When it comes to learning a new language, the belief that a shy student doesn’t learn is both true and false at the same time. As a shy, quiet student, you can certainly learn and become proficient in understanding, reading and writing. But in speaking? No. And for most students, learning how to converse in your new language is usually the reason for taking classes in the first place.
Shyness is normal at the beginning of learning a new language. This is true during group lessons, as well as lessons with an italki teacher. In fact, many teachers are stressed when they say they have to pull teeth (try hard to get someone to do something) to get some students speaking.
So, shyness is normal up to about three lessons, I’d say. After that, you and your italki teacher should feel comfortable enough so that you can begin speaking more consistently. By the way, shyness doesn’t only affect beginners; anyone at any level can be shy at first.
Here are some successful ways to become less shy:
Are you always shy?
If you’re a shy person at home while speaking your language of origin, then you must realize that you’ll probably be shy speaking a foreign language. This doesn’t mean you’re not fluent in your own language; it means you’re a quiet type of person. If so, you may want to consider some sort of program at home that helps you improve your speaking confidence before taking on a new language. If you are generally shy, please tell your italki teacher. Then he or she can determine how to proceed.
Now, here’s something very interesting: many people who are shy about speaking either their own or a foreign language, do very well in a role play. “Role playing is defined as pretending to be someone else or pretending to be in a specific situation that you are not actually in at the time,” according to Your Dictionary.com. An example of role playing is when you pretend that your friend is your boss and you have a practice conversation in which you ask for a raise. Basically, it’s acting. And teachers have found that when shy students participate in role plays, they seem to forget their shyness.
Practice Outside of Class
Teachers are always telling students to do this when they are learning a second language. However, this is especially important if you are a quiet student. Force yourself to speak a little to friends, family, and native speakers who use your new language.
Speak into the mirror. This is not crazy; I’ve heard of many actors who regularly do this to practice. And many people, as mentioned above, will look into the mirror and try out how to ask for a raise or to practice asking someone out on a date.
Don’t be intimidated by loud students
If you’re learning a new language with a group of students, then for sure, there will be one or two loud, very active, show-off students. These are the ones who answer questions when they’re not called upon and show impatience when other students need more time to speak. These students also tend to monopolize conversations. In other words, they are language bullies.
I don’t know if there’s anything you can directly do about a student like this. A good teacher, however, will recognize this individual right away and will be planning to have a private talk with this overactive student. It’s almost certain that the rest of the class feels the same as you do. The point is: don’t get over-worried about students like this. You’ll notice that other students make better teammates in the classroom; most will be patient when you’re speaking. When it comes down to it, you as a quiet student probably have a higher self-esteem in general than the language bully.
Ask your italki teacher questions
Many students hardly ever ask their teachers questions. And if they do, they’re about grammar, vocabulary, and other things like such. But questions form the basis of conversations, in your own language and in your target language. All students should ask conversational questions during a lesson with their italki teachers. This is especially true with the quiet student. This may be painfully hard to do it, but force yourself to ask your teacher questions. Also, respond to his or her questions with some elaboration. If you truly want to learn the language, this alone could make a monumental (very big) difference.
What’s the worse that can happen? You’re in a safe place when you’re learning from your italki teacher. I’ve never heard of a teacher getting mad at a student who makes mistakes or making fun of the student. And don’t forget that your teacher probably makes mistakes, too. As you’ve heard, making mistakes while speaking or writing is necessary to learning a language (or any other skill for that matter). No one was ever born knowing how to speak a language, even his or her own. So go ahead and make those mistakes. Don’t be afraid of speaking solely due to fear of mistakes. The real mistake, as in everything in life, is not to try.
Ilene Springer is a long-time teacher on italki, specializing in mid and higher-level students, including advanced learners. She is also author of The Diary of an American Expatriate. Please read her wesite called Chocolate-English.eu.