The difficulty of learning a language resides mainly in finding the courage to start expressing ourselves at any stage, from beginner to intermediate. There is always this nagging feeling that everybody around will start laughing at us the moment we open our mouth to articulate a sentence. This scenario seems to be playing on and on in our heads like a broken record, and we tend to freeze when the moment to practice what we’ve learned arises.
“I feel totally stupid when I speak French”. I’m sure you’ve either heard this sentence or said it yourself.
What happens when we let fear get hold of us?
Fear is a chain reaction in the brain that starts with a stressful stimulus (in this case the constant image that everybody in the room will laugh when they hear you speaking French), and ends with the release of chemicals that cause a racing heart, fast breathing etc. these same chemicals affect specifically the area of the brain closely related with speech. It becomes more difficult to retrieve words and language patterns stored in your long-term memory. Your breathing becomes shallow, the sound and tone of your speech get lower, your voice becomes weak, you stop articulating making it more difficult for your interlocutor to understand, and what you didn’t want to happen occurs. The communication becomes more difficult as the fear of making mistakes, or not finding the words, increase.
So, what can you do to stop anxiety ruining your possibility of having a conversation in French?
There are things you can do to overcome your nerves when speaking French.
Rationalise your fear.
Why are you so afraid of speaking? Usually it’s because you have a fear of failure, fear to be judged by others as incompetent, unable to express yourself, fear of being a fool.
You must be objective and see that this outcome is unrealistic. Native speakers are usually glad to see that someone is trying hard to learn their language. They are proud of the fact that it is important to you. They become more patient with a learner and at times they even encourage you.
You should relax and breathe deeply quite a few times. This will help you calm down as well as oxygenate your brain cells and allow you to retrieve the knowledge stored in your long-term memory.
Map out your weaknesses.
Make a mental note of where you usually get stuck during conversations. Is it because of lack of vocabulary, or because you don’t know some grammar structures or verb conjugation? Study these when you can, to prevent this communication barrier occurring next time.
Do you find it more difficult to understand what is said?
You should learn to enhance your listening abilities. Watch TV programs, listen to podcasts, etc, in French so that you can get used to the different accent and speed of real-life conversations. Try to use the shadowing technique which will help you improve comprehension, tone and accent.
When you improve your listening skills, very soon your speaking abilities will grow as well.
Practice the usual conversation ‘starters.
Prepare typical conversations. Most of them have similar patterns, learn them. It will boost your confidence, help keep the chat going. Remember repetition is key. The more you practice, the better and more confident you will become.
Master the difficult French sounds.
Practice, practice, practice the difficult “R” and “U” sounds, as well as the difference in pronunciation of “ouille”, “euille”, “aille” until you get them spot on. Once you succeed it will be easier for you to get over your speaking anxiety.
Be in command of the pace of conversations.
We usually want to impress when learning a language. We want to give the impression that we’re more advanced than we truly are. So, we tend to speak fast. But what you don’t realise is that you’re giving the wrong signal to the person chatting with you, and they will answer back at a faster speed and suddenly, you’re lost.
Remember to always speak slowly. There’s no need to rush. When you do so, your interlocutor will follow suit. It will be easier for you to understand, you will have more time to gather your thoughts and carry on conversing.
Strive for progress, not perfection.
Your aim at learning French is to communicate with others, and you will never speak fluently if you don’t start. Beginnings are always bumpy, because you will not know all the phrases and vocabulary, nor all the grammar structures and conjugations. But the only way forward is by practising what you already know and learning what you don’t, on the go. It’s the easiest way.
You might be frustrated to notice your mistakes but learn from them. Mistakes are our best teachers. You will reap the rewards. Further down the lane, you will look back with a smile on your face.
Give the right impression.
Stand tall, breathe deep, relax, smile, speak loud and slowly, articulate each word. Don’t tense your muscles and enjoy the conversation. Be proud of yourself. Remember all the effort you put in. take the plunge and never look back.What tips help you rid of your fear of speaking French? Share in the comments.