Overcoming fear in language practice

You might be the most extroverted person on the planet, but as soon as you start learning and speaking a new language, something in you changes and you feel a bit more shy. You’re nervous you’ll make a mistake in front of a native speaker. What if they laugh at me? you think.

Fear when speaking a new language is very normal when starting out. It’s healthy and OK as it drives us to be conscious of correct grammar and vocabulary usage. I think it’s because we don’t want to be seen as inferior or stupid, and learning a language brings us down to a baby’s level again. It’s important to remember that babies and kids aren’t afraid of making mistakes – the more they mess up the faster they learn!

You’re probably reading this because you’re looking for a practical way to get over the fear of making mistakes. Me telling you it’s OK to make mistakes is not going to help.
Here are 3 ways you can feel less shy when speaking a new language:

1. ANALYZE THE SITUATION & GO EASY ON YOURSELF

What helps is to identify WHY you’re afraid of speaking a language. It could be because you’re too shy (same tbh) or because you don’t know enough vocabulary. It’s great advice to tell someone to start speaking a language from day one, but for some people, a combination of shyness and lack of vocabulary makes this nearly impossible. Remember to be kind to yourself – if you don’t feel ready, take some more time.

If you use the wrong particle, grammar structure or word, what’s the worst that can happen? People will either correct you, ignore the mistake because they understood you anyway, or, in the least likely scenario, be a bit confused and ask you to repeat – which is a good opportunity to learn from the error. If people laugh at you, that’s a reflection of them as a person, not you.

2. PREPARE IN ADVANCE: VOCAB & PHRASES FOR SPECIFIC CONTEXTS

When I was working as a design intern at a Japanese company, I was VERY scared that I wouldn’t understand anything during meetings and presentations. It’s impossible to know what words to expect, but luckily I had an idea of what we would be talking about. It helped me a lot to look up words I suspected I might hear during the internship. I built vocabulary lists and example sentences of design-related vocabulary. In this way, I taught myself. You can’t find a textbook for every topic under the sun, so taking matters into your own hands and creating your own language learning materials boosts your confidence and helps you improve faster since you’re learning something that has direct value to your life.

You may even want to write out a full conversation the way you imagine it going. I do this for job interviews in foreign languages a lot. I have taken many job interviews in Japanese and Korean, and to ease my nerves, I like to write out what I expect my interviewer to ask me, and how I’ll answer accordingly. It’s an effective way to learn new vocabulary too.

You might be interested in: Tips & Tricks for Vocabulary Acquisition

In the case of online interviews, I pasted some vocabulary cards on my wall and laptop screen for quick reference. Obviously you can’t do that when you’re talking to someone in the flesh – but people will certainly understand if you pause for a while to try and look for the right word. If you cannot remember or don’t know a word, you can always talk around the word and describe it in another way. If you don’t know the word for “cake” for example, but you know the words “sweet” and “food”, you can say “sweet food” and they might say “cake?” in return.

3. PRACTICE IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

Just like practicing a speech for a presentation, you can practice using new words and phrases in a safe environment until you’re ready to use it with a native speaker. This could be talking to yourself, a pet, a chatting partner online, or a tutor. My favorite method is talking to people on voice apps. When I can’t see someone’s face and they can’t see mine, I feel less ashamed of making mistakes.

For practicing Mandarin, Japanese and Korean, I use an app called Goodnight. It’s not really for language exchange per se, but it’s a great way to be connected to people around the world via a phone call. Since it’s just a voice chat, you don’t even need to know what the person looks like, and you can practice talking to them in your target language. The worst that can happen is one of two things: 1. They’re a creep 2. They hang up. No biggie, right? In the former case, just cancel the call and move on. If they hang up on you – no worries – you can just dial to connect to the next person. It’s a very effective way to improve your pronunciation too since you’ll be hearing your target language so much! Other apps you can look into are Saito San, Kakao Talk and Wakie (click those links to see me practice Japanese and Korean on apps!) You can try Omegle too but it’s full of creepy people.

Lastly, remember not to take language learning too seriously. Your goal is to communicate with others, right? It’s counter-effective to worry about using the right words and grammar each time you try to say something. Rather be natural and throw in a bunch of words hoping it makes sense, instead of staying quiet and missing the point of communication. Your listener will more often than not help you in the right direction.


Saveables:

Women In Language 2019 is coming!

