How to Overcome the Fear of Speaking a Foreign Language? Have you ever heard people saying that they would like to speak a new language but they are afraid of making mistakes? Have you ever been afraid of making mistakes with a new language?
I always remember the English lessons from one English course at high school. I was probably 17-18 years old and I had always done very well at school. Now we had an English course where we needed to speak English in 4-person groups.
In my group, all 3 persons had the best grade in English = 10 on a scale 4-10. My grade was only 7 so it was obvious that I couldn’t speak English as good as those other three students in my group. I was nervous before those lessons because I knew that I should speak English there. After the course, I felt relieved and I thought that I am never forced to speak English again if I don’t want.
When I look back at those experiences, it seems a bit hilarious. How was I so nervous? It was just a learning environment. The way I look at speaking foreign languages has dramatically changed since then.
How Did the Fear Disappear?
I found the guy on the Internet called Benny Lewis. His Fluent in 3 Months methods completely changed the way I was looking at language learning. I learned at school that making mistakes was a bad thing. If you did a mistake in a test, the teacher immediately corrected it with a big red pen so you will clearly see it.
When a teacher asked a question from the class and some of the students gave the wrong answer, the rest of the class laughed at him. That’s what I learned at school about making mistakes. (Of course, I am a little bit exaggerating here to make the point.)
Then Benny Lewis came and said, “Making mistakes is a key to learning languages. The more mistakes you make the more you learn. I set myself a goal to make at least 100 mistakes every day with a new language. Nowadays I speak 13 languages fluently.” Woah!
That’s a totally different approach that I learnt at school. But it sounded very wise and some success coaches said that making mistakes is a path to success. Instead of being afraid of making mistakes, you should embrace mistakes as a learning experience. Mistakes are the proof that you are trying.
I wasn’t afraid of speaking a new language anymore.
A Baby Learns to Speak
Do you have kids? Or do you know children of your relatives of your close friends? I bet that all of us have seen little a little baby who doesn’t speak perfectly yet.
I remember when my niece was less than 1 years old and she started to say her first words. We were so amazed when she said: “Daddy” (in Finnish naturally because our native tongue is Finnish). Then he said another word, “Mummy” and so on. Little by little she started to speak more.
My little niece didn’t pronounce those words perfectly. She made lots of “grammatical mistakes”. But all of us were totally proud of her. We just said, “SHE IS SPEAKING!! WOW!” Even though she had only said a few words or sentences, we declared that now she is speaking.
We should have the same attitude when somebody is learning to speak a new language. Instead of laughing at mistakes we could encourage, “Wow, you did it. Sounds great!” Then we could give tips on how to move forward and make even more progress.
“But I Can’t Speak Spanish/French/English…”
Have you ever heard someone saying that he can’t speak some language but then you hear him speaking it with other people? If you go to Finland, most people say that they speak English “only a little” but when you start talking to them, almost all of them speak it fluently.
Do you remember how much many words my niece was speaking when we already celebrated that she speaks? Only a few words or sentences! I believe that most of you can speak a foreign language much more than you could imagine.
Appreciate all the progress that you have done already. You can speak it. If you can say, “Hello, how are you? My name is Peter.” you are already speaking it.
You Failed – But You Didn’t Give Up
Have you learned to ride a bike or drive a car?
When we start out practicing those skills, we make lots of mistakes. Usually, we fell down with a bike many times before we master it. Do our parents say, “Jack will not learn to ride a bike because he already fell down 3 times.” Of course not.
If you fail with languages a few times, it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t learn them after all.
Remember that mistakes are the proof that you are trying.
No matter if you forget a new word for 5, 10, 20 or even 50 times. Then you just “get up” and learn it again. Over the time course, it will become permanently a part of your vocabulary.
If you can’t pronounce the French “R” after 100 times, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t pronounce it after 200. Practice makes progress.
3 Resources to Overcome Your Fear
Nowadays you have better opportunities to learn languages than ever before in the human history because you have the Internet.
Here are 3 wonderful resources that can immediately help you to overcome your fear of speaking a foreign language.
The famous course by Benny Lewis. He spoke only 1 language at the age of 21 and nowadays he speaks something like 10-15 languages fluently.
Fluent in 3 months premium is full of resources and tips that will help you to master a new language faster than before (while having fun).
This is the place where I became fluent in Spanish and learned to speak more French. I also took some of my first steps in German in Italki. It’s an awesome language learning community where you will find tons of helpful and friendly people.
By the way, you will also get $10 bonus if you sign up to Italki through my links.
Even though all language games don’t require that you would speak, they will anyway expand your vocabulary, listening comprehension, boost your confidence and much more.
You can find lots of great language games online. (One of) the best is LingQ.
I hope you have found this article useful and inspiring. I believe that it gave you some interesting ideas that you can put right away into action. If you have any questions or comments, just leave them below and I will be more than happy to reply you personally.
Have you ever had a few of speaking a foreign language? How did you overcome it?
