How do you get over the terror of speaking?

(Personal update: I have been speaking for six months now and there is no longer any terror. It seems to just go away with time :slight_smile:

Hey LingQers,

Hope you are doing well.

I have been studying Chinese for over four months now and I just crossed 1,400 known words yesterday, woohoo!

I have watched a tonne of Steve’s videos and one piece of advice that I really resonated with was to only start speaking once you feel ready for it. So I have been waiting patiently, doing lots of reading and listening over the last four months, and I now feel that I am almost ready to start speaking.

Despite being a generally confident person in life, I am actually terrified to speak another language. I believe this has something to do with the fact that I had an awful experience learning French in Canada (was shamed by my teachers, bad relationships with all but one French teacher, didn’t get good grades, felt like an idiot, etc).

I am very proud that I have been able to overcome that terror for four months of reading and listening, only skipping a few days in that timespan. However, I now realise that it is time for me to get over my fear of speaking as well, because I believe I am almost ready to speak.

I have shaken off that terror for reading and listening, so I know I can do it, I just want to learn how.

This is where I’d love to get your perspective: did you have any fears when speaking? If so, how did you shake them off?

Thank you so much for your time!


I haven’t overcome that terror yet. I found practicing with a friend was a way to start.

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The best way is you a pay a tutor. The people here is very nice and kind to help you start talking. I did this in 2010 and was great for me.

I’m in the Army, and I hate climbing ropes because of bad experiences. I was forced to climb one the other day and I had no time to think my way out of it or around it, I just did it. I know it’s oversimplifying it, but I dove in and just did it. The most rewarding thing is speaking with a supportive tutor finding you know more than you think you do. I did a lot of exercises to help me climb a rope, but it still didn’t replicate real thing. The same goes with speaking. Reading and listening helps but it doesn’t replace speaking.


Just because you are not having a conversation with anyone does not mean you should not be pronouncing individual words and sentences out loud on your own. Constantly. Every day. Babies babble for months before they utter anything close to a “word” and then utter approximations of what they hear, with positive feedback from their family for their increasingly more accurate utterances. In order to “speak,” you have to practice making the sounds of individual words and of short sentences on your own, out loud. If you haven’t been doing this, then I strongly recommend that you start right now. Read out loud every lesson that you’ve been “just” listening to and/or reading silently. This is critical to train your voice muscles and breathing and to practice pronunciation, intonation and phrasing. Doing so also helps with listening comprehension since in order to imitate something it is necessary to pay closer attention to HOW something is said.

At first, do not try to understand the meaning of something and imitate the pronunciation at the same time as that is too difficult. Instead, choose something that you already understand when just listening and try to imitate the native speaker one short sentence at a time or only a couple of words at a time if you can’t handle a sentence yet. Make this part of your daily routine so speaking is no longer strange/odd/scary. Remember, no one is listening. No one speaks perfectly at first. NO ONE. It takes practice and the more you do it, sound combinations that once were difficult will become easier.

Once you are comfortable saying short simple sentences in private, I suggest USING them throughout the day to describe things in your environment. For example, when I started in Russian, I described out loud whatever I saw in real time. When I was driving the car in the country (very little traffic) I said, “black car” “white car” blue sign", “green sign” when these appeared on the road. It was a game. When I learned verbs, I added, “I see a black car,” “there is a green sign.” In the city, I said the names of things I passed on the street as I was walking, at first just nouns, then nouns plus adjectives, then short sentences. (If people are nearby you can “say” these things in your head but practicing out loud is much more effective.)

I also recommend writing out short sentences and/or keeping a journal of what you do. Use whatever words you know and want to know right now. For example, Today is Monday. It is sunny. . Today is Tuesday. it is sunny. I am drinking coffee. Today is Wednesday, it is cloudy. My cat sits next to me. After you write a sentence, read it out loud, then try to repeat it without reading it (which is not so easy at first). You don’t have to write a lot but write something that is meaningful to YOU at the moment. (I want to talk with a tutor.) One advantage of writing a journal is that you repeat some vocabulary over and over and are using it in a meaningful context which reinforce vocabulary and grammatical patterns. (For example, I did not try to memorize the days of the week all at once but instead wrote the day of the week at the top of the page each day, and so learned them effortlessly.) Incorporate new vocabulary and grammatical constructions that appear in your lessons on LingQ in what you write as appropriate and natural. The more you acquire words that genuinely apply to your immediate life, the easier it will be to use them every day in short sentences. Practice saying out loud what you are doing as you are doing it. For example, I am going to the kitchen to make coffee. Where is my cell phone?

