Finding common ground
Further to what I said the other day about attitudes towards communication, I find that it makes a big difference to be around people whose foreign language skills are equal to, or lower than yours. Not exclusively, of course. Let me explain:
If you are communicating with someone who speaks very little of your native language, you will be further encouraged to speak with them in theirs. I find that the language of communication tends to be that which both parties can speak the best, kind of like water always sinking to the lowest level possible. So, if you are an English speaker learning Spanish, and you meet a Spanish speaker who doesn’t speak English, naturally you will try to communicate in Spanish. If the Spanish speaker’s English is better than your Spanish, then you will probably speak mostly in English.
On the other hand, if you are in a foreign country and your companions speak less of the local language than you do, often times you will be relied on to be the primary communicator. I found this when my relatives came to visit me recently. They can speak Cantonese, but not Mandarin, so I had to rely on my paltry Mandarin to get us around. It’s always encouraging to find out exactly how much you know, and you may surprise yourself! It doesn’t hurt that your companions are often impressed with your skills.
I find that the best speaker in a group will inevitably end up being the spokesperson. It makes interactions smoother, but it doesn’t help the other members of the group with their confidence.
Be bold, and be proactive in your speaking. Every opportunity to practice is a chance to get better. Don’t miss one just because you feel that someone else can say it better than you.