Language Learning: A Guide for Shy People

Almost one year ago, I write a post called What it’s like Loving Languages and Being Shy, which was more of a personal post than anything. Since birth I have been “plagued” with shyness and sometimes I throw my hands up in frustration and shout to the sky “WHY DO I LOVE LANGUAGES BUT WHY AM I ALSO SO SHY?!”

Some of my more outgoing friends tell me about instances when they heard a perfectly random stranger on the street speaking a language that they were learning and they talked about how they went up to the person and started to carry on a conversation with that person. I’m still surprised to this day how someone could do that, but that’s obviously just me…

Despite being shy, this (obviously) hasn’t deterred me from learning languages and there are things that I figured out how to improve without interaction or with limited interaction.  As languages learners, and as languages are used to communicate, we’re all going to eventually use our languages in one way or the other. So essentially, I’d like to think that many of us are just keeping our language skills under wraps until the big release of our amazing skills, haha! Either way, here’s a small guide for shy language leaners and how to improve your language skills.

Speaking and Listening

I think this is the area most shy people have trouble with since it requires face to face interaction. However, if you constantly are practicing in a way that works for you, eventually it becomes easier to speak and listen. Here are some of the things that really helped me:

  1. TALK TO YOURSELF WHEN YOU’RE ALONE: This is my favorite tip and I tell everyone to do this. It sounds a bit crazy but if you’re really shy and want to practice speaking, do it while you’re in the shower, in the car (but don’t crash), before you go to sleep, while you’re in your room, anywhere where someone can’t hear you. Wherever you are, if you’re alone, you won’t be scared of judgement and you’ll still be practicing your fluidity and your abilities of circumlocution. Give yourself some random topics to talk about like how your day is going, if you were to introduce yourself to someone, etc. But don’t stop if you make a mistake! If you’re a little more advanced, pretend that this is a real life situation. Everyone stumbles, even in their native language! It can actually be pretty fun and helped me a lot.
  2. Find some awesome music and sing it: I’m a big foreign music junkie and every time I hear a new catchy song in X language, I always want to be able to sing along with it. I put the song on replay and google the lyrics, then read it over while the artists are singing it. After a while, I start to remember certain parts of the song and keep trying to sing the parts that I don’t know well. I seriously repeat the song until I memorize it, and for me this has helped with fluidity, vocabulary, and pronunciation. I also do this while alone (lol).
  3. YouTube those videos: Music isn’t exactly the most realistic form of media, since you won’t be singing when you speak to people…I also like to YouTube search famous people who speak the target language and type in “interview” after their name. This way, you can hear what the language is supposed to sound like and you practice your listening skills trying to figure out what this famous person is saying. If you come across a word you don’t know, stop the video and try to find it in a dictionary of X language, which also helps with vocabulary.
  4. Couch Potatoes: If you like a bigger scale of media, find movies or TV series in your target language. The explanation is the same as above–it helps you process the way the language is supposed to sound rhythmically and helps your listening skills. You can also put on subtitles to use as a crutch for understanding.
  5. Find the One: Not necessarily “the one,” but my advice is to find at least ONE person you’re really comfortable with, whether he or she speaks your target language or not. If the person does NOT speak your target language, this should be one step above talking to yourself. The person won’t judge you because they don’t speak the language, but this will get you used to speaking it in a more “real” context. If the person DOES speak your target language, even better! It might take a while to get comfortable with speaking to a native speaker, but once you start, you (hopefully) won’t stop. This is the goal! You can also get a lot of feedback on your skills which can boost your confidence to speak it with others.
Language-ing 24/7 😉 hahaha

Reading and Writing

I think reading and writing for shy people might be their stronger areas (generalization!), and are easier to find activities to do alone. These ones are pretty basic and obvious, but I just wanted to put it out there:

  1. Keep a blog or journal: Write every day. It helps, whether you’re writing on a private blog or somewhere where people can correct your work. Just write.
  2. Talk to a pen pal: Writing to a pen pal that’s a native of your target language will help you in every way. You can see the expressions that they use, the way that they arrange the language, their vocabulary, and Internet speech. If you see these things, you begin to incorporate these things into your language usage, which makes it all the more authentic.
  3. Read everything: Books, newspaper articles, put your Facebook in your target language, follow bloggers that write posts in your target language. This really helps you with your sentence formation and vocabulary.
Bought some books in Portuguese in Brazil because the US has none… 🙂

For me, I ALWAYS learn how to write as fluently as I can before I start talking. Writing is one of my strongest qualities in both foreign language and in English, so learning how to express myself on paper first is very important. After I can form sentences without a huge hesitation, I know that my brain can handle forming these same sentences while speaking. It’s different for everyone, but this is a trend that I find in my language learning. Just find a pattern and resources that work for you, because everyone is different–even in their levels of shyness 😉

The Ultimate and Somewhat Unrealistic but Helpful Tip:

  1. Go somewhere where you can’t escape speaking the language: If you know the language but are just too shy to speak it, putting yourself in a country that speaks your target language will force you to speak it. If someone comes up to you asking for help in your target language, changes are you will respond. If your target language country has a low percentage of people who speak your native language, it’s even better.
You bet I had to talk to these guys in Brazil….and not in English 😛

As an overall lesson, sometimes we just need to go for it and not be afraid of the consequences. Sometimes natives are even surprised that you speak their language. So I know you’re scared sometimes, but don’t be.

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One Reply to “Language Learning: A Guide for Shy People”

  1. Brilliant! I didn’t know anybody else had the problem let alone solutions. My favourite one is the “sink-or-swim” approach. Now somebody please buy me a ticket to Berlin or Buenos Aires!

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