The conversation was much like so many others I’d experienced. My student that day, let’s call him Richard, was coming to the end of his Spanish language course. He’d worked really hard throughout, putting in study time between lessons, practicing the grammar and pronouncing with flair... Then the question came, “why is it that I can’t converse with the Spanish? I just freeze and my head empties! I do fine in class, it's SO frustrating!”
This comment always takes me back to when I was at college learning the language myself and felt the same frustrations. It also reminds me of the advice I was given by my tutor.
He said it was all about self-confidence and that anyone can learn how to become more confident. It is not a personality trait, it’s a skill. To begin with, it involves acting out of character, little acts that may not seem earth shattering, but will shatter your self-doubt over time. Nothing comes naturally until you practice it - so practice little “acts” of everyday courage.
He set me a homework assignment. Speak to two Spanish people today. No hesitating, no overthinking, just do it. Start talking to the person before your mind talks you out of it.
Now, what generally happens is our mind fills up with a million excuses for why you shouldn’t start up a conversation... “Oh wait, they’re talking to other people, I don’t want to be rude...” or “he looks busy today, I’ll catch him next time...” or “I’ll say it in English this time because it’s quicker...”
All those things are not true. It is your mind trying to derail and you spend the rest of the day beating yourself up about the missed opportunity.
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.
We’re not talking about earth shattering conversations here. Simply asking the girl at the checkout if she’s been busy today, commenting on the weather to the guy you pass whilst walking the dog, or admiring the handbag of the girl in front of you in the bank queue. Little acts of everyday courage will build your confidence in the language. Start walking the journey of a thousand small steps. Small steps aren’t small at all, they add up. Pushing yourself to do the small things, gives you the confidence to do the big things. The payoff is the reward of all the hard work you’ve put in to be able to speak Spanish and the sense of pride that feels so good.
I shared the assignment idea with Richard. He looked more than a little sheepish, but promised to follow it through. As he arrived at his lesson the following week, I could tell he was feeling the buzz! He told me about how he’d stumbled through his first shaky conversations, but he’d practiced it every day. He was beaming bright enough to light up the room as he told me the story!
So, take the initiative. Reap the rewards of those little acts of courage. I’d love to hear how you get on and I know you can do it!