Top 5 Tips to Overcome Language Learning Fears
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Ever since I moved to Brussels I've started diving into the two main languages: French and Dutch. Only weeks after I arrived I started taking Dutch classes for 3 hours a day, 4 hours a week. Next thing you know 7 months have passed by and I'm in the intermediate level and able to actually hold a decent convo. Due to increased work opportunities I had to stop and get a weekly tutor to keep up with what I've learned. In French I currently have a private tutor, but I've just been building on what I learned in high school and college. Anything else I've learned as far as vocabulary or the nuances within both languages is through immersion and learning on my feet. Despite the fact that the Brussels capital region has two official languages, I actually find myself in mostly French speaking environments.
I have to admit that I've been making pretty steady progress, but even with all of my efforts, I keep getting in my own way. As in my own brain will come up with all the reasons in the world as to why I shouldn't speak the languages. I all of a sudden get nervous when I have to speak, become afraid that I may make a mistake or just plainly give up before I even try. But after 2 years here in Brussels, I've found a few ways to get over these humps.
1. Just do it!
When the thought simply crosses my mind I just speak. I don't think about it, I just automatically go for it. It's when I start overthinking that I focus too much on what I don't know and not enough on what I know. If I don't even give my brain a chance to process the situation everything just runs more smoothly. Honestly, I fear that they will talk to fast, or I won't understand them, or that they will think lesser of me, but it's been the opposite. I've learned the art of conversation by guiding the convo in a way that's more comfy for me, or simply telling people if they talk to fast or asking questions about any words I may not know. Also I don't know the future. Who's to say how the convo will actually turn out? I tried this once and did an entire doctor's appointment in French in prep for my trip to India. #imaboss
Often, I remind myself of the obvious human aspect of conversation, as in not just listening then responding, but also being humble and asking questions. I stay in the present, focus on the person and conversation and just engage that best way I can. There's also body language, onomatopoeia and the warmth and appreciation I feel from them when I just make an effort that helps me during conversation.
In Brussels, locals have a tendency of recognizing accents and automatically switching into English, especially for Americans such as myself. At first, I took it way too personally and though it was a round-a-bout way of saying my French sucked but once I pushed my hurt ego aside I've learned that they either a.) want to practice their English or b.) think they are helping you by switching into English. After awhile, I literally started saying affirmations to myself every morning and I stopped downplaying myself when people asked me about my proficiency. Affirming my ability to myself and others has been a challenge but it keeps me continuously reaching and pushing toward my goal of fluency.
3. Don't Stress
There's this moment where I realize I have to speak and I freak out on the inside. Almost immediately vocabulary, grammar, and other nuances literally start running away from my brain and by default my tongue. Per usual, I set high expectations on myself and the conversation therefore becomes the cause of my own stress (who woulda thunk it). The perfectionist who wants to be really good/fluent in the language doesn't want to mess up in any way, shape or form. As a result, I freak out and apparently it's all or nothing cause the words fly far far away. Once at home, I play the situation over and over and only then am I able to say the sentences perfectly. It just too bad that I'm that only one that can hear them. Nowadays I just breath and go for it, if it still turns out a bit iffy I pat myself on the back for going for it and waiting anxiously for the next opportunity to continue growing.
As with anything, practice makes better, especially in language learning. When I find myself lacking conversation, I try to connect with the great language learning tools around me. Sometimes I opt out of listening to TIDAL on my phone and actively listen to the people on the tram. At home, I found some cheesy yet dope French and Dutch Speaking shows that actually interest me. (I've found that if you're not interested in it, learning from it just won't work.) I also try to pick up the daily Metro newspaper and weekly BRUZZ magazine to read up on what's going on in the city and around the world.
Immersion is really about seizing any opportunities to engage with a particular culture. And there's so much to learn not just through speaking it, but listening, reading and observing your surroundings.
5. Be Confident
I visited a friend of mine in Paris a couple months back and on my last day there I checked out her church. By the end of the service, I knew I'd meet some of her friends and chat with people so I went ahead and took the lead. I stood up, walked over to her friends and immediately noticed beautiful earrings one of her friends was wearing. Instantly, I introduced myself and commented on them in French and she said, "Wait are you American? Me too! Man you just walked over here so confidently. If I didn't notice your accent, I wouldn't have even noticed you were learning the language". I was so shocked yet grateful to hear these words and til this day, this particular situation has really stuck with me with even further implications.
If you approach anything confidently, genuinely and merely speak your truth people won't know the difference and you might even surprise yourself as well.
Thanks for reading,
And remember to always have faith, keep and vision and make art in everything that you do.