The greatest challenge for language learners is to become confident when speaking the foreign language independently of their knowledge of grammar or the big list of vocabulary and expressions that they master.
Speaking is indeed intimidating. You must remember on the spot all the words you want to use, structure them in a way that is grammatically correct, listen and understand the person in front of you and articulate an adequate answer; all this in a fraction of seconds. This can make you feel quite insecure, without a doubt especially if your audience is native speakers or more advanced students. There is also that nagging feeling that you are in front of an exam board and that your life depends on their impression of you.
I totally get you – I have been in your shoes countless times during my language learning journey – and therefore I am telling you that there are ways that can help you overcome these obstacles and become more confident when engaged in conversations. But remember that in everything involving acquiring a new skill, it takes time and commitment. To become a confident speaker in the language you are learning, is in itself a journey. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
First, pay attention to your body language.
Even though you are feeling that your inside is melting, you should present yourself as confident.
When you lack confidence, you tend to do everything in your power to be unnoticed: you crouch, the tone of your voice is quiet, you are transmitting to the people around the sensation that you feel uncomfortable, you avoid eye contact. All this because you feel you are not in control of the situation. This will transpire to the way you talk, and people will not feel at ease around you.
Resist the urge to stick your hands in your pocket Stand tall, maintain eye contact and smile.
Analyse the reason for your lack of confidence.
There are a lot of pre-work that you should do before engaging in conversations in your foreign language that will help you boost your confidence, and this is one of them.
Find out what aspects of the language you find challenging: is it the way certain words are pronounced or some grammatical hurdles that you find difficult to conquer or is it your lack of adequate vocabulary?
For each of them there is a solution at hand.
If you are a beginner, make sure to learn the sounds of your new language. It will prove to be easier because you have not incorporated yet bad pronunciation habits in your way of expressing yourself.
Having a good enough pronunciation will boost your confidence when chatting as it will be easier for others to understand what you are saying. This will constitute a positive reinforcement that will help improve your overall performance.
You should also bear in mind that a native-like pronunciation is not necessary and besides it’s quite hard to obtain.
Even in more advanced stages where you already have bad pronunciation habits, it is possible to reverse the damage, but it will require a bit more effort.
Practice pronunciation exercises and learn the sounds you find particularly difficult to pronounce. Work with a pronunciation coach who will make you aware of the pronunciation guidelines, give you feedback and help you apply these rules.
It is paramount that you hear and speak constantly the language.
The best way to do so is by practising the shadowing technique .
So, how should you incorporate grammar in your language study?
- When starting a new language give yourself time to get familiar to the language pattern. Observe, read, and listen until you understand. This might mean to repeat the lesson until it is clear to you. Remember that repetition is key in language learning, it allows you to commit this information to your long-term memory. Do not feel frustrated, if you see that you are moving forward slowly.
- When listening and reading, pay attention to the word order. You will start noticing how every sentence is structured, the common place for nouns, adjectives, verbs, and articles. By doing so, you’re already studying, in a natural way, the basic grammar for that language.
The modern language learners approach grammar with a more relax attitude.
- Buy a dictionary and a conjugation book .E-books might be a good option, because you would have them at your fingertips any time you need them.
- Download a mobile translation app so that you can investigate the meaning of words and expressions. As a result, you will be able to use the correct phrases when needed. Google Translate is a good option.
To boost your vocabulary pool, you should be ready to make some effort.
There are various methods and distributed practice is one of them.
Already in 1885,Hermann Ebbinghaus talked about the forgetting curve, meaning that we forget most newly acquired information within a few hours or days. He came to the conclusion that final memory performance is improved if learning sessions are distributed in time rather than being massed into a single study episode.[ Cepeda, Pashler, Vul,et Al, 2006] It means that intense study the night before your exam ( and we've all done it ) won't be effective.
The spaced-repetition method is about reinforcing a bit of information in your mind just when you are about to forget it. People who use distributed practice remember twice as many words in the long term as those who don’t.
The time you leave between the recall sessions is important. It has been proven that the longer gaps are more effective than the shorter gaps if you want to commit the information to your long-term memory.
A simple way to apply this technique is by using flashcards.
Is your lack of confidence due to fear of making mistakes or fear of making a fool of yourself?
We want to be able to build perfect sentences, have a perfect pronunciation, memorise the whole grammar book, before we even dare think to start a conversation in our target language.
The truth is that perfection does not exists. Even native speakers make mistakes. If we are perfectionists, we will end by never trying to talk and start communicating in any language. Perfection is not your ally but your enemy.
Mistakes are part of the learning process after all.
You need a mindset shift.
In Language learning, as in life, you should stop seeing mistakes as something that's negative but as an opportunity to learn.
The more you practice speaking the easier it will become. Try to converse with friends and acquaintances if you happen to be in the country where the foreign language is spoken or find a language exchange partner. this can help each other master their respective foreign languages.
You can also look for professional help and have 1 on 1 private lessons or group conversation classes.
With the 1 on 1 lessons, you will have a more focused approach that will help you quickly improve your speaking skills as you get the opportunity to practice according to your needs and interests.
The teacher will be more than willing to offer you guidance and help you with the difficult grammar points as well as helping you expand your vocabulary. A teacher will also pay attention and correct your pronunciation, when necessary, as well as solve the specific challenges you encounter in the foreign language.
Say it differently.
When you are unable to retrieve the most adequate word that can help you put your message across, find a different way to communicate what you mean; find a synonym or describe what you want to say or give an example. The important is for the other person to understand you.
Include films and videos in your language routine.
Read, listen to music and the news, watch TV.
As you already know, learning a language is a long process and to improve your speaking skills you need to expand your vocabulary in the topics that interest you. There is no better way than reading about these in news articles, blogs, books in the language you are learning. Also watching TV programs will be beneficial because you will be acquainted to colloquial expressions used in day-to-day situations. You will then learn to incorporate them in your conversations. You will also practice listening to native speakers and learn the correct pronunciation of these new words.
Confidence in speaking a foreign language is about a mindset shift. You should learn to accept that you will make mistakes – even the best learners do them-, learn from them and move on. You should also bear in mind that most native speakers will support you in your journey and lastly remember that practice makes perfect.
The more you learn, the more you will want to practice, and the more confident you will become during your conversations.