I regularly meet people who are completely blocked, paralyzed by the idea of speaking French … yet a language is supposed to be a communication tool!
In these moments, fear takes control of the situation, it slows down, it blocks and gives way to inaction, to paralysis.
In this article, I propose to understand, analyze and regain control over this fear of speaking and interacting in French.
1- Understand what happens in the brain
2- Be aware of your fear
3- Implement actions to create habits
1- Understand what happens in the brain
What happens in your brain when you are faced with a stressful situation? Why does your body react so violently to fear?
Our brain is constantly analyzing everything that is happening around us.
In case of danger or threat, it sets up a very efficient system to enable us to survive.
In the face of danger, our prefrontal cortex activates our limbic system and instantly triggers a reaction, which is called the “fight or flight or freeze response“.
This response to a threat will trigger a whole range of physical reactions: the body prepares to flee or fight the danger. Our cognitive and physical energy is focused solely on survival.
Originally, in prehistoric times, this reaction was triggered by the danger of death, but today, when we experience moments in our daily lives that we find stressful or humiliating, this same system is triggered.
The heart rate increases, the field of vision is reduced, blood from the major organs (including the brain) is sent to the arms and legs to run away or fight.
The brain can then no longer function effectively.
The resources that the prefrontal cortex needs to function normally are all used by the limbic system. As a result, one is unable to think, formulate thoughts, solve problems or make decisions effectively.
Imagine this happening to you when you have to speak French! Your body and your brain do everything in their power to: flee, fight, freeze.
Your cognitive abilities to think, construct thoughts or solve a problem are inhibited.
How do you deal with a stressful situation in French? What strategies can you put in place to avoid it, overcome it, and regain control?
Firstly, we will make you aware of your fear and rationalize it, and then we will look at the right strategies to put in place in your learning of French to stop panicking.
2- Be aware of your fear
a- Analysing and becoming aware of fear: the right questions to ask yourself.
Fear appears subconsciously, we see it as the truth. Therefore, to begin to overcome a fear, we must look it in the face, analyze it to begin to make it conscious.
The fear analysis consists of taking stock of those moments in which you are blocked, or panicked.
I now invite you to bring awareness to your fear by asking yourself a few questions that will help you understand it better.
→ What action does fear prevent you from doing?
→ In what context are you afraid (Where? With whom? When?)
→ How does the stress, the fear manifests itself in your body? What is happening physically?
(Being aware of the symptoms, the unpleasant sensations that you feel in these moments also allows you to better accept them and to tame them.)
→What is going on in your head in these situations? What thoughts come up? (e.g. I won’t understand what he is saying to me, he won’t understand me, people around will think I’m stupid… )
→What is behind this stress? What is the more general fear that controls you in these moments? (Fear of making mistakes, fear of not understanding, fear of not finding the right words… these fears all refer to the use of language, but deep down they are linked to more general fears e.g. fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of conflict, fear of ridicule, fear of the unknown.)
b- Regain control
Identifying this fear is a good starting point for moving forward. Now that you have identified your fear, you are aware of its presence, its form, its character. You can now take back control of the situation. You can take back the power. To do this, I suggest a two-step exercise.
Step 1 → Make a list of the worst things that could happen in the situation that makes you feel stressed/fearful. Write down their percentage of probability.
Visualizing these situations by rationalizing them can help you to see them from another angle and to analyze the real “dangers”.
List the worst things that could happen + the percentage of probability:
“I am afraid to speak French in a meeting with my colleagues“.
1- my colleagues will not understand what I say (50%)
2- a colleague will laugh out loud when he hears me speak French (1%)
3- I won’t find the right way to express my sentence, I’ll have to redo my sentence (60%)
Step 2 – Imagine how you would react to each problem. How would you react? What would you say if this happened to you?
This second step is essential to start preparing yourself to deal with these situations. It also allows you to begin to visualize the things you need to reinforce or learn.
1- my colleagues do not understand what I am saying => I will apologize and ask them what they do not understand. I will rephrase by simplifying the idea I had initially.
2- a colleague bursts out laughing when he hears me speak French (1%) => I would ask him to explain this behavior, we would have a conversation about learning foreign languages, I would explain my difficulty in expressing myself in public and I would ask him to respect me.
3- I can’t find the right way to express my sentence and I have to start over => I would apologize to my colleagues, I would rephrase my idea, I would try to simplify the sentence
3- Implement actions to create habits.
Creating habits is the key to managing these stressful situations. The key to success lies in your ability to prepare and train for those situations that currently scare you.
The brain loves habits.
When your brain does something it is used to, it works on automatic, unconscious mode.
The more you do something, the more it becomes an automatic unconscious program for your brain. Therefore, in tricky situations, your brain will be much calmer, more peaceful, and stress-free if you have already created some habits.
So… how to create habits?
1- Create an action plan
You can use the previous exercise to define the goals you need to work on, or simply ask yourself the question.
What do you need to feel comfortable in these situations?
What linguistic elements do you need (Vocabulary? Grammatical structure? Cultural information?)
Let’s take the following example, based on the previous exercises:
Fear: speaking French in a meeting with my colleagues
Risk: my colleagues will not understand what I say
Desired reaction: I will apologize and ask them what they don’t understand. I will simply rephrase the idea I originally had.
ACTION PLAN :
Objective 1- Learn how to apologize
Actions: make a list of words and expressions to apologize in French. Choose 5 words/expressions that can be used in a meeting.
Objective 2- Summarise an idea, a point of view
Actions: make a list of expressions for “reformulating a statement”. Practice reformulating another person’s statement. Formulate an idea and reformulate it.
2- Set yourself challenges
Challenges are a good way to take steps forward.
Fear will disappear with the habit, so you need to push yourself, challenge yourself to move forward, and get closer to what you fear.
You can set up challenges that are very small and easily done to start with. And then, little by little you’ll add more difficult, potentially more stressful elements.
It is normal to be afraid in situations that are out of the ordinary or that you perceive as socially dangerous.
It is interesting to question this fear to understand the needs behind it.
From a linguistic point of view, the best way to be prepared for these stressful situations is to get used to them. It keeps your brain on autopilot and therefore allows you to be much more serene.
I hope that the exercises I have suggested in this article have helped you to better understand the fears you have with French. If you feel that you need help to create your action plan or to better understand your blocks, you can contact me here to make an appointment for an individual session.