Women In Language is a three-day, online seminar featuring some of the most influential women in the online language-learning community. From 7 to 10 March, more than 30 female speakers will be sharing their thoughts on language learning and culture. If you haven’t already, make sure to register here for Women In Language! There will also be raffles and exciting events where you can interact with speakers during their calls. And it’s all digital, so you don’t even need to leave your couch.

Speakers will be presenting on the following topics, as stated on the Women In Language website.

  • Learning Languages – talks for learners of any level who want to learn effectively with winning strategies and masterful methods
  • Living and Working with Languages – tips and shared experiences about international/intercultural love, cultural differences, running a language-based business, volunteering, language jobs and stories of how languages can change your life
  • Travel with Languages – stories from the road, travel tips, retreats, and introductions to other countries and their languages
  • Language Discoveries – NEW FOR THIS YEAR! Minority or unusual languages, little-known communities and quirky learning techniques that usually don’t get center stage

I have the honor of speaking alongside some of my favorite polyglots, like Ophelia Vert, Abigail Lang, Language Bae and more! My talk is titled Identity Crisis: The ups and downs of living, working and dating in a foreign language.

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Register for Women In Language here! 

Tickets are $29, meaning its only $1 per speaker – you can attend all the talks on all the days if you register! Proceeds also go to Wikitongues – a nonprofit that I was a co-founder for a few years ago.

Some FAQs:

I’m a man/gender non-binary/I don’t identify as a woman. Can I still attend?

Absolutely. This is an event designed to showcase some of the many women doing many amazing things in the world of languages. That means that although the speakers are all female, the audience is definitely not. In fact, we encourage you to attend regardless of your gender. It’s important everyone sees how much awesome stuff is being done by women in language.

What if I’m busy between 7th and 10th Mach and can’t attend all the talks?

No problem! You will have lifetime access to all the talks after the event so can catch up as and when suits you. Also, you will have free access to the Women In Language Facebook Group that will be a place you can ask questions to Kerstin, Shannon, Lindsay, and even some of the speakers at the event. So you won’t be left behind!

I hope to see you there!

Credit to Women In Language 2019 for the images

Why did I move to Singapore?

I fell in love with Singapore in 2015.

When I was in university, I discovered The Sam Willows online. They’re a Singaporean band and I really enjoyed their music. That led me to discovering more Singaporean music, like LEW, Disco Hue, Jasmine Sokko, Sezairi, Charlie Lim and M1LDL1FE. A lot of you know music is often my reason for learning a new language or for falling in love with a new culture. (Here’s my Singaporean playlist on Spotify, by the way) After YouTubing around, I also discovered Singlish (Singaporean English, which is mixed with lots of Malay, Tamil, Chinese, Hakka, Cantonese and Hokkien words). I thought it was the coolest concept ever. So multilingual and so versatile and expressive! I also started watching local Singaporean YouTubers and found the humor seriously hilarious. The more I watched Singaporean stuff, the more I fell in love with the language, accent and country.

After months of listening to a lot of Singaporean music and checking out the Singaporean design scene (online), I wanted to visit and see what the country would be like. At the start of my fourth year of university, I started casually looking for jobs and decided to visit some design agencies in Singapore on my way back from Japan in January 2016. I contacted some design agencies and arranged to visit their studios. My mom came with me and we had a short 5-day holiday.

To be brutally honest, it was not what I expected at all! The internet (and now, Crazy Rich Asians), makes Singapore seem like the most modern, clean, atas (Singlish for “posh”) city ever. In some areas, this is true. Marina Bay Sands is really as fancy as it seems online. However, overall, I found that Japan was a lot cleaner than Singapore! Some parts of Singapore reminded me of Pakistan too. I love hawker centers now (half-outdoor food courts with lots of different eateries, generally small stalls run by old people specializing in a specific dish or two), but the first time I saw a hawker center, I was put off by the smell of durian and fish. That being said, having lived in Pakistan for 3 and a half years, nothing scares me anymore! I think it was more of a “this is not what I expected” moment rather than it being a “this is gross” moment. I can’t get enough of hawker centers now!

My heart got broken in 2018.

That initial surprise, coupled with the humidity and constant rain at the time, somewhat put me off Singapore for a while. Until I met my (now-ex) boyfriend. He was Singaporean and before he became a terribly controlling, emotionally abusive person, I was absolutely swept off my feet by him. His Singaporean accent was the cutest thing ever, and I started having rosy feelings towards Singapore again. But then after I broke up with him, I didn’t want anything to do with Singapore anymore. I didn’t even want to hear the word Singapore, and I didn’t want to hear Singlish either!

