Language confidence
June 18, 2012 5:29 AM   Subscribe

I was taught French through to Grade 10; however, have been far removed from it since then. I am too shy to try to converse in French with others; but would like to build the confidence to be able to. What are some good strategies for relearning a language and becoming more confident conversing in it at the same time?
posted by jamincan to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The main strategy is to converse anyway and muddle through. You're really using the language then. Fastest way to learn.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:36 AM on June 18, 2012

I was in the exact same situation as you a couple years ago; I'd learned French in school and had a lot of difficulty actually speaking when the time came and I needed it for work, for friends and stuff.

I guess what really pushed me to start talking it in again is hanging around a good group of bilingual people. We would just talk in English for a while and then switch to French here and there. That helped me build my confidence without thinking too hard about what I was saying.

And on another note, don't think so much when you speak. I know that this is totally the hardest part of learning another language. But when the wheels in your brain are spinning trying to construct a grammatically-correct sentence, your discomfort shows on your face and people pick up on that. Don't stress if something's not quite right -- people will be able to figure out what you mean. As much as you're able, just say whatever seems right at the time. A drink or two can really help with this.

Try not to think of those conversations as "French practicing time" -- that puts too much pressure on you. They're just conversations that happen to occur in more than one language.

If you want to get the juices flowing, you might want to try acclimatizing yourself to the sound of the language. I used to put on the radio in the background as I did other things. Sure, I would only pick up one or two words a sentence at first, but after several hours/days/weeks I started to grasp more and more.

And finally, people will appreciate a sincere effort. If someone has the stones to turn up their nose at your inferior language skills, well then they can go fuck themselves. The vast majority will recognize you're trying and be empathetic towards you.

Good luck!
posted by denmarkstreet at 5:46 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that the fastest way is to converse despite the difficulty. My french improved a ton when I lived in Quebec for a few months, and even a short trip to Paris prior to that was a great refresher.

I've also been in the habit of listening to the french radio stations and watching french movies. It's great for improving the listening skills and refreshing your mind of the vocabulary, and learning anew (movies with subtitles). It's good to figure out what sentence replaces the general commonplace expressions you usually like to use (like "ca m'est egal = it's all the same to me) Repeat stuff out loud to yourself.
posted by lizbunny at 6:10 AM on June 18, 2012

As it happens I am listening to an episode of the (free) "Coffeebreak French" podcasts. You might like those - and they put an emphasis of listening and speaking.

As somebody living in France - and trying to improve my French - I would echo denmarkstreet's advice: you need to try to be relaxed in a situation where you only understand fragments of what is said to you - and where you can only express yourself in rudimentary terms. It is understandable to be shy and self conscious about making mistakes at first - but the positive reward of having successfully understood or communicated something in French far outweighs this.

Everyday situations in shops, restaurants and other tourist locations will only take you so far. I found I learned much more when, for example, I joined up in a sailing club or offered to help some French friends move house. I know how to sail and carry furniture so this was just an application of an existing skill along with another language. Also - we were all on the same team and thus looking out for each other's interests. Perhaps you could try something like that.
posted by rongorongo at 6:18 AM on June 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the feedback; there is some very valuable advice here. I guess I realize that I will have to converse with people eventually - that is the ultimate goal after all - however, I can't realistically expect to start doing so fluently. In the meantime podcasts and french radio might be the best options.
posted by jamincan at 4:29 AM on June 19, 2012

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