Wish you were more confident when speaking your target language? Do you feel like you have a pretty good grasp on the grammar and vocabulary but can’t seem to say the right words or when it’s your turn to talk, you just can’t? It may not be a problem with your language abilities at all. It could all be based in your level of confidence in this language. So what can you do? Read below to learn some key steps you can take to have better confidence in speaking your new language.
First, I want to tell you that not feeling confident when speaking a new language is completely NORMAL. This is something almost everybody goes through, so when you’re watching those Youtubers speaking their new language after 48 hours with native speakers and it’s amazing, just know that this is the exception, not the rule.
Most everyone feels nervous speaking a new language, and it can stay with you for a long time. I have been learning French and Spanish for over 10 years and I still get nervous sometimes. But, now that I’ve learned some tricks, those nerves don’t mess with my ability to speak and have a conversation.
So, what are these secret tricks to getting past the nerves and speaking well? Keep reading to find 8 suggestions for boosting your language-speaking confidence.
Practice makes perfect they say, right? Okay, we know that perfect doesn’t exist when it comes to learning languages, but practice is definitely a big help. There are different ways to practice and these will all bring you different benefits.
On your own
Practicing on your own is important because you can practice new words or concepts that you’ve learned without any pressure. You can also practice your pronunciation and say sentences with different intonation and rhythm.
There are different ways to practice on your own. You can practice in your head. Thinking is a great strategy and very useful especially during commuting time or while sitting in a coffee shop. You can also practice out loud. Practice in front of a mirror, or record your voice. You’ll get more used to hearing yourself speak and be able to improve your pronunciation that way also.
With a friend, teacher, or tutor
Practicing with a trusted friend, teacher or tutor can also be very helpful. Find someone who you know will not judge you, but may give you advice if asked for. You can find some great language teachers and tutors on italki. (Book a couple lessons with that link and you’ll get $5 off your next lesson!) You could also connect with a friend from your language class or club who is interested in practicing too.
With a small group
This is very similar but elevates the stakes a little, increasing the pressure you feel. It is still a structured setting and with people you know will not judge you, but it provides greater opportunities to practice chiming in when you have a thought or responding with multiple ears listening to your answer. This is what the Language TV Club can help with, as we provide structured topics and vocabulary and you will practice speaking without judgment. There are lots of other kinds of language clubs and groups out there as well.
Many people forget this part when they think of speaking practice. Half of a conversation is listening, right? So, a lot of times, when someone is not confident about their response, it is due to the fact that they did not understand the question completely, or even know if it was a question or comment that was presented to them. Practice your listening skills, especially with conversations. Podcasts are great for this, because there are a lot of great podcasts where people have discussions or interviews about a topic, rather than an informational monologue/presentation. Email us if you’d like some ideas about good podcasts for this. Or maybe we’ll make a whole post about it!
2. Learn the most common phrases WELL.
This is somewhat of a muscle memory trick. Here, I am talking about routine phrases, such as greetings and farewells or phrases typically used in a restaurant or shop.
For example, when you meet someone, it typically goes likes this:
-How are you?
-Doing fine, yourself?
-Great. I’m (insert name).
-Nice to meet you (second name).
-You as well.
Once you know the routine, it’s easy to have these most common conversations. It will be like muscle memory, almost automatic, for your brain and mouth. There are other phrases used in shops and restaurants that are similar, such as “Let me know if I can help you.” “Okay, thank you.” “How much does this cost?” “Is there another size?” “I’m looking for…” etc. Make sure you know these kinds of phrases and get help from native speakers to find out what people actually say in real life. Sometimes, our courses and textbooks teach us the most proper way, but native speakers don’t really use these expressions in daily life so it’s important to get input from others. Also, practice asking someone to speak slower with you. This will help a lot, because, as said earlier, half our conversations are listening and if we don’t know what they said, we really can’t give a confident response.
3. Learn what native speakers say during moments of pause.
This is a great idea, because it not only allows you time to think, but you sound like a native speaker while doing it. In English, we use expressions such as “Um,” “Well,” “So,” “You know,” etc. When you switch these fillers over to your new language, you sound much more competent and familiar with the language. It also helps keep your mind in that language as well.
When you start using your native language fillers, you’ll have more time to think of what to say next. Also, you’ll sound like you can speak the language well, you’re just not sure how to respond.
