The Sorrows of Young Michele, or A Humiliated Polyglot

Hi everyone!
I have to admit my self-esteem is not at its peak right now.
Lately I have been hosting quite a few Polish members of the CouchSurfing community. This has been a chance to listen to some Polish and try to speak it, but the problem is… my usual problem related to speaking. I feel too shy to speak a language whose vocabulary I still don’t master enough to avoid asking “How do you say…?” every couple of words and whose nominal and verbal endings I still mix a bit too often.
My current hosts have accused me of being a perfectionist. I did already know this but I think it’s the first time I have been scolded this way. They want to force me to speak Polish with them via Skype, even if my problem is not whether I know the person I am speaking to or not.
I think I can’t give up my wish to learn to write and speak each language as correctly as I can, but I recognize it can be a barrier at the beginning. What should I do? How could I overcome this obstacle?
Please, help young Michele (who doesn’t want to be like young Werther :-D)!

Of course, it should read “my current guests have accused me”. Why don’t we also have one word for “host” and one for “guest”? I still mix them a bit too often.

“Making mistakes is at the heart of language learning”

-attributed to an early 4th century polyglot in Byzantine Empire paraphrasing an earlier Greek proverb, which has its origins in the beginnings of time…

Steve, thanks for your quotation. I could also mention our Italian proverb “Sbagliando si impara”, but quotations don’t help me concretely…

mikebond: Only way to overcome our fears is to face them and get used to them, I would say. It means that if you are shy to speak with mistakes, just push yourself into it, try to have conversations often and maybe you will get used to speaking with mistakes…you will improve when speaking anyway…so you will be improving and getting used to speaking with mistakes at the some time…what can you lose? :slight_smile: You can only win. You can push yourself into it when you have some goal…and I know that you have a goal in Polish. So, tell yourself: I want to speak Polish soon, I want to improve it soon in order to fulfil my wish…my goal…and in order to do so, I have to push yourself…I have too…I really do :slight_smile:
I was very afraid of having conversations in English and also writing here at Forum because I was afraid of judging.
I was also afraid of having conversations in German before I started having conversations perhaps two months ago, because I knew that my German was not perfect at all. But I became motivated and this overcame my fear.

This has been an issue for me recently; so any related advice is sorely needed. I’'m sure it’s not exactly the same as Mike’s problem, as he already speaks numerous languages.
I just can’t bring myself to try to speak! I really don’t mind about making mistakes, be it in case endings, gender, tenses, whatever…I just hate running out of words within a few sentences, or getting to the end of a phrase that I think I’ve stumbled through okay, and it not being understood.
This is the first time I’ve learned a new language, so maybe it’s normal, but I’m very used to expressing myself freely on complex topics in english, and so feel like a total fool attempting to speak Russsian. My stats indicate that I have over 15,000 passive “known” words (this being Russian, may be closer to 7,000 base words), yet I still can’t string a sentence together, actively recall, or use barely any of these words. Nor can I read through a news article, or media for natives without recourse to a dictionary for many, many words.

Sorry for another long whiney post, but lack of accomplishment is draining me of late. Any world-weary advice from seasoned polyglots would be amazing right now : )

I have been plowing through lots of reading and listening in Czech. I can read a lot of the newspaper. I have no desire to speak. I will know when I want to speak. But if I had to I would, and would not feel bashful.

I essentially went a year in Russian without speaking and really didn’t start speaking much until after 2 years. However shortly after 6 months or so I had to help a blind Russian tourist in an Amsterdam hotel. I had to speak and I did.

I spent 6 months in the lonely pursuit of Korean. I rarely spoke. However, when I had to speak with the editor of local Korean newspaper about a feature on LingQ, I spoke, albeit badly.

The bottom line is that I prefer to speak when I am well enough prepared. But I don’t mind speaking when I am not. My threshold for “well enough” may be lower than you guys. I suggest you start out with our friendly tutors.

I second what Steve mentions at the end of his post. It’s not always easy to approach someone and just start talking to them, but if you have a conversation with a sympathetic tutor then there is a lot less stress and a lot less pressure to perform. It really all comes down to breaking down the barrier that you’ve set up for yourself, and that goes for both of you (mikebond and maths).

