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Foreign Language Anxiety?: 12 Tips for Gaining Language Confidence Fast

Speaking in another language can be scary.

But if everyone let fear stop them, I’m positive there’d be no speakers of foreign languages.

It can be hard to find a comfortable way to get into speaking the new language you’ve learned, but if you never take the risk, you’ll never speak it. It’s that simple.

That’s where this post comes in. Keep reading for a list of the 12 most effective tips to help get your foreign language anxiety under control.


1. Try a New Learning Approach

A lightbulb being held up in front of the sky

Your foreign language anxiety could result from trying to learn in a way that doesn’t match your learning style. You may need to switch it up!

Learning with a suitable style leads to more language learning success, which in turn leads to more confidence. Confidence is the enemy of foreign language anxiety of any kind.

For example, if you lack confidence when talking to native speakers, but you build up your general language skills on your own, you’ll feel better about trying to have a conversation the next time an opportunity comes up.

Not sure what your learning style is? Try this multiple intelligences self-assessment to figure out your strong suits.

Then, use that technical term for your learning style or just read the descriptions below to find out which language learning approach(es) it may be helpful for you to try next:

  • Real-life immersion: This is the tried-and-true method of spending a lot of time in a country or place where your target language is primarily spoken, whether for work, leisure or study. Immersion is best for the daring and adventurous, or the procrastinator. If you’ve been trying to learn the language for a while and can’t seem to get around to it, this method will definitely help build your confidence. Learning style: Interpersonal, Naturalistic.
  • Language learning software: This method benefits the organized and time-pressed language learner. If you have the discipline to learn independently and would benefit from being able to study around your busy schedule, you may want to look into using a guided language learning program. Learning style: Intrapersonal, Mathematical, Spatial.
  • Classroom learning: The learner who lacks discipline blossoms in the classroom. You need a teacher to hold you accountable and smaller goals to make study less intimidating. The feedback you receive in a classroom environment also helps you see realistically what you need to work on. Learning style: Linguistic, Mathematical, Interpersonal.
  • One-on-one or small group tutoring: The wallflower may need to be around fewer people in order to get the right level of attention and not just feel like blending in. Individualized learning that’s tailored to you can really make your language learning blossom. Learning style: Kinesthetic, Intrapersonal.
  • Immersion through videos, TV & other media: There’s a host of entertaining TV shows, music, movies and YouTube videos that you know nothing about just because they’re in a foreign language. Go explore them! This is best for the media lover who enjoys a good movie or TV show above all, and the easily-bored learner. Keep in mind that this technique requires a lot of discipline. It can also be hard to understand native speakers who speak fast and use slang, but there are ways to work with this (see below) and media learning can be a great confidence-builder. Learning style: Musical, Kinesthetic, Spatial.

2. Focus on Communication

A group of women talking

The goal of learning a language is not to speak perfectly. Expecting yourself to speak error-free not only puts an insane amount of pressure on you, but it’s also incredibly unrealistic. In reality, the more you pressure yourself to speak perfectly, the more mistakes you’ll probably make, if you find the courage to speak at all. Instead, focus on communicating.

Communication is 100% possible while making a ton of mistakes. Forget grammar and perfect pronunciation. Was your communication successful? Let that be your litmus test.

For example, if you’re in a foreign country and you enter a shop, point to an item that you don’t know the name of, say “buy” because that’s all you know, and the cashier proceeds to pick up that item and ring you up, congratulating yourself on communicating successfully.

When you have a conversation with a native speaker and you just know you’re asking something the wrong way, but she gets what you’re trying to say and answers your question anyway—congratulations, you successful communicator, you!

In order to do this, though, you do need to know enough words, so build a strong vocabulary. Make sure you know the most common nouns and verbs in your target language and use dictionaries with audio pronunciation that you can copy.

It’ll help to commit to learning a certain number of common nouns and verbs—say, five per week or one a day—and then it’s good to have conversations with native speakers as often as you can to practice your new vocabulary.

Make a commitment that works for you: For example, you might aim to have two 30-minute conversations per week. There are lots of meetup groups for this very purpose, or you can research local language exchange clubs. Your exchange doesn’t have to be in person, though! There are loads of websites specifically designed to help you find a person to practice with online, too.

Shift your focus from speaking perfectly to communicating and feel the pressure melt off, and you’ll more than likely make fewer mistakes!

3. Transform Negative Thoughts

A woman jumping for joy on a mountain trail

Maybe you’ve heard of the term “cognitive distortion,” or what psychologists call those illogical, false and negative patterns of thought that convince us we’re less-than. For example, you head to a party and predict that “the people there won’t like me” when you have no idea how they’ll feel about you, and how can strangers have already formed an opinion of you, anyway?

Well, it’s time to pinpoint the cognitive distortions blocking your language learning success. By recognizing what they are, we can catch ourselves in the act.

