Not stupid learning english

How to get over feeling stupid speaking in a new language

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I’m certain that everyone learning a language feels uncomfortable most of the time when they are trying to express themselves, especially at the start. How can we build up our confidence and stop

Learn English Intermediate feeling like we are less intelligent because we are not able to express ourselves as well as we can in our native language?

I am currently learning Spanish and feel as though I am at an intermediate level at the moment; however, I still feel very frustrated and still feel embarrassment when I am trying to communicate in Spanish instead of English. It is not the fact that I have a limited vocabulary or that I have a hard time fluidly speaking a thought… it is more the fact that I am unable to appear at my usual intelligence level when I am speaking in Spanish.

I know I am speaking like a caveman, like an uneducated person, mispronouncing words, mixing up grammar, speaking in the wrong tenses etc. etc. However, this is part of the process of learning how to use the language that you have learned and deliver it to the person you are speaking with. It is so different speaking a new language compared to writing, reading or hearing it!

During a chat with one of my favorite language exchange partners, I expressed the emotions I was experiencing when I try to communicate in my target language, particularly about feeling ‘stupid’ so often. Feeling like I was a 3 year old child again that could not understand what is being said to me or being able to speak what I am thinking with ease.

My friend said he also felt very stupid speaking in English. He was not confident that people could understand what he was saying and was not always able to understand what is being said to him all of the time. Furthermore, he believed other people viewed him as being stupid while he spoke English.

This is when I realized my perception of his English skills versus his view of his own English skills were completely different!

  1. I know my friend is extremely intelligent, capable of a level of thinking most of us can only aspire to have for brief moments of time.
  2. I am impressed with how well he can speak in English about complicated topics. Even though it is still slower than a native, the vocabulary is impressive.
  3. I can usually understand everything he says to me the first time. The grammar or conjugations of the verbs might be in the wrong form but I can hear the root of the word and know exactly what he is trying to say.
  4. If anyone sees him as being stupid because he cannot speak a new second language quickly, the person making that judgement is stupid!
  5. If the person that he is speaking with cannot understand what he is saying, the other person is simply not trying to understand.

After I stated these points to my friend, he naturally felt more confident for the moment. He also gave a piece of advice to me which was to enjoy the entire process of the journey while learning a new language.

The truth is you cannot appreciate how far you have come in your journey without experiencing the frustrations and challenges along the way. You will feel much more pride and success from your accomplishments after experiencing the challenges along the way to your final goal.

Feeling stupid speaking English

I have noticed that most people I meet who have decided to learn a new language are generally very smart and skilled people. For this group of people, learning English is just one of the elements they are improving in their lives as part of many different goals and dreams they have. Look at the other people around you and see how many are content with only existing day to day…work, eat, sleep, visit with friends etc. Welcome to the club of awesome people in this world! The ones that aspire to be better and live an amazing life.

We all have an ego. For me, the belief of having a high intelligence level is my most valued asset. Learning a language is like a kick to the ego every time I try to use it. Rather than letting my ego protect itself from being beat up everyday and stop my progression, I take every moment I feel stupid and turn it to motivation to be better next time I speak my new language!

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4 thoughts on “How to get over feeling stupid speaking in a new language”

  1. yeah amy, you’re right! same for me, in the begining the part more hard to me was speaking, because I believed that the people laugh at me, but I started to have confidence to speak, and everyday I learn something new, its important the people with who some one practice, cause that person must be does the least effort to understand that you are saying, and obviously we too, I think that give confidence and to have confidence is the key!

    Sincere greetings from Mexico!
    Adrian,
    P.S. Im so sorry If wrote something bad,

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  2. Hey Amy,

    Great post! Almost every language student I have ever spoken to has expressed the same sentiment.

    I personally hate feeling stupid when speaking Spanish. I hate making mistakes. But it is part of the process. And the flip side is, every now and then, you get this amazing feeling when you realise you’ve been speaking to someone for an hour in another language!

    It’s also funny (or strange) when we are children learning to walk or learning to spell at school we make lots of mistakes and its no big deal. When we are adults its a completely different thing.

    Lastly, the other great thing about learning a language and going through the process yourself is you can develop real empathy for anyone else who is going through it as well.

    Keep up the great work,
    Andrew Barr

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  3. Yes, same for me! I am always afraid people are going to think I am stupid when I speak English… a couple of months ago I attended to a writing workshop with native people… they wrote amazing things when my turn came to read my piece I was so embarrassed… I felt like I was a 10 years old girl surrounded by growing ups…. my text was so naive…due to a lack of vocabulary and lack of time to come up with something interesting… I am not sure the people laughed at me or thought I was stupid… actually I think they felt sorry for me in the way they understood I was doing something really hard and I was really trying! Anyway, you are right, we should not let our ego decide for us… after this bad episode I decided to give it another go but this time by following online creative writing class so I have got more time to think about what I am going to write and I don’t have to stand in front of the whole class and it feels better! The next step, if I succeed this course, will be to take it to the next level and attend to a real class face to face in a couple of months :)

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    1. Hey Virginie. I find your story of joining a writing workshop full of native speakers amazing! I bet you made that decision based on your interest and passion for writing more than thinking how you would compare to the other writers. What courage that must have taken to read your work in-front of the class. From what I can see, your writing in English is excellent! I think the online creative writing class is a great idea to build confidence. When a person starts to get involved in creative writing, it is an act of mastering the language like an art. English speakers learned creative writing in elementary school, writing a story like a 8 or a 10 year old. This is where all those people how could write amazing things started to learn. They have years and years of experience writing since then. I hope you can recognize with more time, exposure and practice… you will be a great writer as well. What’s more impressive than anything, is that you will be writing in a foreign language than you learned as an adult.

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