Learning by Doing: Butcher Your Fear of Using a New Language In Front of Other People
One of the most common fears when learning a new language is using it in front of other people.
Especially the pressure of speaking with enough pace, pronunciation and correct sentence structure that you don’t end up like the laughing stock because you sound ridiculous.
Armed with an idea of learning by doing put forward by John Dewey , you can move past this hurdle and improve your language skills.
It may not have been specifically intended for language use but it works great to push your new language into practical use as soon as possible.
In this post, we’ll talk about the fear that quickly builds up for practical language use and how you beat it.
Mistakes That Keep You From Speaking in Front of Others
You Make Excuses Instead of Facing Your Fear
Pushing Out of Your Comfort Zone
Learn by Doing 20 Hours
Begin Today With Beelinguapp
Mistakes Make You Reluctant to Speak and Use a New Language in Front of Others
Much like you’ll remove your hand from an electric fence if the physical pain is too much to bear, given enough emotional pain through a difficult task we’ll often choose to remove ourselves from that situation.
Making mistakes brings forward this feeling on some level depending on how big the mistake was and the consequence suffered from it.
We don’t even necessarily need to have experienced specific mistakes. We can still anticipate and imagine an unpleasant scenario and this is where fear comes in.
So if you get all wavering and flakey about speaking a new language in front of someone else you’re probably not the only language learner feeling this way.
We’re hardwired to avoid pain and fear makes a great argument to avoid being seen as unable compared to our peers and when speaking a new language, essentially the embarrassment of looking stupid.
Even if you haven’t experienced any mistakes yet of mispronouncing a word or saying something that didn’t mean what you thought it did, you can still fear making that mistake and end up looking stupid.
This is almost a catch-22 because getting better and more successful is hugely dependent on us to make mistakes through practice in order to learn from it.
So instead of raising our hand in class when the teacher asks a question, we do nothing and hope someone else will make a fool out of themselves.
Instead of walking over to a stranger to ask for directions in their language while on vacation, you’d rather walk an hour-long detour and save yourself the embarrassment of stumbling over foreign words and phrases. Or worse, assume everyone speaks English.
It’s quite impressive how masterful our mind is at finding ways to deflect this presumed pain, simply by creating multiple new paths leading around and away from the problem we’re trying to solve by learning a new skill.
Perhaps this would make sense in a prehistoric setting where doing something unsuccessful for the first time may result in your immediate death. But with most skills today that’s not the case.
Especially when learning a new language.
Everyone hates looking stupid. For obvious reasons.
Strangely enough, we don’t judge other people for all of their mishaps and failures after they became successful at something. We even often praise their perseverance.
Let’s take an extreme case.
A young woman conceived an idea for a bedtime story back in 1990 while delayed on her travels.
Seven years would pass from the day the idea originated and she’d make little to no progress on finishing her story. She’d undergo depression, a failed marriage, raising a child as a single mother on social welfare, losing her job and all of her prospects.
She describes this herself as,
“failing in her life on an epic scale”.
After this downward spiral of failure, and hitting rock bottom she decided to pick up her story and finally finished it.
J.K. Rowling’s life story is not exactly an embarrassing speaking mishap that happened while practicing your new language. Nor is it the same as accidentally insulting someone because you got the tone wrong, which happens with Chinese and other tonal languages.
The point is, you still beat yourself up for making perceived mistakes and eventually wait for a long time to do anything to avoid feeling stupid.
This is completely counterintuitive for becoming fluent in a new language.
If you’re terrified of that toe-crunching awkwardness of mispronouncing tonal languages you can get it right with an audio native speaker and karaoke reading feature in Beelinguapp.
You Think Everyone Else is Better Than You – It’s Not True
Let’s play a quick challenge.
If you’re taking a language class. In the next upcoming session, you have to stand up and speak in the language you’re learning in front of the whole class.
If you’re learning on your own, you have to find someone fluent in that language online and arrange to speak in front of them by tomorrow.
