You go to all your classes, you do your homework, you watch movies in English during your free time, you read the news headlines in English every day. You feel that you’re doing everything to improve your English, but
when you need to make a presentation in front of the international team or participating in a video conference with senior management, the panic rises and you feel the FEAR.
Maybe you have heard that being afraid of doing something can bring out the best in us, but that’s not always much help when you have to use English at work in situations that you know could have a big effect on your career. You would still rather be anywhere else than face that situation. And in my case the fear often makes my mind go completely blank.
So how can I stop this happening? We all know that we’ll feel great AFTER the presentation / meeting etc when we realise that we have survived and maybe we even enjoyed it in the end, but how can we prepare to overcome the rising fear beforehand?
When I first came to Barcelona, I spoke hardly any Spanish and no Catalan. In the language training company I was working in, the main language of communication was Spanish and of course to organise the courses, I needed to speak to people in the HR departments in Spanish. Having lived in Italy for many years beforehand, I soon had a reasonable level of listening comprehension but making a complete wasstill difficult – and I still mix Italian and Spanish even now – after more than 10 years! Although this can be a little embarrassing, I have learnt to communicate in Spanish applying the following rules:
1 I accept that I will make mistakes. I don’t need to speak the language perfectly in order to communicate.
2 I am speaking Spanish so that I can communicate with another person who doesn’t speak my language. Therefore, I believe that s/he should make an effort to understand me.
3 If I don’t understand my interlocutor, I will ask them to repeat what they said. If I don’t understand the second time, I will ask again. I will keep doing this until I understand the other person. Communication is a two-way street, we both need to make an effort to allow communication to flow.
4 I will remind myself that I am the expert in my field. I have been organising language training programmes for 25 years. I know about language learning and training. The person I’m speaking to is not an expert, so it is in his/her interest to make an effort to understand me and meet me at a point where we can communicate.
5 I prepare every important conversation. I think carefully about what I want to say, I check any words that I don’t know and I practise. Then I practise some more. I will often have the conversation out loud with myself, record myself and then imagine myself successfully having this conversation.
6 If possible I also practise with a native Spanish speaking friend beforehand so that s/he can give me some useful feedback.
Following these six steps has really helped me to become a more confident speaker of Spanish. Yes, I still need to work on it to become a more accurate speaker and use a wider range of vocabulary, but I can communicate competently in this language.