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How to Learn to Speak in a Foreign Language if You’re an Introvert

How to Learn to Speak in a Foreign Language if You’re an Introvert
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Original article was written by me in Russian and translated by team


There are people who are totally comfortable with their level of language. They begin to learn a new language, talk a lot, and get pleasure from it. But many people just don’t like to talk to strangers, no matter which language they use.

In the former case, we’re talking about extroverted people, and it’s not a big problem for them to start talking in a foreign language. The latter case is about introverts, and the situation here is a different story, a more complicated one.

Bright Side came together with Eugenia Kashaeva and decided to find out how to start speaking a foreign language if you feel uncomfortable speaking aloud.

«Why is it me again who should go and find out? You’re learning this language, go and practice!» My husband says something like this when we’re traveling, because I prefer to avoid talking to the natives. Even though I don’t have a language barrier, I make him talk for me. All the fears of talking to native speakers come up when I’m forced to talk to someone. I just don’t like to talk to strangers, and it doesn’t matter which language I use for it. I’m a downright introvert.

My husband is a totally different story. He manages to hit the hotel’s bar, and after a while, he already has a bunch of friends from different countries. He’s absolutely not bothered with how well he knows the language, whether his collocutors know it — he just communicates, and I admire this feature in him. I’m definatly not the same; I prefer to rest and recover alone.

And how about you? Do you like to chat with everyone or do you prefer talking to a couple of close friends? If you’re the first, you’re extroverted, and you probably won’t have problems starting to speak a foreign language. If you’re the latter, you’re an introvert, and the case is more complicated.

Introverts don’t like to talk to strangers, don’t like to shoot the breeze or discuss topics they’re not interested in.

Is there an ideal way for introverts to begin to communicate in a foreign language?

I’ve got the impression that our educational system is meant for extroverts, and introverts don’t have a chance to realize their potential. For example, a common English class. What do we have? A big class or group, crowded with people. You need to present a perfectly correct answer (otherwise a mark is reduced). There’s often no time to think it over, you should answer in public, and oftentimes it’s an academic nonsense.

Let’s look at that from the extroversive point of view. A crowd? Yippee, someone to talk to! You can talk immediately, without thinking a lot. A mistake? Who cares! But confidently and cheerfully. You can parade your knowledge i front of the classmates once again. You drastically join the conversation, you answer, you practice the language. Cool!

Introverts take it differently. They’re often shy. Yes, they have something to say, and a good deal, but they prefer remaining silent, because they’re afraid of answering wrong and looking silly. Extroverts, however, will just pitch an idea that came to their mind, and won’t even think about possible mistakes.

What’s the chance that an introvert will achieve significant results in the class, if the process is opposite to his/her needs? Instead of breaking yourself and trying to adjust to the system, I propose to learn our strengths and use them effectively.

Strong suits of introverts

  • We prefer to think at first, then act and say.
  • We’re good in presenting our thoughts on paper.
  • We’re apt to study on our own, we like studying.
  • We’re interested listeners.
  • We know how to concentrate.
  • We like talking about what we really admire and what’s important to us, but we don’t like to talk about anything else. Don’t torture us with too long conversations, alright?

How to use them in practice

There is good news: if you’re an introvert, you’re already cut out to optimal knowledge acquisition and data processing. You’re apt to make less mistakes, because you think before speaking. Thanks to your efficiency, you can have a good passive vocabulary (words that you know, but don’t use in the speech) and a good understanding of grammar. You have a better aural perception than your extroverted classmates, all else being equal. You have a skill of presenting thoughts on paper.

So, in order to speak and overcome the language barrier, you have to create a comfortable learning environment.

The main principle: «The less, the better»

Group courses

First of all, a group must be small. If it’s not, you won’t have a chance to think. An ideal variant is a hobby-club. Then your asociality and misanthropy can magically disappear, and you’ll turn out to be an interesting and eloquent collocutor. The atmosphere should be friendly, with no competition.

Private tuition

Lessons on Skype are convenient. You stay on your territory, it’s the most comfortable way for introverts. Lessons with private tutor provide you with more direct cooperation and necessity to be involved in the lesson, so you can’t do anything but practice. A little bit energy-consuming, but still effective.

