Do you have xenoglossophopia, or the fear of learning a foreign language? Xenoglossophobia is characterized by intense anxiety at the thought of trying to converse in a language outside your own, be it in speaking, writing, reading, or listening. Fear of speaking the language, however, is the most common. If this describes you, welcome to the club. Many American undergraduate students report that they choose the Bachelor of Science route over a Bachelor of Arts, contributing to the fact that less than 1% of American adults today are proficient in a foreign language that they studied in a U.S. classroom. Why? Often, the B.A. requires a foreign language component. Students in language classes often tell our teachers: “I’ll listen to you, I’ll write, and I’ll even read silently. But don’t make me talk. I don’t like the way the words feel in my mouth.”
When you have spoken one language your entire life, often the view of learning a foreign language is usually viewed two ways: as either something that must be easy if you wanted to do it, or as something completely unfathomable that you would never attempt to try because your “brain isn’t built that way.” The truth is, learning a language is much like learning long division (except it’s never-ending): for some, it will be more difficult to learn than for others, but it is attainable for anyone. And, if you forget it down the line, it’s easier to pick up than when you learned it the first time. It takes practice.
So what do you do if you’re afraid of hearing the foreign words come out of your mouth? Here are five helpful tips that will help you to overcome your fear a learning a language:
- Read it aloud (by yourself).
A little known, yet often-recommended tip from foreign language teachers is to sit alone in your room with an article, and try to read the language aloud – if you have gelotophobia (the fear of being made fun of), make sure the room is sound proof. But read loud. Mumbling will not reinforce the words in your brain. You have to read the words so that you can feel them with your mouth, and hear them with your ears. It doesn’t matter if you do it perfectly, either. Just read straight through, and over time this practice will help you to develop the confidence you need to start speaking up.
- Hit up iTunes.
Find some music you like in your target language. Then listen to it… over and over. It’s even better if you can get the lyrics, and learn to sing with it. Not only will this improve your vocabulary, but singing with the language will make it more familiar to your tongue. This is similar to reading, but the repetition of the song’s words in particular will make them feel more natural, as well as the phrases they’re based in. Songs are usually written with colloquial terms, making what you learn particularly useful for conversational speech.
- Watch a movie.
Don’t watch just any movie though – watch a movie you know and like, dubbed in the target language. Then you will have an idea of what’s going on, spoken by actors you’re already familiar with (except their voices will be different). Watching foreign films is a great source of exposure to another culture, but getting the gist of the movie is often half the battle. When you watch a movie that you already understand, the language part is simplified, at least a bit. This strategy can help you overcome the intimidation of knowing nothing at all (xenophobia = fear of the unknown).
- Go slow.
Often, when you’re learning a language, you’ll be presented with a concept that will be very difficult to understand. For example, Korean has two different number systems, and if you’re counting you use one, but if you’re giving the order of something, you use the other. Or how about this: there are six different ways to say the word “the” in German, depending on 16 different instances that you must memorize when learning that language. In Spanish, when you forget your homework, you tell the teacher literally: “my homework stayed at home on me.” Every language has a different surprise that can be difficult to wrap your head around. Take your time to absorb the surprise, and don’t be hard on yourself if it takes you a little longer to really “get it.” This is natural.
- Associate it with something you like.
Are you a big fan of Mexican food? Learn some restaurant vocabulary. You probably know: burrito, queso, pollo, salsa, margarita, etc. If you like these things, your brain might not object to learning “carne” (meat), camarones (shrimp), plato (plate), or restaurante (apple) (just kidding, it’s restaurant). When helping someone to overcome their fear of snakes (ophidiophobia), for example, psychiatrists will first present the patient with a picture of a snake. The patient will not want to look, but once they are used to it and can do that without feeling anxious, the patient will watch a video of a snake. The next step is to look at a snake behind glass, then eventually the fear is overcome. Baby steps are also needed overcoming your fear of learning a language: start with something you understand, and go from there.
So just know: language learning will not kill you (a snake, on the other hand, might). In fact, it will most likely help you. CORE Language teachers are each individually vetted and understand the struggle – it’s not easy to learn a foreign language, but anybody can do it. If you’re ready to overcome your fear, give us a call today!