How to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language, Part 2

How to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language, Part 2

When you learn a foreign language, it is inevitable to be afraid to speak in this language, for various reasons: we do not want to be judged by those who listen to us, we are ashamed, we do not think we know enough phrases to communicate, or we do not want to make mistakes.

It is normal to be afraid to deal with a foreign language orally because we are speaking in a language that is not our own.

Below you will find further advice on how to overcome the fear of speaking a language other than our mother tongue.

Speak before you think

Has it ever happened to you that before you say something in a foreign language you start thinking of the best way to say it and, in the end, for fear of making a mistake, you give up and say nothing more?

Well, this is the proof that the more you expect, the more our brain has time to record our feelings of nervousness and anxiety. That's why we must make an effort to try to talk without thinking about it too long.

Once you have thrown yourself into a conversation, it will be much easier to express what seemed so difficult a few moments before.

Practice even when you're alone

Believe it or not, you're your best friend with the language. It is easy to forget how much time we spend every day in our internal dialogues in our native language. This dialogue can be turned into a wonderful practice simply by translating that dialogue into the language you are learning.

When you are at home alone try talking to yourself in the language you are studying or reading aloud or repeating out loud something that you are listening to. This will help your brain to get used to your voice in a different language.


It is well known that fear begets fear. Performance anxiety plays tricks on the brain and reduces the brain's ability to process sentences and concepts in a new language. So, the more agitated you are, the less words will come to you. Take a deep breath and remember that making mistakes at the beginning is part of the game and only by making mistakes can you improve. If you're more forgiving of yourself, you'll gain more courage and make fewer and fewer mistakes.

Master one-to-one conversations

If talking in front of a group is what scares you, you're not alone. We are all often afraid to speak in public, even in our mother tongue! A great trick to overcome this fear is to start talking one to one.

This face-to-face conversation could be with another language exchange student, a native speaker, or even another non-native speaker who wants to help. It is not always important that your partner understands you; the key is to practice until you feel more confident. If you make a mistake or stumble over words, it is much easier to overcome fear or embarrassment in front of a person. This will help increase your confidence and prepare you to speak in front of larger groups.

Do not translate the speech from your mother tongue

Try to think directly in the foreign language without first formulating your thoughts in your native language. Your speech will flow much more naturally, and you won't have to concentrate on two languages at the same time and mess with them.

Detect your flaws

It is very important to identify your weaknesses in the foreign language you are learning. The fear of speaking a language that is not one's own is mainly due to a lack of control or mastery.

Think about your most common mistakes and recognize your shortcomings to remedy them. Is it difficult for you to say the words? Is it difficult for you to understand what you are told? You probably need to work on listening comprehension or improve your pronunciation.

In any case, you can address your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Once you get to that point, the fear will go away.

Write your fears down

Some of the most common concerns that constitute the fear of speaking in another language are: making mistakes, being misunderstood, misunderstanding others, freezing yourself and not being able to speak, not being able to adapt to native speakers, being mocked, appearing stupid, or not qualified with the language.

These are all very different factors, which affect all language learners to different degrees. Take a moment to think about which of these factors contribute most to your fear of speaking. Once you have done this, take a pen and rank each of these factors according to how scary you think they are. Number them in descending order (1 = scarier, 10 = less scary).

What are these things, really? Why are you afraid of them? I'll tell you: you're afraid of these things because they are your weaknesses. Just as our strengths give us the confidence to act, our weaknesses take away our confidence and give us anxiety.

All the things on your list represent a skill you believe you are not good at, an inability to act that prevents you from taking risks.

Now, I know it's not convenient to dwell on your weaknesses, but this activity serves an important purpose: once you know where your weaknesses are, you can plan to overcome them systematically, one by one.

Give yourself some time and be patient with yourself

When you have a conversation in another language, it is normal to feel insecure at first because you are dealing with a language that is not your mother tongue. Don't expect from the very first moment to do everything perfectly because, like everything else in life, speaking a foreign language well and with self-confidence takes time.

Learning is a constant process. And a language is mastered through practice and perseverance. Do not worry about making mistakes, remember that you also learn from them.

Patience is a virtue, and it has never been truer than when it comes to learning a language. It is easy to become impatient with oneself and let this impatience hinder you from overcoming your fears. This is the surest ticket to surrender.

Frustrating as it may seem, be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to overcome your fears. Take one step at a time. You can start by repeating what you hear in your language in videos or movies and then move on to talking to yourself (we know it may sound silly, but it really helps!) Then, when you gain more confidence, you can try to find another language student to talk to. This is especially good if you are afraid of being embarrassed in front of a native speaker. Be patient with yourself and work until you speak comfortably and safely.

Be positive

Feeling good is essential. Smile and try to think positive. Don't let fear get in the way. If you allow it to control you, it will prevent you from growing and progressing in learning a language.

In most cases, we do not speak our target language because we do not feel safe and insecurity often generates pessimism. We worry that we are missing important words, or grammatical concepts. We worry that we look foreign, or simply stupid. When we have these concerns, what we really do is put our weaknesses first. We say that these specific things are the obstacles that prevent us from being good speakers. Most people are content to leave things the way they are, and let the weaknesses stay the way they are. If one day you want to speak a foreign language well, however, you will have to do something completely different. Identify your weaknesses and eliminate them, one by one. With each success, your confidence will grow, and soon you will have the confidence to speak with a native speaker.

Once this happens, you will be able to face your fears head on and continue your journey to become the balanced and confident language speaker you've always wanted to be.

Do you and your language exchange fellows happen to be afraid to speak the foreign language you are studying? Try to put these tips into practice and let us know in the comments if you have managed to overcome your fears.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange