16 Tips to take control of your Foreign Language Anxiety


Try these strategies to help reduce your anxiety and improve your fluency when speaking.

1. It’s okay to make mistakes.

Studies have found that people with perfectionist tendencies are more prone to FLA. You can’t learn everything in theory and then expect to immediately perform it perfectly. It’s important to remember that language learning is an error-prone journey. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody should make them. Then we learn from them. You must really understand and believe that mistakes actually make you better with the language. Mistakes are opportunities for learning. Plus, most native speakers won’t be focusing on your errors, but rather on your message and the opportunity to communicate with you.

1. Give yourself time.

Many foreign language learners are pushed to their limits and expected to start speaking immediately. Don’t allow others to decide when you should start communicating in a foreign language. The decision has to come from you. Start speaking when you feel confident and ready to do so. Also, avoid comparing yourself to others. You might need more time to get accustomed to how the language sounds and gain more self-confidence before you even consider speaking. Give yourself enough time to practice the language, and build your speaking confidence slowly, for example by practicing reading, listening and writing first, or having just short conversations with your close friends who you trust.

2. Change negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

“I think I am good at languages therefore I am good at languages”. Use positive self-talk (e.g. I can do it. It doesn’t matter if I make mistakes. Others make mistakes). Find something positive about every language learning situation. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative, try to reframe that thought. Try writing down your negative thoughts and transforming them into positive affirmations.

For example: “He laughed and corrected my error. What a humiliation! Now the whole world will know how stupid I am!”

Transform into: “My language mistake made him laugh, but he was kind and corrected me with a smile on his face. Next time, I’ll know which form of the verb I should use. One conversation, and look how much I’ve learned!”

3. Focus on the message and your interlocutor.

Mindfulness is a common practice which means moving the attention off of yourself. Rather than spending your energy on self-correction and accuracy, focus on the essence or the meaning you are trying to communicate and the person who you are speaking to. “What are they asking me? What do they want to know?” By moving your focus onto the person you are communicating with, you are able to capture more of what the person is saying to you. In turn, when you understand more, you will be able to find a clear response.

4. Seek one-on-one conversations.

Find a friend! Speaking in front of a group can be scary no matter what your language level. One way to reduce your nerves and gain control over the speed and direction of the conversation is to speak with only one person. This can give you the time you need to gather your thoughts and have a conversation that is more suited to your level.

5. Take baby steps.

Reading and writing in a new language is a great start, but in order to speak with confidence you will benefit from incorporating small speaking exercises into your language learning routine. Try talking to yourself during the day, speaking in front of the mirror, talking to your pet or a child, ordering in restaurants, or asking someone for directions to prepare you for longer conversations. Each small interaction can lead to a bigger one.

6. Practice, practice, practice.

Learning a language is similar to learning an art, musical instrument, or sport – it requires lots of hours of practice to strengthen your cognitive muscles. Plus, it has been shown that repeated exposure to anxiety producing situations diminishes the anxiety over time. Practice a little bit every day and progressively take more and more risks.

7. Write down your feelings and share your feeling with others.

Notice your anxiety triggers, document your challenges and successes, and find support with other language learners. Observing our feelings and knowing that we are not alone can make us feel empowered and can reduce anxiety. Also talking with others can help you remember that FLA is normal, and it’s not a character deficit.

8. Use relaxation techniques.

Try deep breathing, consciously speaking more slowly, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, meditation, yoga or tai chi to overcome stress and alleviate anxiety.

9. Hypothesis-testing.

Approach language learning as a trial and error exploration. Look at language learning as a puzzle or scientific experiment to be solved.

10. Prepare yourself.

Before you go into a conversation, imagine how the discussion will likely go and think about what you want to say. Prepare the necessary phrases in your head and play out the scenario as if you were actually using them. This practice helps you feel more sure about the situation so you don’t go blank.

11. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

You’ve surely spoken with someone who doesn’t speak your native language perfectly. What was your reaction? Did you roll your eyes or make fun of the other person because they made a mistake or had a strong accent? Of course not! On the contrary, you were probably especially attentive and maybe even respected the person for having the courage to express themselves in a new language.

12: Practice with someone you trust.

To regularly practice speaking another language, it’s best to start with someone you trust. Try to find someone who you already feel comfortable with so that you can build confidence in a foreign language with that person. Some say that learning a language requires communicating to someone you care about, about something you care about. Speaking with someone you know and trust can lead to more meaningful and memorable conversations that help you connect with your new identity in a foreign language.

13. Don’t be too serious. Have fun!

Language is a creative medium. Once you start to loosen up a bit you can start having fun with the language. Make a joke, craft a flowery sentence, make a rhyme, invent a song! Using language for self-expression is essential for making it our own.

14. Connect with your deeper motivations for learning the language.

Before you dive into the language learning process, be sure that it’s something you want. Think seriously about why you are learning English. What are your internal and external motivations? And remember, the most beautiful aspect of learning a language is that you are creating a bridge to understanding another culture and opening up the number of people you can communicate with.

15. Put on a new persona.

Many people find that speaking in a foreign language gives them a sort of "shield" to hide behind. You’re not supposed to be good at speaking in this new language, and people aren't expecting you to be fluent and clear about everything, so they're more understanding of your mistakes and shortcomings. As a language learner, you are not only allowed, but also supposed to not be able to speak fluently! This creates a safe environment to explore a ne

w side of yourself, like an actor.

16. Don’t let your definition define you.

Identifying with a definition of yourself as shy or anxious or bad at languages will predetermine what your limitations are. When you believe a negative definition of yourself, it will become true. Leave behind these old definitions and create a new concept of yourself in the foreign language.

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