Fear of Speaking Serbian
6 Best Tips on Overcoming Your Foreign Language Anxiety
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“Yes, he speaks Serbian!” you hear your friend saying. Your heart starts beating and you shiver with a tickling feeling in your bones.
“Well, I’ve been learning a bit.” you say.
“Tell us something in Serbian,” a request comes.
Your mind goes completely blank, and all you can think of is how to avoid the situation.
Does this sound familiar to you? Well, guess what: you are not alone. These are common symptoms of “foreign language anxiety,” a condition many people face in various degrees. That’s fear of speaking Serbian, or another foreign language.
Why fear of speaking Serbian occurs?
Research shows that at least 30 percent of students feel fear or even panic when they’re supposed to speak a foreign language. What are their common apprehensions? The fear of being laughed at; making mistakes, getting negative feedback (criticism anxiety); not being able to express themselves accurately and not understanding others (communication apprehension).
Several people wrote to me about how they’ve been learning Serbian and enjoying it, but still hesitate to use it in real communication. They don’t dare to speak Serbian to their friends because they feel embarrassed, they’re shy, or get tongue-tied. They’re even too embarrassed to talk about their fear of speaking Serbian!
You might be traumatized by your family members laughing at your attempts to speak Serbian, or another language, as a child. Maybe your grandma hated your foreign accent and her feelings pushed you off speaking the language; or your teacher was a “grammar Nazi” who insisted on correcting even the slightest mistakes you made. Perhaps you have identity conflict, because you can’t express your feelings and thoughts in Serbian as well as in your first language.
Whatever the cause of your speaking anxiety might be, you should face your fears. Find the reasons behind them and develop strategies to overcome them.
To help you with that, I’ve collected my best tips on overcoming your foreign language anxiety – or your fear of speaking Serbian.
1. Start sounding weird
Sometimes you probably fear you’ll sound ridiculous. When we speak a foreign language, we make our mouth and brain work in a way in which they are not accustomed. Our tongue needs to twist in a way that feels awkward if we need to produce a sound we don’t have in our native language.
You have to let go of that fear, of that unpleasant awkward feeling, and start sounding weird in order to speak another language. Ignore your fear of speaking Serbian and allow yourself to make all these goofy noises.
My knowledge of English is at a near-native (C2) level, Cambridge certificated. Still, there are words I’m unsure how to pronounce. Sometimes I feel as if my tongue is tied up in a knot – especially if my brain has been sleep-deprived. Also, if I simply don’t know exactly how to articulate a word, I feel awkward when I have to use that word in communication.
When I pinpoint my tongue-tying words, I look them up in a dictionary with pronunciation. I listen to a native speaker recording, and repeat decisively a dozen times in order to gain confidence. Because what we need is to repeat these new sounds and words enough times to start feeling comfortable when we say them.
2. Let yourself speak like a child again
It’s easy when you’ve mastered a language, you might say. But what happens at the beginning of learning it? I started learning English so long ago, in childhood, that, honestly, I don’t even remember how I started speaking it. But I learned other languages as an adult, and I know the anxiety of the beginner’s phase. And the strategy actually comes down to the same point for every stage: practice and repeat to gain confidence. Alone with audio recordings, or with a tutor or a friend.
At the beginner’s phase, allow yourself to speak in simple sentences. Your ability to express yourself in a foreign language will actually be weak for a couple of years. So, lower your expectations. Use what you know to deliver your message, don’t try to explain all your complicated thoughts.
If you’re trying to speak like an intelligent an educated person you are and to express yourself as you do in your native language, you’ll feel frustrated. That will come with time. So relax, and speak simple.
3. Find a safe environment to gain confidence
If you’re dealing with speaking anxiety, you’ll want to practice in a safe environment first: with a friend or a teacher you trust and feel relaxed with. With a teacher that will give you enough time and a safe space to express yourself. Ask them not to correct you at all, but only to let you speak and do their best to understand you.
Your goal at this point is not to speak correctly. Rather, it’s to be understood and to overcome your fear of speaking Serbian. The most important task now is to relax and became comfortable enough to experiment and have fun. Your success depends largely on your confidence and is endangered gravely by your speaking anxiety.
4. Practice with safe topics
In the beginning, don’t try to talk about anything. Limit your conversation to the topics you read or listened about in Serbian. For instance, try talking about what you’ve heard in a video, or try to develop a new story by applying the same subject to another situation. To give a more specific example, first you read about a family, then you talk about what you read, and finally you talk about your family.
5. Write it down first
Speaking takes practice. To learn how to speak you need to – speak! But writing also helps immensely. When you write about something, find a method for memorizing new words. Read what you wrote, make vocabulary lists, make sentences to use these words, etc. Then, you’ll be well prepared to have a conversation about that topic. Also, read my article about the most powerful method to learn Serbian.
6. Make mistakes and have fun
Serbian has a very complex grammar and it’s a bit difficult to learn – simply because of the cases, if nothing else. But even if you don’t use the grammar correctly, people will understand you in context. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Let’s face it: you will make many, many mistakes. So does anyone who speaks a foreign language. That’s why it’s good to have someone you feel comfortable with even for laughing at your own mistakes.
You know, when I was starting to speak Greek, I tried to use an Italian word for peanuts the Greek way (it had worked many times before, with words like curtains, cat etc.), and what I said sounded like “I ate testicles” – and I survived! And now I’m fluent in Greek.
Practice and laugh, that’s what you should do!
You speak Serbian, your spouse another language. Among yourselves you often communicate in that other language, or in a third language. And what will your child learn?
When you start learning Serbian, eventually you’ll face a vocabulary vs grammar dilemma. There is so much to learn. What to invest your time in: words or rules?
When is the best time for starting Serbian and how to use that surge of motivation and avoid the disappointment many language learners face.