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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Clarke

4 Ways to Get Over Foreign Language Anxiety

You step up to the counter to order your coffee. You know what to say. You’ve practiced hundreds of times. You know how to order a coffee.

“One coffee please!”

“☝︎♋︎⬧︎⧫︎♏︎❒︎⬧︎ ●︎♋︎■︎♑︎◆︎♋︎♑︎♏︎ 🖳︎✆︎?”



Your worst nightmare. They said something you didn’t understand and now you look stupid.

The work of getting over language anxiety is a journey of self acceptance and developing the discipline of practice. Those are some journeys that can take up to a lifetime, but here’s some tips you can start using now:

1. Talk to yourself

I know I’ve already talked about the benefits of talking to yourself in your head, but there is a difference between that and actually opening your mouth and allowing words to come out. When your goal is to speak you have to, well, speak! If they’re not used regularly, your mouth and vocal cords will be out of practice just like any other muscle. So, talk to yourself. Practice something specific you want to say, practice nonsense combinations of words, memorize your favorite movie monologue, just get that mouth moving.

2. Prepare

One of the scariest things about speaking a new language to someone is not knowing what they’re going to say in return. Unless you’re Dr. Strange, there is no way to know every possible outcome, but you can study some key words or figure out standard responses. Asking for coffee? You better know “small, medium, and large. Asking “how are you?” Study your mood adjectives. Asking for directions? Know your left and right. Don’t forget filler words you may hear, things like “You’re gonna wanna…” or “So what you’ll do is…” It’s fine if you don’t understand them, but at least you’ll know to tune them out.

3. Have an exit phrase

It might happen that you’re beyond your skill level and need to switch to a new language or end the conversation. Prepare your exit phrase. “Sorry can we switch to [another language]? I’ve just started learning [this one].” If you can’t speak another language, say, “I’m very sorry, my [language] is not so good, we have to use Google Translate.” No shame in using the resources we have!

4. Realize you’ll never see these people ever again

It’s very likely you’ll never ever see the strangers you’re speaking to ever again, so try to let yourself be embarrassed with no consequences, because there really are none. (And even if you do see them again, you’ll be better at your new language when you do!) This one is a feeling that takes time to evolve, and the more you allow yourself to make mistakes comfortably, the faster you’ll learn.

The fear of speaking a new language doesn’t have to be crippling. It may never fully disappear, but through some mindful practices, you can turn the volume of your self critic down to a manageable level. Good luck! :)

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