Every language learner and expat eventually gets to the point when it’s time to start communicating with native speakers. Yet all too often, we wait until we feel confident enough. We feel too self-conscious to start because of an idea about how we are supposed to sound. Speaking a language means connecting with people — something that we all want — , and being accepted by native speakers and local communities is important to many of us. Yet we hold back and choose to keep quiet until we feel “ready” and "good enough", out of fear of not “fitting in” and feeling exposed. The key to overcoming self-consciousness, however, is to start generating that connection not by fitting in, but by accepting our language skills at any given moment and start using what we have right now.
Find your sweet spot
When we think of ‘fluency’ we tend to focus on that elusive ‘native-like’ accent. Yet many languages have different varieties in different parts of the world and each variety can be considered native and correct. Instead, it is much more efficient to focus on sounding like you and feeling good while you’re communicating in the language. I have always been applying this approach in my life: I don’t try to sound British, American, Parisian or Argentinean — instead, my goal has always been to sound like me. Sure, it is important to articulate clearly, but in terms of accent I choose the one that comes naturally to me. So, try on different varieties and find your middle ground by picking and choosing the bits and pieces that resonate with you.
Focus on the essentials - don't worry about your accent
If you are worried about your accent, you are most likely worried about being judged. Take care of the non-negotiable pronunciation rules and don't worry about the minor, variety-specific features. How do you normally articulate? Does this feel like you? Focus on feeling good, not on feeling accepted.
Take the pressure off yourself to produce an elaborate speech from the get-go. Instead, start with one or two short sentences you really want to get off your chest during a conversation. Articulate the sentence silently to yourself and say it out loud, once you feel ready. It will feel uncomfortable at first, but that’s normal and all part of the process. Now that you’ve started you can keep adding more and longer sentences to your speech and become more confident the more you practice.
Finally, I do believe that every person has to reach a certain degree of readiness in order to take the first step to fluency in a language. However, an efficient way to accelerate the process is to set an urgency goal for yourself. This might be an exam, a presentation or a job interview — anything really specific that you want to work towards and that will inspire you to move forward.
What about you? Have you ever struggled with the dreaded speaking barrier? Share your thoughts below and sign up here to receive more tips from moi!