How to reduce foreign language anxiety? Own it!
It’s no surprise that the strand of language anxiety research is currently growing at an exponential rate. Everyone struggles in some form or another with committing errors when speaking a foreign language. In fact, despite being a linguistics major with five languages under my belt, I still get nervous conversing in any of them on a typical day. What brings on this anxiety? Well, evidence point to feelings of stress and language anxiety coming from the fear of making an error, being ridiculed, ‘losing face’ (looking bad) in front of your speaking partner, or realizing one will never “fit in” with a native speaker. But here’s the thing; native speakers probably won’t even notice you made a mistake! Additionally, even if they do notice, they will understand you.
Think about it: how many mistakes do you make when speaking your native language? I’m sure you can think off the top of your head times that you’ve forgotten a word, mixed up your syllables or word order, and so forth. No one is a perfect speaker of any language. But, you don’t feel anxiety speaking your native language, because you own it. Because when you speak your native language, the point of it is not to practice or get your conjugations right… it’s to communicate. And therein lies the key to language anxiety. Don’t look at your foreign language as a set of grammatical rules and conjugations. Don’t look at it as a puzzle, where every preposition, verb tense, and adjective/noun agreement must fit perfectly (or else you failed). Look at it as a device for communicating with another human being. Look at it as a way to learn about someone else’s culture, experience, and perspective. Native speakers (or near-native fluent speakers, for that matter) won’t be focusing on how you say something.
Native speaker: ¿Ya comiste? (Did you already eat?)
Student: Sí, ya comieron. (Yes, they already ate)
Native speaker’: “Oh, my! You said comieron (‘eat’ in the third-person plural past tense) instead of comí (‘eat’ in the first-person past tense)” Ok, ¿quieres postre? (Ok, do you want dessert?)
Rather, they will focus on what you’re saying. So, go out there and practice! Meet new people, learn how to feel comfortable in your new language, and make mistakes! For what it’s worth, they will sometimes be funny, and result in a great story! When I was learning Japanese, I confused some prepositions, and instead of saying:
Watashi wa tomodachi to tabemashita.
(I ate with my friends.)
Watashi wa tomodachi wo tabemashita.
(I ate my friends.)
Needless to say, the native speaker laughed, helped me, and we continued our conversation as friends. Now go own your foreign language!
Written by Dr. Celia Chomón Zamora, Novastar Prep Subject Coach.