Picture the scene.
You’re sitting in a restaurant in Spain with some friends. You spot the waiter coming towards you and the panic starts to set in. As he arrives at your table you scream “LA ENSALADA POR FAVOR!” and he nods. Phewwwwww it’s all over, you did it! Then before you can celebrate he turns to you and says “¿Quieresalgoabeber?”. Your friends are looking at you, the waiter is looking at you and all you can do is laugh and smile whilst in your head you’re thinking…
AHHHHH he spoke too quickly! I don’t understand, what did he say? this is so embarrassing. What do I dooooooooooo????!!!!!
One of the most nerve wracking situations for a language learner is the dreaded moment you are faced with having to have a conversation with a native speaker. You start off by confidently asking that question that you have practised 100 times at home and then as soon as they reply your brain turns to mush!
The good news is…you are not alone. I think it is safe to say that most of us who have learned a language have faced a similar situation at some point. The bad news is…you are going to do it again. That’s right! It might have been the first time but it certainly won’t be the last and as much as you feel like apologising and never speaking again, DON’T! Making mistakes is part of the learning process.
So what can you do?
- Breathe. Take a second to calmly remind yourself that it is NOT the end of the world and you can easily resolve the situation.
- Politely ask the person to repeat what they said but slightly more slowly.
- Lip read to see if you can make out any words that are difficult to hear.
- Think about the context. You’re in a clothes shop for example. What kind of things might they be asking you?- Do you want a bag? Shall I put the receipt in the bag?
- Use actions. Yes you might feel a bit silly at first but if you can’t remember how to say something- point to it, act it out, gesture.
- Ask them questions. You know how to say a drink. You think they may be asking you if you want one..so ask them!
But most importantly…
Don’t give up! It can be very tempting to choose the easy option and try to speak English but you would be undoing all the work you have been putting in and not doing yourself justice.
So next time you are faced with a situation like the one above try some of those techniques and just remember..Never be embarrassed. Never apologise. You are trying and you are learning and that is something to be proud of.