You know that show where people do absolutely terrifying things in the hopes of winning money? Well if I was a contestant, the method of torturing me wouldn’t involve sticking my hand in a nest of angry bees, eating a tarantula or walking a tight-rope from one very high point to another (though I’ll happily say “no thanks!” if offered the chance to willingly do any of those things). All the producers of the show would have to do is plop me down in the middle of a crowded area filled with French people that I know and say, “…aaaaand: SPEAK FRENCH!”
It’s true. I suffer daily from what I not-so-lovingly call Glossofrancofamiliophobia–similar in root to “glossophobia,” which is a fear of public speaking, but with a specific reference to speaking French, and speaking it to people I know.
It’s almost entertaining, really. I can run to the boulangerie and order some bread or a tasty pastry, grab some lunch to go from some local dining establishment, or even catch a ride home in a cab and everything turns out fine. But take me out to dinner with a group of friends–or worse, my French boyfriend–and that’s when the trouble starts. My pulse quickens, my face explores the warmer shades of the rainbow, my brow starts to sweat, and suddenly it’s as if I’ve never studied a word of French in my life.
I get stuck.
I shut the hell up (and trust me, you know there’s a problem when my mouth stops moving).
Sadly, there are no commercials with animated figures who go from sad to happy in a matter of seconds thanks to a miracle pill for this condition. There are no therapists specialized in this field, nor are there rehabilitation centers that can get me on my feet. No, my friends, this phobia is one that has to be tackled alone. And hard.
No doubt the root of this issue lies in confidence, and I make small steps every day to boost mine. Frog Prince helps a lot. He doesn’t laugh at me or make me feel bad when I try and say the basic sentences I have the nerve to muster. But I just can’t shake the idea that the people I’ve come to like and respect will stop reciprocating those feelings once they hear my sorry excuse for French. Unrealistic? Probably. Terrifying? Absolutely.
So, fellow expats, francophones, and bi-linguists: please do feel free to share how you may have gotten over any of your personal barriers to speaking another language. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for a life raft to save me from succumbing to the 20,000 leagues of lexicon I seem to be sinking in (or getting eaten by un requin français).
Tagged: American expat, American learning French, angry bees, fear of public speaking, France, French, frog prince, glossophobia, learning French, Paris
Of course I can relate to this and I feel your fear… literally! I can’t share my coping mechanism for getting over this fear as I still have yet to find it. BUT I can share a story that keeps me motivated when I just want to give up and go cry in a corner.
When Nico first left France to travel, he was with his friend Sebastien, also from France. I had the chance to meet Sebastien in Vietnam and was super nervous as I didn’t speak any french at the time and he was one of the first “friends” I was meeting and wanted to make a good impression. I will never forget that night, talking with Sebastien. We talked for quite sometime, to my surprise, in english – even though Sebastien was somewhat of a beginner in the language as well. He just kept talking no matter if he stumbled, messed up, confused his words, he just kept talking until he got his point across. I was soooo thankful for his effort and had such a wonderful time! I try to remember Sebastien’s spirit every time I find myself in a situation where I feel really embarrassed about trying to speak french. I just have to keep talking until I get something out that is understandable – and be able to laugh at myself when I mess up because it’s bound to happen!
Bonne chance mon amie!
#1. Wear loose clothes and lots of antiperspirant (in case you sweat a lot when you’re nervous like me)
#2. Get ready for a**holes. Yes, you will encounter people who will correct your pronunciation, make you feel like an idiot and belittle you; these people are jerks and you shouldn’t give them the time of day. Knowing these experiences will happen makes them a little bit easier to handle. Yes you’ll be hurt, but brush it off and continue with your efforts.
#3. Get ready for compliments. You’ll also encounter lots of people who notice your efforts trying to learn the language and applaud you by commenting on how well you speak French. =)
#4. You’ll leave those people with a boosted ego and more confidence to continue speaking French and progressing in the language.
#5. Don’t give up. I encounter lots of foreigners in my French class and some of the hardest people to understand are the most outspoken. I’m always blown away by their efforts and think to myself if they can be so confident speaking French and are putting themselves out there, then I should be too.
I love this comment! Everything you’re saying is true, and you’re right. Thanks to both of you for the support on this. I just have to push forward and GO FOR IT! 🙂