How to speak Spanish if you’re shy like me

Like me, you are interested in learning Spanish and you are already following the best tips on how to learn Spanish fast. You’re working hard, your Spanish vocabulary is broadening all the time, you listen to Spanish podcasts, watch Spanish movies and TV shows, read Spanish newspapers and even have a Spanish language copy of […]

Like me, you are interested in learning Spanish and you are already following the best tips on how to learn Spanish fast. You’re working hard, your Spanish vocabulary is broadening all the time, you listen to Spanish podcasts, watch Spanish movies and TV shows, read Spanish newspapers and even have a Spanish language copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera on your bedside table. Everything seems to be going pretty well. In short, you’re doing just about everything you can to learn to speak the Spanish language.

And then this happens:

Someone asks you a simple question in Spanish.

Well, if you’re anything like me, your mind goes blank, beads of sweat start to form on your forehead, your brain is in a whirl, you’re panicking, you freeze….and the harder you try to find the reply, the more elusive it becomes! Boy, I struggle!

I have always been told to ‘dive in there’… ‘just speak’! … ‘let go of your fears’… ‘there’s nothing to be frightened of’! No matter how often I heard these nuggets of advice, (and I told myself all these things too), whenever I started to try to speak Spanish out loud, a kind of paralysis swamped my mind. Has it ever happened to you?

Don’t worry if this scenario describes you too. As time has passed, and with the help of my teachers, I’ve learned to overcome my fears, and I want to share some of the tricks I’ve been taught with you. First off, you’re far from alone. Speaking is the one single thing that language learners often find more difficult than anything else. And this is doubly frustrating as you’re all too aware that speaking Spanish is the fastest way of learning Spanish!

The thing is, we’re not all extroverts, and introverted people (like me), or people lacking self-confidence, (that’s maybe 50% of the population?) inevitably find speaking more stressful and difficult, even in their own native tongue, let alone a foreign one.

So, what’s going on in your brain to cause this response? All of us will have heard of the ‘fight or flight’ response. It helped our early ancestors avoid being eaten by Sabre toothed tigers! Adrenaline courses through your body, in preparation for rapid escape from danger.  Although we’re no longer threatened in quite the same way that our ancestors were (thank goodness), the human brain’s wiring hasn’t changed one iota since that time. Nowadays, scary situations come in all shapes and forms, and speaking a new language out loud will, for many people like me, represent a very frightening situation, no matter how irrational this seems!

So, if you’re a shy person like me, you’ll be desperate to know is there a solution? How can I overcome my anxiety? How can I ever speak Spanish fluently?

Perhaps the most important thing I learned to help overcome my fear was to accept it. Anxiety is part of the human condition. Everyone has it to a greater or lesser extent. Accept your anxiety, don’t try to fight it, and you’re halfway to winning the battle of learning to live with it. Acceptance is maybe the most important step that I took.

Tips to speak Spanish fluently

Following are several other practical tips that will greatly help you learn how to speak Spanish even if you’re shy like me:

  • Keep a Spanish language notebook with you at all times with a few handy phrases jotted down. And whenever you hear something that may be useful, make a note of it. The benefits of this are twofold: firstly, the process of writing helps commit words and phrases to memory, and secondly, you’ll have a bunch of handy notes to refer to if you find yourself getting stuck.
  • Practice scenarios out loud ahead of time! Say, for example, you’re going to one of the hundreds of wonderful Tapas bars in Malaga for a light lunch. Before you go, rehearse how a conversation with the waiter might go. This rehearsal time is time well spent and will boost your confidence when the time comes to speak for real.
  • Use ‘muletillas’ (little crutches). Basically, these are filler words. In English, you’ll always hear people buying time to speak by using fillers: ‘Umm’, ‘you know’, ‘it’s like’ etc… The more natural you can make your Spanish muletillas sound, the more time you’re buying yourself to speak! Here are a few examples: Pues/Bueno (well), A ver (let’s see), Asi que (so), Es como (it’s like). I find these ‘little crutches’ really useful as they help give my brain time for me to formulate my thoughts.
  • Record yourself speaking Spanish. It may be that you feel self-conscious about your accent when you’re learning to speak Spanish. I certainly did. By recording yourself actually speaking, you’re speaking! And all the time, you’re refining your accent and pronunciation. Confidence will flow for you like it did for me!
  • Practice one to one with a friend. For many shy people like me, it can be very stressful speaking out loud in class. Naturally, you will be encouraged to speak in class as much as possible, but it can be quite a nerve-racking experience. If this applies to you, like it did to me, pick a conversation partner, someone you feel really comfortable with, and practice speaking Spanish to one another as much as possible. It’ll help a lot.
  • Accept that you’re going to make mistakes. This is really crucial for anyone who is setting out to learn to speak Spanish. Learn to embrace your mistakes, the more you speak, the more mistakes you’ll make. This is inevitable. Embrace your mistakes and learn from them. It’s one of the quickest ways to learn!

Learning how to speak Spanish if you’re shy like me is something that I’ve come to realise many students suffer from. More than likely, you are your own biggest critic. Recognize that you’re not alone, follow these handful of simple tips and in no time at all, you’ll quickly overcome your shyness just as I’ve succeeded in doing, and be speaking Spanish with confidence.

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