The biggest fear I have when I think of talking to people in my current broken Spanish is that they will be frustrated at dealing with me. They will think I am stupid and shun me from society. People will be angry I attempted to speak before I was perfectly fluent.
Do these sound like thoughts you’ve had on your language learning journey?
The reality is usually the exact opposite of this fear.
I can’t remember a single instance where someone mocked me or I made anyone angry because of my accent. I do remember feeling frustrated at myself for not being able to express myself. I felt stupid and wanted to hide in a hole until I could speak with the same ease as I do in English.
Of course, avoiding speaking is just going to make the amount of time I hide longer and longer. Getting better at speaking requires getting out there and speaking. The question is, how do I use conversations to help me improve my pronunciation.
Use Your Mistakes As A Guide
When you’re talking with someone and they become confused at what you’re saying, take note of what word they misunderstood you say. Don’t beat yourself up for saying it wrong, just ask them to help you pronounce it correctly and add it to the list of words you use to do pronunciation drills.
To get over the fear of asking for help, think about a conversation you’ve had in your first language where used the wrong word to explain something and had to clarify when the other person was confused. It’s the same thing when learning another language. Not making a big deal about it makes it not a big deal.
Ask “What?” A Lot
Don’t let yourself get lost in a conversation. Asking your conversation partner to slow down or repeat something is as fine in your first language as it is in any other language you want to speak.
None of us have perfect attention! Our minds wander at random moments for random reasons. When our brains can’t keep up with the sounds in a new language, it tends to wander more easily.
As soon as you notice you haven’t been following along, apologize for your brief distraction, then ask your partner to repeat what they just said, slower so you can really pay attention to the individual words and ask for a definition if any words are unfamiliar.
Repeat Conversations To Yourself
Practicing individual sounds and words is fine when doing pronunciation drills, but the key to understanding full sentences and paragraphs is to practice saying full sentences and paragraphs. The more you practice asking and responding to questions to yourself, the easier it will be to speak fluidly and understand fast speech when talking with someone else.
Challenge yourself not to look up anything when interviewing yourself. I’ve found the perfect time to practice is while washing dishes. Pretend a friend is chatting with you, asking how you are or what you’re going to do with your day.
If you struggle to remember a word, try to describe the word you want to say and move on if it doesn’t pop up. The point is to practice speaking, not beat yourself up for not being perfect.
If you want to use some of your new found conversation skills with me, I’d love to chat about how I can help you reach your language goals even faster. Check out my courses or just sign up for the Pronunciation Habit newsletter where you’ll get weekly pronunciation practice techniques. Plus, exclusive special offers.
And if you found this post helpful, feel free to share it around. We can all use all the help we can get with our goals.
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