How to fight the fear of speaking a foreign language

This article was made in the frame of the event “Des blogs et des langues” (“blogs and languages”) on the theme “how to fight your fear to speak?”. Please find all the other bloggers who shared their point of view on the blog of Pierre Jousserand.


This question it central in language learning and even more in developing speaking skills. Since I have been in this situation on more than one occasion, I can surely admit that it’s difficult to dare speak a language I’m learning and with which I’m not so confident. Fighting your fear and daring to dive with no safety net is clearly difficult and frightening, and many wonder how to do it. Many learners are looking for solutions, ideas, methods. I will thus try to give some solutions, using my own experience to fight the fear of speaking a foreign language.

In order to dare speak and fight the fear to speak, more than a method, one needs a reason to take the plunge and see the advantages of it:

1) Think about the corrections you will get

Daring having a conversation with a native has the BIG advantage that, if you wish so and ask for it, the native will correct you (if you don’t ask, you will more likely not be corrected, but you will at least work on your fluidity and ease at speaking, even if you keep making mistakes).

2)  You will realize you are much more capable than you think

Speaking with a native is speaking with no safety net and without preparation. Even if (or rather, especially if) you have a low level, you will probably speak much better than you would have thought possible because most natives will help you for vocab and grammar stuff, they will encourage you and you will be forced to think hard to use all possible means that you have at your disposal.

In general, you’ll notice you have more resources that you initially thought since you will have to improve your level to achieve your objective. This is especially true when you need the language in order to achieve something, something very important, in a foreign country for example (negotiate to get a train/plan ticket, get a cab, get to a meeting, find your way, fill in administrative paperwork, …). During the conversation, you will see what you’re capable of. This type of conversation can help anyone fight their fear to speak the language.

3) Taking the plunge is one of the best ways to progress

Taking the plunge in a conversation will force you to use the best language mastery you are capable of and will make it possible for you to get corrections (if you ask for it) from natives. Furthermore, once the conversation started, you will be forced to speak. This is not like in a classroom where every pupil can speak for only a few minutes at most, since the speaking time is divided by the number of students. In front of a native, the speaking time is only divided between two people: you and the native. This will leave you much more time to speak, sometimes with very diverse subjects and grammatical structures you may not be used to using, but which can be very useful in order to express yourself.

4) You will learn things that books don’t teach

Whenever I speak with natives, I learn things I couldn’t possibly have learnt in another way (vocab, grammatical or cultural aspects, …). Recently, I’ve had loads of contacts with Americans and Brits, and even though I level is close to theirs, I still keep learning new words (that I sometimes don’t even know in my native language), expressions, … I kind of use these conversations as private lessons during which I can ask for translations (for example, expressions I know in French but not in English)

Natives are a source of language learning that student’s books, movies and so on can hardly beat. Furthermore, meeting natives and speaking with them is free (except if you pay for a private lesson). Thus, either I make the most of the learning opportunities by talking to natives whenever I can, or I make a language exchange. In both cases, I learn for free and meet people. It’s 100% beneficial. This motivates me a lot and can motivate anyone to fight their fear of speaking!

5) You will meet people with whom you will keep in touch and keep using the language

Natives are often (though not always) happy when someone tries to learn their language, and they will encourage you to do so. If you get to speak together for a while, you can exchange your phone numbers and keep in touch. Many people have learnt or improved their language level by meeting someone and have kept contact and thus kept practicing on the long run. Furthermore, this increases motivation since we learn while having fun, without even noticing it. I have improved several languages that way

6) Get out of your comfort zone

Taking the plunge will force you to get out of your comfort zone, in an unknown territory. That’s where you learn best. Daring getting out of your comfort zone will force you to practice the language and profess faster. This will also help you become more confident on the long run. The more you try and dare, the easier it will be for you to try again.

Initially, I’m a very shy person. It’s quite difficult for me to go and talk to strangers. But the more I tried it in order to challenge my languages (and I’ve also had to talk in front of groups to teach and do other things), the less shy and more at ease I’ve become. I can now thus even go and talk to people who speak my weakest language in order to try and utter a couple of words. Doing that, I can see if my pronunciation is ok and be corrected. You can even do this when you’re a total beginner. Natives are happy even with very basic language knowledge.

Astonishingly, even with the most basic level, taking the lunge can make the learning process funny and motivating because you’re having to put in practice what you’ve learnt. The language is no longer a school class but becomes a real communication tool. It’s a bridge that opens doors to other cultures. It’s also a way to communicate with new people and get closer to them. I feel more part of a community and can finally use all the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and I can see how this knowledge is useful.

7) Daring speak a language with a non-native level proves that you master another one

Someone who can speak a language at a non-native level (whatever this level may be) shows that they speak another language at a native level and thus shows courage 😉

8) Fighting your fear at school

Up to now, I’ve mostly talked about contexts with natives. It is indeed mostly with natives that we have to use the language. It’s in this context that you need to be brave to speak. But what about language classes where we have to speak not only in front of a teacher but also in front of the other students? There are many advantages in speaking during lessons, contrary to popular belief:

  • Daring to talk shows the teacher that you are making efforts. Depending on the teacher, this can be an advantage during teacher meetings since you are showing motivation.
  • Taking the plunge will help you gain fluency and talking more easily and quickly. You will also gain from your teacher’s corrections and feedback. Your level can only improve in this way. You will get faster to a correct level for speaking skills.
  • It is true that some of your classmates may laugh at your mistakes. Nevertheless, keep in mind that you’ll look silly for 30 seconds, during which you talk and get corrected, but at least you will have learnt something from your mistakes and will improve your level. Let go of your fear and the others’ judgement. Keep rather in mind that you will learn and get better marks than the others who judge you!


Still too difficult? Here is my method!

Regarding methods to use in order to get rid of your fear to talk and use the language in public, I can only recommend my own method that I explained in my article on how to quickly develop speaking skills. You can thus begin by using this method in order to gain self-confidence. It will then be easier to make the lunge. Begin by getting more familiar with talking alone, without anyone to judge you and listen to you. Afterwards, try to do it in front of someone else. This can be anyone, a person with a lower level than yours, or a native!