I recommend setting some goals for yourself, something like, “I will speak for 30 minutes this week.” Stick to them as best as you can.

Regarding the “How do you say this?” phenomenon, there’s really a simple solution, but you have to decide whether or not it’s the path you want to take. I find than when I want to speak as eloquently in Korean, French, etc. as I do in English, I always find myself getting frustrated. I get that same feeling of, “Man, there are just so many words that I still don’t know! Will I ever get there?”
However, when I put the focus on the idea that I want to convey and less on how I convey it, then I find myself speaking much more freely, albeit, as Steve says, badly.

@maths - I still experience this frequently in Korean even after learning it for ~4 years. It’s completely natural, though. I recommend sticking to a particular topic or field for a while, getting down the common words and slowly building your vocabulary. Within no time you’ll feel very comfortable with that topic. Then, move on to another that interests you. It’s the back-and-forth that really kills you, because you end up never giving yourself a chance to develop any bearings. Good luck!

Dear friends on Lingq!

As most of you know, I hate writing but I love speaking!

I remember my first conversation with Steve maybe one year ago!
We spoke for 30 minutes in English and I felt so happy! He made me feel like he understood me!

The same with Alex! I had a difficult technical problem and I explained it to Alex on Skype. He understood me and we solved the problem.

Plus I have friends all over the world and we speak for hours and hours about different issues, and it is fun for both of us.

But on the other hand, I also have some “friends” who never understand me!
Maybe because they are perfectionists or maybe because they are not interested in what I have to say, or they only like speaking and listening in their target language.(German = my mother tongue)

One of the real polyglots here on LingQ one day gave me a tip: “Don’t worry jolanda! There are other people who like to talk with you.”

I do not like speaking in a foreign language when I know the other person speaks German better than I speak his or her language!

There is one friend I speak with sometimes in English but his mother tongue is also German. Or sometimes he speaks English to me and I answer in German because my vocabulary is not large enough.

I like discussing things! I like to hear how people think! And I like speaking in different languages and I like improving my languages skills!

Sure I would like to be perfect in my languages, but I know it takes time! And during this time I like to use my languages with lots of errors and, therefore, I enjoy the experience!

I think we have nothing to lose! We can only gain!


As a child I was taught “if you can’t do it well, don’t do it at alI”. This turned out to be one of the most useless and damaging bits of advice I ever took on from my family. My search for the perfect form led to such a lot of genuine anguish when trying to speak!

With lots of dogged determination - and with the help of all my LingQ tutors in Russian, French, Spanish and Swedish - I have managed to not mind that I make mistakes. It is hard, but it can be done.

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Well, this thread is a REAL shot in the arm for my motivation as a beginner in Chinese. (…Not…!!)

Here I am, just making the very first weak steps with Mandarin, and then I learn that there are guys here who confess that they: “…can’t string a sentence together, actively recall, or use barely any […] words…” - even though they have been learning their target language for years!

Is this mission impossible, or something?


Michele, do you drink? It can help :wink:

If you don’t drink, going on a good long walk with someone lowers your stress levels too. You end up talking about stuff you would be too inhibited to say normally.

It’s probably something to do with endorphins…

Drink. Or smoke dope…

@ Rank: No, not mission impossible, but rather mission made impossibly hard by own attitude! I have no problems understanding, reading and writing, I have even managed to learn English, it is the speaking perfectlly correctly part which the perfectionist finds hardest! Drink is a good suggestion…

Drink ist gut.

Dope ist noch besser…


Just in case any of you haven’t guessed, Rank = JayB

(This is the new paid-up account that I’m using to go after Chinese.)


I don’t drink (just very little on some special occasions) and I have never smoked in my life. I certainly won’t start now.

I gave up smoking (all kinds) a long time ago. And I’m trying to drink less too.

If they give me any more points (with my other account) I’ll pass them over to you as a reward for all the great Latin uploads, Mike. :wink:

Is this a case of rank discrimination?