Thanks to guest blogger Eve Pearce, who’s written today’s really helpful article about something every language learner has had to deal with at some point – overcoming the fear of actually speaking it. If you have any other top stress-busting tips, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Seasoned foreign language teachers will probably tell you that one mark of a successful student in terms of language learning, is ‘openness’, ‘daring’ and sometimes, even ‘cheek’. The more free of self-consciousness and shame a student is, the more likely they are to progress, since one vital part of language learning is using it – having conversation with other speakers, communicating, living the language one is learning.
It is easier said than done for some learners, however, especially those suffering from anxiety. Far from being an exotic condition, anxiety is actually the most common mental condition in the US, the UK and many other countries. The daily stresses and demands of life can invoke our ‘fight or flight’ response, raising our heart and breathing rates and sometimes, even causing debilitating panic attacks.
As a language learner, anxiety may have stopped you in your tracks. It may have made you fear situations and people you do not know well. It can stop you from making many important changes in your life, or from learning a new language and interacting with other students and foreign language speakers. Anxiety can play big tricks on body and mind; excess oxygen levels (produced by breathing too rapidly) can cause muscles to cramp and can cause hyperventilation. Sometimes, the problem is mild but still uncomfortable – for instance, a person may fear having to get up in front of a class and make a speech in another language.
If you are suffering from anxiety, and you feel like it is interfering with your ability to progress as a foreign language learner, try some of the most effective relaxation techniques known to those who have recovered from this condition. Foremost among these techniques is abdominal breathing. It is quite simple – just breathe in a large amount of air through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. Keep the breath in for a few seconds then exhale, slowly, through your mouth. Do this various times and you will note that your heart rate drops, even when you are very stressed.
Yoga is another highly successful technique at quelling anxiety and stress, so much so that it is offered at practically every top rehabilitation centre for addiction and for eating disorders. Yoga is such an excellent way to battle anxiety because it can be practised by people of all fitness levels and ages, it is cheap, and also a proven method of lowering stress hormone (cortisol) levels. It involves a connection between body, mind and spirit. Controlled breathing is also used, and various poses (asanas) are performed.
Sometimes, mindful meditation can be practised during a yoga session, yet meditation is also useful on its own to calm stress. If you have anxiety, you should definitely set aside a few moments during the day to meditate. There are numerous free online meditation sessions lasting minutes, as well as meditation and breathing apps for your phone, which you can follow while you are in the car or on the bus to work or school.
If you try these methods out and you do not improve, or your anxiety is very severe, then expert help may be required. A good therapist will be able to help you in a handful of session, by utilizing techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which aims to help patients identify stress triggers and find positive ways to channel tension.
If you have an upcoming talk in a foreign language and you are worried about what others will think if your delivery isn’t perfect, remember that most speakers make mistakes and even suffer from nerves before they begin. Language isn’t a competition; it is a progression and it pays to keep in mind that even if the worst possible outcome occurs (e.g. you forget your speech or you feel too nervous to speak), the event is not the be-all, end-all of your language learning experience. There will always be another chance, further down the line, to do that exam or speak before an audience.
Through relaxation techniques, breathing and therapy, you soon discover that anxiety is little more than a trick – it is your body’s way of choosing ‘flight’ (escape) when the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in. By simply breathing for a few minutes until your heart rate settles, you can stop anxiety in its tracks – and begin to view language learning as the enjoyable pursuit it really is.
When learning a new language we are happy to pass every little milestone: the first time you address a native speaker, the first conversation… All these achievements mean the world to us, they are the reward of our continuous learning. When becoming fluent in a language you can express almost everything you want to say, but there is still that one little step further, that gives your words something that make them yours. Something that gives them personality – and this can be achieved through the use of expressions and idioms.
Many idioms make no sense even if we know the meaning of each individual word! But some of them are easy to figure out, like for example ‘it takes two to tango’, meaning an action or activity that involves participation from more than one person.
To me they are very interesting and it gives me insight into the British culture. Not to mention the fun of using them in a conversation, possibly wrong sometimes but nevertheless entertaining! That is how I learned that when you’re ill you can be ‘a bit under the weather’ or to not take someone seriously is ‘taking it with a grain of salt’.
Sometimes expressions are international and can be directly translated through more languages without losing their meaning, like ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.
Learning the academic language is certainly the most important aspect when embarking on such a challenging journey. However, informal words, idioms, expressions and slang will bring you closer to the people you share the language with. It will make any conversation more pleasant and will allow you to put your own stamp on the vocabulary you are using.
How do I learn idioms?
The best way to find out which are the most used expressions, or the most popular ones, is to ask a native speaker, read local magazines and newspapers or watch local TV shows. My personal preference is to spot them in conversations and ask people what they mean.
