Speaking can be daunting. But if you’re looking for permission to start speaking, take this post as a sign.
For most people, no doubt stemming from our school days, we treat language learning as though it comes in four distinct parts: reading, writing, speaking and listening. And for most of us, speaking comes very much in last place. It’s that “special” skill that is bestowed upon us once we’ve grasped the other three. It’s the peak of the mountain.
So many of us leave speaking “until we’re ready”. Except, we’re not quite sure when that is. So, we create all sorts of reasons to tell ourselves that now isn’t the right time, and the perfect moment is just around the corner, so we’ll do it then. Those reasons might look like:
I need to know more vocabulary
I’m not fluent
My grammar is terrible!
I just don’t have time right now
I need to study a bit longer
I need to get to intermediate level
When I’ve finished this chapter/ textbook/ course…
Except that once we get there, and we’ve finished that course or learned 200 new words, we still don’t feel ready. And, the more you know of a language, the more you see that there is to know, and it gets easier and easier to convince yourself that now just isn’t the time.
The thing is, there is no perfect time to start. So, to all of you, right now, I say stop moving the goalposts.
You’re ready right now. Start now.
The trick is to make sure you start from your comfort zone. When we think about how we speak in our own language, we think of completely open and free conversation, a fast exchange that could go to any topic and involve lots of complicated ideas. If that’s what you’re imagining you need to be able to do in your new language, then it’s no wonder you don’t feel ready.
But speaking is not all or nothing. Start from your current ability level.
If you have only learnt the greetings in your new language, you already have enough information to start meeting potential language exchange partners with just a “Hello, how are you? My name is Emily. I am English.”
If you’ve already been studying for a while, prepare a few questions and answers in advance to give you a bit more control of the conversation, so the whole thing isn’t a huge, overwhelming experience.
So, today, I’ve got a bit of a challenge for you. Take that first step. Go and say hello to someone.
Throw caution to the wind and stop waiting to wake up one morning and just feel ready. You can do this!