Overcome the Fear of Speaking in 3 Easy Steps 1


overcome fear of speaking

Speaking – it’s tough! We’re all in the same boat, though. You’re not the only person who’s feeling that way. It takes courage to get started. It can be overwhelming. But… I’ve got good news for you – you can do it!

When I moved to France in 2007, I thought I had what I needed. I’d been learning French for about four years at that point. I could easily read novels in French, including Victor Hugo and Marcel Proust, and I was also getting into graphic novels. I had a lot of vocabulary – both formal and informal – and I knew lots of synonyms and language structures for talking about the most complex of topics.

I thought to myself – this is going to be easy!

And then, suddenly, I found myself in a student hall of residence in the town of Le Mans, having to have casual conversations about everyday things. Conversations with real human beings. Not with characters from Victor Hugo’s novels. No, no, no – those were real French people.

I’m not going to lie to you – I did feel scared. I felt scared then but since that moment, I have developed ways to cope with it and that’s exactly what I’m going to share with you in this post.

I’m going to show you my 3-step process for overcoming the fear of speaking. Here we go!

Step 1: Adopt an abundance mindset

The fear of speaking is in your head. It’s not a physical thing – it’s to do with your thought patterns and beliefs you hold about your own skills. That’s why if you want to get rid of the fear of speaking, you need to start with your thoughts. And more specifically, with your mindset.

So, what is an abundance mindset? Well, it’s a way of thinking that allows you to spot opportunities where you thought there were none. An abundance mindset is about making the most of what you’ve got already – making the most of your existing skills and knowledge, instead of focusing on what you don’t know.

One reason you may be hesitant to speak is that you don’t think you know enough grammar. For example, you don’t know the future tense and you want to talk about the future. You can use the present tense, though, and you’ve got quite a bit of vocabulary. There’s always a way around talking about the future without actually using the future tense. Use the words and grammar structures you do know to explain what you mean. You can communicate even if it’s not perfect.

I’ve written a detailed explanation of what an abundance mindset looks like in practice on Benny Lewis’ blog so head over there to take a look.

Step 2: Accept that the other person is there to help you

Another reason my students and readers have mentioned that makes them hesitant to speak is that they feel judged or they worry that they will ridicule themselves. It’s a very common problem and it doesn’t just affect language learners – it affects many people who are hesitant to speak in public in their native language!

The most important thing to realise when having a conversation in a foreign language is that the other person wants to communicate with you. They’re interested in what you’ve got to say rather than in how you say it.

You may be interested yourself in how you say it because you’re doing your best to speak correctly. However, most of the time, your conversation partner is there for the conversation itself. If you’re talking about football, they’re there to hear your thoughts about football. If you’re talking about your family, they’re there to hear about your family. They’re not there to test your language skills or check how many mistakes you’re making.

And more often than not, they will help you out if you stumble – if you can’t think of the right word or if you’re not sure how to pronounce something. Your conversation partner is your friend – not your enemy.

couple on bikes

Image: Everton Villa

Here’s my challenge for you:

Next time you’re having a conversation with your language partner, adopt the attitude I described above and see what happens. Try to identify your feelings and see what you could do differently to feel less anxious about talking to your partner.

Haven’t got a language partner? Check out italki, which is a great platform for finding language partners to practise speaking with (and get $10 off your first lesson – yay!).

Step 3: Speak before you think

Have you ever had this feeling where you want to say something and you don’t because you say to yourself:

‘I’ll just wait a few seconds and then speak.’

And then it gets worse because you start getting nervous and you give yourself another minute before you go ahead and speak.

And then it gets even worse.

The longer you wait, the more time your brain has to register your feelings of nervousness and anxiety. And then it continues to build on it so you get more and more anxious.

The key here is to not allow your brain to realise how nervous you feel. That’s why you need to speak as soon as you get a chance – speak before you think.

Once you’re the flow, it will become much easier to speak than it seemed just a few moments before.

So, are you ready for your next conversation? I know you are!

I hope you enjoyed these little tips! What do you do to get rid of the fear of speaking? Or maybe you’re never scared you speak! Share your experiences in the comments below!

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  • Love this!

    I think that thinking is a huge problem in so many areas of learning because thinking invites fear. But if the words are already on their way out of your mouth, you’re too busy to be nervous about the outcome.

    I get afraid myself a lot, but you just have to boulder forward. I had a really unnerving situation during a recent podcast interview when I was relating a Chinese phrase I’d memorized. The host, who knows Chinese, told me he’d never heard the phrase before. I was dead certain I’d memorized it accurately, but still got red in the cheeks. Then I used it as an opportunity to speak about how to deal with mistakes, the fear they create and just move on.

    Fast forward a few weeks and the episode is released. Lo and behold, the host explains during the introduction that I was right and he couldn’t quite figure out why he didn’t know the phrase. I’m really grateful he didn’t just edit it out and skip the issue because it’s ultimately an example of something that happens to language learners all the time: You really do get something right but even native speakers don’t recognize it. You can’t let it unnerve you because you might not be wrong.

    And if you are, it doesn’t really matter.

    Because you’re right: The abundance mindset is powerful and I would add that you also have an abundance of mistakes you can make. Mistakes are the greatest asset we have, and not just in language learning. Mistakes reveal the path to correctness faster than getting it right the first time because we too often proceed in rightness without knowing WHY we’re right.

    Thanks for the great post! 🙂