Tag Archives: Confidence

My ideas to improve my conversational skills in a new language

Recently, I have had a number of things that have been making me frustrated while trying to learn a second language. I think it has to do with a couple of things. Firstly, I am impatient. I want to learn this language more than anything I have ever wanted before. The second issue is that I am still struggling to speak easily in conversation despite the amount of practice I have done and the large amount of vocabulary I know. Does this sound familiar to you?

I have been studying the language I want to learn in a serious way for about 8 months now. There has been progress, I can do things I could not do 8 months ago. I can actually talk to a native speaker to communicate simple ideas, I understand quite a bit when reading and listening too. These are all signs of progress which is good. However, I have felt like my progression has slowed down instead of continued to accelerate. Obviously I have learned some new things but, likely not the right things that will help to improve my flow in conversation.

So, I had to start reflecting on what is preventing me from learning this language quickly. Why is it taking me so long to learn?  I have a few ideas, maybe you guys can leave your comments below and share some of your own discoveries to help other language learners get over challenges they are facing.

The goal I am working on right now is to be able to have a 30 minute conversation in my new language without feeling anxious or feeling like I am constantly straining my ears to understanding what the other person is saying to me. My goal is not fluency right now, it is only to be at a stage where it doesn’t feel difficult to communicate. So I asked myself: What part of the conversation is the most difficult?

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My first realization was that I was frustrated in general with the language. For the first time since I have started learning, I actually considered taking a break from learning for a while. That is not going to happen, I don’t want to lose the progress I have made.

I don’t know about you but when I am frustrated I do not learn very well, my focus is very poor and I am even less receptive to criticism or corrections. In fact, when I am in a frustrated state of mind, the corrections have received actually take away from my confidence while speaking! What is interesting is that I WANT corrections, I need to know how to speak like a native speaker and how they would say it naturally. So, why am I losing confidence and feeling like a failure when I make a mistake? I can tell you, it is not in my mindset, it is my natural emotional reaction. I think it comes from the school system and how it is ‘bad’ to be wrong.

You may want to read my last article I wrote about problems with learning in a classroom or a group environment to understand what I am talking about in more detail.

I noticed I needed to focus on improving the areas where I am struggling during my conversations. Lately, I have been avoiding my grammar and verb textbook because I am trying to stop thinking like a word-for-word translator or conjugating verbs like a grammar textbook; however, there were 2 past tenses that I have been unable to use in conversation because I am always doubting myself. I can’t remember the verb ‘rules’ and which verbs have the exceptions. So naturally, I have not been using it and I have forgotten the rules. To my surprise, I was able to review the 2 tenses and the rules in less than an hour (rather than the month it took me to learn the first time). I have no idea why I didn’t do this sooner.

A concern that I really needed to address (to look at), was my reaction to corrections. Consciously, I know that corrections are what I want and need. My emotional reaction says something different. I decided to make this into a positive mental game. Every time I make a mistake (and the other person is nice enough to correct me), I give myself a point or make a note to myself that this is a positive thing. ‘Mistakes’ signify that I am speaking outside of the vocabulary and grammar that I am comfortable speaking. The more mistakes I make, the more corrections I receive, the more I can learn in one conversation.

Be brave to start a real conversation

As I said before, I have a good vocabulary base in the language but I noticed I am using the same words over and over again instead of new vocabulary or verbs. Active vocabulary refers to the words that are easy for you remember and you feel comfortable and confident using them. Lately, my focus has been on building new vocabulary but I clearly need to strengthen some of the original vocabulary I studied and ‘learned’. When I am speaking, I know that these words are in my head but they are not part of my active vocabulary. I have too many words that are part of my passive vocabulary.  Words that feel like they are stored in the basement of a library, that is super difficult to access, instead of being accessible at the front of my mind easily. I will leave some more information about the vocabulary app I use at the end of this article, it’s a really good one and it’s free!

I have changed my approach to ‘learning’ the vocabulary in my word this time. When I see a word, I try to put it into at least 3 sentences. I have been surprised by how many words I could not do this with. Usually this happens with verbs that I am unsure of the conjugation or how it works grammatically in an actual sentence. I also I have to say the sentences out loud. Yes, I talk to myself all the time, luckily it is usually in my car but I do it while walking too. When I speak out loud, I can identify words that are difficult to say and I work on the pronunciation.