When you are comfortable saying simple, short sentences by yourself, you will be able to take the next step and schedule a lesson with a tutor. I suggest scheduling a short session (not more than 30 minutes) and that you write out and then practice out loud a short description about yourself, adding things as you would naturally. Even so, just sitting in front of the Skype screen is stressful . Don’t be surprised when you forget things that you thought you knew which is why I suggest practicing a LOT before you have your first session. Also keep in mind that in a Skype session not only will you be speaking, but you will have to understand what the other person says and that is not easy either. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!


Hi, someone to support your recommendation of talking to oneself:

I have that terror, too. Always feel weak and think too much when I am speaking in a foreign language, even if I am in my own environment helping someone from abroad living here who could just learn the language that is spoken here…

The only time I have any hesitation when speaking is when my vocab level is low. Normally after enough exposure, the words just want to come out, ahaha.

I don’t know about your situation, but maybe sticking with the input isn’t a bad idea.

Thank you for the immensely thorough response, wow!

I have been practising pronunciation to a degree. I’ll say the words that I’m reading aloud maybe 30% of the time that I’m reading, so I’m not a complete rookie. I’ve also been practising with my Chinese friend who has said that my pronunciation has improved a tonne over the last couple of months.

However, I do indeed struggle with speaking phrases as I’m not used to speaking more than just a few syllables at a time (as most Chinese words are never more than two or three syllables).

I’m going to take your advice on full fledge. Also, thank you very much for sharing that YouTube video @Diotallevi, I think that’s great advice as well before I get a tutor.


Damn, that’s really cool because it shows me that I’m doing something right. My feeling of wanting to start speaking has come from exactly that: the words just want to come out. I can feel them in my heart, if that makes any sense.

The only problem is that they seem to come out at a slow speed because I am not used to speaking more than just individual words to myself. Plus, as I described in my original post, my anxiety around speaking isn’t doing me any favours :wink:

I’m going to continue with the mass amount of input that I am doing, for sure. I agree with you that sticking with lots of input will help fuel that feeling of the words needing to come out. Speaking in my target language will simply be an addition to everything I’m already doing so that I don’t fall off in those other areas which are crucial to my growth.

I think it’s a great sign that you want to speak. One thing I would suggest is to use some kind of system that allows you to have a paid conversation. Whether it’s using tutors here on LingQ or elsewhere.

With regards to any anxiety/fears of speaking: This situation is your own, so I can only tell you what has worked for me… but I absolutely love and embrace those moments where I make mistake/do not know the word.

The fact is, if you have a conversation without gaps, you would have engaged only in muscle memory, and you wouldn’t have necessarily expanded your active vocabulary. However – every time you speak and say to yourself, “One sec, I need to look up this word.” I promise that you probably won’t forget that word. You learned it through necessity in a live conversation under pressure, and it’s really hard to forget (particularly at the early stages)

There will be times you want to express certain grammar that you haven’t yet nailed. You will try to use it, mess up and your partner will correct/write down what you need to know. After that, I guarantee you will begin to notice that grammar structure more and more in your listening and reading.

Basically, when you go into a lesson on LingQ to listen and read, you go into it with your arms wide open, ready to learn and ready to “not know”. I feel it is best to have the same attitude with speaking. Go into it fully expecting to not be able to express certain things, and learn to love those moments.


If you drink, alcohol helps…

Hey, I’d recommend booking a lesson with proper, professional tutor, so that they can asses your level and give you suitable material. There’s no magic threshold you need to cross, exam to pass or whatever. That’s just an hour of your time. It’s fun. It’s exciting. There are no grades or judgemental teachers. You’re getting out of your comfort zone, which stimulates your brain. Almost no downsides, assuming you’ve got the money.

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Personally I’m sober as a gopher but you can bet that a good glass of apple juice will get me energised enough to get going :wink:

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Wow. Chinese. Very impressive.

This is actually one of the areas where I was actually helped by Benny Lewis and his Speak From Day One philsophy. That, along with my friend say to me in Spain, "You speak Spanish. Stop saying you speak Spanish ‘a little bit.’ You speak Spanish.

