8 Tips to overcome your fear when speaking in a foreign language

Viva Language Services LOGOS FINAL.inddGuest Post: Fiona from Viva Languages 


Anyone who has ever tried to learn another language knows that speaking is by far the most difficult skill to master! The annoying thing is, speaking is also the most important part of using the language to communicate with other native speakers.
However many hours you may have studied the language from books, watching foreign news or television series when it comes to actually speaking to someone and being understood, it is a whole new ball game. The aim of this article is to offer some useful tips on what you can do to beat your fear and speak!

Why do we struggle to speak in a foreign language?

  • Speaking happens in real time. You do not have time to look up a word, check a verb ending or change what you have already said.
  • You panic and overthink which holds you back: have they understood me? Have I pronounced it correctly? Did I use the right word or tense?
  • You worry they think your accent is funny.
  • You worry you are talking too slow or sounding boring.


Practical tips to overcome your fear of speaking

Have a cheat sheet of ready-made phrases that are used in real life situations:

  • How do you say …. in Spanish? (or whatever the target language is)
  • I’m sorry but I don’t understand
  • Could you repeat that, please?
  • Could you speak a bit slower, please?
  • What does this mean?
  • Pardon?
  • Excuse me?
  • No problem
  • Of course
  • Filler words such as “well …”, “let’s see…”, “you know” – these give you more time to think what you are going to say next plus make you sound more fluent.


Listen carefully to what the native speaker says or asks

“The more you listen, the better you speak.”


Often mistakes are made when speaking due to not listening correctly or by making guesses as to what they said to you and forming your reply too quickly.
By listening more carefully to what is said, you will not only notice more about their accent and rhythm and tone of voice but you will also pick out the slang expressions and colloquialisms they use which you can note down to learn or ask them to repeat for you.

Immerse yourself in the target language as much as possible

Try to think in the language you are learning every day. If you keep doing this regularly you will eventually stop having to translate everything back into English.
Listen to music sung by natives.
Read something in the target language every day – a book, a magazine, an online news article, your horoscope, a recipe or an advert.
Write in the language every day – even if it is just a shopping list, your diary, your to-do list, a text or email to a friend who speaks the language.
By using the language daily you will keep vocabulary fresh in your mind for longer so that when you need to say that word, it will be easier and quicker to recall.

The sooner you do it, the better!

The more you think about the speaking beforehand, the more nervous you will become.
The only way to overcome your fear is to face it head on and DO IT!

The 3-second rule

Apply the 3-second rule so that your nerves don’t have time to kick in. Give yourself 3 seconds to make the approach and then speak. If you wait any longer than that you are much more likely to change your mind and pull out.


Close your eyes and imagine yourself chatting to a native speaker confidently and how much you are enjoying the conversation. Picture them smiling at you because they have understood you and are also enjoying talking to you.
Remind yourself why you wanted to learn the language and how successfully you are achieving your goals.

Prepare well for your first conversation

Before meeting up with the native speaker think of the questions you normally ask when meeting someone for the first time and how you will word these questions in the target language.

Look up keywords and any specific vocabulary you think you may need to use.

Make sure you can form the question as well as the reply because they are bound to ask you the same kind of things.
Search “Omniglot” (http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/) for introductory phrases in many different languages.


Learn the most common mistakes people make

If you make the effort to find out the most common blunders that beginners tend to make when starting to learn the language, you will know to avoid them yourself.


Embrace mistakes


Don’t be scared to make mistakes. We learn and progress by making mistakes. Often they can be funny and so memorable that you will always remember the word or phrase you got wrong!


BONUS TIP: It is worth pointing out is that the key to improving your speaking is through working on improving other skills too, such as listening, expanding your vocabulary and learning the important grammar rules.

Spanish tutorGuest blogger: Fiona

Fiona started teaching Spanish in 2005 as a hobby which later became a full-time business – Viva Language Services which offers private and corporate language tuition and after school language clubs. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.   

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