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How do you learn a language when you

How do you learn a language when you have major social anxiety? I'm content with just reading and understanding but is that possible without the help of people?

June 1, 2017



It's entirely possible to learn a language without having anyone to speak with. There are people who study extinct languages that have no living native speakers. Eg : Old Norse, Old English, Latin, list goes on.

Don't let lack of communication deter you from learning a language. I'm learning Faroese, and I highly doubt I'll ever come across a native speaker. ( unless I actually flew over to the Faroe islands )

Besides, you always have the internet to practice languages. If you feel comfortable enough, you can try striking up a conversation in a foreign language over the net. Preferably with bilingual English speakers so they can correct your mistakes.

I hope this helps, and good luck with your language studies.


There are a lot of things you can still do, even if you can't do everything others can do with the help of people. Reading is probably the easiest skill to develop on your own, and their are comprehension exercises for reading and listening that are available in textbooks or online that you can do on your own. I would also suggest listening to the radio, to podcasts, to audiobooks, etc. to improve your listening. Writing is another skill that isn't difficult to work on your own. It would be best if you had a teacher, a tutor, or a friend to correct you but there are also workbooks out there that you can do to help yourself. Duolingo itself will, with a lot of practice, help you with writing and spelling. Speaking is definitely the hardest skill to develop on you own but there are still some things you can do like:

  • Study and memorize phrasebooks and the Basic Phrases lessons on Duolingo
  • Repeat the words and sentences out loud while doing Duolingo.
  • Try to form your own sentences out loud with what you learned in Duolingo. If you learn "cat", "is", "mat", and "on" try saying "The cat is on the mat".
  • Speak to yourself. Describe your day. If you don't know a word, look it up.
  • Use audio courses that get you talking. Some are available as free podcasts or on Youtube like LanguageTransfer for Spanish and other languages.

This isn't perfect but I hope it's at least a start. :-)


The real answer to this is that you go to your GP and discuss psychological treatment. I'm in the same position as you (almost exactly going by your bio, except the American part) so I know how hard and absolutely, horrifically frightening it can be. Just today I had the chance the speak to my stats professor, who is French, one-on-one but was too nervous to even greet her in French. You need to work on your SA unless you want to watch your life and countless opportunities slide away into a misty haze of "could have, should have" over an ocean of liquid regret. I've only taken the first few steps to overcoming (or reducing, more accurately) my SA, but damn it feels good, and I know how hard that probably is to believe.

Otherwise you're stuck with 2, maybe 3, of the 4 corners of learning a language i.e. reading and writing, maybe listening if you compensate with media, as others have said. There's nothing wrong with this and it's basically where I am now, but it sounds like this is not what you want (even though you say you're content with it), and there's only one way to ameliorate that. You are not alone and you can do it.


I wish you all the best!


Thank you, I truly appreciate that !


There are sites dedicated to putting language learners in touch with each others. On most of these, you email your potential partner before arranging to speak. That will give you a chance to explain that you're anxious, that you might need to quit the session, that you might stutter, or whatever else you want to explain. That might give you a gentle way to start practising speaking your chosen language.

...and as others have said, speaking is only one aspect; you can practise listening to the radio, reading books, etc, without needing to speak to anyone.

Have a look at the list of language exchange sites on the Multilingual learning resources page on the Duolingo Wiki.

Good luck :)


Thank you all for the advice! It gives me hope. I am getting treatment but even with intense treatment I still have bad anxiety, so it's just too difficult at the moment. Your advice is appreciated and helpful. Thank you. Truly.


I feel hopeful seeing you comment here and talking about your anxiety. Well done!


I'm in a similar position to you - I have severe social anxiety and agoraphobia, so talking with people to practice my language skills isn't exactly an option. Hell, I can usually only work myself up to posting an anonymous comment online a few times a week... and that's during a good week.

It's definitely possible to teach yourself to read with no outside help, I've done so in the past - I used to be quite proficient at reading in several languages (although my abilities, predictably, completely faded due to disuse when I lost interest in them) and I never communicated with anyone else. I used textbooks, online dictionaries, children's books, and young adult/teen books (although I never got past that stage, hah).

But, of course, the real solution would be to seek help for you anxiety. It's been absolutely life-destroying for me, and part of the reason it got to this point is that I was too scared to leave my comfort zone - and that includes with language learning, as I refused to even entertain the thought of learning to write a language. I purposefully avoided a part of my hobby that made me feel uncomfortable, and it's resulted in years of almost complete isolation. I'm sure you don't need anyone to tell you this, but in the long run it would be much better to find ways of lessening your anxiety so that, among other things, you'll be comfortable learning the active skills of language (writing, speaking).

But hey, I'm just a dude on the Internet, and I'm not exactly in a position to advise anyone. Sure, it's totally possible to learn to read a language without asking others for help, go for it - just be mindful of what you're doing and try not to fall into the trap of purposefully avoiding everything you enjoy just to avoid feeling anxious. Don't look back on your life in 5 years time and realise you've essentially been enabling yourself - it's a hellish feeling.

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