PsychCentral has a great list of the 15 most common ones, and some of them may resonate with language learning especially. Do any of the examples below sound familiar?

  • Filtering: “I just spoke with perfect grammar and great fluency but all that matters is the one word I mispronounced.”
  • Polarized thinking: “I have to speak Russian perfectly or else I’m a failure.”
  • Overgeneralization: “Since that one native speaker couldn’t understand me when I tried to speak in Spanish five years ago, that’s going to happen every time, so I might as well give up.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: “These native speakers will judge me for making so many mistakes!”
  • Personalization: “That cashier was so short with me because he could tell I had a foreign accent.”
  • Control fallacies: “I can’t help it if my French sucks; my life’s so demanding with work and family that I’ll never have the time.”
  • Fallacy of fairness: “It’s not fair that some people have the money to go off and study abroad and learn the language almost overnight.”
  • Blaming: “It’s my teacher’s fault I’m no good at Arabic.”
  • Shoulds: “I should be fluent by now.”

Now that you can identify cognitive distortions, your job is to talk back to them and question their validity. For instance, let’s look at that filtering example above. Your talk-back could go something like this:

“It’s better to focus on my success rather than highlighting what I did wrong. My grammar and fluency were perfect! Why don’t I congratulate myself for that?”

Answer “I should be fluent by now” with:

“I’ll become fluent in my own time as long as I practice and don’t give up. There’s no set timeline for fluency. What I should do is not make myself feel guilty when I’ve already come so far!”

Refute your distortions with truth and common sense as many times as you need to, until they dare not pop up again.

4. Set Realistic Goals

A goals list on a piece of paper

You can’t get far in your language learning if perfectionism makes you strive for the impossible. Perfectionism and foreign language anxiety feed off of each other, so it’s important to make sure your language learning goals are realistic and attainable, or you’ll feel even worse when you can’t reach them.

How do you know when a goal is unrealistic? One sign is if you make serious efforts towards your goal and you’re still nowhere near achieving it.

Another way to tell is by questioning whether what you want is actually possible (and by extension, if it’s really important). For example, it’s not possible for an adult to speak a foreign language without any trace of a foreign accent. But luckily, it doesn’t matter if you speak with an accent as long as you’re understood. Really assess if your goal is feasible and essential to your needs.

Here are some examples of common unrealistic language learning goals and their realistic counterparts:

Unrealistic: If I practice and study really hard, I’ll speak error-free although I’m just starting out.

Realistic: I can’t expect to skip speaking the broken version of the language. There are stages of fluency I must go through to become fluent. What I can do is measure the number of mistakes I make and aim to decrease them.

Unrealistic: I’m going to practice for two hours every day. That way I’ll become fluent in no time.

Realistic: It’s good to aim high, but that’s a huge time commitment to make when I’m just beginning and I may burn out fast. I should start by practicing five minutes a day and increase the time in increments to cultivate the habit and work my way up.

5. Make Lots of Mistakes

Crumpled up balls of paper in a trash bin

“Mistakes are welcomed in this class. We don’t frown on mistakes. We make them and move on,” said one of my brilliant Spanish professors.

One of the most important gifts to ourselves as language students, and one that should be generously given from Day 1, is the permission to make mistakes.

Studies have found that persons with perfectionist tendencies are more prone to FLA.

We should remember, and should always remind ourselves, that language learning is an error-prone journey. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody should make them. Then we learn from them.

We have to thoroughly convince ourselves that mistakes actually make them better with the language.

Native speakers commit grammar, pronunciation and usage errors on a daily basis. You can see this by finding mistakes in authentic native speaker content and pointing out errors or slang. You shouldn’t shame the native speakers; rather, you should understand that language is fluid and the goal of learning a language is communication, not perfect grammar.

Next time you make a mistake, for example, you use the article la instead of el with the word problema. Let this be a shining self-reflection moment to learn about exceptions to rules. Then chalk it up as a success.

6. Don’t Focus on the Grammar

A man holding up his finger, a positive expression on his face

You can benefit from steering away from an exclusive focus on grammar to alleviate foreign language anxiety. While grammar is undeniably crucial for linguistic accuracy, an excessive fixation on rules and structures can hinder communication and hinder the development of fluency.

Language learning is inherently dynamic and immersive, requiring a balance between various elements such as vocabulary, pronunciation and cultural context.

Overemphasizing grammar may lead to self-consciousness and fear of making mistakes, contributing to anxiety that impedes the learning process.

Embracing a more holistic approach that emphasizes communication and contextual understanding allows learners to build confidence, break through language barriers and appreciate the natural flow of conversation. 

7. Give Yourself a Break

Two men talking at a cafe

Pressure, especially when dealing with FLA, doesn’t work.