At the end of 2018, everything changed.

GOD IS GOOD AND HE RESTORES! After prayer, therapy and serious logical thinking, I eventually got over my ex and started moving on with my life. Part of that process was also to move to a new country. I started applying for jobs in many different countries. Japan and Korea was where I set my eyes upon, but I also casually browsed job postings in Singapore.

Not having much hope (most job posts said “Singaporeans or Permanent Residents only”), I still took the plunge and applied for jobs in Singapore too. I was pleasantly surprised to land a Skype interview with a design consulting agency. The interview went exceptionally well. I’ve had my fair share of interviews, and some of them have been downright BAD. (Ripped pants? Been there. Forgetting the boss’s name? Yep. Stumbling over my bad Japanese? Lots of times). This time, we really clicked and had a great conversation, and then a second interview was scheduled.

At the end of the second interview, I was told that I got the job. Trying to keep my composure on the Skype call, I thanked them and said I would get back to them in a few days with my final decision (lol, like I even needed time to think). All the doors just started opening. I believe in the power of prayer, and how I know my prayers are being answered is not only the peace in my heart about something (if it feels bad it probably is bad, if it feels right it probably is right), but confirmation. Confirmation means people start agreeing with what you say, or people bring it up out of nowhere.

The week before I received the second job interview, I saw and heard Singapore EVERYWHERE. At the gym, someone was talking to their friend about Singapore. When I took my JLPT exam, someone wore a shirt that said I LOVE SINGAPORE on it. There was some piece of Singaporean news on the radio. And so forth. This kept happening, and I truly believe it’s God saying “Relax, I’m in control. You’ll go where I need you to be. Also, here are some big hints.”

And in 2019, I can call Singapore my new home

I started getting very excited about the idea of living in Singapore and my love for Singapore came back! It’s been a month since I moved here, and I cannot remember the last time in my life that I’ve been so incredibly happy. Every morning I wake up with wonder and gratitude that I’m living here. The people are friendly, the food is good, and the year-round summer is a dream for someone like me who hates winter.

More posts are coming soon about the logistics of my move, like how I got an apartment and what interesting cultural shocks I’ve experienced, so stay tuned!

Love,
Lindie

My JLPT N3 Results

So, turns out I forgot my password to access my JLPT results, and I had to email the Japanese embassy, to my embarrassment, to ask for my password. After a few excruciating hours of waiting, I was finally able to access my results.

I passed! 

However, I was expecting better results than I got, because the test felt easier than I expected at the time, but seems like I got quite a few questions wrong! I received an A for Grammar and a B for Vocabulary. Sounds about right, as Kanji was a tough one! I did expect a better mark in listening though, since it felt super easy! My 29/60 for Language Knowledge is laughable but super accurate. I really need to improve my vocabulary!

For a few weeks of cramming, I think this is a decent result. I could have done better if I worked harder from the start of the year, though. Whoops!

I won’t redo the N3, as apparently a score of 121/180 is pretty good according to international averages. According to Lindie’s average, that’s not fabulous though. Nevertheless, I am happy I passed, and I will aim for the N2 in about 2 years’ time. I’m going to see if I can do the HSK (Chinese exam) this year instead of the JLPT.

How did you guys do?

Here are my results:

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Tutoring a language: All you need to know

MY BACKGROUND IN TUTORING
I started tutoring when my mom, an English teacher, moved to Japan and passed her students on to me. I mostly learnt from watching her give lessons. It helps if you’re a language learner yourself – you’ll figure out what the best way to learn a language is, and then use that way to teach.

CAN YOU TUTOR A LANGUAGE THAT’S NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE?
Of course. I’ve found that in South Africa, Korean schools and tutors are extremely sparse and difficult to find. For that reason, many people started approaching me personally and asking for lessons. When I realized the demand was there, I started selling myself as a tutor, but I always provided a disclaimer that I’m not a native speaker. In this case, always tutor BELOW the level you speak. Don’t attempt to tutor someone who’s as advanced as you are – you don’t want them to be correcting you! If you’re unsure about a topic before teaching it, be sure to do your research beforehand.

