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How to Handle Nervousness in Public Speaking

How to handle nervousness in public speaking

Melbourne Classical Radio I feel like that fear of speaking can be one of the biggest problems that language learners face, and as many of you may already know, I am a very anxious person. And it meant that this was a huge roadblock for me, for such a long time. But I can honestly and confidently say that I  am no longer afraid of taking language lessons!

I am no longer having anxiety attacks, I am in fact, not feeling anxious at all before calls with tutors, and I genuinely enjoy speaking my target languages.

So today, I want to talk about some things that helped me feel more comfortable, and even confident, speaking in a new language and hopefully help make language lessons a little bit easier for you as well.

I want to just start this article off by saying that I think one of the biggest things that I've learned over the years of learning languages is that not speaking because you're afraid of speaking makes it scarier.

The more you put it off because it's such a big and nerve-wracking thing, the bigger and the scarier it becomes in your head.

If you spend seven years building up to having your first language call because it seems so scary, it's going to feel like a much bigger deal and a much bigger event than if you just started speaking on day one.

And that's not to say that if it's been seven years for you, it's too late.

It is never too late to start speaking in your target language and never too late to start focusing on conversational skills.

But one of my biggest tips,  overall, is to speak more.

Genuinely, I think the biggest reason I feel so comfortable taking lessons in languages that I might not even feel that confident in my abilities in, or know that much in, is that I've now taken so many language lessons that they sort of feel almost a little bit, mundane.

It's a little bit like how you might feel really nervous before a job interview, or your first day of school, or work, but after a month, or several months, it doesn't feel like that big a deal to be going into class, or going into work.

You're not thinking about it as much because it's something that you do every day, and the same thing happens for language learning.

The more speaking classes you take, the more regular it feels, and the less scary it is.

Hopefully, some of the tips in this article help out with those first lessons, but I promise that the more lessons you take,  the easier and easier it's going to become.

My first tip is a really good way to kind of fake that mundane and normal feeling, and that is to set up a routine.

This can be a routine in the sense that you take a lesson every Thursday.

It can be that you always take  a walk before your lesson;  

it can be that you like to do something in your target language before you have a lesson.

Personally, my routine is all about just getting myself ready for the lesson.

I spend 30 minutes to an hour,  usually, before the lesson just reading in my target language, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, journaling, just any kind of activity in my target language.

I don't use this as a time to review grammar points, or work through a textbook, or do homework for the lesson or anything like that, it's really just a time for me to relax, take my mind off the fact that I'm about to take a lesson, and get my brain switched into German mode, or Spanish mode, or whatever language the lesson is in.

And then I set up my laptop, I make a cup of tea, I get a glass of water.

Yes, always both a cup of tea and a glass of water and then I start my lesson.

This routine works well for me, for I think three reasons.

The first reason being that it allows me to relax and calm my nerves before going into the lesson.

The second reason being that I know that I have everything all set up and they don't have to worry about anything else during the lesson.

And the third reason is that I already have kind of started thinking in whatever language I'm going to be speaking, so there's less of kind of a buffer period at the start of the lesson.

And one thing I recommend while you're trying to figure out your routine is trying to take lessons at different times of the day.

This definitely sounds really silly, but honestly, it made a lot of difference for me.

I am not at all a morning person, so when I  first started taking conversation classes, I always scheduled for in the evenings.

I just didn't want to have to wake up any earlier than I needed to before school or work and also have to talk to someone that early in the morning, but I found out that leading up to that pre-lesson routine, I would feel super anxious and super distracted, and the whole day would just kind of be thrown away with me worrying instead of focusing on the things that I needed to.

So I switched my lessons to the mornings and it honestly helped a lot.

I, of course, still felt nervous and anxious those, kind of, days leading up and the day before the lesson, but I’d found that my anxiety tended to reach a peak the day that I was having the lesson, and scheduling it for the mornings meant that all I had time to do was wake up, spend 30 minutes to an hour watching YouTube in that language, and then having the call.

As I've become more comfortable, I have shifted most of my lessons back to evenings, but this was a small change that made a  huge difference for me in the beginning.

My second tip is to prepare things to talk about ahead of time.

This has helped me tremendously and is also something that I still use to an extent today.

One of my biggest worries with conversational practice was that we were going to run out of things to talk about and just end up sitting there kind of uncomfortably and anxiously, in my case.

So I started focusing on that worry, not in an unproductive, dwelling on it kind of way,  but in a more productive way.

And I started thinking about the kinds of things that I would typically need in a conversation, as well as what I could talk about if I ever did need to fill up any kind of silence.

One thing that I really like doing before  my first conversation class in a language is to make what I call a “cheat sheet.”

Basically, I just take a piece of paper and I write down the kind of, common phrases that I might need during the language exchange.

Things like, “I can't hear you,” “Can you repeat  that?” “How do you say this?” “Skype is lagging,” anything like that. Just phrases that I might need during that call.

And then, during my call, I just set the piece of paper next to me and if I ever need any of those phrases and I can't remember them, or I'm just feeling super anxious and want to at least know that I have it there, it's there.

I can just look down, reference it. Easy enough.

And you can also just do this for any topic. You can make a bullet point list of some verbs that you might need to discuss a subject, or write down some phrases about yourself that you could use while introducing yourself in your first lesson, and it's also not just limited to predicting topics.

