How you can conquer your fear of speaking in a foreign language

Fear of speaking in a foreign language is quite common, especially if you don’t have much experience with the language you are trying to master. It can make you feel embarrassed as a result of the mistakes you are bound to make. It can also lose you clients or new projects, and allow your competitors to take advantage.

Before you know it, the situation worsens, you become anxious about speaking in another language and avoid those situations entirely. This behaviour not only inhibits your business development but your own personal development too.

Why is this so?

Fear is an emotion and a feeling. Emotions such as fear, anger, happiness, sadness, disgust and surprise are located deep inside our brains and we’re not able to easily switch them off. They occur spontaneously, depending on the circumstances and your thoughts. This is a big plus because what if you never felt scared or nervous? You would never run from danger, often fail exams and not progress up the career ladder. In short, emotions are useful.

Back to the fear of speaking in a foreign language. What does fear tell us? It tells us that we have to take action to dismiss the fear. If a speeding car races towards you, you intuitively get out of its way. In this instance, fear directs action and happens unconsciously and in a split second.

When speaking a foreign language it works a little differently. The fear still lets you know you need to act to combat your fear, but it’s no longer intuitive action that’s needed. On the contrary, you need to use the conscious part of your brain. This is a big plus because it means there is something you can do to conquer your fear, namely: change the thoughts that lead to these unpleasant feelings of fear. Incidentally, we have cognitive psychology research to thank for these insights.

What can you do?

You have three options:

1) never speak a foreign language again;

2) improve your language skills so you make fewer mistakes and

3) change the way you think.

If you’re interested in self-improvement, choose a combination of options 2 and 3. You may be thinking, okay, if I make fewer mistakes I will lose my fear of speaking.

It sounds simple, but in practice fear of speaking in a foreign language is deeply ingrained and hard to shake. You can of course learn words to expand your vocabulary and drill the grammar rules repeatedly, (although we don’t really do ‘drills’ at DNA Languages) which will no doubt improve your communicative skills, but that fear of speaking will continue to plague you.

How do you learn to confidently speak a foreign language?

Let’s first look back at option 3 – change the way you think.

Know this: a serious conversation partner will never laugh at you for making a mistake. Quite the opposite as people appreciate it when you try to speak to them in their own language. In most cases they will try and help you when you speak and will applaud your successes, not your mistakes.

What’s more, people learn from their mistakes. That’s just the way things work. You tend to not make the same mistake twice and you benefit from earlier experiences, both positive and negative.

Sounds good, right?

But there’s one other thing you need to know and it concerns option 2 – improve your language skills, specifically when it comes to learning new words. It’s a fact that the top 1000 words in a foreign language account for 85% of a normal conversation. Learn these, add some industry jargon and you’re all set. It’s absolutely not necessary to learn the contents of a dictionary by heart. The more you speak, the better you remember the words you use making it quicker and easier to find the right words at the right time. Speaking a language is therefore extremely important.

Stay focused on your target of learning to speak another language. You will without a doubt reap the benefits.

I have a couple of practical tips for you:

Try and spend a couple of minutes each day having a chat with an imaginary partner in your target language. Do this out loud. Visualise having a conversation with someone and talk to them. By doing this you get used to the sentence word order and get to practise your new vocabulary and sayings. This in turn allows the language to become more automated thus improving your language skills and your self-confidence.

Write down common sentences and use this list as a cheat sheet. Make notes on how to ask someone to speak more slowly, or how to say you didn’t quite understand. Write down the sentences needed to introduce yourself, or how to start and end a phone call. The act of writing things down will help you to remember.

Find a native speaker to talk to. It could be someone within your network or it could be a professional language trainer. The latter is a specialist who knows how to get you talking using practical examples from your daily life. A trainer can help you with the right pronunciation and grammar usage and provides constructive feedback when necessary, which is of immeasurable value. And, you can always rely on your trainer to be as dedicated as you are.

What are the costs and benefits of a professional language trainer

You may be a little concerned about the costs involved in working with a professional language trainer. Bear in mind that it is certainly a worthwhile investment that will start to pay off within a few weeks. The benefits of learning to speak with ease in your target language are endless. For example, closing deals becomes easier, self-confidence when speaking on the phone and in meetings increases, your tasks are completed more efficiently etc.

DNA Languages has successfully helped numerous professionals with their foreign language acquisition. We can help you too!

Would you like more information, or would you like to talk to us about your speaking skills in the foreign language of your choice?

Call or e-mail Anneke Siemons

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