Well, pressure works in the military, and pressure works when you have a Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan or Michael Phelps in your class. But in a standard language class, not so much.

Pressure felt by FLA students can come from a variety of sources—from classmates, the teacher, the test, the assignment or project.

That’s why you should seek language learning activities that don’t cause stress. 

If a vocabulary game like Pictionary or Charades can make you forget about yourself and the possibility of profound embarrassment, perhaps while they’re having a great time, you can go under the radar and actually learn the language without them knowing it.

8. Reward Yourself

Someone holding a brightly colored ice cream cone

Rewarding oneself can be a powerful strategy to mitigate foreign language anxiety and maintain motivation during the language learning process.

Learning a new language can be challenging, and setting achievable milestones is essential for sustaining enthusiasm. Implementing a system of rewards, whether small or significant, provides a sense of accomplishment and reinforces your own positive behavior.

So take yourself out for an ice cream sundae next time you use the subjunctive correctly. Or buy yourself that new bag you’ve been eyeing after you spend a whole day in your target language.

This positive reinforcement helps to counterbalance the potential stress associated with language learning, making the journey more enjoyable.

Rewards can take various forms, such as treating oneself to a favorite snack after a productive study session, watching a movie in the target language or even planning a language-related cultural activity.

By incorporating these incentives, language learners create a positive feedback loop that not only eases anxiety but also transforms the language-learning experience into a more gratifying and sustainable endeavor.

9. Get Help from Classmates, Partners, Teachers and Tutors

A group of people collaborating

When students know that their colleagues are on their side, they become less anxious of the second language learning situation.

Because of this, do what you can to make your language class a cohesive group that supports each other and celebrates each other’s successes.

How are you gonna do that?

By talking, by laughing, by making jokes and by being a helpful classmate.

Collaborative learning and peer support play a pivotal role in alleviating foreign language anxiety within a classroom setting. When students engage in helping one another during language classes, a supportive community emerges, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared learning experiences.

The exchange of ideas, insights and even language tips creates a more relaxed atmosphere, where learners feel less intimidated by the prospect of making mistakes.

Peer interactions provide valuable opportunities for practicing the language in a non-judgmental environment, boosting confidence and diminishing anxiety.

Additionally, students often understand each other’s struggles, creating a safe space for open communication and a shared commitment to language acquisition. 

1o. Develop an Alternate Personality

Students talking in class

Embracing an alternative personality while speaking a foreign language, such as adopting a “Spanish personality,” can be a creative and effective strategy for reducing foreign language anxiety.

This approach allows language learners to mentally step into a role, creating a psychological distance between themselves and the potential fear of judgment or making mistakes.

By adopting a different persona associated with the target language, individuals may find themselves more inclined to take linguistic risks and express themselves freely. This transformation can be empowering, as it taps into the idea of language as a tool for communication rather than a source of stress.

Developing an alternative personality not only lessens anxiety but also adds an element of playfulness to the language-learning process, making it a more enjoyable and immersive experience that encourages learners to embrace the linguistic and cultural nuances of the new language.

11. Use Relaxation and Mindfulness Techniques

A woman meditating by a lake

Language learners can significantly benefit from incorporating mindfulness and relaxation exercises into their routine to alleviate foreign language anxiety.

Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation and conscious awareness can help learners stay present in the language-learning process, fostering a sense of calmness and focus.

Engaging in relaxation exercises before language practice can reduce tension and nervousness, creating a more conducive environment for effective learning.

Visualization, another mindfulness tool, enables learners to picture successful language interactions, promoting positive associations with the language and diminishing apprehension.

By incorporating these practices, learners develop resilience in the face of linguistic challenges, making the language-learning journey not only more tranquil but also more mindful and intentional. 

12. Practice with Role Playing

Two people role-playing an argument

Language learners can effectively reduce foreign language anxiety by integrating role-playing exercises into their learning strategies.

Role-playing provides a dynamic and interactive platform for learners to practice language skills in a controlled and supportive environment. By assuming different personas or engaging in simulated conversations, learners can develop linguistic confidence, refine their communication abilities, and confront potential anxieties associated with real-world language use.

This approach allows learners to experiment with language in a risk-free setting, promoting a sense of playfulness and exploration that eases apprehension.

Moreover, role-playing enhances cultural understanding, as learners simulate authentic scenarios that require them to navigate cultural nuances.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Sign up by November 28th to receive a 60% discount with our Black Friday sale!

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If you’d like to explore FLA more, check out this excellent eight-minute TED talk on the subject:


Foreign language anxiety’s no fun, but these 12 tips can make the battle to overcome it a lot easier.

It may never truly disappear, but now you’re armed with some tips and tricks to keep you motivated.

Don’t let anxiety kick you off your language learning journey!

And One More Thing...

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With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:

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Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Sign up by November 28th to receive a 60% discount with our Black Friday sale!

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