How to get over the fear of speaking French

Posted by on Monday, October, 9, 2017 in How to learn French | 0 comments

How to get over the fear of speaking French

How to get over the fear of speaking French

Do you find it a real struggle to learn French? Do you feel like it’s always hard – like you’re not making much progress? Do you still feel like a total fool when you try to converse in French or get overwhelmed trying to understand French when it’s spoken at full throttle? Can I please start by telling you that you are no fool – at least not when it comes to conversing in a foreign language. I’m going to go through a few powerful tips (do I have to call these hacks now?) to build up your confidence and hopefully, take off some of the pressure that you may be putting yourself under.

Manage your expectations

How long did it take you to learn your native language(s)? When I really thought about this question, I had a bit of an a-ha moment. Obviously, it took a few years even if you don’t count the first year when your physical coordination wasn’t quite up to it. Not only that, it took a few years even with the added bonus of being surrounded by the language all day long. You bathed in all that cooing, baby talk, chitter chatter, singing and peripheral language. No wonder learning a foreign language for perhaps a few minutes a day can feel sluggish. It’s not as if you would take up synchronised swimming today, go to lessons for an hour a week and then expect to be representing your country at the next Olympics. Mais non! Yet, many people, when it comes to learning a foreign language put just those kind of expectations on themselves. They expect to be fluent within at least a year. You could be fluent if you put in Olympic hours – but if you have other ‘poissons’ to fry – it might be worth considering undertaking a pleasant meander on the language-learning path, rather than a sweaty sprint on the running track. Take in the beauty and enjoy the benefits that learning something difficult can bring. Recent research on neuroplasticity (your ability to learn) has shown that you can teach an old dog new tricks (I’m not calling any of you dogs!). Learning difficult things (like languages, drawing, in fact, any skill that is new to you) keeps your brain elastic and active which is good for physical and mental health. Being realistic and enjoying the process is le key!

Expose yourself

Try to expose yourself to a lot of French from many different sources. If you are too busy, listen to podcasts or ‘musique’ whilst you’re walking, cooking, washing up, in the car, at the gym or cleaning the house. If you’re a parent learn some French nursery rhymes with your ‘petits’ – in fact even if you don’t have kids learn some. There are so many free resources these days from apps to YouTube to iTunes – yes freeeeee – or as they say in French ‘gratuits’. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a word. You came into this world not speaking or understanding a word. No one forbade you from listening to language until you’d mastered it first. If you are short on time then aim to do 10 minutes as often as you can – it will make a big difference to your progress. By exposing yourself to ‘beaucoup de’ French you will pick up the high-frequency words that will be worth looking up and will make your more familiar with colloquial and everyday language. Mass exposure is le key!

Don’t wait until you are good enough

Learning to be more comfortable with making mistakes and feeling a fool will weirdly build up your confidence. It’s rather liberating. Trust yourself. You learnt one language when you were tiny – you can learn another. Most children aren’t as self-conscious – they just go for it. Your conscious brain will often hold you back – sometimes it’s best not to think too much before you talk. You will undoubtedly get things wrong, but most of the time you will get your message across and people will be grateful that you are making the effort. If they’re not, they’re no friend of yours – move on to someone else. If you wait until you are perfect you will be waiting a loooooong time. A good friend of the family has an Oxford degree in French, she has been living in France for over 30 years and she still makes a few mistakes. I have been brought up bilingual and I make mistakes in both languages. I’m sure you do in your native tongue(s). Sometimes, I get mind blanks – especially if I’m feeling under pressure to speak perfect French. The more perfect I try to be, the more jumbled things come out. When I decide to ‘go for it’ and stop the negative voices in my head, I can relax more, giving my brain a chance to work out what I want to say. Get involved, ask French speakers lots of questions – ‘How do I say this, that and the other?’, ‘Am I saying this right?’. Make people repeat phrases you think would be handy to learn off by heart. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. If you had someone telling you off each time you made a mistake you would be miserable so treat yourself with kindness. You would expect to hit the ball into the net whilst learning tennis and to send the ball out of the court – it’s going to be the same for this language learning business. Courage, patience and kindness are les keys!

