When Ana moved to Athens, she was excited. She couldn’t wait to meet new people, wander around the city, absorb every second of her new life there.
She was prepared to face the challenges: different language, culture, mentality. New habits, new rhythm and way of life.
Ana spoke some Greek already. She had met a few nice people she chatted with every day: “Καλημέρα, τι κάνετε;”
But within her first year in Greece, Ana realized - better: experienced - that daily speaking wasn’t a recipe; even if you follow all the steps from your course book, you won’t necessarily get it right.
Most of the times, it was difficult to catch up with fast pace, every day communication: at the grocery store, with her Greek friend on the phone or, the hardest of all, in a larger group of Greek speaking people.
She knew the grammar rules; but the rules kept slipping away. She knew the words; but the words kept not making sense if put together at a fast, natural speech speed.
Her friends switched to English. And, eventually, so did she.
Have you ever felt like Ana?
I sure did. When I spoke to my English speaking friends, I often found myself stumbling and mixing up words:
Words that look the same in the 2 languages, but have a completely different meaning
Words that sound alike
Tiny words, such as prepositions, that I couldn’t remember where to add them: before the verb, after the verb, between the two verbs?
Large words I didn’t remember how to pronounce
Some of my English speaking friends even spoke Greek, so switching to my language felt safe, but also disappointing: “Ugh, there goes my chance to practice”, I’d think.
If you ever felt like that too, here’s what I want you to know, when the words don’t come out easy:
You have every right to make mistakes, mispronounce words, mix up the meaning. Even if you know the grammar. Even if you understand what others say to you. Not just once, but a 100 times.
You have the right to feel overwhelmed, to get annoyed, to exclaim, even, that Greek is the hardest language (even if you don’t believe it).
You have the right to feel tired and make a pause from your learning. If you need it, do it. You’re not a language learning machine, you’re human.
But when your Greek heart calls you back again and you know that speaking Greek is still one of your priorities, then treat your speaking with care.
Here’s how to build your confidence again:
Create the circumstances to avoid another round of overwhelm about your speaking - at least for the next little while (because, well, life!).
And because I’m all about practical advice you can easily implement, here are 5 short and simple ideas:
Sing. If you’re into learning with music (it doesn’t work for everyone) learn the lyrics to your favourite Greek songs and sing along. Singing is not speaking (as in expressing yourself freely), but the rhythm and the flowing language through music are both a first step and a confidence booster when you want to hear yourself speaking Greek again.
Send a short voice message to wish something or just say hi to a friend or relative instead of a written message, on Messenger or Instagram. Prepare a bit if you want to, but aim for something short that doesn’t require lots of thinking or editing.
Chat with only one friend in person (online or offline) and ask them to chat in Greek only. The 1-1 interaction with someone you feel comfortable with is a safe space for shy or self-conscious learners who get quite disappointed by their mistakes, especially when they are in larger groups.
Join a short and practical conversation class or speaking program, online or offline or ask your teacher to set aside 10-15 minutes just to speak about something that interests you - outside the course book and the role play activities.
Make today a recording of yourself speaking, not more than 1-5 minutes. If you need help with “what should I be talking about?” ideas, you can sign up for the mini-speaking challenge: you’ll receive one short speaking prompt daily, for 3 days, plus a few words + phrases to get you started. At the end, you can send me your voice recording and receive a few ideas about how and what to improve. See how the challenge works, here.
Speaking in another language is a lot of work
And especially at the “in between” levels, where you know the basic grammar well enough but you still make mistakes, your self-confidence can be shaken.
When you’re past the basic vocabulary and you are longing for a chat in flawless Greek, it’s easy to become impatient, stressed out, and often disappointed and overwhelmed.
Remember though, that the learning journey has its ups and downs.
Sometimes you’ll celebrate and feel happy, other times you’ll stumble and feel disappointed.
But if you know you’re here to stay, start again, take action and use your recent experience to create resilience and perseverance.
Which idea are you going to try next for your speaking? Let me know in the comments!
Thank you for learning with me,