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Thursday, 8 January 2009

Overcome Your Fear of Speaking Foreign Languages

Many people hesitate to try and speak in a foreign language . This might be because they don't want to feel foolish, are worried about how they will sound, are scared of sounding silly and so on. As a result they remain resolutely monolingual during any trip abroad, preferring to speak loudly in English. These are the same people who are clever, articulate and never lost for words when speaking in English. The same people who are achievers in other areas of life.

But why ? It may be because many people stop learning (or never start) languages when leaving school and when they travel abroad have only haunting memories of having to learn lists of words or conjugate verbs. Yuk. It could also be because many foreign language courses are detailed, promise a lot and require to much time. Anyway, let's cut to the chase. Who has the time or inclination to spend months learning Spanish/French/German or any other language when planning a three day visit ?

Well, maybe things have moved on or maybe not as regards language learning when still at school. I don't know, but I do know that it is fun and possible to learn some basic language for when you travel.

By basic, I mean basic. How to start ? Learn a few key words. For example, 'hello', 'goodbye', 'please', 'thankyou'. These are words that you will hear all the time and be able to use all the time. Learn them and say them as often as possible. It is a great confidence booster to do this, and once you can do this you have cleared the first hurdle.

I'm suggesting that it is always worth learning these key words because you will almost certainly have a better holiday. Try them out. Taxi drivers and waiters are great and will almost always respond positively. The moment you attempt to speak in another language you stop being a number to them and become a human being.

Almost always you will receive a positive reaction. In some cases, especially with shop-keepers it takes longer, (a few days) but most will crack eventually and reward you with some recognition that you are not just another tourist.

So, here we are, you can now speak ten or so words fluently. A good start but perhaps it might be fun to learn a few more and so how about some numbers. Start with 'one', 'two', 'three'. Remember that the goal is not fluency, or obsessing about finishing what you start (like having to count to ten) but to have a little fun and communicate.

Everyone buys drinks on holiday. This is an ideal occasion to use the numbers you know. It doesn't matter if you ask for the drinks in English. The important thing is to use the opportunity to ask for the number of drinks in the foreign language, or to confirm the number of drinks ordered.

Feeling inspired move onto a few phrases. A good one is 'that was delicious', assuming of course that you have chosen a good restaurant, and it is amazing how appreciative and surprised the owners will be.

Decide in advance what you are going to say. If you are getting a bus or if you are going to take a taxi learn 'one ticket' or whatever you will need, but keep it simple.

Start with the simplest phrase you can imagine. A common mistake is to make sentences in a foreign language more complicated than necessary. For example, instead of saying 'could you tell me where the beach is ?', it is easier to say 'where is the beach?'. In other words skip out the non-essential.

So, don´t be shy, learn ten, twenty or thirty words and a few phrases and make sure you use them.

Interested? Visit for language software designed to teach a few hundred words and phrases in different languages.

Frank Middleton. is a freelance author and writes occasional articles for Veneficium Ltd.

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