Second Language | Second Adolescence


Do you remember how it feels: Your palms sweat, you feel the heat in your face and know with a growing dread that it has turned a deep crimson. Later that night you toss and turn, cursing yourself that you didn’t manage to say the right thing.

Gaining the confidence to speak a new language can be a bit like re-living your worst teenage moments; unable to really understand the nuances of what’s going on around you, living in fear that someone will ask you a question.

As foreign language learners we are often reduced to the communicative competency of children and in some ways – because we’re adults – it’s even more embarrassing.

Often we have to fake it till we can make it and bluff our way through early conversations. Here’s some top tips on how to do just that. – perhaps just as relevant to teenagers as language learners!

Choose the place you want to practise

Whether you’re on holiday or living in a foreign country, you can choose where to practise your language skills and find the type of interactions that are suitable for your level. As beginners, we are likely to seek more transactional conversations, asking for tickets or booking hotel rooms. As intermediates, we can progress to light remarks and chatter about conventional topics, perhaps addressing comments to our neighbours in a restaurant, or lingering to talk to the patron of your hotel. As you progress you’ll start seeking more conversational environments where it’s easy to talk to the locals.

Less is More

Don’t feel that you have to say a lot. Concentrate on repeating the phrases you know well and leading the conversation towards topics you can deal with. Try and keep it tight, if you ramble, you’re likely to make mistakes, and if you let them talk for too long without interruption you may lose concentration and understanding.

Smile and nod

An oldie but a goodie. There’s nothing wrong with pretending you understand sometimes. At least half the time you’ll get away with it until the conversation returns to something you can understand. Keep a thoughtful and engaged look on your face and they’ll never realise you have lost the thread of their conversation.

Avoid dinner parties like the plague.

Be realistic about the kind of interactions you take part in. Even fluent speakers of a second language can struggle to keep up in a big group of people who know each other well. Think back to your adolescent years, remember how long it took you communicate successfully in your own language and don’t feel bad.

Find a safe environment to practise in

Rosetta Stone is one way to find a safe space where you can gain confidence before taking your language skills out into the real world. The Rosetta Stone tutor sessions allow you to take part in guided conversations using the vocabulary you are familiar with, and in an environment where it is easy to make mistakes and be gently corrected.

“Being able to have online lessons with a native speaker and other students has given me a massive confidence boost such that on a recent trip to Paris I managed a whole conversation in French. It felt amazing.”

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About the Author Simon Goodall

Language learner, teacher and contributing author to the Rosetta Stone magazine

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