How did you do it?

TL:DR How did you get over the anxiety of speaking?

By no means am I able to comprehend all that is said to me in French even after living in France for two months but I can confidently say that I get the idea at least 70% of the time. My progress when it comes to listening is apparent and I have faith that it will get better with time.

The problem comes when I speak. I have not managed to overcome the anxiety that comes with speaking especially in the real world (i.e. not with a dedicated language partner). I find myself starting in French and switching to English which often results in a situation where I speak in English while my interlocutor speaks in French. I understand in theory that mistakes are a part of language learning and are not something to be anxious about but in practice my sensitivity to these mistakes are stunting my progress.

If anyone on lingq has been in a similar situation, what methods have you used to get over this?

I understand your problem. I have trouble speaking French in Quebec, especially when most hear me struggle they switch to English to make it easier for both of us. When the other person does not speak English, I still have problems with my confidence in French. To overcome this, I force myself to dumb down my French. This sound counterintuitive, but it is obvious to the French speaker that I lack knowledge in the language, and we focus on communication, and I get some practice and my confidence increases.

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I’m with you. When I read I supposedly have a vocabulary somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000 words (12,000 on LingQ & 30,000 “sometimes” on language tests), when I speak I have a vocabulary of -100. I not only don’t have any Portuguese words, I also forget some of my English. I am really hoping you get some great suggestions here in answer to your question.

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What works for me is to use the language in non-professional situations where there are no expectations. So, for example, if I am trying to close a contract I would feel anxious unless I am using a language that I know inside out. However, if I am talking to people at a restaurant my mistakes will have no major consequences and I just relax. The other tip is to talk to people who don’t speak your language. Although this might be hard in Quebec, in those situations there is no way other than using their language and you and the other person will probably just take it easy. Last, talking to the same person for a long period of time tends to take care of the anxiety, since the embarassment vanishes and you just get in the flow.

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I was very reluctant to answer this question because my experience is so limited. But I think Ricardo gives some very good advice.

A Japanese student who I peer tutored in college told me that she just had to tell herself every day, “I am in America now. I refuse to speak Japanese. I am only going to speak English, even if my friends speak to me in Japanese.” I have to say she progressed in her English skills much more quickly than the other Japanese foreign exchange students and her English wasn’t anywhere near as awful as she imagined it was.

I think that’s sound advice. You just have to tell yourself every day, “I am in France. I refuse to speak English. I am only going to speak French.”

Maybe find a place to hang out where the people around you understand that you are struggling with French and are eager to speak French with you.

Also try talking to cab drivers, people working in museums, stores, restaurants, on the train or anywhere else you go. I know that’s what I did when I was in Argentina. I also talked to people who didn’t speak any English, so I had no other choice, whether it was on a hiking trail in Iguazu, on the waterfront in Buenos Aires or in a music store in Bariloche. For me it was exciting to abandon English and test out my Spanish as I was learning it.

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The advice given above is certainly very helpful, (namely, deciding to stop speaking English, practicing in less critical situations, …)
As a Psychologist, I consider this an example of the general problem of tackling situations that are new to you and in which you don’t feel confident, a problem we all have in one situation or another (my own issue right now is partner dancing in clubs with unknown people). I like the approach proposed in this book to solve this kind of issues:

  1. Drop your perfecionism. It will take you longer than you may think. I am pretty sure you are very well working or learning person, you run your stuff in an orderly manner, you hate not finishing your tasks, being late etc. I may be wrong, but if you are perfecionist - kill it, kil it , kill it. Let it go, just learn to let it go, slowly. Perfecionism is very common, me included - we want to CONTROL situation , we want to be THE boss of the subject. Slowly start accepting fact, that mastering things takes time and accept making mistakes.

  2. Talk to yourself, in daily situation. Talk to yourself about what you see in the street, about color of the car you pass, the type of shop on the corner (is it a restaurant or a locksmith, in French?) etc etc.

I have also a lot of trouble with speaking, but I feel that 95 % of stress and blockade is due to my perfectionism . I am not affraid to make a mistake, it is just awkward and me, as a “must-control-situation” person feel inconvenient about it. Just slowly let it go, let it go, we do not have to be perfect, great, 100 % wise, we can do mistakes, we even SHOULD make them (and learn slowly from them).