This post is written with me in mind. Im a German speaker and can write English well enough, but when it comes to speaking,im afraid people do not understand me.
It was easier when I was younger when I could visit a foreign country buy a travel dictionary and I was ready to communicate with locals using the dictionary, as I get older, I find that im shyer when talking in a foreign language.Even my Italian which to be okayish is getting poorer and poorer as I do not practice enough.
Im sure there are not many Benny Lewis out there but will sure try Italki, not to be fluent but to improve my grasp on foreign languages.
As said, was never shy to try a foreign language when I was younger, can still understand some Russian, Polish, Spanish and if forced to, will speak Italian but there is no reason why I should not try.
Question please, you mentioned a $10 bonus, if one signs up through your link, does the bonus time run out? I clicked the link but I not joining today or tomorrow so I`m asking so as to know if I should signup in a given time or if the links last long.
Thanks for your answer and a very informative post.
I understood everything you wrote so I think your English is very good.
I believe that anyone could learn 13 languages like Benny Lewis with enough practice. Before I thought it was something that could be possible for few but now I have learned that learning languages is easy with right techniques and the right attitude.
You can get the $10 sign up bonus still for a long time.
Grat Job! I love the way you explained “mistakes”it’s true, the school won’t teach good things, they want us dumbs, to graduate, find a job, and live your entire life paying taxes and other things.
I love how you motivate people with this post, Keep up the good work! And keep other motivated, you’re doing a good job! The world needs you!
thank you very much for your positive feedback. I think that encouragement and positive attitude are keys to success in almost anything in life.
I was working for a boss who didn’t seem to believe in me and in my skills. That was killing me inside so I decided to leave right away because I saw it didn’t have a positive influence on me.
I recommend to surround yourself with people who have similar goals like you have. Then it will be easier for both of you to succeed what you want.
We learnt French at school then while we were in secondary school, but that was just a tip of the iceberg since I noticed that what we were learning then was just good morning, how are you? and all that.
I never took it seriously then anyway but it seems that I would be looking up to learning a foreign language soon. I think learning German would be nice for me.
you’ll become fluent in German in 6 months if you practice something every day. There are tons of useful tools on the Internet. Mimic Method, Pimsleur, Memrise, Duolingo, Babbel, etc.
I currently learning French on my own way. I am just using LingQ so I am using this language game for 10 days and I saw little progress in learning French.
There are tools in the internet that I will master my French language. I tried some tools like Duolingo. But mistakes are okay because it a lesson in life and you learn with a mistake. I learned a lot of making mistakes just try it for 4 months and I will see what’s the result.
Yes, mistakes are a part of the learning process. Failure is a part of success. They are not opposites. The opposite of success is mediocrity, says one success coach 😉
I am glad that you have found those great resources for learning French. I’m sure you’ll make a huge progress in 4 months when you practice every day.
I agree with you that the more mistakes we make, the more we progress. I remember learning English in school. I have never perfomed well in languages. That was both Swahili and English. They were both taught in school. I had no problem communicating with people but mastering the rules in each of this languages is what took longer for me.
I also love how babies innocently speak with so much confidence and with a lot of mistakes. But they grow to be fluent in that particular language. Actually, I have never been afraid of learning a foreign language. Talking with people who are fluent and having them laugh at me, makes me to laugh at myself too but I also make it clear to them that I want to learn. 😀
It’s great that you’re not afraid of speaking new languages and making mistakes. It helps you to learn much faster than many other people.
I agree that we should not be afraid to make mistakes whenever we learn new language. A few years back, I started learning Japanese from my aunt who currently resides in Japan. Whenever she speaks, I was just amazed how she sounds so fluent and if I would try to say it the same way, I was sure I sound funny.
That is why I was really shy to speak with other native Japanese speakers for a long time but I eventually realized that I was not making any progress so I tried making casual conversations so matter how embarrassed I am. By doing so, I was able to learn more and I think that decision made me progress in learning the language a lot.
Sounds great! Thank you very much for sharing your experience.
I think nowadays that it wouldn’t be a problem if somebody laughs or smiles if you speak in a funny way. It’s much better to make somebody smile than cry, for example. 😉
And I’m glad you made good progress! I’m proud of you.
The start of your post says it all on the reason why people tend to be afraid of speaking a new language. The most obvious reason is the fear of making mistakes when speaking. It might seem embarrasing but then you’re just learning and that shouldn’t feel much like an insult. If you can overcome this problem then learning is just a stepping stone.
Failure is an inevitable part of life. It is meant to happen whether you like it or not. If you’re trying to learn a new language or learning how to drive, you will fail. But most people fear failure instead of cherishing it because failure just makes you better.
True. I like John Maxwell’s quote here, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” We may not always succeed right away but that’s the part of the game. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook when he was 19 and didn’t know almost anything about business. He said that he made a huge amount of mistakes and that was the key. He kept on learning all the time something new.