If you’re in a foreign country then you have to walk up to someone you don’t even know, a complete stranger, and ask or say something to them in their language – and you have to do it just a few hours from now.
Feeling good or do either or all of these scenarios terrify you?
Do they make you feel like saying, “At least let me get a couple of months of practice before taking it that far?”
If so, then your road to fluency is likely crippled.
It’s a common crossroads.
On one side there are all the ‘other things’ you can do. Like studying more, (a never-ending path you can always ‘procrastinate’ further down), or just ignore everything altogether by binging your favorite tv show.
On the other side is pushing through the fear of speaking the language that you’re learning in front of someone else.
You’re not going to be able to throw jokes around or engage in deep conversations the first time or maybe even the 100th or 1000th time – and that’s completely fine.
“But, what if I sound like a monkey when ordering a drink and it sounds like; Juice, me, give, now?”
Guess what, it doesn’t matter.
If you thought to become fluent was going to be a pain-free and easy road, you’ve been fooling yourself.
Don’t set the expectations for yourself at a master level when there’s a lot to be learned.
You Make Excuses Instead of Simply Learning by Doing
It’s a common trap to make things hard for yourself before you put any effort into actually figuring it out.
One of my favorite examples of this is when I discuss new solutions to practical around-the-house stuff with my father. It could be anything from fixing the sink by using a new tool to building a shed in a way he hasn’t tried before.
It always starts out the same with him saying, “It can’t be done.”
Weirdly enough he always figures out how to do it anyway. Just because something is a new challenge it always appears impossible to him.
So why does he keep creating this barrier in his own head?
Much like someone who thinks they need to reach a certain language competency level before they can do anything. Or my friends who think having an ear for language is a natural-born killer instinct.
They all have something in common. They anticipate and build up several scenarios with obstacles that make it difficult. Then decide it can’t be done yet or even at all.
You may not realize it but when you say things like;
“I didn’t have access to someone to practice in front of.” Or,
“I only speak one language. It could probably become fluent in a new language if I was already bilingual, but now I can’t.”
These are all emotional fears camouflaged as excuses to make it harder on yourself.
The more effort you need to beat something like made-up insecurity for using your new language in front of others the less likely you are to do it.
Push Out of Your Comfort Zone and Squash Your Fears
Fear is fueled by inaction.
Think of the last time you postponed practicing a new language in front of someone else because you didn’t ‘feel sure’.
Now think how likely you are to choose that same path of behavior at the next opportunity for practical use of your target language.
Each time you don’t practice, that language-fear builds up.
The best thing I can think of for overcoming your fears of using a new language is confidence.
And the best way to build confidence is by directing your focus away from all the things you don’t know and stop comparing yourself to anyone better than you.
I was recently in a conversation with some friends about learning a new language and to my surprise, they all said, “Some people just have an ear for language.”…What?
“Oh, I guess I didn’t get that special language-ear so I won’t be able to speak in all these amazingly different languages even though I’d love to, maybe next life.”
Like you somehow won the genetic lottery with an ability to absorb new languages better and at a higher rate than most other people.
It’s the subtle complaint of, “she’s got what I don’t.” – and that nurtures your fear with sweet nectar.
If anything, we all won that lottery. You’re speaking a language now, aren’t you?
Or maybe you’re just yelling out meaningless sounds at the screen and banging a stick against the floor. In which case, I’m sorry, please go about your business.
Thing number 1:
To start building language confidence write down the worst-case scenario that you can imagine.
So if I’m trying to learn French, my worst-case scenario is that I have a horrible accent and mispronounce all the words.
Some stranger I do an exchange with online who’s fluent in French can’t stop laughing at me then finally calm themselves and say, “You really suck, maybe French is not your thing”.
I even squirm now at the thought of it. Because, yes, you will suck and look stupid. That’s the whole point.
Thing number 2:
Expect this scenario to happen and embrace it.
Don’t set expectations of dancing lightly through every phrase, pronouncing every word like you’re some French poet from the 18th century.
No-one expects that of you unless they’re clueless.
