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Tips on getting over anxiety when it comes to speaking?

Hopefully this sort of thread is okay to post, if not feel free to remove it and I apologize for any inconvenience caused.

I have pretty bad anxiety when it comes to talking to people even in English, to the extent that ordering food can be a hassle for me, but I can pretty much control that and just deal with doing whatever it is I need to do when it's necessary. But, I've been in Sweden for over four months now, and virtually all of that has gone out the window since I got here. Whenever I'm in a situation where talking is necessary, I sort of get put in an awkward position. I don't want to speak English with people, mostly because I don't want to inconvenience anyone (and even if I'm told that it wont be an issue, I still have the feeling of like, guilt or embarrassment or something in the back of my mind and I feel compelled to apologize 68 times for speaking English), but also because I have wanted, and have been trying, to learn Swedish for over two years (with not a lot of progress prior to this course, so, thank you very, very much for all of the hard work that has gone into making such a fantastic course) and I would very much like to be able to talk to people, and to understand what's going on. However I also can't bring myself to try to speak Swedish. I know that I can't get better without starting to try to speak, but I can't do it. I'm just very afraid that I'm going to sound stupid to people or that I'll be inconveniencing people or something, somehow. All around, I'm just too nervous and too anxious to do it. So if anyone has any sage words of advice on combating that, or if anyone has really anything to say at all, I'd be pretty grateful. It won't matter how proficient I become at the language if I can't effectively use it in speech, so it's probably about time that I stop putting it off.

February 25, 2015



Swedes are more than happy to speak English to you. So happy in fact, that many of them will keep using English with you even if you speak Swedish with them. This is a way of being polite, and also an excuse for them to use English, because many Swedes take pride at being good at English (90% of Swedes believe they speak English better than the average Swede!). Another reason is that since Swedish is a small language, Swedes don't really expect anyone else to learn it of their own accord, even if moving here (at least not English speakers; Swedes tend to believe that once you speak English you needn't bother learning languages ever again).

However, I assure you, if you speak Swedish to a Swede, they will be impressed, and they will be happy. Despite what the attitudes may be within Sweden, Swedes are not without national pride and pride for their language (Swedes love to bash on Sweden and Swedes, but only with other Swedes. With foreigners, Sweden is the best country ever, etc.). Foreigners learning Swedish because they want to is regarded as something really cool, and people will be happy to help you out once they realize that they can speak Swedish with you. Although for the reason stated above you may have to be blunt about it sometimes... such as asking people to speak Swedish with you (in case they stick to English). As long as you make an effort to stick with Swedish, people will pick up on that, and they will be more than happy to help you along the way.


Absolutely this! While I agree with pretty much everything in this thread, this is the answer I agree the most with. And I assume that you're living in Ryd, Lambohov, or Skäggetorp - I can definitely assure you that the above is the general sentiment there.

Also: I first thought the thread title was "Tips on getting over anxiety when it comes to spanking?", and wondered how on earth that one went past the moderators...


I'm living in Hjulsbro, actually.

I've met many people who have not objected to having to switch to English for my sake, however I've also met many people who don't want to speak English to or around me, I assume due to the same anxieties that I've just went through. They're all far better with English than I am at Swedish though. I'm painstakingly slow compared to normal talking speed, and I can't really understand spoken Swedish very well at all. Everything goes too fast and I miss words and I have to stop and manually translate everything into English in my mind, and then I miss out on everything else the person has said.

Also, I can see how one could make that (rather humorous) mistake.


If you're having trouble understanding Swedish, you should try listening to the radio in Swedish. Even if you're not paying attention to it constantly, it's really useful to hear the language as much as possible. Also, it's always good to try to think in the language you're trying to learn. Good luck!


Yes, this. Translating is fine, but by the time you're done learning what's on Duolingo, translating your thoughts will be a huge hindrance to communication speed. You need to think in Swedish. Your thoughts will be restricted at first due to a lack of vocabulary, but try what you can.

The radio is a great way to think in Swedish. You'll miss a lot of the words, but even I can make out a lot when listening to Sverige Radio (why do they play so many English songs on P3... bleh). I remember listening to a sports and traffic report for the first time and understanding far more than I expected.


Oh, okay. That's cool, too. Bit of a commute to most places I used to frequent, but nice neighbourhoods. :)

I totally get what you're saying, and I've gone through the same thing with other languages in other countries. But I am confident in that people won't mind that it takes you a little time, just as I am in that they don't mind speaking English if the need arises.

And ultimately, you're already a step ahead of a lot of people I knew who moved to Sweden and never even bothered to try to learn any Swedish in the first place. I'm sure you'll do fine!


I'm recovering from social phobia so I know where you're no coming from. I haven't lived in a different country, though, so my advice is just going to be based on some personal experience.

You want to get used to the Swedish language. You want to eat, breathe, and dream in Swedish. So start talking to yourself in Swedish first.

