What to Do When You Are Shy
On Thursday, I go to school again. One student has a very interesting question. She says, “I am very shy when I have to speak English. Can you help me to overcome my shyness?”
Our teacher says, “It is true that when we use foreign languages, it is natural that we feel uncertain or shy. We are doing something that we are not perfect at. The possibility of making a mistake is great.
I was also very shy when I learnt foreign languages. I remember well how I was afraid to make a mistake. When I did make a mistake, I felt stupid and sometimes I blushed.
Now, it is different. I use languages for communication. I care only about communication. You know that I am learning Spanish these days. Embarrassing situations can happen, but they can’t stop me from using Spanish. It is true that sometimes I still feel shy when I have to speak Spanish. I also sometimes blush but I don’t care much about it. It is a natural human feeling and it never lasts forever. I continue using Spanish because I know that only by using it I can improve.
I also try to see things as they are. I am a student and I am on the way to good Spanish. It is not possible to skip several levels in one day. The beginner can’t become a perfect speaker in one hour.
I also see what I mean to people around me. When I already speak some Spanish, I have a value to people who speak Spanish. You should see the same. When you already speak some English, you can have a conversation with other people in English. That’s great. Look at what you already know. You know 2000 words. You have already gone from 0 to 2000 words. Appreciate it.
Some students have a feeling that to know English means to be able to speak like a native speaker, to have perfect pronunciation, perfect grammar and just speak perfectly without any mistakes. They think that if they are not doing that, then they don’t know English. They are embarrassed because they are not perfect.
These students are very hard on themselves. It is not necessary. All of you are great because you already speak some English. Continue working on your English and your shyness can gradually go away.”
I like what our teacher tells us. I am also sometimes shy. I know that I should practise speaking a lot but in some situations, I don’t want to look stupid and I don’t speak as much as I should. I decide to be a bit more brave in these situations and use them to practise more.
Then one student says, “Sometimes I want to say something but I don’t know the word which I want to say. Then I stop and I don’t know what to do. In these situations, I feel very stupid. Then the next time when I can speak English, I don’t want to speak because I don’t want to be in this stupid situation again. Can you help me with this?”
Our teacher says, “When you start to speak English, you have to prepare for one thing. There will be moments when you don’t know a word which you want to say. In such a situation, you will need to learn how to describe the word. This ability is very important when learning a new language.
Since you are not a native English speaker, you will probably never know the same amount of words as you know in your native language. I can tell you that you can describe almost every word. You only need to train this skill. You will have to train how to express ideas within the vocabulary you have. For example, you don’t know how to say the word “key”. You can describe it as a small thing for opening a door.
You also describe words in your native language without realizing it. If you don’t know the word for some thing, you just describe it to the other person so that they understand what it is. You can do the same thing in English, but you need to train this ability. Thinking aloud is a very good technique to use when you want to be able to describe well. Use thinking aloud every day and your ability to describe things will improve.”
You can learn English only when you use English. It is OK to be shy but it can’t stop you from using English.