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Foreign Language Anxiety (warning: this is quite long)

Call me crazy or a whiner if you must (though I'm not a whiner, though I may be crazy), but I have spent a long time trying to find out how to get over this. As I am on a website filled with language learners, I figured that there will be others who have experienced this and it wouldn't be just me. So let's talk. (if you have a story, you can share if you wish).


Story Time with Richard


I am a monoglot (someone who only speaks one language, which is English in this case), so I didn't grow up bilingual or anything like that, but I have always wanted to learn a foreign language.


Back at the beginning of middle school, I was really excited that I got to the stage where my school would teach me French (because French is a mandatory subject in English middle schools...or at least, it was in mine) so I was as excited as any 8 year old would be. I believe my mother even got me a French dictionary, good times. :)

But as almost anyone living in England can tell you, the classes were very, very boring.


Skip forward 4 years, and we got to go to France (hooray). It was my first (and only) trip abroad so I was very excited, though not as an 8 year old but as a 12/13 year old. when we got to France, oh my god there were street signs in a foreign can tell I had never been abroad before. When we got to the hotel, I knew this was going to be a 'fantastique' week.


Well...I have never been more wrong in my life.


Granted I didn't experience any real culture shock in my week, I realised one very bad thing during my time there: I couldn't speak french. Even after a full 4 years taking french classes from a young age, I couldn't speak a work of french. However, my input ability was quite decent, so I could understand the gist of what was being said to me, but could I say anything back? Nope?

Now this didn't bother me too much, as most financial transactions just involved me handing something to someone, and them saying "[blah blah blah] euro s’il vous plaît," which wasn't to hard to understand. The only real trouble I had was when my friend went on a roller coaster and I was sitting there talking to myself. A kid next to me heard me talking to myself in English and turned around and asked if I was from England (or at least I think that's what he said), and I had to reply with the worst "oui" you have ever heard.

After that, and the odd looks I got from the kid I mentioned before, I was too scared to even try speaking French, so I spent the rest of my week just getting through on French input, then wiped all French from my head once I got home.


Fast forward a few more years, and I became interested in watching anime and playing lots of Japanese made video games. So I decided to start learning Japanese with hopes of becoming fluent in that language. It started well, I must say, with me being able to read Hiragana and Katakana very quickly, as well as learning some common phrases which even today are still at my command...ish. I also learned the apparently 'tricky' sentence structure, and how to use most of the particles. But other than that, I could do nothing in the language, and this was after the first 3 years of learning the language. I couldn't hold conversation, I couldn't understand most of what was being said to me, and most of all, I was still too afraid to speak it.

Also, It's worth mentioning that I had a Japanese-American friend who was bilingual, as well as a teacher who spoke fluent Japanese, and I was too afraid to ask them for help.


Fast forward another year, and I lost complete interest in Japanese. Go me, right? But then a rookie K-pop group called Fiestar (피에스타) had debuted with a rediculously catchy song called 'Vista'. At this point, the only Korean song I had heard was Gangnam Style (of course) so I knew little to nothing of Korean music. After I somehow found many of the most famous K-pop groups (Super Junior, Shinee etc.) I thought I would try learning Korean (this is where my inspiration comes from apparently), but this problem with being too scared to try and speak still stands.


After what I would consider a failure, I would stay very far away from the target language out of fear (no K-pop or Korean TV for me). Also, I sometimes think I sound good in the language and other times think I sound like a [Insert loads of really rude words here] in the other language, bringing back what I call the "oui" feeling.


Am I the only one who experiences this? Am I the only one with this bad "oui" feeling?


TL;DR? Let's talk about foreign language anxiety and how to get over it.





Boo! Crazy whining Richard~~~ Haha, just kidding ;-P  That's quite a story, thank you for sharing! I had a French language class in high school too - all I remember are those horrible reading drills, where you stumble upon every second word, read it wrong way, get corrected, somehow guess the reading of other words.. and then try to translate the text word by word without any glue of what was it about. Luckily, I had better teachers in English language. As for pronunciation, I've never been in English-speaking country, but there were several things when I was fascinated by English pronunciation (actually I was fascinated by voice acting) - among them three PC games with a lot of spoken English - "Lost Eden" (quest about dinosaurs), "Shannara" (quest based on "Sword of Shannara" fantasy novel) and "Resident Evil". I could repeat after the dialogues forever. I still remember some lines. It helped me so much that later I was often asked how much time did I spend in US. Well, those games are not the only reason, of course. 

You know, I have a theory (somewhat obvious) that speaking skills depend on listening skills. One may ask, what's so difficult in listening - you just listen and repeat. Well, compare it with Ear Training or Aural skills of a musician. You can easily distinguish between noob and pro, say, violin players. As you improve your listening skills, you start to recognize slight changes in how sounds change withing a word or phrase. And as you probably notice, every language has its "melody", which is composed not only from basic phonetic sounds of the language, but also from "melodic phrases". Um, I was going to write a lot about my own experience of learning Japanese and Korean, first attempts to learn German and Spanish.. but I'll probably skip to the conclusion - unless you're genius, you have to struggle for good pronunciation and the best way, in my opinion, is to repeat after the movie/animation/drama/tv show characters that you like. Well, I'm not genius, my Korean and Japanese pronunciations are horrible (getting so nervous every time I'm trying to say something that it becomes even worse than I imagine it would be, haha). But, if I imagine myself like some movie character and mimick their pronunciation (and hopefully do it in realistic but funny way), then it's somewhat easier.. I don't mean to insult anyone's pronunciation, but.. have you heard those Koreans and Japanese who learn English using sounds of their languages? (Gotta be cautious here, haters gonna hate me for mentioning this). Remember people from India with their English pronunciation. So, your (our) primary goal is to make sure people understand what we say and only then we can worry how perfect do we sound.. well, something like that.. Cheer up! We're better than 51% of other people around us who don't even bother themselves learning other languages ;-)

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