So you’re about to jump into a new language learning journey. Worries rear their ugly (but all too common) heads.
“I don’t know enough vocab to have a conversation with someone” you think.
You can feel your blood pressure rising when you imagine a situation where you don’t understand what someone’s saying to you.
And of course, the sweat starts pouring when you think you don’t have the brain power to keep up with the lessons. 🥵
Come on now! Snap out of it. You know that if you take away some of your language learning worries, it’ll be WAY easier to get the practice that you need to continue improving.
“How do I do that?!” you ask. Don’t worry, we’re not gonna leave you high and dry. We’ve got some tips and tricks to help you out.
Here are three common concerns you might come across and how to combat them.
1 What if I don’t know enough words to actually hold a conversation?
Take it from us, this is a really common fear. Loads of people are scared that they won’t know enough words to be able to have a proper conversation in their new language. Take comfort from this: People generally want to learn a new language because they want to connect with others, and speaking can be a struggle because conversations can put you under pressure to answer things quickly (without having the chance to grab your dictionary first!)
We’re not going to say you should carry a dictionary round with you. You’ll probably get a rep as a bit of a weirdo… sorry 👀
So when do you know that your skills are strong enough? That’s the thing: There’s no magic switch that flicks in your brain to tell you! It really is a case of ‘practice makes perfect’. We know that learning is an ongoing process, and speaking a language is a skill that needs frequent practice.
Our first (and arguably most face-saving) tip is to build up your functional vocab. Learning phrases like “please can you repeat that?”, “I’m a beginner at this language” and “What does that mean?” (or if your attention span is the problem “Oops, I totally wasn’t listening to what you just said”) helps to clarify things and make that all-important context clear.
Another idea is to join a language learning group for your target language. There are plenty of beginner’s groups out there to practice speaking (even if it’s over Zoom!) and it can help you feel like you’re not alone in going through the same challenges.
Don’t underestimate the power of body language (Ursula knows.) Sure, speaking in itself is tricky, but gestures, intonation and facial expressions can all help you to communicate when you don’t necessarily have the right words to express yourself.
2 What if I don’t understand what someone’s saying to me?
Similar to point one and equally as stressful, this situation can really put you in a spin if you’re faced with it. Having a conversation in your target language not only involves you speaking, but you also need to understand what’s being said to you. (duh…) In an ideal world, speaking and listening/understanding ideally should be developed at the same time. But we know we don’t live in one of those, and what if the fear of one or the other stops you from learning?
As a beginner, it’s likely that your brain will still find it hard to process foreign words. Add in a few different talking speeds and accents, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion. Same as above, there’s no magic wand that you can wave which will automatically help you to understand what someone’s saying, but there is a magic word: Exposure.
The internet is your best friend (contrary to what some may say - looking at you, The Social Dilemma). Find a podcast, radio station or a Youtube channel to serve as practice. Sit down with a cup of tea, have a browse and pick the one that best suits your level of understanding (and one that you’re interested in!). If you’re still a beginner and thinking “these would be way too hard for me” don’t worry! There’s nothing stopping you listening to more advanced resources. Plus, if you’re already into a topic, it’s way easier to stick to. Even if you don’t fully understand what’s being said (or don’t get it at all) it’s useful to expose your brain to the sounds of your new language - you’ll become more familiar with pronunciation and a range of different speakers, just like real life.
Want something a little more intimate? Try our Learn with Locals videos - there’s over 30,000 of them, so you’ll have plenty to listen to 😋
3 What if I embarrass myself or worse, offend someone else? 😱
Jeez! Look at you, embarrassing yourself - may as well just become a recluse now, you can never face the world again after that slip up… Not. Obviously, everyone hates embarrassing themselves or, god-forbid, offending someone else. But you’ve got to bear in mind that when speaking a new language (especially as a beginner) it’s common to make a mistake or two.
If you’re sitting there, head in hands, plagued with doubts and (probably unlikely) scenarios of how you might embarrass yourself when chatting with a native speaker, then you need to give yourself a little talking-to. (In a nice way, of course)
“How do I get away from these thoughts?” You ask. Well, we’ve got news for you: It’s time to jump in and get out of your comfort zone! The first thing to understand is that you’re not alone! Everyone that’s learned a new language has felt the same way. Even seasoned pros understand that feeling anxious about embarrassing yourself or offending someone is part of the process, so in short, you may as well get on with it!
It’s really as simple as this: Don’t be a negative Nelly. As you practice and make mistakes along the way (more on this just below) you’ll quickly progress and start understanding how to express yourself and your emotions more clearly. Our advice is, don’t overthink things! You’re a bad-ass who’s taken on the challenge of learning a new language. You’re going to smash it.
And hey, if you do offend someone, you can always apologise! There’s nothing wrong with making a genuine mistake - in the long run it’ll help your learning. Another handy stock phrase is “I’m sorry, I got confused” - armed with this and a classically apologetic smile, people are way more likely to cut you some slack.
Back to mistakes: The fear of making them (and in turn, embarrassing yourself) is a huge barrier when it comes to learning a new language. But rest assured that native speakers will appreciate your attempt and the effort you’ve gone to to try - they’ll probably even help you out by finishing your sentence or gently correcting you - #winning! Our final tip is be patient. The more you speak, the less worry will surround learning a new language, and that takes time.
So, now what?
Keep going! Keep jumping in. Day by day, little by little you’ll become more comfortable with the language, and with yourself. You’re learning something new and that’ll take some time. But when you master it, boy will it feel good.