Not Quite Fluent

How to get over your fear of speaking

My school has a pretty large population of international students—roughly 10% of our student body does not live in America. The vast majority of them are from China, so I’ve really been working a lot on Chinese this past semester.
But I always am so afraid to speak to them in Chinese!

Many, many people struggle with this. A lot of the people who decide to study a language may not be the extroverted personality type needed to talk to strangers on a whim. Watching polyglots like Moses McCormick speak to random people on the street and at the supermarket makes me dizzy.
A few days ago, I was sitting one seat behind a pair of Chinese students on the bus home from a school field trip. The whole bus ride home, I was sitting anxiously, wanting so badly to ask the guy what his friend’s name was. It was simple Chinese that I’d learned on day one, but I was still anxious and hesitant.

I pulled out my phone and started to google how to get over this fear of speaking out loud. While I learned that it was called “xenoglossophobia” and that it was quite common, there wasn’t anything that really solved my problem.
So, I decided to come up with my own method of combatting xenoglossophobia. Usually what I do is count down from ten, telling myself that when I finish, I will talk to the person. But usually, that doesn’t work. And in this case, it certainly wasn’t working.

To combat that, I added an extra layer to it. For each number that I counted down, I gave myself a motivation to speak. For example, in this situation.

5… I really am curious as to know her name, so why not ask in Chinese?
4… Talking to foreign students was the reason I learned Chinese in the first place.
3… Maybe this could spark a new friendship.
2… I really need to practice both speaking and listening.
1… It might make the student happy because I am learning HIS language.

After doing that, I was ready and motivated to finally open my mouth.
你朋友 叫什么名字?
她叫Celia.
The dialogue was short, but I felt very proud of myself for being brave enough to say something. Next time you’re frozen stiff with xenoglossophobia, try my method—count down from five or ten, and give yourself a reason to speak each time. It’s a quick way to get motivated and not let the opportunity slip away!

Sydney Sauer • January 9, 2016


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