One common problem language learners often face is the fear of speaking the language they are learning in public. Why? Is it the fear of making errors that holds them back? Or, is it the fear of making a fool of oneself or of not being understood that keeps them from speaking freely without any undue embarrassment or discomfort? Being a language learner myself, I know exactly how difficult it can be to gather the courage to dare to engage in a conversation in a language other than my mother tongue. The underlying cause is probably a combination of the above-mentionned reasons. Before we get into the matter of how to overcome this problem, I would first like to emphasize the fact that there is nothing exceptional or unusual about being anxious to express oneself in a foreign language. Quite on the contrary, it is completely natural to experience timidity in such situations.
Most of us language learners know what it means to be in an „inferior“ position amongst native speakers. We may have also found ourselves in a group of non-natives with the impression of knowing less than the others, and therefore did not dare to speak. Yet, instead of grumbling about how disadvantaged we are, we, language learners, should exploit this position in order to benefit from it. Thus, to pursue the wish to improve our foreign language skills requires our inner strength, our courage, our commitment, and the spirit of championing change. It is up to us to take language learning upon ourselves to make it a personal mission.
Speaking of making language learning our personal mission, let me tell you five useful starting points on how to achieve this. This will likewise help you to overcome the fear of speaking with natives (and/or non-natives). Even if I am addressing English learners, in particular, the given advice may also apply to foreign language learners in general.
1. Learning zone vs. performance zone
While in the learning zone mistakes are to be expected, in the performance zone, mistakes should be minimized. This does, however, not mean that when you are conversing with natives that you necessarily are in the performance zone. You may precisely take advantage of this situation and turn the conversation into a learning zone. This further implies that you still do not master the language, and that the benefit from this activity should be focused on English skills improvements. In other terms, listen to your interlocutors, ask questions when something is unclear, make them repeat the words for you, tell them to slow down, and then repeat the words and expressions over and over again to let them sink in. The advantage of being in the learning zone is that you can take in as much input as possible and repeat what you have learned in peace and quiet. Once understood and integrated into your long term memory, you will be able to execute what you have learned, and do as best you can.
2. Mistakes are a source of inspiration
Most of us have probably been told since early childhood that mistakes are bad for us. You may even have been punished for committing them. This may be a shocker, but mistakes are actually good for you. However, it is how you deal with them that may generate harmful effects. This is why it is crucial to be aware of their educational force to spread the right key messages to the public: learn from errors, contemplate them and improve. Everything can be turned into a learning experience if, and only if, you are truly committed to go beyond your fears of failing. There is no such thing as failing, all you can do is to fail more beautifully next time.
3. Avoid perfectionism
Perfectionism can be a poisonous value that hinders you from evolving into something that you would like to be able to do or to be. Despite common sense, yearning for perfectionism can be dangerous and may even accomplish the opposite of what it is intended to achieve. You should give yourself some leeway to play around with the English language to speak spontaneously without controlling every single word of your speech.
4. Embrace creativity
This leads to the importance of your creativity. Without it, you would have trouble communicating your thoughts. Creativity is an essential aspect when we speak of foreign language learning, since it helps you to be more spontaneous, and ultimately helps you to overcome the fear of speaking English in public. The more creative you get with your sentences, the greater will be your English skills improvements.
5. Speak speak speak
Speaking English in public may be very scary, since it is also the aspect that hinders you to speak English in the first place. But it is a fundamental asset that will improve your language learning. However, it is only by applying all four advices that you will achieve this last one, and finally overcome the fear of speaking English with others. Soon enough, you will see how precisely this technique may lead you to the goal you have so long yearned for: speaking the English language. Thus, speak as much and as often as you can in English. It is only by practicing that you will improve, and ultimately master it.
Take your time to read through these points, and do not worry, we will make this happen together. But to do that I need you to play your part, and make it your mission to be committed to learn English.