  1. Learn basic scripts and general vocabulary for reoccurring situations. For example buying a coffee or croissant from the bakery or coffee shop. This will help you navigate these basic conversations because when you panic your mind will automatically revert back to these memorized phrases. This will make it easier for you not to freak out. If you are wondering how to learn these scripts an easy way is to simply go to these places and watch the interactions between the workers and the customers. All you have to do is mimic the interactions and you can also run them by your language partners to make sure they make sense for your gender and so on.

  2. Recognize that not all conversations are the same. Some situations will be more stressed and the other person will be less patient such as when ordering in a line or talking to a waitress or waiter in a busy restaurant. In contrast, some people will welcome having a long conversation such as a person on a long train, bus or plane ride or even an uber or taxi driver. These latter folks will often be more willing to listen to your mistakes and encourage you.

  3. Make a game of your conversations. For example, some pickup artist types will encourage their students who have great anxiety in approaching and starting conversations with women to set goals for themselves. These goals will be like after I talk to 5 or 10 girls I can reward myself with a coffee or they won’t let themselves go home until they have 5 or 10 conversations. You could do something similar for yourself where you make the goal I must talk in French for however many minutes before switching to English. In this way, you change the goal of your conversation to something different than your mistakes.

  4. Get you a French boyfriend or girlfriend. This provides another way for you to have more French speaking conversations and they will be with someone who will be more patient than other folks.

  5. Finally, recognize that everyone else has the same struggles too. Yet, many people go on to learn how to speak in their target language and the reason is because they were willing to set aside their anxiety and put in the work. So like Nike says, Just Do It. You already know that you can survive the experience and the more times you do it, you will find the conversations become fairly repetitive and easier to navigate. One other way that can help is to put your focus not on your own anxiety but to be curious about the other person or what they might say. In this way, you can get so caught up in what is going on that you forget about your own anxiety.

I didn’t start speaking well until I was understanding 100% all the time (only missing an odd word on occasion). Until then I didn’t have much confidence. The other thing that helped was talking to mono-lingual native speakers. Otherwise I would feel that looming threat of them switching to English on me. The amount of input…reading and listening…can’t be underestimated. I figure I am closing in on 3,000 hours by now. Good luck!

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“Get you a French boyfriend or girlfriend. This provides another way for you to have more French speaking conversations and they will be with someone who will be more patient than other folks.”
??? I doubt that very much (and I have some experience in this regard)

My experience has been different although I am not learning French. First, if you get one that is monolingual, you will have no choice but to speak in that language for the most part. But even if they are bilingual, you simply alternate languages or generally people prefer to speak in their native tongue and will want you to learn it.

Now, if you are saying they are less patient, I think that their level of patience depends on the person but generally people are more relaxed in their native language because it is easier for them.

First. If they’re monolingual, advising to “go find a partner” doesn’t help someone who’s striving to speak with natives. S/he has to first be able to start speaking in order to meet the person
If they’re bilingual you’ll start speaking your own language and what my experience shows is that it is especially difficult to change languages after that. It’s not that a matte of whether the person is more or less patient, it is that your conversations are usually more involved than with most people, so if you struggle to speak in simple situations, as seems to be the case with the OP, chances are talking about feelings, future plans, etc. will be even more difficult.
In general, the recommendation of getting a boy/girlfriend as a way to be able to speak a language seems to me to be rather unhelpful: first, learn to speak the language to a more or less good level, then go find someone you like, whatever language that person happens to speak

I got over the fact I will be nervous and bad at some point. I realized this when I scheduled my first Skype lesson and when I flew to Ukraine. The hardest part isn’t speaking, the hard part is summoning the courage to get out of your comfort zone. Humans like what’s easy, so the thought of doing something difficult can be nerve wracking.

My advice, just schedule a lesson and do it. You’ll find you’ll know more than you think and the right tutor will bring out the best in you. From what I learned in the military: you can’t think your way out of anxiety.


Funny story. Another Japanese student who I peer tutored asked me one day, “What is a shit road?”
“A shit road?” It didn’t register. “Could you use it in a sentence?”
“Yes,” she said. “My roommate says she has a shit road of homework.”
“Oh!” I said. “Shitload! Yes, it means she has a lot of home work.”

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