Your worst fears often won’t be as bad in real life after you lived through them, compared to the buildup in your own head.
The best part is, once you come out on the other side you’ll find that 1. You didn’t die and 2. It wasn’t that bad and you feel more confident taking on the next squirmy situation.
Remove Emotional Barriers and Take Your First Field Test Today
The biggest barrier is in your own head.
Because at some point, you have to TAKE ACTION.
I have a friend who’s been learning Russian for over a year now. But she’s never tried speaking with anyone
yet. Not even other language learners. There’s always this one thing she needs to get better at before she, “reaches the level”, where she can start a conversation.
This is exactly because she keeps analyzing the problem of not having a conversation in Russian and instead paralyzes herself with ‘other things’.
Here’s the only level you need to be at.
If you haven’t had much exposure at all to that language you’re excited about, spend one or two dedicated hours to learn some very basic words and sentences.
Like: “My name is _.”, “Can I have _?”, “One _, please.” – as simple as you’d expect from a child.
You can use the Beelinguapp which lets you do focused practice by using audiobooks and music. Reading in both your native language and your target language you can pick up a lot in a few concentrated hours.
This should be sufficient enough to use your new language for the first time.
Arrange to talk to someone, with your new minimal vocabulary and knowledge, for two to five minutes or until you’ve had more than ten words come out your mouth.
You can ask someone at a class you’re taking, find a community online like this facebook group , or sites like Tandem.
If you’re in an area where you can walk up to a store clerk and try out a few words, embrace it.
You may even know someone who speaks in that language.
Whatever is the easiest access to you right now.
After shaking off everything that went wrong, go back and practice, keeping in mind what was difficult. Then repeat the process.
Yes, you need a basic understanding and some vocabulary but it’s far less than you think.
Learn by Doing ‘20 Hours’
While no-one starts as a master-linguist, the problem is that you’ve likely been taught to practice and repeat anything you want to learn with no foreseeable end in sight.
You’ve maybe even heard of the
Oversimplified as a popular message over the years, it’s the idea that in order to become successful you must dedicate 10.000 hours of study and practice to a specific often repetitive task.
Then later you can actually use it.
Now, that’s roughly five years of study if you make it a full-time job. No wonder so many quit before language fluency.
On that discouraging note…
Josh Kaufman scrapped the 10.000-hour rule and instead made it the about getting as far as possible in the
first 20 hours-rule.
He realized that the original message of the 10.000-hours was more about becoming the best in a narrow specialized field. You can still learn a new language in less time.
Say, 20 hours.
“The trouble comes when we confuse learning with skill acquisition. If you want to acquire a new skill, you must practice it in context. Learning enhances practice, but it doesn’t replace it. If performance matters, learning alone is never enough.” – Josh Kaufman.
To overcome the frustration and mental pain that’s often involved in learning a new language you can use his 20-hour rule.
Already this is something you can see an end to. Not like 10.000 hours – Jeez!
Remove the big roadblocks in your own head.
Don’t take on the full skill of language learning all at once. Divide it into smaller bite-sized portions that you can tackle one by one.
You can use this language learning method.
Spend 20 hours of deliberate practice or until you reach what you set out to. That means zero distractions for that time.
Make sure you decide on which language subskill you want to develop.
So, if you what to have a basic conversation in French with any native speaker you meet then that’s how you’ll commit your 20 hours or less, (if you achieve it before.)
You’ll use the method in step 1 to identify what to focus on.
If everything sucks, then everything will suck. But only for 20 hours.
That’s your light at the end of the tunnel.
Chances are after trying this out no matter how far you get you’ll be inspired to take on a new 20-hour challenge.
Begin Today With Beelinguapp
If you’re still on the fence about jumping into embarrassment and not sure if you want to start in a class, online community or somewhere else then try Beelinguapp as your first step.
It was created out of having a hard time adapting to a foreign language and went beyond that.
You can start overcoming your fears of making mistakes right now. Together with learning by doing Kaufman’s 20-hour challenge.
Are you going to take a leap into actually using a new foreign language as soon as possible?