Having your first conversation in the language you are learning is an integral first step in learning any language. However, this is a step that many, many learners never make. In this blog I want to explore why that is the case and help you to ensure that you rise above the crowd and get that all important first conversation under your belt.
Why do most language learners never have a proper conversation in the language they are learning?
This question ultimately only has two 'one word' answers:
I know that this sounds utterly brutal but it is 100% true. Lots of people dress this up as though there are a plethora of complex reasons behind this. People talk about 'not having time', 'not knowing enough words', 'not being ready' or 'not knowing anybody to talk to' but assuming that you have the basics of a language nailed down these are ultimately all just excuses that people are using to hide behind either fear or laziness.
To be clear, when I talk about 'having the basics nailed down' I mean being around the level that somebody who is on Week 7 of my 10 Week YouTube Course would be on. By this stage in the course you have learnt the numbers, the question words, a range of useful verbs, how to say 'How do you say.... in ....' and a whole host of other things that will help you to have that conversation. If you haven't nailed those skills then you have a genuine reason to say you're not ready to have your first conversation in the language you are learning. If that is the case then what you need to do is learn those things! If you're totally new to language learning head over to my YouTube channel right now to get started on the 10 Week Course! However, there are millions of people out there who are at this level in a language but who are still giving excuses as to why they couldn't possibly have that first conversation. I now want to show why they are excuses and help those of you who are hiding behind them to overcome them!
'I don't have enough time':
Unless you are in the middle of a genuinely chaotic short term phase of your life (eg having a baby, looking after an ill partner / parent etc) then this excuse needs to be ditched immediately. You do have time. You have 24 hours every day. You're just choosing to see having this first conversation in the language you're learning as a low priority. If some of your pipes burst in your house you would have time to turn off the water supply, to phone a plumber (or to fix it) and to organise repairs and insurance. You would find the time because you had to. It was urgent. It was vital. Make this urgent. Make this vital. So, you have the time. What's next?
'I don't have anybody to talk to':
25 years ago this was a genuine reason not to be able to have a conversation in another language if you didn't personally know anybody who could speak the language you were learning. Today, with the internet, it is an outdated and ridiculous excuse. Most of you will know somebody in person who speaks the language you are learning. If you don't then go online and type in 'conversation classes on skype' and the language you want to learn you'll find hundreds of teachers all queuing up to have a conversation with you at a relatively low cost. If you are hiding behind this excuse and didn't realise that this was an option then fair play. It is an option though so now you know that this is just an excuse and, in this case, actually an outright lie. So, next:
'I don't know enough to have a conversation!':
There are two possibilities here. One is that you genuinely don't know enough words. If you haven't got the basics in place then you need to learn them. However, as I said earlier, you really do only need the basics in place to have a small conversation. Choosing not to learn the basics is, again, either a result of fear or laziness. If you can speak and read English you can speak and read another language. Fact. Learn the basics. Once you've got the basics under your belt you need to conquer the real monster - the belief that you are 'not ready yet'.
'I'm not ready yet!':
The excuse that you are 'not ready yet' is by far and away the most common reason given by language learners for why they have not yet had their first conversation in the language they are learning. Indeed, in most cases this doesn't feel like an excuse at all. This is because it is almost certainly true that you don't 'feel' ready. That feeling, however, is nothing to do with the reality that once you have the basics nailed down you are ready. What is more, the key here is that you will never feel ready. This is because, like all normal humans, you are terrified of 'making a fool out of yourself' and you will never feel like doing this. This is a totally natural evolved aspect of being a human being. We are social animals and we have evolved to ensure that we keep close relationships with those around us by evolving a sense of pride in who we are and what we can do. Most of us hate to do things that might 'show us up' because that would be highlight our inadequacies and make us look less able in the eyes of others. This, in turn, could affect our sense of self-esteem and our place in the social hierarchy. However, hilariously, we are also terrified of admitting that this social anxiety plagues us at ever turn so most of us create vast excuses (like the ones we've seen on this blog so far) to explain why we couldn't possibly do x, y or z when the reality is that we are just scared of doing it. Unfortunately, you cannot have a conversation in another language until you get over your pride (which is, ultimately, another word for fear of humiliation), suck it up and embrace your imperfections. This is why so many people I speak to say they can't speak the language sober but they can when they're drunk. When you think about it this is literally insane. Alcohol is a depressant which slows your brain processes down. Anything you can do drunk you can do far, far better sober. The only difference is alcohol also turns down your social inhibitions so makes you care less what others think. Just imagine how well you could speak if you stopped caring what others thought when you were sober?