A good teacher

Maybe for some people, a teacher is the only collocutor to practice a language, and he/she will create the atmosphere of your lessons. Many teachers make online presentations or blogs. Spend some time to search, and you’ll find a person who you’ll like to talk to, and it’ll be interesting for you. If something’s wrong, you can always change the teacher. Personally, I prefer to deal with people of my temperament. I feel uneasy when the teacher talks too much. By-the-bye, I am looking for my teachers at Italki.

Language partners

If you’re brave enough, try to make friends for language practice. You can start with Web chat (email or Facebook), and then rally your spirits and pass to Skype. Just give a list of your interests in your account and wait. You’ll probably find a valuable collocutor.

Why do I need to talk? Can I just read books and watch movies?

No, you can’t. You want to know the language, don’t you? But you won’t be able to communicate in this language without speaking practice. If you want to learn how to swim, you have to go to the pool. Watching videos on YouTube and reading books about swimming is not enough.

Knowledge without practice is useless. Alas. To overcome fear, you need to constantly create situations which you’re afraid of. Step by step, you’ll find out that everything is not so terrible. You should step out of your comfort zone.

Start by speaking aloud to yourself. it’s the cheapest and the easiest way. Or talk to your cat, or teddy bear. It doesn’t matter. The case is, you can know a lot of stuff, but be afraid of speaking it out. Saying it to yourself will let your speech apparatus get used to the process, and when the time comes, the words will just escape your lips! If you don’t do this, there’s a chance that your brilliant vocabulary and deep grammar knowledge will be useless — you’ll just remain silent.

Individual work

The principle of conscious practice allows to achieve outstanding results in any field, including the learning of languages. Conscious practice requires that we focus on what we don’t know yet. You control the process of cognition by yourself, and change it if necessary. You try different variations and test them until you find the one you need. You’re in constant progress.

For example, I don’t like English gerund, and it doesn’t like me. I know there’s a problem; I read additional material, do exercises, ask questions, and look deeper until I understand it perfectly. And then pass to the next task.

Conscious practice helps in achieving excellent results, but requires a good concentration and practice working alone. Studying alone can be a valuble tool to help push yourself, you have your goals, books, websites, and podcasts. Good job, you found a bunch of material, and now you just have to handle it.

If your will is strong and you’re motivated enough, that’s all you need. Intensive individual work is the best way for introverts to progress in language.

Having applied the conscious practice principle, make an effort and realize that you need to communicate with natives from time to time and define how often it will be to feel comfortable. Otherwise:

  1. There won’t be a person to correct your mistakes, and you’ll surely make them (don’t look at your cat, it won’t help).
  2. You won’t have oral skills.

Even if you work individually, you need oral practice. Not to practice is out of the question! Remember the swimming pool and YouTube?

How not to lose motivation and continue to develop?

Turn a language into your hobby

Get into the language seriously, fall in love with it, with the country, culture (you can even start a relationship with a native speaker, it’ll definitely speed up your progress). Serious interest in the language will allow you to learn it, otherwise you won’t understand why you should bother to learn it in the first place.

What to do if you don’t have enough motivation or understanding of how to go on?

The specialist’s language support

Finding a specialist who can help you to develop and control your progress, but won’t directly teach you the rules of grammar and practice the exercises, is the best way. You can do a lot by yourself. Such a person challenges you and works with you to achieve your goal. He/she helps you when you’re in trouble, checks the results, motivates you to overcome laziness, and learn what you couldn’t, and so on. He/she should have a deep understanding of different learning methods, choose the best one for you, know the language at a high level, and be able to achieve your goals, too. It can be any qualified teacher who isn’t afraid of answering difficult questions and knows the language really well.


To begin to speak the language, having overcome the language and your own internal barriers, you should observe a few simple rules:

  • An introvert has to prepare before start speaking a foreign language. We’re cut out to it. Don’t try to start talking right then and there. Take some time to get the basic knowledge which will help you to feel comfortable.
  • Work individually as much as possible. Use this precious skill, use a chance to speak aloud, even alone, but don’t forget to talk to real humans.
  • Create comfortable psychological conditions for learning and communication if possible. Seek and find people you feel good with. Show a sincere interest to those you already need to communicate with, and then you won’t have any problems either with language barriers or with unwillingness to talk.
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Евгения Кашаева, мать-основатель проектов Language Heroes ( и Arts & Languages ( Люблю придумывать, а еще люблю хороших людей :) Изучала штук 9 языков, а сейчас ударилась в творчество (и кантонский)