How to overcome fear of speaking a foreign language so to be able to move everywhere

Fear and embarrassment of speaking a foreign language are quite common, therefore being able to overcome them is crucial for those who want to relocate abroad.

A reason I heard many times against moving one’s life to another country is: “I’m afraid that when I’m speaking a foreign language I’d make a fool of myself”.
An aspect that really got me surprised is that I also heard this argument from people who were really skilled in the language spoken in the country they dreamed of moving to.

In other words, just not being able to speak the language as good as a native speaker, although still very well, prevents some from moving abroad at all, including those who’d like to.

One could think that culture shock has mainly to do with facing an alien culture, a different climate, and distance from family and life-long friends. However, this is not always the case.
I found that this kind of concerns often hit people more after they have moved than before.
But being afraid of not being good enough with local language always comes before moving.

I am not writing all of this because I’m preaching that people should emigrate. I do that since there are many who really want to seek a better or new life abroad, and can’t do that due to their fear of not being able to speak another language properly.

We are not all the same and although I’m not personally particularly worried about situations described above, those who are have my sympathy and I want to tell them: if you have a dream of moving abroad, whatever is the reason, if you feel that it would be right to give a boost to your life by emigrating, then do something to overcome your fears. You’ve got only one life.

I’ll show you here what you can do in order to overcome your fear of speaking another language.

Accept the fact that you will be out of your comfort zone at the beginning.
There is no way to avoid facing sub-standard performance in speaking a language with respect to locals. Frustration can hit hard when words are not coming to your mouth fast enough, when you realize you just said something incorrect the moment you said it, or when you know that your accent, while good, can still let a native identify you as a foreigner the moment you start talking. These problems cannot be avoided.
But you know what? Being out of your comfort zone is a good thing. It is when we learn most.

Moreover, a good move is attending an advanced-level language course before you leave, with a native speaker as teacher.
It will benefit you in two ways: first it will improve your language skills. Secondly, it will help you realize that a native speaker can really understand you and appreciate your speech much more than you think. Speaking a second language every day will soon become second nature even before you leave your homeland.

Once you are in your destination country, I recommend using the following trick to face conversation fear: imagine that what you are most afraid of is going to happen.
Tell yourself: “this clerk is going to laugh at me, the cashier will be irritated by me asking him about the price twice, ….” you put there whatever applies to you.
The reason behind this is: trying to hide a fear usually makes it come back stronger and, as a result, you could panic. Visualizing the situations you are afraid of instead, by telling yourself “what I’m afraid of is really going to happen, right here, right now”, will have an eyes-opening effect, as you will notice that reality is not as dramatic as you expected.


What do you think about this matter and the article? I would also like to hear opinions from people who already moved to another country. What is your personal or your friends’ experience?

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8 Thoughts on “How to overcome fear of speaking a foreign language so to be able to move everywhere

  1. I think you are absolutely right. People – and in particular Italians – are too concerned about the ‘bella figura’ when it prevents them from speaking another language. I come from a small country, so we haven’t got a choice. And even though it does sound ridiculous sometimes,it still helps to get a message across.
    Mette – Italian Notes recently posted..Best Italian Notes 2012My Profile

    • I could not be an expat if I let that fear stop me. Small things, yet hugely different outcomes for one’s life.
      I’ve seen that attitude a lot in Italians, but also in other nationals.
      I envy you guys (the Scandinavians)…. in my days in Norway and Sweden I never found people not able to speak English at a decent level. I think that watching non-dubbed movies since you are born alone would be enough, but probably there is much more to that.

  2. Just throw out what you can and keep building. I find that locals are impressed and often show respect to foreigners that simply make an effort. Forget about speaking like the natives, this is going to take years, and as adults, we’re still not going to get the native sound down.
    EarthDrifter recently posted..A Taste of LebanonMy Profile

    • Yep, also in my experience most locals have a very positive attitude towards foreigners who try to speak their language, even when it comes with poor results.
      I’m currently stammering in German. It is the only way I have to get better, and it actually gets better everyday. Most people are nice to me, and for the minority showing impatience to me… well it’s definitely not my problem.
      I wish you a merry Christmas in the Arab world!

  3. I live in USA,now I used every day in English about 25 years.Thank you for sharing with us all articles.Happy New Year!
    Rimas Meleshyus recently posted..MAY 16, 2012 BARANOF ISLAND-ALASKA. Steep-sided mountains along the shoreline slope downward to open up a stage with backdrop of snow-capped mountains. I really love to sailing in Alaska. RIMAS MELESHYUSMy Profile

  4. The fear of failure, is exactly why most people never learn a second language. People are so afraid of making a mistake that they don’t even bother. As if they speak their native language perfectly. I definitely agree with your suggestions, I think that people need to realize that they will inevitably be out of their comfort zone, that is why it is called learning not stagnating :).
    Andy recently posted..Which language should you learn?My Profile

    • Hello Andi, and welcome to Any Latitude.
      Being able to speak a second language is crucial, whether it is for moving abroad or just traveling. In our times those are things that are gaining more and more relevance. I believe the world and our lives are getting much more international than they used to be.

  5. I’m being learning Italian language because I’m about to move their end of this year. I’m disappointed quite a lot because the more I’m trying to learn it seems more difficult go through. Your post helped me to energize some inspiring within to keep trying up and I’m looking forward to completely overcome fear of speaking a foreign language so to be able to move everywhere. Thanks.
    Aiden recently posted..Learn to Speak a Foreign Language Using Rocket Languages Online CoursesMy Profile

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