You can also kind of choose and plan out a topic.

Like I said, the idea that we might run out of things to talk about and I might have to focus on thinking of things to talk about instead of just focusing on the language really stresses me out, so I like to have some topics that I can go into the lesson ready to talk about if  I ever need to bring something up.

And having that safety net can really be as simple as making a bullet point list of topics that you feel comfortable talking about, or are interested in learning more about, or a list of questions that you could ask your tutor.

I really like journaling in my target languages, so something I always do before a language exchange or speaking class is writing a journal entry on a new topic.

That way, if there is a lull, I  can always bring that topic up, or if the tutor asks me a  question related to that topic, I already know that I'm capable of talking about those things and I feel a little bit more capable and confident.

And you can also take that a step further and either read over your journal entry or have a mock conversation just with yourself as though you're in the lesson talking about that topic.

It requires a bit of additional work before your lessons, but predicting and planning out topics can really help to get rid of any of those worries about conversation lags, and also just act as a confidence booster as you show yourself how much you are already capable of talking about.

Another one of the biggest things for me was having a shift in my mindset.

And I don't actually mean this in the way that you're probably thinking.

For me personally, my fears were almost never related to feeling like my tutor might laugh at me or think I was stupid for saying something wrong.

So if that is something that you are worried about, maybe that is part of your mindset shift.

But for me, the thing that I struggle with the most, in terms of conversations in my target languages, in conversations in my native language,  is a worry about how other people perceive me.

And before anyone says anything, no, the irony is not lost on me that my hobby is YouTube and I'm afraid of the way that people perceive me.

So the shift that I needed to have was going from almost, sort of, trying to prove my level during the lessons through using the most advanced words that I knew, or trying to make sure that I used all of the grammar that I knew, and all of those things, to focus on just being as comfortable as possible.

I haven't tossed advanced material out the window, of course, because I am trying to improve my language, I do try to bring in new words, new grammar, et cetera, so that way I can get used to them and get more comfortable with them.

But shifting the focus to be more on  what I could already comfortably say and just having fun during the lesson instead of speaking as well as I  could, and learning as much as I  

possibly could during that lesson, made the experience so much better for me.

I stopped worrying so much before the classes because it didn't matter how the conversation went.

If I spoke really, really poorly, then, yeah, I probably should work on those things, but it's not the end of the world.

And I also just feel like it's actually made me a better speaker.

Personally, when I think about my goals with language learning, I would like to be able to speak in relaxed, casual settings.

I don't only want to be an advanced speaker when I'm really thinking about my word choice and thinking about everything that happens and stressing over it.

So using conversational lessons, not as a time to stress over the way that I'm speaking, and think about every single word that I'm using, but to just practice naturally speaking the way that I would speak the language, ends up being a lot more efficient, and a lot more productive.

Plus, like I said, it really takes away a lot of those nervous feelings.

And then the last thing that has really helped me is finding one tutor that I will always meet with to practice speaking in a language, at least at first.

Having a relationship already built with one tutor can kind of take away those really nervous, new-person feelings, and also just help to build that sense of normalcy and comfort.

I have tutors that I've been meeting with for a long time now, and they know my struggles when it comes to the language, they know things just about me, and my life, so sometimes they can ask about that and we can talk about that.

And, in that sense, it feels a lot more like meeting with a friend and chatting with them as opposed to meeting a teacher and having to perform my best in the lesson.

The other great thing about meeting with the same person is you know what the structure of that lesson or conversational exchange is going to be like.

I've been meeting with my Spanish teacher, for example, for over a year, and so now I know exactly what the structure of the lesson is.

I know how she gives feedback, I know exactly what to expect when I sit down for a Spanish lesson.

Plus, this can also happen in a reverse way.

Not only do you get to know your tutor or conversational partner better, but they also get to know you a little bit better and learn what makes you feel nervous and how they can help you feel more comfortable.

It can become a really good relationship to help you build up your comfort and confidence in the language until you're maybe ready to take lessons or have calls with other people as well.

That said, I really like to have a short test lesson or call before I commit to having a lot of lessons or conversational exchanges with one person.

This is something that has really helped to calm my nerves a lot when I'm meeting with a new person because I know that no matter how it goes, it's only 30 minutes.

If I don't love the tutor or the conversational partner, I am not locked into anything.

I don't have to take any more lessons.  

And I will put a little note there that you can also leave the lesson at any time.

I have tutored, and if someone, for whatever reason, said that I was making them uncomfortable, I would have let them leave then and there.

So if your fears are related to how your tutor is going to be, just know that you're not even locked into a full 30 minutes.

If something goes really wrong, or you start to feel really uncomfortable, you are allowed to leave at any point in time from that conversational exchange or lesson.

Overall, just remember: everyone started speaking somewhere, and taking language lessons and having conversational exchanges will only improve how well and how easily you use that language.

It can be really, really scary to start speaking, especially if you're a naturally shy or anxious person.

But I promise that anyone can do it, and it's only going to get easier and easier.

I hope that some of these things that made me feel a lot less anxious help you feel more comfortable as well. If there's anything that I didn't mention that helped you out, I would love to hear them down in the comments. I will see you next Wednesday, and remember, practice makes progress.

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