Take the lead

leading-peopleThere are many different ways to get over your fear of speaking a new language, but one of the most immediate, motivating, and gratifying ways is to be forced to speak it on behalf of someone else. If you are responsible for speaking for someone who has little or no knowledge of the language you’re speaking (or the place you’re navigating), you will have no choice but to use all those words you’ve been studying but may not have had a chance to use yet.

When I first moved to China, I mostly went out with people who had a much better grasp of the language than I did. I didn’t motivate myself to speak Chinese when they could much more easily speak it for me. When I started to host visitors, the tables turned on me and I was the one who would have to stumble (and eventually make my way) through Chinese conversations. Because guests often have different needs or want to do different activities from locals, I was taken out of my usual range of conversation and had to really put my knowledge to use. Sure, it was a bit difficult and embarrassing at times, but I’ve found that a hundred percent of the time, my guest is impressed with my skills, and I also realised I knew a lot more than I thought I did.

I have recently had to deal with some new situations on behalf of other people (ordering a taxi, cancelling a delivery), but almost completely failed at ordering myself dinner when the delivery menu had been changed unexpectedly. Oh well, something to work on next time.

Have you found that being forced to use your knowledge for someone else has given you more confidence while speaking?