Be a Bilingual Rockstar! 4 Fears to Get Over when Practicing a Foreign Language

Alexis Fishbaugh, Kids’ Club Spanish School, Spain

16  June 2020

Many people report that speaking, or orally practicing a foreign language they are learning, can be terrifying. From our fear of failure, being judged and sounding silly, on top of added difficulty of putting to use new vocabulary and grammar structures, you may feel your brain shutting down. This can all boil down to a case of anxiety enough to make anyone want to give up or find many reasons to not speak the foreign language they are learning.

This reluctance to speak a new foreign language orally can be detrimental to the learning process. A language is a living oral organism and it needs to be used in this way to be learned. We want to tell you that, although you may always find an excuse or a way around not using and practicing the new language out loud, being proud and loud in your new language is the surest way to exponentially excel as a bilingual… or trilingual!

Garto Kids' Club Spanish School

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.

– Flora Lewis

Sounding Funny or Having a Foreign Accent

Languages were created in order for people to communicate among themselves. As long as a speaker is understood, their accent should be considered perfect. Despite this, many people fear that they sound funny speaking their foreign language, for example, many English natives have a very hard time pronouncing the Spanish “r” or, even more so the double “r”. When this fear takes over and starts attacking your desire to practice, try to think of a few Spanish speaking actors who appear in English speaking movies. What is your perception of their accent? More than likely you find it exotic and even attractive.

Evolutionary theory says that we find foreign accents attractive because they are telling of a more exotic gene pool being added to the mix. But maybe we are just attracted to someone who says sentences in our native tongue in a slightly different, and many times more poetic or simply differently rhythmed way, than we would normally say them. Regardless, It is a common misconception that one should strive to sound like a native speaker and we should accept our badly rolled Spanish “r”s with open arms. We should tell ourselves that we are able to communicate with someone from a completely different culture and area of the world, and that should be enough. Striving for a perfect native accent should not be the goal. Do not be ashamed of your “accent” since people will be too awed by the fact that you speak another language than by the fact that we are not rolling our “r”s like a native speaker.

Fear of Failure

Our fear of failure runs deep and can be immobilizing. Many of us beat ourselves up when we make fail, but we should never forget that, making failing, especially when speaking a foreign language, only makes us better.

Our mind’s long term memory is cued to remember events better when a traumatic event happens. We never remember what we were doing at 10am, on a mundane Monday morning, three weeks ago, however, ask anyone where they were on September 11th and they will have a quick answer. When we fail in speaking a foreign language and someone does not understand us, we tend to experience a bit of anxiety at having, in a sense “failed”.  We do not want to say that failing in Spanish should be traumatic exactly, however, a little discomfort does help go a long way in really internalizing the language. This failure allows us to search for other vocabulary, more precise ways to pronounce words and other ways of getting across our message to the listener. This process really helps us get so much more practice than we would have gotten by just sitting in a classroom doing book work. So get comfortable with your discomfort and know that your failures are making you exponentially better at Spanish!

We should never forget that, making failing, especially when speaking a foreign language, only makes us better.

Fear of Making Mistakes

In the same way that people fear of having a strange foreign accent, they fear making mistakes when they speak a foreign language. Since it is necessary to begin speaking a foreign language early on in the learning process, in order to improve, you are bound to make mistakes! You can’t wait until you’ve mastered the language before you speak it. But our innate nature is to avoid mistakes at all costs, which is counter-productive to learning a language.

Mistakes make us better. When we make a mistake when we speak a foreign language, and are corrected, we are able to see what the mistake was and what the correct way to say it is. It allows us to analyze and interiorize, in small bites, the language. Mistakes allows you to notice how the language works and mistakes will correct themselves eventually with enough exposure.

Many times no one will even notice your mistakes. Have you ever listened to someone trying to speak English who was not a native speaker? Did you even notice their mistakes? You were probably enjoying their uniquely rhythmed way of pronouncing words or in awe about their ability to not only speak their native tongue but also speak yours. According to the Communicative Language Theory (CLT), which states that the first goal of learning a language should be to be understood, and that mistakes should only be noticed if they impede the listener from understanding the message the speaker is trying to convey. Mistakes are a the path to your goal of becoming fluent in a language, so use them to your advantage!


Seem Less Intelligent

People learning to speak a foreign language can sound clumsy when speaking. They are new to the language and are taking their first steps, in a way like a toddler.  Many people tend to shy away from raising their voice in a foreign language for fear of sounding less intelligent. Actually, the opposite happens. You are bilingual and thus seem more intelligent. Everyone around you is aware of this and even a bit envious. You know the effort and time it takes to learn the language and someone of lower intelligence would never be able to accomplish this feat.  So do not let this be an excuse to not shine in your oral practice.

It is very easy to make excuses for not speaking a foreign language. However, these excuses will just set you back in your goals to becoming fluent. Your failure and mistakes only make you better, your accent makes you more exotic and your bilingualism makes you even more intelligent. There are many reasons to be found as to why you shouldn’t practice, however, there are many more as to why you should practice… and practice it proudly! Be a bilingual Rockstar and dive into your oral practice today!

Kids’ can start early, with Kids’ Club Spanish School, practicing orally in our 25 minute, live, online Spanish immersion classes with native Spanish speakers. Sign your child up for a free trial class with Kids’ Club Spanish School.

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