You are trying to engage in a conversation with some Spaniards. Someone says something in a funny way. You are dying to give a fast answer. In your own language you would say something to make everyone laugh even more. You need to let them know what you are like. You feel like you could really connect with this people and you wish they could know you better. So, there you are… You want to say something. You feel it on the tip of your tongue. You think you know what you want to say. BUT then… Here comes Mr Fear! Oh, no! He ruined everything for you. Just like that. Suddenly you are not capable of saying a word. You don’t even try. You are suddenly convinced that anything you’d say would sound awful. Pero, ¿por qué? ¿qué me pasa??
Does this sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does. I have been there myself. At times I could not make a joke on time or just comment on someone else’s opinion because of this problem. Mr fear can be anywhere at any time. Be aware!
You know what you are capable of. You should know. After studying Spanish for some time, you are now feeling a bit stuck at the intermediate level. But if you keep on avoiding any possibility of speaking Spanish, you might fall again into a lower level.
WHY does this Mr Fear appear? Well, it’s really a matter of confidence. The more you believe in yourself and what you want to say, the less he will be around.
There are 4 factors that make you doubt yourself:
1. You aim perfection.
You have always been rewarded as a child when you did something right. In a way, we can say we are all “programmed” to always do the best we can. And sometimes we get frustrated when we can’t do something as perfect as we wish. We might think less of ourselves and even stop believing we are capable of doing such a thing.
Be fair and give yourself a bigger margin of error. Who cares if you just pronounced a word slightly different or if you used the verb “estar” instead of “ser”. Is this so unacceptable? NO, not at all. Well, it is, but only to you.
Sometimes you would speak Spanish, doing the best you can, and this person would just change into English! Really? Well, they just want to make things easy for you, but please let them know how you feel. Tell them that you really want to improve your Spanish and that you would appreciate it if they could just keep on going in Spanish. They will love your determination and they will absolutely want to help you with your Spanish. I guarantee you that!
If Spaniards understand what you say in Spanish, that means you are capable of communicating your thoughts. This was the whole point, right? COMMUNICATION. Don’t overthink. Start speaking. Communicate. Perfection will only come if you give her some time and lots of practice.
So, what can you do about this? Don’t aim perfection, FOCUS on the COMMUNICATION. Just go for it and speak!
2. You don’t enjoy being corrected.
People don’t usually like to be corrected by someone else. And this is why many people you will talk to won’t dare to correct you either. This is not ok. You will only learn to say something correctly if someone can or may correct you.
Tell me. How would you feel about that?
I like it when someone corrects me. I will usually remember those mistakes and try not to make the same mistake again. Those moments stay with me for a looong time. I mean it. A few months ago I said in Dutch something like “that is so weird”, but actually I meant “exceptional”. In Spanish you may use the same word in both cases “raro”. And a friend corrected me then. I will never forget this again and I will always have to think about that before I say one of both words. My friend probably hesitated if he should correct me but he did and I’m grateful for that. He was happy to help. So, why all that negativity about making mistakes?
I wish you would take corrections the same way, I’m sure you would make really good progress.
See it this way: If you don’t ever make any mistake it means you are not trying to progress. You need to test yourself to reach a higher goal.
If you want to improve your Spanish, avoiding mistakes is the opposite of what you should do.
So, what can you do about this? Ask people you know to correct your mistakes. If they do, their help will be priceless for you. Mistakes will give you the right and necessary feedback to progress on the right direction. Embrace them! Note them down if you don’t want to forget them again and take a look at your list once in a while.
3. You think your Spanish grammar sucks.
You are quite proud of your Spanish vocabulary. You can definitely get by when you are in Spain. But it is that horrible grammar thing that makes you crazy sometimes. So many exceptions and different verbal forms!
How can I possibly memorize everything? You can’t.
How can I ever speak correctly? You will… but only if you talk, talk and keep on talking.
Even if you memorize every single verb conjugation and any grammar rule of the Spanish language, that doesn’t mean you would perfectly know when to use one or another verb in a specific sentence. Only practice will help you with that. If you listen actively to spoken Spanish, and I mean VERY OFTEN, you will end up knowing what it sounds right and what does not.
The problem is that you keep on translating in your head while you speak. You don’t sound natural enough because you translate literally. And the worst part is that your speech can turn slow and clumsy with lots of “euhhh” moments and pauses. You need time to think what you want to say, translate it and actually letting it out of your mouth. You know what I mean.
When you speak Spanish you look at people and sometimes all you see is impatience and boredom. They may be feeling admiration for you because you are speaking your third language and they can only speak one. But you only see impatience. Been there too, my friend!
At this point I need to tell you a secret. You need to think about what your goal is right now. Please, don’t say “I want to speak Spanish correctly by the end of the year”. What does this even mean? Is “correctly” = perfectly = with no mistakes? I hope not. These kind of goals never work. They won’t help you.
So, what can you do about this? Your target should be more specific.
“I want to understand better spoken Spanish. This month I will listen actively to the Spanish radio 20 minutes a day and I will try to understand and repeat a few sentences.”
“I need new vocabulary and useful structures. From now on, I will read the Spanish newspaper every weekend and try to deduce the meaning of some words by the context before I look them up.”
Now, these are realistic and very specific targets that can help you a lot to make real progress. Ahora te toca a ti: ¿cuál es tu objetivo en este momento?
4. You don’t have anyone to practice with.
How can you possibly know if your speaking skills are ok if you can’t find the way to practice? You should have someone to speak Spanish to. A friend, a colleague, a relative, a coach/teacher. Someone who cares about you and who wants to help you reach your goals. There are plenty of possibilities on the Internet to chat in any language, but make sure this person is motivated and can correct you when needed. Like in any other language, there are also Spanish people who don’t speak the language correctly enough and won’t be able to help you.
Are you a case of extreme shyness? I know you are not, but in case you are looking for a way out… Yip, there is a solution for that too. Plenty to do, actually. Talk to yourself, sing in the shower, repeat after listening. And record yourself! Like I told you on one of my blogposts, “8 ways your smartphone will help you to keep up with your Spanish” , your smartphone can be very helpful when it comes to practicing your Spanish. Use the recorder App on your phone or download one and use it to record your own voice in Spanish. You can then compare the original to your own version. How cool is that?
You need to USE the language. Speaking a foreign language is like exercising a muscle. The more you use it the better it goes. But if you stop using it for a while you will need time (and maybe even help) to get in shape again, to reach that same level you had back then and continue progressing.
If you are the nice, spontaneous person I think you are, you would probably love to practice in a little community of people like you, right? I usually teach one-to-one because it’s a great way of engaging with the learner. The learning process is focused on your specific needs and goals and therefore the result comes faster. But learning in a group is also fun and very motivating. Remember Weight Watchers? You get my point. Being part of a group of people in the same situation as yourself and with the same kind of motivation will help you reach your goal. They can motivate you and you them. If you like being part of a group of people but you are not interested in the traditional classroom, I have good news for you! You can now join our private group in Facebook, HABLA ESPAÑOL COMO LOS ESPAÑOLES, and feel at home while practicing your Spanish.
And please, just remember: Mistakes are proof that you are trying!