Narrate Your Day

As you get dressed, brush your teeth, etc. in the morning, narrate it all to yourself.

Talk to yourself (or a pet

If you have a pet, they make a great listening partner who won't judge your language skills. If you don't, try talking to yourself or a teddy bear or the mirror.

Listen to and watch Swedish stuff

You do this enough and you'll start dreaming in the language.

Try to find a penpal who speak Swedish as a native language

I know it's difficult to adopt penpals when you have difficulty searching in the first place, but if you can find one, most native speakers are happy to help someone new embrace their culture.

Now for the difficult stuff...

Sometimes you just have to force those words out. Since you have anxiety, I imagine you know what I mean by this. Rehearse if you have to. Them imagine spitting the words out. Maybe start simple (please, thank you, hello, etc) and just let it spill out.

You will most likely get a surprised, happy, polite reaction.

Good luck to you! ^_^


Yes, translating your own thoughts helps so much! This is amazing advice. :D


Maybe read aloud from a book or article in Swedish when you're alone and no one listens? I mean, just to get used to the sound of your own voice?


I understand totally where you're coming from! I have some latent anxiety myself, especially when the conversation takes place in a setting with other people around. Way back in college, when I was studying Chinese, I really wanted to try to use it but I could never bring myself to do so. It may be even more psychologically difficult when you're in your home country and wanting to use another language because I sure was never able to do it on my own. Then one day, my wife lets it slip to a waitress in a Chinese restaurant (I know, super cliche right??) that I was I was studying the language and of a sudden I had a speaking partner whether I wanted one or not! Every time we went in there, she made a beeline over to us to speak to me. She was super helpful and taught me new vocab and never once made me feel bad not matter how embarassed I was.

All it may take is one person to give you the confidence in your knowledge. Do you know a local you might call a friend? Are there any clubs or activities you were involved in back home that are available there that could serve as a bridge to establish a common interest with locals? Remember to just start with a basic hello and that a smile goes a long way. Even if the conversation turns to English quickly, you started it off right.

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I've felt the same way, many times. As I got older, the speaking in the native tongue has become so much easier for me. (One tends to care less what others think.) I do have a tip I discovered while living in Mexico: Find a little kid to chat with. Seriously, you can have fabulous conversations with a four or five year old when you are just learning a language! No one feels self-conscious. You both have fun, giggle a lot, and they get a kick out of knowing more than a grown-up.


You could practice talking with a teacher/language exchange partner over skype first. It could help you feel more confident, if the phrases you are saying have been "preapproved" by a native speaker.

As far as your anxiety goes, I'm afraid I don't have any advice, other than to say it does eventually get easier, speaking a foreign language. Don't worry about inconveniencing people. After all you wouldn't bite someone's head off just because they made a mistake in English, right? Speak your Swedish, yeah it'll be awkward at first but what's the worst that can happen? they'll switch to English. No big. Just start anew and repeat until fluent. Good luck.


What helped me was the following idea: Do you ever mind when a foreign guy talks to you in your language (and not fluent at all)? You are probably more like: he tries to learn my language - that's cool! So why should other guys worry that? Just say it, and even if you have the feeling that it sounds wrong - just ask "Did I said that correctly? Hope you don't mind I'm still learning!"


Do not worry about what other people think. In my opinion this is the key to overcome your anxiety. :) If someone would try to learn my language, I would be flattered. Probably most of the people think the same way, especially with languages that are not so mainstream. :D


I understand this! I hate talking to people in English, and another languages makes it even more scary. I feel like they might judge me, like "Wow, he certainly can't speak any of this language!" or something...

Might just be an anxiety thing, you don't wanna be awkward -- I am the same way. I think you just need to force yourself to do it. Be that awkward foreigner. That's the only way you'll learn, through practice and mistakes. Does it matter what they'll think of you? They know you're learning, they expect mistakes, just like how YOU probably don't judge Chinese people speaking broken English, right?

Just go for it, make mistakes, learn from them!


If you have a Personnummer and have not started SFI yet, I would suggest you do so. That is, for me, the only place that I feel comfortable speaking my crappy Swedish. Plus you'll get to meet other people to learn and speak with(most of who will be worse than you).


This and this! I've recently finished SFI D and am now a few months into SAS grund. Having my friends in class to talk to has helped my confidence with the language so much. Everyone is around the same level... and let's be honest, everyone sucks haha. It's a comfortable, judgement free place to practice. I still won't speak Swedish in public, but I'm slowly getting there. :D


I think one of the biggest anxieties I have ever felt is not so much being afraid of talking, but of knowing that I would be unlikely to understand the response, and thereby make a pain out of myself for the other person. I'm very good at spending 10 minutes thinking of a canned phrase I can use but once you open your mouth, you are in the spotlight! So it ends up that my all time favourite phrase in any language is, 'sorry, I don't speak _ _ _ very well', I try to learn that one before I learn 'hello' :)

