Talking to strangers surpasses our known abilities

If you are a language learner, you’ve probably had at least one experience which made you realise that using a foreign language when talking to someone you have never met results in more success than if you talk to a friend, a family member or a teacher. I believe this is just a matter of confidence and bravery: talking to a native speaker of a language induces more of that subconscious lack of self-esteem and fear of failure if you happen to know the addressed person reasonably well.

To show how I first came across this effect, I will now tell you about a personal experience. I’ve been learning French for over three years now and have often been ‘forced’ to communicate with my teacher and some friends. From all this experience I drew a conclusion that my ability to communicate orally is at an incredibly low level. At the end of May, however, I spent a week in Burgundy (France) and had several opportunities to practice French with the locals. I soon realised that I could speak to them and could even understand most of what they were saying, regardless of their dialect or age group. Well, I’m not saying that I suddenly realised I was a fluent speaker of the language, but the surprise of exploring a previously unknown level of capability had quite a significant impact on my self-esteem. And since being confident is the key to successfully communicating in a foreign language, I recommend everyone to try and use the language in an unfamiliar environment.

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