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5 tricks to conquer your French-speaking nerves

Are you afraid to speak French? Relax, says language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis in the second of her guides to learning, speaking and understanding French - and she has five clever tips to help even beginners get the conversations started...

It is normal to experience some kind of speaking anxiety when you are trying to express yourself in another language.

Why? Because language is an important part of who we are: it allows us to show our wit, our education, our sense of humour... We don’t want to make mistakes because we don’t want to look like fools. It makes total sense.

So, how do you get over it? Here are my five tips:

Simplify your sentences
You may not be able show off your wit in French (yet). So go to the core of what you want to say, and use simple words and sentence constructions. Instead of a long and eloquent sentence, cut it into two shorter ones.

Use the present tense, even if it's wrong
Verb conjugations in French can be a real challenge. Many students of French freeze each time they have to use a verb, and that really affects the conversation. So, my tip is to speak in the present tense. At least at the beginning, until you really understand when to use the other tenses and the verb form come naturally to you.

You could say: “Two weeks ago, I go to the movies. I watch a great movie with a fantastic actress called “blabla”. Do you see it?"

It’s not correct of course, but it’s understandable, and much better than: “two weeks… hmmm…. Before… I… hmmmmm…. Would have gone to the movies. I hmmmmm… will watch a movie… good… Did you have seen it?”.

Focus on vocabulary you will actually use
Start by learning vocabulary which is close to your life: there's no need to know everything about skiing if you don’t ski. Of course, it may come in handy to understand French, but as a beginner, focus on things you are likely to use in conversation, that have to do with your life, your work, your hobbies.

Some things need to be learned by heart
Politeness is one of them. Don't hesitate to say “merci” (thank you) or “je voudrais” (I would like). So make flashcards with key sentences, and practice correct pronunciation (always learn French with audio), and repeat, repeat, repeat (out loud!).

Speak up, and have a positive attitude
Because they are afraid to speak, students tend to speak very quietly and look down, or look up and to the right because they are searching their brains, trying to remember what to say… It’s not a nice way to talk to someone.

Establish eye contact. It is more easily said than done, but you can do it: practice makes perfect.

The same goes with speaking softly. If you struggle to speak French, make mistakes, and the person you're speaking to cannot hear a word you are saying, you really are making things hard for them to talk to you…

You’re going to make mistakes. It’s okay. Accept it. Speak up, look directly at the person you're talking to - and smile! This will make the conversation much more engaging.

When a foreigner talks to you, do you think s/he is stupid when s/he makes mistakes? Do you mock them? I don’t think so. We all understand it takes guts and humility to speak in another language. So don’t worry about making mistakes: take the plunge and speak French. It’s only with regular practice that you will get over your fear of speaking.

You’ll find more tips on how to get over your French speaking anxiety here.

Camille Chevalier-Karfis
French audiobook method &
blog writer, founder of FrenchToday.com

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