I have two pieces of advice though : one is, don't feel bad about the anxiety, it is perfectly normal, and even if it doesn't feel like it, you are perfectly capable of conquering it. The other is, don't feel like you have to conquer it by forcing yourself into terrifying or uncomfortable situations - the anxiety is just something in your gut telling you that you would rather know more before you put yourself through that - you wouldn't really try to conquer a fear of heights by jumping out of an aeroplane or going bungee jumping, would you? You should rather seek out less stressful ways to train your abilities, like watching tv, listening to and learning the words to music, or talking with other people who are also learning the language. Those are things that are open to being done constantly, without 'burdening' anyone else, but if you really do throw yourself into it with 90% of your time, then those things are far more helpful at improving your hearing and vocabulary than even the greatest lesson plan can ever be. Those things really filter into you and become a part of you, especially, and I mean ESPECIALLY if you learn a lot of music, music is some sort of magic wonder drug that makes you physically unable to forget words as opposed to fumbling to remember them.

At the end of the day It isn't a race, it really is a patience game. You have to imagine that by choosing to learn a second language you are almost trying to experience a 'second youth', and remember that in your youth you spent all day every day completely immersed in the language, and every minute of every day was a gradual, tiny reinforcement that brought you up to now. You have put an infinitely larger amount of time into learning English than you have Swedish, so it is no wonder that you cannot magically bypass that long process, because it is impossible for anyone to. When you stop trying to rush, and just take your time and settle in for the long game, you'll find it grows on you instead of you having to force yourself.


This is all good advice. I'd like to add two things that I found helpful, albeit with German. Practising with people I was comfortable around and text messaging in the language, as a precursor to speaking. This second one worked really well for my vocabulary.

I'm also slightly jealous of you living in Sweden. Good Luck.


I did that by not really caring about my mistakes and just having a lot of fun. Those super wonky broken sentences can be so funny. With swedish I said this '' Tak du mycket!'' I lolled so hard when I found out that tak meant roof. I had and still have similar moments with Portuguese. Gotta ask my Brazilian friends for some super funny examples that made our day.


I really like all of the advice above - I'll just add one thing. If you find it easier, find one person who you trust, explain to them how you feel about speaking Swedish, and then practice with them until you gain a bit more confidence. Choose someone who you feel as comfortable as possible with and who will support you in your learning. Then, when you feel a bit more proficient, start using Swedish in more conversations with other people. Best of luck!! :)


When I was an au pair in Sweden, many years ago, I took Swedish lessons at the local Medborgarskolan. I tried speaking Swedish as much as I could, but found that most Swedes were quite comfortable speaking English and quite happy to. I found that a bigger obstacle than my own reluctance, frankly. A few people even thought I was crazy for bothering to try! (I was hoping to find a way to stay there permanently.)

I'd suggest finding a language partner -- someone who knows that you're wanting to practice your Swedish with them. Get together with them as regularly as you can specifically to practice, even role play with them, to get comfortable with things like how you'd order from a restaurant or ask for help in a shop. Try to read Swedish newspapers & watch Swedish TV and discuss those things with them.


Most people have great respect for one who is trying to learn their language, but I understand your nervousness.


A couple days ago, I had my first conversation in Chinese on Speaky. I was chatting with text, which I found to be nice when starting off. At least when I made a mistake, nobody could see it :). After a while, this will hopefully make you feel like you can talk to others in person.


I think the thing that helped me most with foreign languages is just accepting that I'm not going to speak perfectly. It's more important that I get my point across than that I worry over every grammatical/pronunciation thing. If someone doesn't understand, and they need to, they'll ask you to clarify. Focus on communication, not perfection.


Like that a lot: "Focus on communication, not perfection" - thumbs up! :) Think the hardest part is to learn how to make mistakes (sometimes even with full awareness) AND to get along with them; to accept mistakes, to accept that even you are not perfect. We all know that we are not perfect. So why don't we stop acting like it? Watch that quite often that people point with their fingers at others just for the sake of argument. Guess we got raised exactly in a different way where "perfect" was the word of the century. -- If my text contains mistakes - keep them! I wanted to participate in the discussion more than I was afraid of my possible mistakes. And guess what: I'm still alive ;)


I think there are some great tips in this thread. Also, a bit more demanding, maybe you would consider practicing some mindfulness? It helps greatly with any kind on anxiety, long tradition, and lately also quite a bit of research proving its efficiency.

Here is Swedish website: http://cfms.se/

And there are tons of other resources you will easily find.

I really liked your post, best of luck, and have a few more lingots.


Damn, that's bad but I know you can do it. Even I have that sometimes. I had the advantage of living in a foreign country when I was a kid and twice I lived in a country where I knew nothing in the local language but I was still with the locals in primary school... that was interesting, I just had to learn it.

Get a swedish boyfriend or good friend and talk to them first. I had a friend from Chile in high school, I knew just some basics in spanish but I forced myself to talk only spanish with him, 9 months later after failing many times I was already fluent enough to have a conversation without any problems.

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