Saying your first few words in a foreign language can be terrifying.
The fear of making mistakes, of not understanding, of embarrassment, may be truly paralysing.
No one wants to look an idiot, especially in front of strangers.
So, how to feel less nervous about speaking Italian?
Time’s a great healer
Be reassured. The high stress levels of your first few days or weeks learning a foreign language won’t last forever.
Over time you’ll develop speech “habits”, which will make expressing yourself seem easier and more natural.
And you’ll learn to predict what people will say to you, so managing conversations will be much easier.
It’s just a question of practice.
Yes, but what can I do to feel better right now?
“Wait a few months, you’ll feel better” is good advice, but admittedly is not of much help if you’re too frightened to say anything at all in Italian right now. Or living in terror of someone addressing you!
There’s no one simple solution to this issue, but you could try a few of these four ‘tricks’ to see if they help:
1. The Parrot Trick
Memorise a few expressions. Practice them daily until you can use them effortlessly. Then, any time you’re expected to say anything, pop out one of your set phrases. Even something as simple as “Sorry, but I don’t speak Italian” or “Hi there. What’s new?” can make you feel better about having to deal with situations you might otherwise dread.
2. The ‘Another You’ Trick
Imagine you are not you. You are “Another You”. When speaking Italian, expect the “Another You” to screw up. After all, she doesn’t speak Italian well. But, who cares? It’s her problem, not yours.
3. The Threshold Trick
This one involves mentally modifying your “threshold for success”.
Maybe at the moment you’re thinking:
“OK, someone’s going talk to me and I have to: a.) understand what they say, and b.) reply with something intelligent and grammatically perfect. Oh, and c.) not hesitate too much! Or I’ll have failed. (Oh boy, I feel nervous.)”
That’s not really very helpful, is it? Instead you could think:
“I’m going to go in there and they’re going to speak to me and it’ll be really fast and I won’t have a clue. But that’s OK, I’m just a beginner, right? So, I’m going to give my biggest smile, walk right up to them, offer to shake hands, and say ‘Piacere’. And after that, ‘Sorry, but I don’t speak Italian’. Job done. That’ll represent a success.“
Basically, you’ll be making it much easier to ‘win’, so you’ll feel less nervous. See?
4. The No Grammar Trick
“Yesterday I go restaurant very good eat pizza best my life. You want go with me today?”
Grammar is over-rated. Most of what you want to communicate would be perfectly comprehensible without it.
So, hey, feeling stressed about conjugating verbs?
Problem not it be.
Award yourself a “no grammar day”: just don’t bother with it. Use whatever words you need to get your meaning across, in whatever order you care to. And skip all the fussy, boring bits.
You have my permission not to bother with any of it. Tell ’em I said it was OK.
Bet you’ll be having a conversation before you know it!
(This also has the advantage of making it very clear to the person you’re speaking to that they need to slow down and simplify…)
Just don’t sweat it
There is no objective reason why you should feel bad when you have to use a language that you have an imperfect knowledge of.
So just don’t.
Give yourself a break. Don’t sweat it.
As Australians say, “No worries!”
And remember, with time and practice, you’re going to feel so much better!
Over to you
Got any other suggestions as to how to feel less nervous when speaking Italian? Please share! Click here to comment on this article.
P.S. At risk of stating the obvious, taking a good Italian course might help you feel better about speaking the language, if only because it represents a period of intense practice, and because you’ll be surrounded by others facing the same difficulties.
So, don’t forget our sponsor school’s Winter Offer – save 20% on all 2014 group Italian courses.