How to deal with stress when speaking a foreign language?

Published by Aneta on

an embarrassed woman

How to deal with stress when speaking a foreign language?

an embarrassed woman

Sweaty palms, blank mind, restless look… We’ve all been there – speaking a foreign language is difficult. Especially if you’re just beginning your language journey, trying to make sense of all the new words, phrases and grammar structures. I did my share of sweaty-palms-mind-goes-blank language exchanges and casual party conversations. Stressing out when speaking a foreign language is one of the most common challenges my students tell me about. I came up with a list of the most useful tricks to help you when the dreaded language stage fright comes knocking on your door.

Most importantly: make friends with your mistakes.

A lot of language learners are afraid of making mistakes and as a result are afraid of speaking in the foreign language. Just think of when you were a child learning your mother tongue – you used to make a lot of mistakes. Making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. You cannot learn a language without making mistakes. You just cannot. Accept it and invite language mistakes for a coffee 😉 You’re going to spend a lot of time in their company.

Look at yourself from another perspective.

How would you react if somebody was making mistakes while speaking a foreign language? Would you laugh at them or rather appreciate that they were making the effort of speaking in the foreign language? I thought so. It’s quite endearing, really. If you’re speaking to native speakers, you’ll get lots of compliments on your language level, no matter how high or low it is! Especially if it’s a less common language like Polish.

Think what your best friend would tell you.

I believe they’d high-five you for self-developing!

Focus on getting your message across…

…and communicating what you have in mind rather than thinking about the possible errors you might be making. Oh, and do yourself a favor – don’t translate sentences in your head. I know it’s hard, but please, don’t. Think in images and ideas rather than words. You’ll find it easier to express what you want to say.

Treat speaking in the target language as a challenge.

Imagine you’re playing a computer game and your task is to communicate your idea as accurately as possible in as many situations as possible. If you do not succeed here, high-five yourself for trying the best you can and move to another mission 😉

Ask for help when you’re missing a word.

People like helping others linguistically more than you might think!

Keep going!

It is much better to say something with a mistake than not to say anything – staying silent won’t help you get better at speaking.

Play the Taboo Game.

If you happen to forget the word, just describe it. The most important function of speaking is to communicate what you have in mind. You do not have to use all the fancy words from the page 57 of your workbook 😉

If you’re anxious about speaking in front of bigger audience, imagine people you’re talking to as cabbage heads (really!).

a cabbage field

This old trick is used by the best public speakers in the world. Imagine you’re somewhere nice in the nature, practicing your speech in front of some veggies. It became visibly less stressful to speak to a cabbage field, didn’t it? 😉

What are your tricks for overcoming (or working with) stress while speaking a foreign language? Let me know in the comments!