The fear of speaking

I recently had a huge hole in my learning and stopped studying my french for about 5 months now. I realized that i was trying to speak french too early and I was not ready at all. Last night I forced myself to watch some of your Youtube videos and, surpringly, chose two videos that talked about ‘the silent period’ and input vs output.These videos made sense to what problems I was having and I would like to say thanks Steve! =)

I always felt obligated and forced, by my friends and penpals who are also studying french, to try to speak but I was simply not at that level. This made me get comments from them and others that made my confidence in the language go extremely low and I actually didn’t even want to start learning anymore because I was so embarrassed of myself.

I came to the conclusion that I don’t have to speak until I’M ready, and when I feel that I have enough confidence, no matter how long it takes. If anyone else that has a fear of speaking the language you’re learning you can send me an email or simply we can chat back in this thread. It seems to be a big deal to me and I know it must be a big deal for others to overcome.

Regards, Michael.

Hello Michael,

First of all, let me say shame on your so-called friends and other fellow learners. Belittling other peoples’ efforts says so much more about the person trying to put others down than about the supposedly little knowledge of the person being criticized. I know what you are talking about because I’ve met this kind of people as well - I guess we all have at some point of time. The important thing is to realize that the language you decided to study and you are “one team”. You should not let anybody else destroy that “team work”. You need to feel comfortable with the language and you should only do what and when you consider it to be OK. Some people start speaking earlier and don’t have any problems because they are lucky enough to talk to more supportive and understanding people and others start speaking much later. There is no need whatsoever to do things the way “they are supposed to be” if you don’t feel at ease with them.

I try speaking as soon as possible, but of course I need some time before I can actually have a conversation and I start having conversations only and when I feel it is the right time. This does not mean that I don’t practice the language but I am the one who decides how, with whom and when.

Don’t let anybody stop you from studying French. It is a beautiful language and I’m sure you’ll make lots of progress. Just don’t forget to enjoy your studies.

Best wishes,


Thanks Robert.

Yeah, those people I don’t even talk to anymore. If they’re going to bring me down i don’t need them in my life. I also heard Steve talk about the “one team” thing. It’s like a challenge between the learner and the language itself, and only those two…no one else. Unless, obviously, if the learner seeks out aid, like a teacher or someone to help them. Thanks for replying, it’s much appreciated.


Hi Michael,
I happened to have a similar experience with my French some times ago. I posted a brief summary in another thread:

I just want to understand what really makes you fear when you try to converse. If you cannot even understand half of what the native speaker is saying, then you need to work on your listening. But if you understand most of what is being said, but have problem constructing your responses, or you are just not used to speaking with a French speaker, then you need more speaking practices.

I believe in the "silent period' practice, but watch out if it becomes an excuse of not trying to speak.

Hey Edwin. My fear ussually consisted of me not wanting to embarrass myself, or sound dumb in front of native speakers. I worried that people couldnt understand me or even know what i was saying.I invested so much time i was scared for failure. But yes i do need to work on my listening, and everything.

I could understand people speaking, but my responses become stuttered and i get almost nervous, like it’s some performance i have to put on hahaha. Thankfully I am over it now, and i don’t have this fear anymore.


Hey Michael. When I started to really understand English I didn’t want to speak too often because I thought my accent was incomprehensible. Not too long ago I had to speak more but my confidence was still low and my teachers made it worse. They were telling me that my written English was better than most students but that my spoken English was really poor and that I should speak more and try harder or something like that. Anyways, I’m not the kind of guy who speaks a lot even in his native language so it has damaged my confidence in speaking the language more than anything. I just get nervous and forget a lot of words if I’m not comfortable with the person. Also, I don’t think speaking with non-natives or alone would have improved my spoken English. Now I plan on studying in Ottawa and I hope to have some kind of contact with the English speakers of the area to improve it. I think I’m ready, more self-confident and I hope not to be affected by people’s critics again.

Michael, I am in a same situation like you, I don’t feel myself ready for speaking. But I am forced to use my points because after 3 months they will be lost. After every conversation I am a little depressed about my poor “performance”. I understand quite well but when it comes to speaking I make so many mistakes because I have problems to concentrate on both the topic and the language (rules). Normally I try to avoid speaking if I am not ready for it because I don’t want to demotivate myself.

I think we all have moments when we feel depressed about our previous performance. However, you are bound to have moments where you eventually feel happy about your performance, so it’s worth keeping it up.

Some people say that making mistakes is not important and that getting your point across is all that matters. If you do care, then one possible way to deal with mistakes is to understand that unless they come out, you can’t fix them. Take a quick note of the most common errors as they surface and spend some time at home repeating the correct sentence so you get used to it little by little.

Also, you mention embarrassment. It’s a very harsh and demotivational feeling, but why not use that to your advantage? If you learn to accept that embarrassment is an occasional part of healthy language learning, then you can leverage that to push yourself to do better and try harder every time.

If you feel you are technically ready but not emotionally, I think you should try to speak more.

You could make the conversation simple, short, but frequent. For example, you may try conversing with random people over the Internet. Each time it will just be introducing yourself and you speak for about 10 minutes. But after a few times of doing this, you will be familiar of what you are saying, thus you will easily gain more confidence.

Speaking to non-natives works for me, but I know it does not work for some people. Somehow I find non-native speakers less intimidating.

Reading motivation stuff also helps. I have been able to push myself to speak more over the past year, thanks to reading some Benny’s posts (no kidding!).

Wow more reponses than i first expected!!

Seems like everyone at some point in their language learning journey faces this problem. Only thing to do is brush it aside and own up to the imperfections. When i think of how i view other people learning a language and speaking it (even if their english is horrid) i truthfully think “Wow, this person has great confidence and are really determined”. So for anyone to believe that it is embarrasing it’s almost …well…silly to think so now that i come to think of it.

You guys clarified everything even better for me. Great thanks.


Any anglophone speaking a foreign language has a great advantage. He or she is not expected to speak a foreign language. Think of the non-English speaker of whom it is expected that they he or she speak English and well!

I think that we just need to speak and realize that anyone who is critical of our efforts is probably not someone we really want to get to know. On the other hand, we owe it to ourselves and the people we want to speak to , that we put the effort into develop a minimum level through input activities. We have to have something to say.