For example, last week I learnt the expression ‘get the bit between the teeth’ from my boss. Which he also kindly explained (possibly because my face indicated that I had no clue what he was on about). The bit is a piece that goes inside a horse’s mouth and pushes against its soft parts, which causes it to turn. When the horse gets it between the teeth he takes control over from the rider and can’t be stopped. Pretty interesting, huh?
What are some funny or unusual idioms in your language?
We originally published this infographic back at the start of last year as ‘top 10 tips for learning a language in 2014‘. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s that learning a language is something you can do anytime, anywhere.
So here are our top 10 tips for learning a language – whenever you want!
If anyone has any more top tips that work really well for you, please share them in the comments. Thank you
If you’re on a budget or just want to indulge in a bit of thinking time, travelling across Europe by bus could be the thing for you. With numerous companies offering fantastic prices, it’s a wonder that more people haven’t partaken in this not-so-secret method of transport.
Based on two particular routes*, here are some ‘dos and don’ts’ from our own personal experience.
If you are travelling from the UK, Victoria Coach Station insist on you being available to check in at least one hour before departure. From other countries it is usually around half an hour maximum.
Check in normally involves only showing your ticket or reference number, however in some places there will also be an additional check of your ID card or passport.
If you want to guarantee a window seat or that your luggage is on first, face the fact that you will have to queue. Embrace it. Or at least prepare some good music to dance to whilst waiting.
Whilst coach companies are very generous and often overlook oversized luggage, don’t get too greedy. Luggage limits are usually around 25kg and it’s mostly okay to go over that – although not with your entire house. On a very recent trip one single traveller was furious that her guitar, record player, large holdall, large backpack, and two very large suitcases were deemed too much. Shocking.
On The Bus
Thankfully coach seats do not recline as much as plane seats might, but there will always be someone who believes they alone need all the body space and legroom that is/isn’t available.
Mind where you sit. If you’re someone who needs the toilet regularly then you have to weigh up the pros of being close to the toilet with the cons of constantly hearing the door slam and the toilet flush – amongst other things.
Also. Take tissue with you. The one solitary toilet roll that is often installed in coach toilets pretty quickly disappears, so if you need to use the facilities more than two hours into the journey, take your own supply.
Trips to the toilet in the middle of the night can either be a human assault course or a foot fetishist’s idea of heaven: those lucky enough to not have to share a seat will sprawl out as best they can, with feet both socked and bare blocking your way. Do what you will.
Take headphones or earplugs. You are guaranteed to have either one token unhappy child or one potentially unstable adult who feels the need to tell everyone their life story. Look busy. At all times.
A small blanket is a very good idea for the coach, no matter the season you travel in. There’s nothing worse than attempting to sleep as a contortionist might, when there’s a breeze coming in on your back or you are shivering.
If you board a bus that originates from the UK, and you happen to have a UK adapter/plug, guard it with your life. For once other unprepared passengers are aware of this little treasure, everyone will suddenly want to befriend you and ‘borrow’ it.
When there is a stop, use the toilet. Whether you feel the urge or not. If nothing else it is an opportunity to wash your hands thoroughly as the sinks in coach toilets always seem to have the smallest trickle of water and very little soap.
Take plenty of change with you for the vending machines at service stations. Not only will this work out cheaper than buying a ‘proper’ coffee at every stop, you will also be pleasantly surprised by the range and quality of hot beverages available. Especially in France. May we recommend the vanilla cappuccino.
Crossing The Channel
Depending on the time of day, you will either face the claustrophobic challenge that is the Channel Tunnel, or walk around a ferry at your leisure for around an hour before trying to find your coach again at the last minute. The ferry feels much more civilised as you can lounge on sofas or pace up and down the deck, but the Tunnel is much faster.
Be prepared for long delays at the border. It can either take under half an hour to go through the two separate controls for France and England, or it can take two hours. It depends on if they feel like checking your luggage as well as your passports, if they want their sniffer dogs to check you over, and if your fellow passengers who need visas have filled in or need help with filling in their paperwork.
Pet Peeves And Pluses
The main pet peeve of long distance coach travel, it has to be said, are Those People. You know the ones. Those who feel that every single stop, be it to refuel or for the driver to change, is their own personal cigarette break. Those that when the driver says there is a 45 minute break, decide to casually stroll into the service station five minutes before departure and delay the coach with their hot drinks that the driver has clearly said are not allowed onboard. Those that are veterans of the journey and will not leave the driver alone for a moment, or will give the entire coach a loud, running commentary the entire route.
A big plus is the long stops when changing buses. Stopping in Paris for 3 hours gives you ample time to wander to the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe as well as popping into a patisserie for a cheeky pastry for your petit dejeuner.