What folows are some hopefully helpful observations I have made about myself and others that have helped me greatly–despite even being worried. In no particular order they are:

–Your reluctance comes merely from your lack of confidence that you are “good enough” and the related fear of making a mistake.

–You are actually better than you think. It always seems worse in your own head becuase it like’s watching the puppet show backstage.

–Most people can’t speak a foreign language AT ALL. What you have accomplished so far is already impressive enough. This is double, triply, 100-times the more impressive because it’s Chinese. A backward, inefficient, strange, exotic form of sound and writing. When Westerners hear Asian languages, they think “Ching Chow, Wing, Wang Wong.” That’s not you. You have a super power. These is even more so for native speakers, most of whom will NEVER encounter a Westerner who can do what you can–even at this level you are at now.

–Think of all the money, knowledge, opportunity, etc. you could have with your abiilty to speak. All your original motivation. Isn’t that worth it to just “do it.?”

–Go with a paid language/tutor. Like hookers, they are there for you, and it’s your dime. Their job is to tell you how wonderful you are and if you tell them you want help, then the more mistakes they spot the better. That means they can help you.


Holy smokes what a lovely post - both confidence boosting and funny :slight_smile:

Thank you so much for the kind words, really. You’re definitely right: I do underestimate my progress sometimes and your post has been a good reminder that it doesn’t help for me to do so.

Tonight some Chinese words came to my head instead of the English words, which is just insane. It’s happened a few times in the past, with one Chinese word popping into my head instead of the English word, but today it has happened three times already which shows me that something good is going on in this noggin of mine lol.

I have made a decision to start setting time aside every day to practise my pronunciation and after a few weeks of that, I will then check out getting a hooker tutor. I’m not going to let my lack of self confidence stop me from doing something my heart is telling me to do.

Seriously, thanks again! I know I will be coming back to your post for motivation over the coming weeks.

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I love your post! I hear you. I had a bad experience learning Spanish in school. I was very motivated. I had Cds and DvDs for learning spanish (in fact I found a dusty one in a forgotten drawer the other day). My parents got me a spanish dictonaey for christmas. But high school spanish was a disaster. It was all of the grammar drill8ng, old, ineffective methods etc. So despite being motivated, I failed, or rather the methods failed me. Fast forward 20 years, I came across some portuguese spwakers and it was instant love with the language. Luickly with the internet, finding out about LingQ, watching youtube videos, lots of reading and listening, I was able to actually learn to understand what ppl were saying. Naturally out of that, I start randomingly repeating what I heard. But speaking was downright terrifing. Pretty much felt like I was jumping out an airplane. I remember perfectly my first real life portuguese conversation. I was at a party that was half english speakers and half portuguese. Quickly I found myself surrounded in the english side of the large kitchen/attached great room. I had been eyeing the portuguese ppl and finally just picked myself up and sat down next to a lady about my age and start speaking…very, very poorly. But she was amazed that someone would take the time to learn portuguese and soon after the other brazilians started coming over. I remember one guy looked at me the same way we would if a dog started speaking. Haha. You have to keep in mind that most americans never bother to learn a foreign language and if they do portuguese never hits the radar. Its was scary, but a huge breakthru. A month or two later I discovered a portuguese speaking church nearby and I’ve been going every week for the last 2 years. Speaking was still scary for months after the party, but gradually over time, its gotten better and better. I noticed to that the better I understand, the more confidence I gain. Now I’m starting all over again with German. Here we go again lol. My advice is to find a tutor online and have them ask you simple questions and you answer them in your target language. Its well worth the effort. Someday you will get to that great place where you can have a full out conversation with a native speaker and after awhile you just forget that its in a foreign language. Good luck!

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Try speaking with an older person sitting in a park.
High possibility of hearing something interesting. Zero risk. They may have time available :wink: to talk with you and actually enjoy it themselves. A server in a cafe is the complete opposite situation.

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From the outside it may seem strange. my process looks like this. I’m learning Spanish. It is a very beautiful language and there is a certain timbre. I have an IPTV connected with the mag box wholesale I choose Spanish news channels. And when the presenter speaks, I try to adjust my speech to the speech of the news anchor.
You can try it like that. That’s how the stiffness disappears.

Can confirm.