This last idea for building active vocabulary is my favorite one. I have a few different language exchange partners and I have noticed we all want the same thing… We want a customized recording from a native speaker. So, I send them a list of words I am trying to learn and they make a story out of the words. It is so easy for the native speaker to record 5 minutes of audio in their own language. The benefit for me is priceless. I can review hundreds of vocabulary words in less than 30 minutes of audio. Beyond that, you get to hear the accent of the person you are practicing with. Not only will you be able to understand them better when you speak but you can try to mimic the accent and how they say the words or sentences. I appreciate these recordings so much.  I even try to create a dictation so I can study the grammar of the story, test my listening comprehension,  identify new words in the audio and learn what they mean.

Please tell me what ideas you have or ideas that have helped you with your conversations. Don’t forget to follow this blog so you know when I release a new post. I’ll try to  give you guys an update to share if my new techniques are helping my progress with conversation.

As I promised, the application or website I use  for reviewing words is a flashcard app called Brainscape. It’s a free app and you can build your own flashcard decks or purchase one of their existing flashcard decks for the language you are learning. This website or phone app uses a system called spaced repetition, which shows you words you are not confident with more often than the words you know well.

Happy learning!

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The Big Problem with Learning Languages in a Classroom

Recently, I was talking to a girl I know who decided to start learning a language to be able to travel comfortably later this year. She is studying to be a lawyer at a university already, so she decided to take the language course through the university. The previous week, I had recommended a website where she could find a native speaker to practice with, a service that is free, (www.conversationexchange.com.) This was her response,

No, not yet. The reason is that I am worried about saying something wrong. I am kind of nervous to try, It’s also very uncomfortable for me to talk to people for the first time especially by Skype. Sometimes when I am in my language class, my professor will ask me a question. Even if I think I know the answer, I don’t want to say it because I think I might be wrong or I think I might have misunderstood the question.”

Where does negative feeling of being ‘incorrect or wrong’ come from??? Well, I will tell you what I think…

Schools from all around the world use a similar method for teaching groups of people. They present the information to the students, they ask some questions to make sure the students understand, theembarrassed girl intermediate englishy do some exercises and then they give you a test to evaluate your performance. This is the system I know and see the most often in public schools since, I was a child. Of course, there are exceptions. So what is the problem with the system?

There is only one goal for the student: To try to be correct!

The education system values these ideas: it is bad to make errors, to be incorrect or to not know the answer. If you are not correct, you will receive a penalty such as a lower grades or marks, social humiliation and you will likely feel stupid for not knowing the answers.

We are not borne with this knowledge, which is why we are in school or a course. The only way to learn is to make mistakes until you figure out how to do it correctly. This teaching method is accepted and is used because it allows teachers to measure results. The issue with this style of teaching is very clear when you compare learning a subject like math to learning a language. Math requires practice of a method to learn how to find the right answer. Language is creative and there are dozens of ways of expressing the same thought. There is no single answer that is right or wrong, just lots of practice to figure out how to say it better.

Anyone who is learning a language knows that you need try to use it. What happens is: we make lots of mistakes, ask lots of questions (questions that feel like stupid questions) and we need to be corrected all the time! In order to learn ANYTHING you need to try you start by taking a few guesses or tries until you find the answer.

I want you to imagine you are in a classroom and the teacher decides to ask you a question. You aren’t sure of the answer. This isn’t your fault because the teacher has not taught you or given an environment where you can safely ask the question. Next, you are classroom learning a languageforced to respond with either a guess or to announce to the entire class that you do not know the answer. Then you feel like an idiot, you feel stupid, you feel that everyone else in the class must think you are stupid too and of course, the teacher thinks you don’t remember anything they have taught you. This is a perfect example of the social humiliation aspect of being incorrect. If you are correct and you know the answer – you are allowed to skip the penalty for not knowing something new.

Where is the encouragement to try even if you are incorrect? Why is there no system to reward students for trying? The harder you try, the more you should be rewarded. A person who tries all the time, without fear of being embarrassed, receiving poor grades or looking stupid will perform better, they will learn more. They will ask more questions too.

Unfortunately, after going through an educational system that values ‘being correct’ above everything else; we develop a mental attitude that makes us hate the feeling of ‘being incorrect’. It has created an ego inside of us and that ego has one goal: I must be correct so I can be reward by the education system. Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of learning, teachers know this fact but the method of teaching does not create the optimal environment for learning.

I cannot offer any solutions to the problems in the teaching methods I have talked about today, but I hope that by telling you my opinion, you will be aware of your natural desire to be ‘correct’ all the time and where it comes from. Please share your opinion in the comments below and let me know if you like the educational system or if you feel it could be improved.

Be sure to follow this blog if you liked this post. Visit my website at http://www.realenglishconversations.net/.

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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