r” and “l”.
As a language learner, it can be difficult to put yourself out there, especially if you’re only starting out on your learning journey. Anxiety becomes a voice in your head that can prevent you from speaking. It’s easy to dwell on something embarrassing you said or even reminisce on a comment someone made about your accent.
One of the best tips we can give you is to remember that you’re doing the best that you can and making an occasional embarrassing mistake is all part of the process.
Sure, you may be learning the dubbed version of your favorite TV show, or maybe you’ve been able to communicate with a new friend over text with the help of Google Translate, but what happens when you need to put your new language skills into practice in the real world?
We all need to communicate to complete everyday tasks such as ordering a coffee, buying a bus ticket, or asking for directions. These are situations that occur on a regular basis, but many language learners fail to prepare for them and let their anxiety get the better of them.
The bus pulls up, the queue becomes shorter, and the phrase “single ticket” has slipped their mind. Anxiety takes over and “Do you speak English?” are the only words that will come out. This is a classic example of not preparing for everyday scenarios.
With some simple preparation, the anxiety of this situation can be avoided. The more you practice the language you’re learning, the less likely you are to forget simple words that you use in everyday life, and so your anxiety will be lessened.
That’s where Taalhammer can help. With Taalhammer you can add your own content centered around your life and activities. Our curated curriculum will teach you all the necessities of a language. Taalhammer will prevent you from feeling unprepared by preparing you to use the language effectively in everyday situations.
Taalhammer also uses smart repetitions to give you one powerful, challenging language memory workout. That way it will be easier for you to find the right words and phrases, even if it gets stressful.
Not Being Understood Correctly
When learning a language, the only thing worse than not understanding someone when they’re talking to you is feeling that they do not understand you when you respond. You say something and the listener looks at you in a confused way and responds, “Huh?”
This is linked to not accepting that, as learners, it’s normal to have difficulty expressing our thoughts, to not use the right words, and to have poor pronunciation in our target language.
When this anxiety of not being understood takes over, we tend to freeze and reach a mental block, causing us to feel like our skills are not good enough to communicate and making us lose confidence in our abilities.
Not Practicing Full Sentences
Anyone who has learned a new language has at times felt they don’t have the words they need to express themselves. Vocabulary is the most basic element of a language, as without the necessary words there’s not much you can do (or say). Not being able to express yourself can cause you to feel frustrated and hamper your ability to communicate effectively.
But a common misconception is that learning only vocabulary will make you speak. You hope that you will learn a list of words, and then, during conversations, that you will somehow manage to build sentences by combining them. Everybody who has tried this knows that it usually does not work. What you need to do is practice not only words in isolation, but also full sentences, optimally those that use the words in context. This works especially well if the sentences you are learning are variations of each other, like questions, negations etc.
7 Ways to Overcome Your Anxiety of Speaking a Foreign Language
Overcoming your fear of speaking in a foreign language requires actionable steps. Thankfully, there are some tips, tricks, and tested methods for doing so.
We’ve seen many people overcome their fear of speaking and practicing another language. Here are our 7 tips for overcoming that anxiety and blowing people away with your confidence.
Identify your Fear
Our brains are programmed to be constantly on the lookout for threats. So it’s important to know what it is about speaking a foreign language you’re learning that triggers your anxiety. Take a step back and think about what it is that scares you the most and when your anxiety is at its highest.
The source of anxiety differs from person to person; while you might find the idea of not being understood the most nerve-wracking, another person may be afraid of making too many grammatical errors. When you pinpoint what it is that makes you anxious, you can focus your efforts on overcoming your fear of speaking a foreign language.
Learn Conversation Starters
The best way to practice your foreign language skills and get over your anxiety is by talking to other people. However, finding a topic that will start a conversation can be challenging. Preparing some conversation starters is a great way to open a conversation while discussing a topic that you are familiar with.
Memorize short dialogues and try to make each part of the dialogue as realistic as possible. Imagine what you will say to the person and the possible responses they may have. To prepare, you can read up on topics that interest you and listen to audio recordings or videos; this will help you to develop the necessary vocabulary to talk about the things you are interested in. One tip from polyglots is also to write down words and phrases in the language you’re learning from hypothetical situations that you may encounter in your life.
Start by speaking to one person at a time
If your foreign language anxiety stems from having to talk in front of a group of people, you’re not alone. One of our top tips to overcome this fear is to start by speaking to just one person.
Practice conversations with another learner, a teacher, a tutor, or a friendly local, if you are in a country where the language is being spoken. Learning a language is a perfect opportunity to start a conversation. And it doesn’t always matter whether the person fully understands everything you say; the key is to practice until you feel more confident in your speaking abilities.
If you stumble over your words or say something incorrectly, it’s much easier to get over your anxiety in front of one person. Having one-on-one conversations will help build your confidence and get you ready to speak in front of a group.
Accept Making Mistakes
Just remember, nobody is perfect. Even natives make mistakes too.
It really doesn’t matter whether you are speaking flawlessly or applying every single grammar rule that you’ve studied. The most important thing when having a conversation in a foreign language is that you can communicate with the people around you and be understood.
Most native speakers will be happy that you are making an effort and will focus on the message rather than the mistakes you make.
By accepting that mistakes are part of the process and that you cannot become fluent without making them, you will start to feel less anxiety when you realize you have said something the wrong way. And if you notice the mistake, even better. Next time you will remember the error and not make it again.
While making mistakes is an inevitable and necessary part of the language-learning process, Taalhammer can help you quickly reduce them. Taalhammer uses a custom version of the spaced repetition algorithm. This means you get a memory workout and cement what you’re learning for easy language recall and fewer mistakes made later.
Be an Active Listener
If practicing your language skills stresses you out and sends your anxiety into overdrive, you don’t have to put yourself under pressure to talk right away. When it comes to learning a language, you don’t even have to speak. You can be in a group and not talk.
We learn most of a new language by listening, but many new learners overlook this. You don’t always have to be engaging in the conversation, because sometimes being quiet and active listening is more valuable than anything. By eavesdropping on conversations, listening to songs, or watching TV in your target language, you will train your ears to pick up sentences and phrases so you can use them more naturally in your daily conversations.
Surround Yourself with Supportive People
You’ll likely find it easier to express yourself in a language if you surround yourself with supportive people. When you feel comfortable, it doesn’t matter if your skills are perfect or if you make mistakes, as you will not be criticized or ridiculed.
Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone to practice with. There are many ways to meet others who are passionate about languages. Try to find local events or exchanges, or reach out to the ex-pat community where you live.
Practice, practice, practice
Anxiety is inevitable when trying to learn a foreign language, especially if it’s one you only occasionally use.
Whatever tips and methods you use, the truth is that the best results when speaking a foreign language come from one thing: practice. You become good at what you do regularly. So if you want to speak well, you must do this. The more you speak, the more sentences will naturally form in your mind and the less anxiety you will experience. If you realize you made a mistake, just continue, because practice is the most important aspect of your foreign language learning journey.
If you aren’t ready to test out your language skills in public yet, practice conversations with yourself using techniques like shadowing. This is where you imitate the person speaking in a video or audio recording.
Taalhammer’s Listening Mode has been designed to support you in training your ear. It’ll help you imitate your target language in the most effective way possible. Just press play and listen to the words and phrases that are interesting to you. This includes the words and phrases you’re able to curate inside the app. Just repeat what you hear and have fun. With time, Listening Mode will help you memorize and naturally and flawlessly use the words and phrases you learn in a conversation.
- researchgate.net Xenoglossophobia among Second Language Learners