How to Conquer Fear

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How to conquer your fear of speaking a foreign language

©Michael Krigline, MA (2007)     (The Chinese version is posted below)

Some people find it easy to pick up a foreign language, while others find the task almost impossible. I guess Iím somewhere in between, though I would never say that learning Chinese has been easy. I have taught English in China for six years, and Iíve also invested three years in studying Chinese. While I am looking forward to returning to the teacherís side of the desk next year, I am also grateful for the progress Kunming Teachersí College has helped me make as a Chinese language student.


When I first stepped into a Chinese classroom, I knew absolutely nothing about Chinese; as you might say: ď八字还没一丿Ē. 我连<你好>都不会说! (I didnít even know how to say ďhelloĒ!) But my teachers were patient and I studied hard. Furthermore, my friends (both foreign and Chinese) let me practice using what I was learning. I never got to a level where I made no mistakes, but in time I got over my fear of making mistakes and began to speak Chinese.


Students ask me what they can do to improve their English. I often say that the biggest thing that keeps them from speaking English well is their own fear. Fear is natural. We are afraid that we will look stupid in front of our classmates. We get anxious when making mistakes and struggling to create simple sentences in a foreign language. It makes us feel like little children instead of the intelligent young adults that we know we are.

But to move forward in a foreign language, we must conquer our fear. Just remember that everyone makes mistakes, especially when learning a language. You made mistakes in your mother-tongue when you were a child, and you will make mistakes as you learn a new language. And so will your friends. True friends will not laugh at you when you have problems, but friends who study a language together can often laugh together as they all struggle with strange sounds and sentence patterns. Mistakes donít mean that you are stupid, they mean that you are learning, which actually makes you smarter. So, donít worry about your mistakes, or about what your classmates think. If the person you are talking to understands what you mean, then you are communicating successfully!


Therefore, work hard and set aside your fears. Take advantage of every opportunity you can find to speak and listen to your new language. Go to English Corners, watch films in English, sing English songs, and ask your classmates to speak to you (at least sometimes) in English. Every step you take will help you conquer your fears and move you further down the road toward proficiency in a foreign language.


This article was printed in the Kunming Teachers' College newspaper (see below), and I'm posting it here under my understanding of "fair use" for educational resources.  

© 2007 Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use.

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