Let yourself speak!

Speaking in a foreign language can be very challenging. As you are learning, you spend hours with textbooks and exercises, but when the time comes for a real-life conversation, you may feel afraid and shy.

However, once you actually dare to speak the language, you can quickly overcome your fears. The words may start to seem like they magically put themselves into sentences. After all, the only way to become fluent in a language is to practise it!

Let’s look at the most important reasons a learner is usually afraid of speaking. One of the biggest fears is that of making mistakes. We have been taught most of our lives that errors are bad and that they must be avoided at all cost. However, no one improves in anything without making mistakes. The point is to turn them into something productive. An embarrassing mistake can make you laugh when you think about it later. The feelings you have when you make an error can actually help you to remember the correct way to say things! You can notice your mistakes and use them to build on your vocabulary and grammar.

Another great fear that stops us from speaking a foreign language is that we may not know enough words. In English and in most languages, you need about 1000 words for everyday dialogues. You don’t have to know 5,000 words at the beginning. To join in a conversation, you probably only need to remember a few simple phrases!

So, how should you begin? Set yourself up for success. Create an environment that will make you feel positive about speaking. Make a cheat sheet with a few phrases that can help you in a conversation. Practise and learn them so that you feel confident. You can do this in front of a mirror.

When you can’t understand what someone is saying, you can always ask for clarifications. Say ‘sorry, I don’t understand’, ‘could you repeat that, please?’, ‘could you speak slowly?’. If you can’t remember an important word, don’t panic. You can come up with a synonym, a collocation or a miming gesture. As a last resort, you can use an online dictionary or translator on your mobile phone to get you back in the game.

Once you begin talking, you will be surprised by how much easier it will become to have conversations in the language you are learning!


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