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Overcoming the fear of speaking a foreign language: causes and solutions

Stammering, cold sweats, clammy hands… Are you terrified of having a discussion in a foreign language? You are not alone in facing what is commonly called “a mental block” in speaking. The language teaching system in schools is often the real culprit: written expression is favoured over oral expression. But what if the actual reason was something else? Let’s try to understand the origins of this blockage and how to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language.

The reasons why we don’t dare to speak in another language

Before looking at the solutions to overcome your speaking inhibitions, it is important to understand the possible causes. As you will see, these are not necessarily related to the language lessons you may have had at school 😉 

1. Fear of judgement

Most of the time, people who dread speaking in a foreign language are simply afraid of the judgement of the person they are speaking to or the people listening to the conversation.

“What will they think of my accent? “My grammar is really bad, they’ll think I never went to school”…

2. Fear of being misunderstood

You’ve probably faced that awkward moment when you ask a question in English, and all you get is a very confused face. Despite your efforts to pronounce the question correctly, the person you are speaking to has not understood what you said. For fear of repeating this kind of mishap, you no longer dare to speak in English (or any other foreign language).

3. Personal pride

Is your accent not very good? Do you lack vocabulary and hate having to express yourself ‘like a child’? Not being able to speak as well as you do in your mother tongue can be frustrating, even vexing… What if it was your ego that was preventing you from speaking in your target language?

4. Fear of being seen as a ‘brainiac’

Even if you’ve mastered a language to near perfection, you might not dare speak it. Why not? Because you’ve probably heard something like this in the past: “Oh, you’re so full of yourself with your accent! Does that sound familiar?

It’s a little strange to criticise people who have a good linguistic level, don’t you think? In the end, whether our pronunciation is good or bad, we don’t feel confident to speak a foreign language… at the cost of creating this famous mental block.

4 solutions to overcome the fear of speaking a foreign language

1. Work on your pronunciation

To gain confidence in speaking, the first thing to do is to work on your pronunciation. Not only will you be less conscious of others staring at you, there will also be fewer chances of being misunderstood by native speakers.

👉 Need a helping hand to improve your English pronunciation? Here it is: Improving your pronunciation in English: tips and practical advice.

2. Surround yourself with supportive people

Language partners, trainers, colleagues… You will find it easier to express yourself in a foreign language if the people around you are friendly and supportive. It doesn’t matter if your language skills are excellent or if you still need to improve, you will not be criticised or mocked.

Are people around you not very supportive of your language learning? Then you will have to learn to ignore their negative attitude. You can do it! 💪

✨ Good to know: with the My Matching 1to1PROGRESS system, you can find a native, supportive trainer with the same interests as you in a few clicks.

3. Enrich your vocabulary and grammar

Don’t worry, you don’t need to learn the entire dictionary or become the Bernard Pivot of your target language. By focusing on the lexicon you really need, and the key points of grammar, you will be able to express yourself more fluently.

This way, you will no longer have the unpleasant feeling of holding an adult conversation using the vocabulary of a child.

🔎 Going further: How many words do you need to know to speak a language well?

4. Sign up for language training

Do you still think you can’t overcome your fear of speaking a foreign language? What if all you need is some dedicated support? By enrolling for a quality language training course, speaking will become an integral part of your programme. You will speak in your target language without even realising it and without any judgement!

With 1to1PROGRESS, you can overcome your fear of speaking… in 9 different languages! Not bad, eh? Get in touch with our consultants and find out more about our offers.