Learning a foreign language can be very rewarding, it is great for your brain and can open doors to a world of opportunity for you. Some people can immerse themselves in conversations in foreign languages with a small vocabulary, a lot of confidence and enthusiastic hand gestures. For many of us, however, these early conversations can be daunting.
In this post, I'm going to share some tips that I found that helped me become more confident when speaking a foreign language.
1. Don't expect to be perfect!
Imagine meeting a foreign visitor in your country and starting a conversation with him in your native language. You would expect to hear a heavy accent, lots of mistakes, some pauses and some thoughtful sounds. I'm sure you would encourage them, and tell them not to worry.
You will never speak a language fluently without mistakes at first! The sooner you start talking, the sooner you will reach a conversation level. It can be frustrating to feel that you are making mistakes, but it will pay off in the long run. Allow yourself to make mistakes!
2. Be an active listener
We learn most of a new language using our ears. Many new language learners ignore this, however. While it is possible to learn some things by reading them, you must hear a language before you can speak it. The more you listen, the better your pronunciation skills and the more confidence you will have when speaking.
Try this trick: instead of trying to formulate an answer in your head while the other person is still talking, clear your mind and truly listen to what they are saying.
Then take a moment to gather your thoughts and respond.
3. Control the speed of the conversation
If you speak slowly and clearly, this should encourage your interlocutor to keep up with your speech rate. If the person you're talking to doesn't understand the tip, it never hurts to politely ask them to speak a little more slowly - you're still learning, after all!
4. Master individual conversations
If speaking in front of a group is what is causing your fear, you are not alone. We are all afraid to speak in public, even in our native language! A great trick to overcome this fear is to start talking individually.
This individual conversation can be with another language student, a native speaker or even with another non-native speaker who wants to help. It doesn't always matter if your partner understands you; the key is to practice until you feel more confident. If you make a mistake or trip over words, it is much easier to overcome fear or embarrassment in front of a person. This will help to increase your confidence and prepare you to speak in larger groups.
5. Talk to yourself in private
Believe it or not, you are your best friend to practice the language. It is easy to forget how much time we spend daily in our own internal dialogues in our native language. This dialogue can be turned into a wonderful practice simply by translating that dialogue into the language we are learning.
Talk to yourself - out loud or in your head - in your target language as much as possible and in as many different situations as possible. This will help you put your knowledge to use and better prepare you for conversations with others. It really works!
6. Be patient
Patience is a virtue, and it has never been more true than when it comes to learning a language. It is easy to be impatient with yourself and let that impatience get in the way of overcoming your fears. This is the safest ticket to give up.
As frustrating as it may seem, be patient with yourself and work to speak with comfort and confidence, give yourself the time to overcome fear. Do this step by step.
If you'd like to join a group of like-minded language adventurers, come and get involved with the discussion over at our Facebook group where you'll find lots of tips, tricks and friendly people to help.
Have fun learning!