Mouth Gym

Pronunciation can be very tricky as there are sounds that don’t exist in your language. In the beginning, it can make your mouth and head ache but with time and practice, you’ll make progress. Some people think the French are sexy with all that pouting but in fact, it’s just an outcome of how they have to put their lips to make those French utterances. For non-native French speakers you need to workout with that mouth to get that French pout! Say those difficult words over and over and over and over again. Practice and repetition are les keys!

Speak French

Why are you learning French? Is it to speak to French people? Although it can be terrifying and embarrassing, if you don’t take the opportunity to speak to people, however badly, your progress will be much slower. Taking yourself out of your comfort zone often increases your confidence more and more. I used to teach in secondary schools. One job had me teaching German as well as French despite only having a GCSE (secondary school certificate) in German. The teaching was fine. However, on a skiing trip to Austria, I pinned down my friend and said – ‘Don’t you dare tell anyone I teach German.’ I didn’t attempt it for the first few days. Then a few schnapps in I decided to give it a shot. It was far from perfect but what fun to try, I felt great (or was that the schnapps?). There are websites like www.italki.com where you can find a language partner via Skype (if you don’t know how to use Skype look on YouTube – it’s all free and quite easy to follow). You post your profile and find someone who has similar interests.

If you are shy, practise by speaking to yourself in the mirror – throughout the day give yourself a running commentary or have an imaginary conversation with someone, however basic. If you sing in the shower – learn a French power ballad, a rap or whatever floats your ‘bâteau’. Using social media is a great way of learning a language, so don’t be afraid of it – use it to your advantage. If you don’t use social media, think about starting to. Many people are posting excellent resources, mostly free. Reading about skiing, playing tennis, chess or any skill won’t get you very far. It’s not until you actually ski, play tennis and chess that you make progress. Get stuck in – embrace your rubbish French!

Taking control

If you are very scared of not understanding French speakers, you need to take control of the language. Learning a few things off by heart will build up your confidence and create a safe zone for you. Use recall techniques – find some written French – read a sentence then practise saying it without looking – starting with a couple of words, building up to the whole sentence. Then, progress to learning ‘fixed conversations’ about yourself and your interests. Learn the words/phrases that you will need – that way the other person won’t be able to get a word in edgewise and you can swagger off to the boulangerie with your tête and baguette held high! Take hold of those French reins!

Manage the fear

Fear and excitement are very closely related emotions according to some research. Rather trying to get rid of the feeling, as that doesn’t tend to work, tell yourself, ‘I’m excited!’ which should reframe your anxiety into a more positive emotion. It will come as no surprise that learning anything is more difficult if you are anxious or in some cases, petrified. If you had a gang of people shouting and pointing at you ‘You’re rubbish, you’re rubbish, you’re rubbish,’ (which is essentially what you may be doing to yourself), it’s no wonder your performance can go to pot! There’s a quote I like (insert your own motivational quote here), ‘What other people think about you is none of your business.’ Besides, we can never know what others truly feel about us and we can never please everyone so you might as well just go for it – why should anyone get so upset by a French mistake anyway! Anything worth learning takes practice. Practise your French but more importantly, practise enjoying learning tricky stuff, practise laughing at your mistakes, practise being patient and kind to yourself. That way, the roller-coaster ride that language learning can be, will become much more enjoyable, exciting and rewarding. Use fun resources and use topics that interest you to reap the benefits. You can do it! Roar!

Summary

Manage your expectations – are you aiming for the Olympics?
Expose yourself – surround yourself with French.
Don’t wait until you are good enough – be patient when you hit the ball into the net.
Mouth Gym – practise the French sounds.
Speaking French – speak at every opportunity.
Taking control – learn some important phrases off by heart.
Manage the fear – get out of your comfort zone to build up your confidence.

I would love to hear about your experiences – times when you’ve frozen, your frustrations, how you talk to yourself etc. Have you ever found courage and just gone for it? How did that go?

I hope these tips/hacks, whatever you want to call them, are practical enough for you to put to good use and build up your confidence.

Come and join me on Facebook or the other social media sites to get fun videos and other French titbits. Get involved and interact. Your voice is just as important as anyone else’s.

À la prochaine fois! Until next time!

CécileBB

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