An Introvert’s Guide To Speaking A Foreign Language — Remote Encounters Diary, Part 4

If you’re shy like me, talking to strangers is not always easy — especially when you aren’t speaking your native language! Here’s how I overcome my hesitation when speaking Spanish.

I’ve been making noticeable progress with my Spanish over the last few months. When I compare my current ability to my first few weeks here in South America, I see a huge improvement. It’s very encouraging! I handle everyday situations with ease now and enter into conversations with less fear and hesitation. As much as my confidence has improved, I have realized that I can’t completely rely on winging it, because — at least when it comes to speaking a new language — I am simply not as extroverted as Jimmy.

Some days I feel relaxed and focused and am naturally extroverted and confident — sidestepping doubts and hesitations, responding intuitively to small talk. Sometimes, I can fake being confident; a bit like an actor getting into character backstage before stepping in front of their audience. But these are exceptions. Most of the time I have to overcome an innate shyness when I open my mouth, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve to give me enough confidence to be active in conversations.

Plan ahead

One thing that helps me avoid hesitation and stuttering is planning my sentences. Before I get into a specific situation, I will often take a moment to look up the vocabulary I expect I will need. For example, if I’m going to a market to buy fruits and vegetables, I’ll make sure to have the relevant Spanish vocabulary “pre-loaded” in my mind. If I know I am going to explain something complicated to someone, I will repeat sentences in my head ahead of time or test them on Jimmy before I speak to a stranger.

Be an “actor”

Planning doesn’t always work (I often get a response I don’t understand), but that’s when I fall back on the universal language of gesturing. When lost for words, act it out! This might sound like the last thing a shy person would want to do, but it actually takes the pressure off and can make a complicated situation easier. When you think of yourself as an actor playing a role, you can distance yourself from feelings of worry and embarrassment. Plus, it usually ends in giggles and smiles all around. Nonetheless, my introvert nature can make this process quite draining. That’s why I make sure to balance interactions with time alone to study and practice.

Take some solo time

On the upside, being a bit of an introvert also means that I take great pleasure in learning on my own. At this point, I have to make a little confession: I’ve discovered that I really enjoy talking to myself! I like saying sentences out aloud, listening to the way the words sound, correcting the pronunciation and trying to hit the correct accents and emphases. I get this same satisfaction when speaking with the Babbel app and repeating sentences from my podcast Spanish lessons. Planning my sentences and speaking to myself give me the extra confidence I need to not feel intimidated speaking beginner’s Spanish to native speakers.

When we met Coria, I used all of the above. I was excited about us having organized an interview with a local craftswoman, and enjoyed the process of learning new vocabulary specific to making hand-knitted clothing. I practiced my questions aloud until I felt confident and really started to look forward to finding out the answers. By the time we sat down to speak, it was no longer about me learning Spanish, but about Coria and her craft. I felt confident from the very beginning.

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