WAYS OF TUTORING & FINDING STUDENTS

  • You can register at a language company or school near you. You may need certifications, though.
  • You can start your own tutoring side business. You don’t need a degree or a physical location. You can either tutor at home, at the home of your student, or on Google Hangouts and Skype. I started a Facebook page for South Africans learning Korean and once the group grew, I started posting that I teach Korean too.
  • You can also register on websites like iTalki, but remember that the website will take a fee of your earnings. 
  • One-on-one tutoring is the easiest for me because I can focus all my attention on the student’s requirements. I’ve tutored a married couple before, and as much as it was wonderful to have them participate in games and discuss topics with each other, their levels were different and I often had to focus more time on one student.

YOUR FIRST LESSON
You might feel nervous for your first lesson. What if the the student’s level is higher or lower than you expected? What if they don’t talk? What if they don’t like you? All of these questions are normal, so don’t worry. Remember, your student is here to learn from you and they’re probably more intimidated than you are! Treat them like a friend. Get to know them and their language goals first before you dive into lessons. Give them equal time to talk and don’t jump in immediately to correct any mistakes they have. Be gentle when they do have a mistake, and try and allow them to fix the mistake themselves first.

For your first lesson, it’s a good idea to do a casual level test. You don’t need to prepare a difficult exam per se, but try and get a mix of speaking, reading, writing and listening to gauge where your student is at. You can be really creative with the activities. Don’t put pressure on them to perform – you can try having a conversation with them, have them tell you in their target language why they want to learn the language, and so forth.

TUTORING TIPS
Firstly, I don’t use lots of textbooks, but if you’re just starting out it can be beneficial to purchase (or have your student bring) a textbook that you can guide them through. Some students may interpret this as you not taking enough initiative, whereas others like the structure of working through a book.

Personally, I prefer to make weekly lessons, as I can adjust this to the student’s interests and levels. I use various sources, textbooks and games to compile my own lesson. I’ll include their name in example sentences as well, which is always a nice surprise for them to see and shows that you put effort in as an instructor. I’ll often reuse lessons for students and just change their names if I’ve included names in the example sentences.

My favorite activity for sentence building is to write different words on flashcards in various colors, and then have the student build sentences. For example, I’ll write verbs in red, nouns in green, locations in blue and time words in purple and they have to take one card from each pile and make a sentence with all of them. For more advanced learners, you can make them take 2 cards from each pile to create complex sentences. I also give them the flashcards to take home and keep.

I also make board games for my students. These make excellent warm-up activities. I’ll either write in English or in their language, and have simple prompts for conversations. It works kind of like snakes and ladders, so just a basic game with a die and place markers. I’ll add stuff like “what are you afraid of?” “tell me about your best holiday” “who’s your best friend?” “pretend you’re at a cafe ordering a coffee with me” and so forth. This gets them comfortable to talk and you can teach grammar and vocabulary at the same time without actually having to go into detail preparing a lesson.

I also don’t give my students lots of tests, but you can choose to do that as well. The only time I did test my students was when I was doing an intensive JLPT bootcamp to prepare for the JLPT exam.

Finally, be open with your student and allow your teaching methods to change and adapt over time based on what you experience with your students. Let them give you feedback on your teaching style so that it’s a mutual positive experience for you and your student.

ADDING PERSONAL TOUCH
Branding: It’s not necessary, but you can brand your worksheets by adding a footer with your website or contact details. This helps get new students if your student ever lends their worksheets to someone else.
Snacks: If you tutor in person, provide your student with tea and cookies! It warms up the atmosphere shows your student that you care about them not just as a student but as a person.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU TEACH?
It’s best to check with your student what their requirements are. I’ve had students who want lessons 3 times a week, whereas others were more than happy to casually have 2 or 3 lessons a month. Chat to your student about their needs. Do they have an exam coming up? If so, more intensives lessons are necessary. Remember to give them homework and assignments so that you can check their progress and keep them studying when you’re away.

KEEPING AND LOSING STUDENTS
Manage your students’ expectations in terms of pricing and hours. You might be more comfortable having your student book and pay for a month in advance, whereas I prefer payment after each lesson to avoid having to pay a student back for a cancelled lesson. Remember to treat your student like a friend and a learner. Being warm and helpful goes a long way and will ensure your student will come back to you. Finally, don’t be upset when your student decides to end lessons. It might not be a reflection on your tutoring style – it could just be that they have other priorities or troubles with finances.

All the best with your tutoring activities!

Love,
Lindie