Speaking to someone in your second language can be scary, especially if that someone isn’t your teacher or significant other.
You might worry whether or not you’ll be understood. Will you say something stupid? Foolish? What does your accent sound like?
All of these are feelings that you and every other second language speaker has experienced. Language speaking anxiety is real and researchers have spent countless hours looking at how it influences language learning, to include the long-term effects anxiety has on learners continuing to study for years to come. You are not alone.
Take a deep breath and look over these tips to help get your tongue moving:
1. Rehearse your opening lines. If you want to try your new language but feel nervous, memorize the first few sentences of what you might say and practice them to perfection. For example, you might say, “Hi. My name is Judy. I heard you speaking English. I’m studying English to go abroad next year. May I ask where you’re from?” Something like this can open the doors to a conversation with a stranger. It will build your confidence to know that your conversation starter is perfect.
2. Recast. This is a great strategy. Recasts are when you repeat what you think you heard. You can say, “Let me repeat what you said to make sure I understand.”
3. Stick to what you know you can do. Stick to the topics you know until you feel confident. You don’t have to speak about politics or social issues at the very beginning. Yes, this is sometimes frustrating because it puts you back at an elementary level of language use, but use this to your advantage until you are ready to face more difficult topics.
4. Ask for the feedback you want to get. Research shows that language learners and language teachers have different expectations about the type of error correction and feedback each feels is useful. For example, a teacher might think correcting every error is important. A learner might feel this is too critical and will feel miserable as each sentence spoken is corrected. Outside of class or with a tutor, tell the person you’re speaking with what type of feedback to give you. For example, maybe you only want them to correct you on verb tense or plural nouns. Maybe you don’t want any feedback on grammar, but just want to know if you can be understood by your peers. Give this guideline to your fellow speakers early on in a conversation, it is likely they’ll be relieved to know what they should and should not say about your language.
5. Slow down, please! Sometimes as language learners we feel like we should be able to keep up with the conversation. When we can’t, we’re embarrassed to let our conversation partner know that they’re going too quickly. Instead of speaking up, we nod our heads and secretly hope they don’t find out. Don’t be afraid to ask others to slow down! While early learners generally enjoy a sympathetic speaking partners (they know you’re a beginner and go slowly), intermediate learners often know just enough to make it look like they can keep up with the conversation. The phrase, “Slow down, please,” is a useful phrase at many levels. Keep it handy!