It does have to be said though, at least in our experience, that the drivers make the journey. They are jolly, they tell bad jokes, and they cheer you on with gusto to encourage you to get through the border control quicker than their previous coach passengers. Definitely an added bonus that will make you smile.
Bus travel. It isn’t for everyone. But perhaps it is for you.
One more plus from us: you’ll meet loads of interesting people on your bus journey. Why not download uTalk for iOS, so you’ll always know how to say hello, even if you’re from different countries?
*Budapest to London, via Eurolines, with a travel time of 26 hours and 45 minutes. Calling at: Győr, Vienna, Linz, Liege, Brussels, Ghent, Lille and Dover before terminating at Victoria Coach Station, London.
Barcelona to London, via Megabus, travelling for approximately 26 hours. Calling at: Toulouse, Brive, Paris and Amiens and terminating at Victoria Coach Station.
So you’re off on holiday, and you’ve decided you’re going to speak a bit of the local language. You get a EuroTalk program (obviously), start learning a few key phrases, and you’re feeling good.
But then you get off the plane and the doubts start to creep in. What if people laugh at your accent? What if you say what you need to say perfectly, but don’t understand the reply? What if you open your mouth and instantly forget everything you’ve learnt?! Probably safer to stick to English, or sign language. Right?
It is scary starting to speak another language. I get incredibly nervous – more so, ironically, with Spanish, which is a language I studied for years but haven’t spoken properly for a while. But sometimes you just have to throw yourself into it and see what happens. The worst that’s going to happen is that you don’t understand each other, but the reality is nobody’s going to laugh at you for trying to speak their language, or blame you if you make a mistake.
Now, obviously I realise ‘just throw yourself into it’ is a lot easier said than done. So here are some tips to help your confidence, before and during your conversation.
Bit of an obvious one, but you should try and learn at least a few words, so that you’re not going in to the conversation completely unprepared. At least that way you start off in control. It’s probably a good idea to learn how to say ‘I don’t understand’ and ‘please speak more slowly’ as well; at least that way if you do get stuck you’ll be able to do something other than stare blankly.
Find a language partner to chat to before you go
Learning on the computer or your phone is great for learning vocabulary and perfecting your accent, but at the end of the day, learning a language is obviously about conversation. If you’ve got a friend who speaks the language you’re learning, or is learning as well, set aside some time regularly to chat with them. It’ll be easier with someone you know and feel comfortable with than with a stranger, as you won’t be so worried about making mistakes.
Take uTalk with you
Because if your mind goes blank, you can grab your phone and search for the word you need in seconds. uTalk is much quicker (and better-looking) than a phrasebook, and it tells you how to say the word as well. Bonus.
Ban yourself from speaking your own language
I recently discovered Scott Young’s blog; he and a friend just spent a year travelling around four different countries, attempting to speak no English and immerse themselves completely in the local language and culture. This might seem quite drastic, but I can’t think of a better way to feel confident quickly – given a choice between speaking to people in another language or not speaking to anyone at all for three months, I know which one I’d choose.
Try thinking in the language
I’ve tried this approach before in Spanish and found it quite effective. When you look around your house, try and think what the objects are called in the language you’re learning, rather than English. (FlashSticks are useful for this sort of thing.) Try and think about a TV show you just watched, and explain it to yourself in the other language. Go outside and try to name as many everyday sights as you can. This way, it starts to feel like second nature and you may be surprised to find yourself doing it without trying.
Focus on how good you’ll feel afterwards
Have you ever had a conversation in another language? Remember how good you felt afterwards, when you were holding the train ticket you’d just bought, or eating the meal you’d just ordered? Any time you feel hesitant about starting a conversation, focus on that feeling and push on through. It’ll be worth it.
Make a phone call (a.k.a. jump in the deep end)
When I was at university, I spent my third year living in Madrid, and during my first few days I had to make lots of phone calls to try and find somewhere to live. And it was terrifying. I’m not really a fan of the phone at the best of times, but making calls in another language was twice as scary – without the aid of body language or facial expressions, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to understand what someone’s saying to you. But I did it, because I had to, and managed to successfully arrange several viewings; I’d never have thought I could do that before I left home.
And, if all else fails…
Have a drink
It’s a well-documented fact – mostly among students, for some reason – that having a drink or two actually improves your language skills. While that may not be entirely true, it does make sense that when you’re feeling relaxed, and your inhibitions are lowered, you’re going to feel more confident about giving it a go. Don’t have too many drinks though, obviously, or then nobody will understand you in any language.
Do you struggle with confidence when you’re speaking another language? How do you deal with it?