The 10 Brutally Honest Reasons Why You’re Still Scared To Speak French

by | Mar 19, 2021 | French language tips

Nobody will be able to understand me when I speak in French… I guess I’ll just speak in English to be safe….

Can you relate to those thoughts? Well, you’re not alone.

So many adult learners are still scared to speak French, even after attending hours and hours of group courses or private lessons.

Usually, their fears become aggravated from simple situations — like trying to speak French at the store. If the cashier at the front doesn’t understand or hear correctly, they’ll stress, panic and freeze. Oftentimes they’ll blush and instantly regret even trying to communicate in French, reverting back to English immediately.

Sound familiar?

If yes, you’re in the right place. Because in this article I’ll be talking about the typical French student who is still scared to speak French despite all their honest efforts.

I’ll tell you exactly what to do to help you overcome your fears and move past this mental block.

In my opinion, it’s important to understand the reasons why we are so stressed to speak a foreign language with native speakers. Often the confidence we have in class does not carry over to a real-life situation. For introverts, it’s even more evident, since it can even be challenging to feel comfortable in the controlled environment of a French class. 

As a language learner, you know what it is like to put in the work. You also know what it feels like to enjoy some notable progress, the satisfying feeling of “getting things” in French. Be proud of yourself! Celebrating our accomplishments, no matter how small, is a necessary part of the language learning journey.

As I say, progress is better than no progress. And perfect is boring anyways.

It may happen that you reach a learning plateau in your studies, where you struggle to reach the next level. While you “get things” in French, you’re still not confident enough to speak or respond to queries, jokes or day-to-day banter. Maybe you’re getting sick and tired of it. Maybe you’re starting to pressure yourself and self-criticize, thinking that by now you should be able to speak better — properly, confidently and more eloquently. You feel you should at least be able to communicate in everyday situations without hesitation.

But despite all the efforts and unsuccessful attempts you’ve made, you are still intimidated and scared to speak French and communicate with native speakers…

Can you relate?

As a language learner myself, I get it. I’ve been there too and to be honest, I’m still there sometimes. I’m fluent in English and Spanish and I’m not shy to speak, even if I know I make mistakes. The most important aspect for me is to be understood.

But I also speak imperfect Dutch, Portuguese and Arabic. In these languages, I’m at the beginner level and sometimes when I go to speak I freeze. In order to overcome these awkward, embarrassing and discouraging situations where I’m blushing and sweating like a madwoman — I’ve taken a step back to analyze them.

Why do these situations make me feel so uncomfortable? And why do I react the way I do?

In a quest to figure this out, I began by analyzing my role as a French teacher and the many students I’ve helped over the past 15 years. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught a variety of students from all over the world — students with an amazing and outstanding natural talent for languages and slow-learning students who come to me with zero skills at all.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, I strongly believe that everyone can speak a foreign language. It’s just that the amount of effort to learn will vary from person to person — as we are all unique. 

I’ve met so many students who attend private French lessons or group courses with the hope and ambition to speak more confidently. And they are totally right to believe that — it’s completely possible! Yet, based on my experience I can tell you why some students achieve this and others don’t.

In this article, I’ll share with you 10 honest facts about why you probably don’t speak French confidently.

1. You don’t practice enough. Learning French (or any other language) is equivalent to having a big outstanding goal — like getting a six-pack. You have to work on it every single day to see results. There are no quick fixes or shortcuts. If you stop doing the work, you won’t progress. Simple as that. So if you’re feeling shy to speak, you need to practice more.

2. You don’t study enough. If you still don’t know how to conjugate the passé composé or the imparfait — you need to keep studying. There is no magic trick or secret. It’s just plain old elbow grease. Study, do more exercises, re-write notes, and repeat. When you nail down a grammar concept or vocabulary your confidence will skyrocket when you go to speak — because you know what you’re saying is correct (and the chances of being understood are a million times higher).

3. You don’t force yourself to speak. As soon as someone approaches you in the restaurant or store, or the Uber driver asks you a question — do you directly switch to English? Sure, it’s easier for you in the moment … but you’re never going to progress while you’re inside your comfort zone. Step outside of it and try speaking French first! English should come second.

4. You never review or reread your notes: Like I said, I’m a language learner too. And I know how important it is to re-read notes as often as possible. Revision, rehearsal and repetition are vital. Reread your notes as long as the grammar or vocabulary still feels news or shaky. It’s not a particularly glamorous part of language learning but it’s a part of the process.

5. You don’t study the right way: There’s a wrong way to study? Well, yeah. And it all depends on you and your unique way of learning. You need to identify and understand the way you learn best. Figuring that out is part of what makes studying so difficult. But the good news is, once you know what works (like having a photographic memory for example) you can use it to your advantage. You’ll be way more efficient and studying will feel more enjoyable.

Note: Many students who haven’t been in school for a long time may have a hard time adjusting to the concept of studying again. Your brain just isn’t used to it. Some students might apply the same methods they used in university to language learning. For some people, it works perfectly. For others, it might be a catastrophe. Just know that studying widely different topics, like natural sciences and language requires a different methodology! 

6. You don’t take notes during the class: Even if you understand what is going on during a class, your brain won’t memorize it if you don’t make an effort to process the information. Studies show that writing stuff down is the key to successful memorization. Besides, our brains these days are overstimulated with a million things going on at once. You probably won’t remember what you learned later because you’ll be distracted by something in your work or personal life— so just write it down to be safe. Think of it like any great idea, if you don’t write it down somewhere, you’ll probably forget it.

7. You didn’t challenge your brain: Maybe you understand everything in your French class, the French TV shows you watch, the books you read. Good for you! That’s a huge win. But if you’re not challenging yourself, forcing yourself to look up new vocabulary or learning new things, it’s probably time to try something new to stimulate your mind.

8. You are mean to yourself: You want to be perfect and only create perfect sentences that perfectly convey what you mean.  If you don’t, you beat yourself up over it and think you’re stupid. Take a back step. We don’t live in a perfect world. And learning is a process that involves tons of mistakes. It’s a hard fact that you’ll need to accept and hopefully embrace. Remember that baby steps are leading you somewhere — and you’re doing great!

9. You allow yourself to be intimidated by others: Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Not native speakers nor other learners. Native speakers have been speaking the language since they were a child, so they are terrible to compare to. Other learners are not a good sample either, since everyone learns at different rates, have different strengths and different background (you don’t know how long your classmate has been learning French, what their experience is etc.) Stop being intimidated by others and focus on yourself.

10. You don’t practice on your own: You need to practice on your own and independently. I don’t mean just re-writing notes and studying. I mean full-on speaking to yourself in French. It sounds crazy, but it’s an amazing way to build fluency. Think in French, speak in French, record French voice notes or vlogs (no one has to see them but you). You’re building a French-speaking habit that way. 

With a bit of tough love, I leave you with these 10 points. I hope they shed some light on where and how you can improve in your French learning journey.

The point is, you’ve come this far — you’ve put in the effort and are no longer a beginner in your French studies. Be proud of yourself for that because it’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself.

Comparatively, the next few steps are a piece of cake.

You just need to overcome your fears. With actionable strategies to build your confidence and solidify your French knowledge — you’ll transform from scared to self-assured.

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