4. Use a mantra
This helps a lot of people for many different reasons. Some use a mantra for anxiety, some use a mantra for aggression, and some use a mantra for self-confidence! Choose a mantra that is related to you speaking your new language, such as “I can speak (language) well.”, “I’ve done well. I don’t need to be perfect.”, or “I feel confident in my new language.” Repeat it several times in a comfortable, safe space for you, so when you are needing the confidence boost later on, repeating this mantra will bring you back to this peaceful space. Creating a mantra in your new language might be even better, but I have no research to back that up. Play around with a couple of different ones to feel which one boosts your confidence the best.
5. Get experience in native speaker environments
By this, I mean that you should put yourself into environments that are new but don’t require you to talk. Some examples of this might be a church sermon, an organization meeting, a concert or play, or a public presentation or lecture. This will help you feel more comfortable with native speakers being around you and hearing the language and how others relate to each other. You’ll learn some of the cultural norms, such as how people approach and greet one another and if it is acceptable or not to do what you would expect in your own language and culture. You’ll learn those routine phrases that we discussed earlier, so you’re better prepared when it’s your turn to participate.
6. Picture yourself speaking fluently in an upcoming communication situation
In order to do this, you will need to get some information about the upcoming event. If you are having a meeting at a coffee shop, for example, head to that coffee shop a week earlier and check out the seating arrangements, noise level, etc so you can be prepared. Find out what kinds of topics you’ll be discussing and prepare yourself with the necessary vocabulary. Find out common interests as well, so if the conversation lulls, you have a backup topic to go to.
Now that you can picture WHAT you might be saying and with who, start to picture yourself speaking in an EXCELLENT manner. Picture yourself speaking fluently and with your head held high with great confidence. Also consider picturing yourself making a small error and having your communication partner not even notice or provide you with a great response about your intended meaning. Was your communication successful?
Negative thoughts can bring us down. Not only can they reduce our self-confidence, negative thoughts can have a negative impact on our health and our outlook. They may even inhibit our ability to achieve goals. Try to avoid having any negative thoughts about speaking your new language. When you feel one creeping in, picture it bursting like a balloon or floating away. You could also add something to your thought to change its meaning. For example, if you start to think, “I’m not good at speaking in front of people,” you can add the word “yet” to think “I’m not good at speaking in front of people YET.” Or change it to “I USED TO BE not good at speaking in front of people.” It’s a game-changer, because it means that you CAN do it, you just haven’t yet or still need practice, which are both completely okay.
Have you ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? This is the idea that whatever we believe or expect to come true, will. So, if you are expecting yourself to fail and be embarrassed, you likely will. If you expect yourself to speak with confidence and communicate strongly, then you will. You get to decide.
7. Think about what makes you feel confident in other moments
These may be simple changes that you can make that will bring a whole lot of confidence.
One example is what we’re wearing or our appearance. As much as I don’t like to put much weight on appearance, I do feel more confident if I have my hair fixed and a good outfit. Think about what kinds of small changes you can make the day of, and make those changes for a quick boost in confidence.
Another great way to feel better about yourself is to treat your body well. Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, exercise. These can all lead you to feeling your best and ready to take on new challenges. This will also help you be more mentally fit, which helps in recalling vocabulary words and phrases too.
Power positions can help you feel more confident as well. These are ways in which we hold our body. There has been research done to show that “power posing” with the head high, chest lifted and arms up or on hips, can lead to increased testosterone and decreased cortisol (stress hormone). Find out more about it here: Some examples of how power posing can actually boost your confidence | TED Blog
8. Celebrate the small things
Don’t forget this one! It is very important to celebrate your small achievements. These small achievements build onto each other to create massive milestones. Each time you celebrate a small achievement, you solidify in your mind that yes, you can do something.
For example, if you were walking into a store and the cashier said, “Buenas tardes,” and you responded “Buenas tardes.” WOW! That’s awesome! Be proud of yourself. You just spoke to a native speaker and used the appropriate language for the moment. That is fantastic. Do not downplay all that you have accomplished so far. Small wins are wins too.
Honorable mention: Ditch the perfectionism! Perfection doesn’t exist when it comes to languages. Even native speakers make mistakes and there are so many different ways to say the same thing. That’s the beauty of language. So, remember, your way works too.
I hope that this post has helped bring you some more confidence for speaking your new language. Let us know in the comments below which of these was your favorite strategy and if you finally got around to speaking to someone! Share with a friend who you know is a great speaker, but is still looking for that dose of confidence. They will thank you for it! We will too :)