“When I start to speak I forget everything! My mind just freezes, it’s really frustrating.” Lots of my students talk about this block they feel when they start having a conversation in the language they are learning. I’ve experienced it myself…You can remember loads of vocabulary and can create complex, perfect sentences when you are studying alone in your room but as soon as you start to speak out loud, in front of another human being your mind goes blank.
It’s caused by stress. Our brain perceives this conversation as a stressful interaction because we have put pressure on ourselves and it stops our ability to utilise our knowledge.
I believe that pressure can be very useful, it can help us to do extraordinary things. It means we can act fast in emergency situations.
But it is not useful all the time.
It is not useful when we are speaking in a new language. It is not useful when it stops us from expressing ourselves.
So, how can we control our stress? How can we manage pressure and use it to our advantage?
It’s clear that removing stress and nerves would really help our language skills but sadly “don’t put pressure on yourself” and “don’t stress about it” are both things that are truly easier said than done.
Often the more we try not to get stressed about something, the more nervous we become.
I think this is because our minds like to be busy. Perhaps, rather than trying to remove stress completely, we give our brains a different focus, and create different story to take our attention and keep us calm. A story and a mindset that would allow us to speak with confidence – whether we are in our room at home or on a stage.
So, what would a more positive, a more useful story be?
Why not have some fun? Why not treat our language practice as an experiment?
In an experiment, the result is unknown. We might be excited or curious about the result but there is no pressure on the experiment to achieve a specific outcome. The point is simply to try something new and see what happens. Be interested, be curious, take a deep breath and see what happens.
I think we could take this one step further – why not approach your language practice as if it were a game?
In a game you are focused. It might be a challenging game, you might try really hard, maybe you get an adrenaline rush…but it’s not something that keeps you up at night with worry, because the result doesn’t really matter. This way you can transform your language practice from something that makes you nervous into something fun.
How would it feel if you could turn a situation that causes you stress into something that is actually…enjoyable?