Tips for Feeling Confident about Speaking a Foreign Language

Learning a new language is hard, and one of the most difficult aspects is to actually speak it. I don’t mean speaking it in the classroom, or with other students, but out in the real world with native speakers. For a lot of us, the idea of talking with strangers in our native language can be intimidating enough, imagine adding the stress of doing it in a foreign tongue!

Do you feel you lack confidence when it comes to speaking with others in a new language? Do you avoid situations where you’ll have to speak because you’re just too afraid? Then let’s talk about it! Read on to learn a thing or two about gaining the confidence to use your French, German, or Mandarin, regardless of your language level or ability!

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Why not the other perspective?

Most of our fear of speaking in a foreign language stems from the fact that conversations happen in real-time. This means that you have to be able to think on your feet and be ready to respond in a manner that is coherent without pausing to give it too much thought. And to make matters worse, 50% of a conversation is actually listening, so you need to have the vocab and language knowledge to understand what people are saying back to you too!

But before you get so completely terrified you never want to open your mouth again, consider this: what are your thoughts when a foreigner approaches you and tries to talk to you in your native tongue? Unless you’re a huge jerk, you won’t judge them negatively. In fact, you might be charmed by the effort and more willing to take the time to engage with them.

If you feel this way, then I can guarantee that most of the people you talk to in a foreign language will have a similar reaction towards you. People love it when others try to learn about their culture and language, so they’re more likely to help than hinder.

Why aren’t you listening?

As mentioned above, listening comprises about 50% of a conversation, if not more (depending on how reserved or quiet you are). If you focus too much on speaking, you may be able to start up a conversation with a few witty one-liners but could be woefully unprepared for the responses if your listening skills aren’t up to par. So first things first, work on your listening skills. Like a lot. Listen to the radio, podcasts, music, and watch movies in your target language. Not only will you be training your ears and brain to hear and comprehend the language, but you’ll also be picking up new words and phrases that you can use in a conversation.

While it may seem counterintuitive to say listening will make you a better speaker, this is actually the case. And even better, you’ll feel more confident piping up in a conversation because you’ll have the skill set to keep up with comprehending what everyone else is saying.

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Why not be comfortable?

Speaking a foreign language can be less intimidating when you’ve got a glass of good red wine in one hand. That’s not to say that you should always be greasing the language wheel with alcohol, but that you should place yourself in situations where you feel comfortable talking.

Have a dinner party with a few native speaking friends and converse while eating copious amounts of pasta. Or start a book club with some fellow bookworms so you have opportunities to both read in your target language AND discuss what you read in that same tongue! Choose activities you enjoy and try to infuse your language learning into them so that you’re having a fun time while getting over that hurdle of actually speaking whatever language you’re learning.

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Why not one-on-one?

When you set out to practice speaking a new language, doing so in a group of people can feel incredibly scary and intimidating. A good way to build your confidence before you take that leap is to start small, usually one-on-one. Find a native speaker to have coffee with once a week and practice chatting with him or her in the target tongue. Be firm about only speaking the language while you’re together and try preparing a few topics, such as books, politics, or movies, to discuss. In no time at all, you’ll feel more confident about your abilities and ready to try them out in other situations too!

How do you gain the confidence to speak a foreign language? Share your tips and tricks with us!