Even with a good practice plan and a strong motivation to learn, the fear of speaking in another language is tough to deal with. Everyone wants to feel calm and relaxed when speaking a foreign language, and this is especially important for young learners who might be put off language learning entirely if they find it too frightening. So how can we help them deal with that moment when they can’t remember a word or aren’t quite sure how to answer a question?
It’s not surprising that many learners are scared of making mistakes, so we’ve got some tips that might help. But before we get into how to let go of language fears, let’s make one thing very clear:
Language anxiety can be overcome, but it cannot be destroyed.
Nervousness, anxiety, and fear aren’t enemies that need to be defeated but natural human responses that humans have always needed to survive. These feelings can bubble up at any moment for language learners, and even the most fluent speakers get nervous speaking in public.
OK, let’s get started!
1. Making Mistakes Is Normal
Your child’s language learning journey will be filled with all sorts of mistakes as they work toward fluency. While encouraging your child to be brave might help in some situations, it’s also worth assuring them that we love mistakes and reassuring them that nothing will happen to them if they make a few. Making mistakes means that they’re trying to learn, so never worry that they might never “get” it—the more you encourage them the more willing they will be to keep trying.
2. Don’t Forget the Little Things
If there’s one area where your child needs to improve, always take the opportunity to work on it so your child doesn’t become afraid of it in the future. For example, if your child’s French listening comprehension is good but their French speaking is weaker, you may find that they are excellent at answering questions on paper but when asked a question in real life they struggle to respond. In this instance, you could try to devote more time on fun activities that focus on French speaking, rather than reading comprehension.
Whenever there’s something specific you child struggles with, whatever you do, don’t avoid it, even if your child is nervous about improving it. Take it slow, be encouraging, and never treat it as an actual “problem,” but an area where they will improve.
3. Most People Are Nice
Imagine you’re on holiday in Spain or introducing a native Spanish speaker as a guest in your home. Sounds like a great opportunity for your child to use their language skills, right? It might be, but remember that this might be the first time your child isn’t speaking Spanish to you or their Spanish teacher, so don’t be surprised if they’re scared! In situations like these, it’s worth reminding your child about the first tip in this blog and explaining to them that many people will be happy that someone has taken their time to learn their language. There’s also no need to pressure your child to launch into a full conversation with someone new right away, a nervous “Hello my name is____” in Spanish can be a good start.