Have you been learning a foreign language for years? At school, courses, online, private lessons?
And what happens when you go on holiday abroad and want/need to say something?
  1. Do you instantly forget everything?
  2. Don’t you even try to find the words?
  3. Are you petrified and say nothing?
  4. Do you speak using a mix of all foreign languages known to you?
  5. Do you speak with a feeling of embarrassment that everything you say seems wrong, incorrect or inappropriate?

I have recently asked a question on my Facebook: What is in your opinion the reason for a language barrier when it comes to speaking foreign languages?
There were many answers which encouraged me to try to put it all together in a form of reflection on this phenomenon.
So, what is a language barrier? A dictionary will say that it is inability to communicate because we don’t speak a common language.
But the problem is that it often appears even if we theoretically know the foreign language we would like to use?
Why can’t we use it then?
Are we afraid of embarrassment, being misunderstood or making mistakes?  Are we trying to avoid loosing face? Are we afraid of being judged or do we judge ourselves? Are we irritated because all these years of learning and money seem to have gone down the drain?
These are some of the voices that appeared under my FB post and in private messages.
It’s probably partly true.
But there also appeared one strong voice, later supported by another one that the barrier is actually the result of our lack of knowledge.
We can’t communicate, because we don’t know the words.
Words disappeared, grammar rusted.
This will vary depending on the level of conversation. For some, it would mean that they can’t do shopping in a foreign language, for others that they can’t discuss philosophical issues.
At first, I was sceptical. I thought, how can it be, especially in a situation when you have learned a language for quite a long period of time.
And then it struck me that it could actually be the most true.
It’s true that we can learn for a long time, and still don’t know much.
Why? Because our knowledge is inactive, it’s a bag full of words and grammatical forms, but they cannot be used as they are only theoretical, unrelated to real life, unrelated to you and your experience, unrelated to each other. All these language elements seem like a puzzle whose elements don’t match.
 But all in all, I guess it’s not such bad news.
1. If it is the lack of knowledge, we can learn it.
1. If it is the case of inactive/theoretical knowledge, we can activate it!
And there is also the lack of confidence, which was often mentioned as a reason. We are not sure if what we say is correct or appropriate.
And being anxious about what is new.
And here comes my conclusion about how to overcame the language barrier:
LEAVE THE COMFORT ZONE of your native language, of what is easy, secure, and doesn’t require effort; leave it and enter the new, difficult, risky and demanding.
LEARN ON YOUR MISTAKES, be ready for criticism and treat it as constructive feedback.
And what to do with the lack of confidence, which in my opinion is mainly the result of the lack of knowledge.
You may try to “cheat” a little. How?
  1. OVERCOME CHAOS – organise your language knowledge in your own way. Put an effort in making an audit of your knowledge, useful sources, plan regular revisions.
  2. PREPARE. If you know you will have an opportunity to speak a foreign language, prepare. Try to predict what you may talk about: revise vocabulary, try out useful phrases. Prepare a cheating sheet. Take a dictionary with you or use google translate as you go, if you need.
  3. TRY and TEST! If it doesn’t work, try another way! Fight! If it doesn’t work, let it go! It will work next time. Use a different language. Treat it as a lesson, not a failure! Learn on your mistakes. Analyse what went wrong, what language you lacked.
Its  is a reflection from a point of view of both a teacher and a learner. I love learning foreign languages, and I know the problems one encounters when the language you want to speak is not at the level you wish it was .
Please leave a comment to let me know what you think about the language barrier. It is knowledge or psychology?
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