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Nicola Vallack
I just can't speak! Written level much higher than conversational ability

Has anyone else reached a point in their language learning where they appear (such as in a written test) to have say, a level B1or intermediate at Spanish but really, truly struggle to speak? 

My teachers tell me over and over that I have to practice speaking more, but somehow, despite currently visiting a Spanish speaking country, I can't seem to do enough. 

I think a major problem for me is shyness and anxiety. I worry so much about speaking that I start to dread my lessons. And when I'm nervous it is so much worse. 

I feel so frustrated with myself all the time which obviously doesn't help my self confidence. 

I have invested so much time and money into learning Spanish and I really don't want to give up. 

Does anyone have any advice on how to overcome this? Or is anyone going through a similar situation? 



Aug 30, 2016 3:25 AM
Comments · 36
Nicola, like Javier, I started learning a new language at an 'advanced' age.  Specifically, I started learning Spanish when I was 40 or 45.  I am now 60, and can carry on a pretty good conversation.  Spanish speakers tell me I have good pronunciation.  Excuse me if I sound like I'm bragging, but I'm making a point that anyone can learn a new language at any age, even if our brains aren't as flexible (thanks again to Javier for the description).  I'm probably repeating what others have said, but the keys are 1. PRACTICE at every opportunity (I didn't have the luxury of visiting a Spanish-speaking country - use your time there as much as you can!), 2. IMITATE Spanish speakers to get the pronunciation right - DON'T say the words the way they are written, 3. When you feel shy about talking with native speakers, just remember that they will universally appreciate you trying.  Finally, advice for anyone learning a language: remember that you learned your native language (or for some of you, languages!) in a VERY short time by listening to your parents, first imitating sounds, then making words, then complete sentences. You didn't learn in a classroom or by reading grammar guides.  
August 30, 2016

Hi, Nicola.

For me, it's the same, or maybe worse, because I'm fifty and probably my brain is not so flexible as yours. When I have a meeting with and english partner, I finish it with a headache because the effort. 

Also, I realize I'm lazy to schedule new appointments, usually is easier making exercices by myself, including recorded listenings.

But your teachers are right, the only real way to improve your learning (especifically your oral skills) is practice speaking, preferably with natives. This summer it's the first time I've had this type of interchanges, and for me it has been a great jump.

Finally, I think language interchanges with partners learning english is the most convenient way, because you can help the other with your mutual lacks, and work with the confidence: you both are learning, and both makes mistakes. If you need partners to do it, glad to help you, add me as friend and can schedule simple meetings to make you more confident.


August 30, 2016

Wellcome to the Club! I'm at the same point but with english.

Patient and speak a lot.

See you

August 30, 2016

As a Spanish speaker, I am aware of the complexity of understanding and speaking with natives. We often don´t realize how fast we speak and how little we really pronounce things properly. I had to learn English and I understand how difficult it is to be in a country where you are forced to speak a language that´s not yours and the anxiety that can cause. However, I do believe the reason you might feel fear of speaking is because you believe other people are gonna judge you based on your Spanish. That will be the case in an oral exam, but not in a real life situation. Bear in mind that, whenever you speak to a native, that person won´t expect a perfect Spanish from you. In order to learn, you need to go out there, put yourself in rather scary situations in which you´ll have to speak because, only then will you realize that you have the ability to speak Spanish.

As a kid, I was sent to Ireland to live for a while with a family I didn´t know, and my level of English wasn´t great. I´m not gonna lie, it´s hard the first couple of days but, after a week, you understand that the reason you speak another language is to communicate with others, let them know how you feel and that doesn´t require perfection. That is something you acquire from practice and, the more you practice, the sooner you´ll discover that you have to believe you CAN speak Spanish in order to be able to actually speak Spanish. Think of it this way, people are interested in what you have to say, not the way you say it. 

Don´t worry, you´re not an exception, I have met people who feel the same way and you´ll get through it. I might seem like it´s impossible know, but you have to tackle the problem down one step at a time.

August 30, 2016

a) It's rather normal that dealing with thirty or so letters at your own pace is easier than dealing with about gazillion sounds at their pace. So don't worry about it.

b) Seriously, do not worry about it. As you said yourself, you're now being nervous about being nervous, and that's a feedback loop that reinforces itself. Often worrying less helps to improve the results (I practically do not have any other reason for learning Spanish other than that I enjoy it, and I'm not even going to tell you how quickly I learn when it's just a fun thing that I don't have to do and could give up at any moment).

c) Failing is a part of learning, and it's an important part. Trying to learn without failing is trying to learn without learning. So just accept it. Even better, try to use it. From my experience, telling somebody how nervous I am about speaking in Spanish is actually a pretty good conversation topic. When I was in Spain and wanted to talk people, I had the same problem with shyness and anxiety, and I dealt with it by asking people for the way even though I had a smartphone with maps in my backpack, asking people in the street "¿Dónde puedo comprar una toalla?" because I wanted to go to the beach, or spending 4 euros in a sweets shop just for asking "¿Cuáles son los mejores?". I felt silly for doing that, but it worked. And despite learning a lot during the time, I still returned feeling frustrated about how I could have learnt more.

d) As others have said, practice. As I understand it, you being a native English speaker should make it rather easy to find somebody for language exchange, locally or here, and besides practicing that should also help you to see how others struggle as well, and that it's only as big deal as you make it inside your head.

August 30, 2016
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Nicola Vallack
Language Skills
English, Spanish
Learning Language