Turning off your social anxiety and embracing your mistakes:
It is all well and good identifying that the reason why so many people won't ever have their first conversation in another language is the fear of looking life a fool. It is another thing altogether to think about a way to address it.
Reframing fear into excitement:
The quickest route to banishing the negative and cripping effects of social anxiety and the fear of failure is to accept that they will always be a part of your existence. If you are the sort of person who has given any of the excuses we've been talking about earlier you are never going to feel any differently about this first conversation. You are going to experience the feelings of fear and this will mean that your brain will do everything it can to keep you away from this potentially 'dangerous' situation. However, what most people don't know is that from a physiological standpoint fear and excitement are exactly the same emotion. Realising this is an absolute game changer because it means that you can reframe the feelings that you are getting when you think about having that first conversation from negative ones to positive ones. Think about it. When you feel nervous what is going on in your body? Not in your mind. In your body? Now, think about what is happening in your body when you are excited? Again, not your mind. Your body. See - it's identical! This means that whenever you 'feel' nervous about something that isn't actually physically dangerous you can train your brain to tell yourself that you are excited. This is an absolute game changer because it allows you to reframe your entire belief system around your first conversation. Instead of being crippled by fear of failure you can view it as an exciting first step on your journey towards becoming great in the language you are learning.
Contact the person you're going to talk to:
Once you have got yourself excited about this first conversation it is all about ditching the laziness and getting it booked. Contact the person you are going to have the conversation with and get a date in the diary.
Embrace the imperfections:
Once you have the date booked make sure you get yourself ready by ensuring that the basics are in place. You could even take a piece of paper along if you wanted to to help you in case you got totally stuck. The next thing that you need to do is realise that this first conversation is going to be far, far, far from perfect. Embrace this. Take pleasure in making mistakes and take your time to find the word you are looking for. Ideally, make sure that the person you are speaking to knows this is your first conversation and ask them not to hurry or correct you but to gently help you as and when you need it by giving you a few nudges in the right direction. If all else fails and you really can't find a word and can't rephrase what you want to say ask how to say the word you're struggling with in the language you're learning. This is obviously less than ideal but this is not the ideal conversation.
Putting my money where my mouth is:
Is is all too easy for people to bang onto others about how to do x, y or z in life without ever having the courage to do it themselves. I never want to be one of those people so you can see me putting all of these tips into practice in my first ever conversation in French during Week 7 of my 10 Week YouTube course here:
As you can see this is, in lots of ways, a shambles. I mess up lots of words, I stumble over a few sentences, I ask the wrong question and I have to resort to asking what two words are in French. However, on the flip side I have a four minute conversation in which I understand virtually every word my mate Rob says and in which I ask a range of understandable questions and make a few relevant statements. If you natural instinct is to dwell on the negatives then you're highly unlikely to push on. Switch it up and focus on the positives. There's a huge amount for me to build on here and there will be a huge amount for you to build on after your first conversation. Provided, that is, that you ditch the excuses and get it booked! You won't regret it if you do!
Let me know in the comments below when you're having this all important first conversation! It would be amazing to hear from anybody who this blog has helped reframe their thinking about this crucial aspect of language learning!
Peace out and good luck with all your language learning endeavours!