i‑Learner Education Centre

Teacher Diaries

Teacher Diaries: Mr. Adam – Love Speaking

When I think of learning a foreign language, I realise that out of all the language skills, I have most admiration for good speakers. When you read, you can take your time. When you listen, you can process the language quietly in your head. When you write, you can revise what’s on the page a hundred times. When you speak, however, everything happens in real-time and you have nowhere to hide. Speaking in a foreign language feels like treading carefully through a minefield of grammatical gaffes, pronunciation pitfalls and idiomatic impasses. In reality, however, the biggest difficulties you face when braving this minefield are only in your own head.

During my own study of Japanese, the times when I have been most nervous, but equally most proud of myself, were when I was pushed to speak in front of people. I still remember the first day I set foot in a mental health facility in rural Nara, where I immediately had a microphone shoved into my palms and was told to step on the stage and introduce myself to two hundred patients in Japanese. I’m not sure if my audience could hear the trembling in my voice as I toddled through my self-introduction, but I can still feel the rush of achievement that I experienced as I stepped down from the stage. I had managed to speak for two minutes without tripping up, and without being booed off stage.

On reflection I realise that my own perceptions of my speaking were probably wildly different to those of the listeners. Knowing that Japanese wasn’t my first language, everyone was full of encouragement and smiles, which helped to soothe my nerves in the end. I went on to have a wonderful time living and working in their community, and I slowly came to realise the language mistakes which seemed so grave to me barely registered on the radars of the locals around me.

This is just one example of the many times where I have found that having the confidence to speak up can lead to fantastic opportunities that simply do not present themselves if you let nerves get the better of you. The biggest obstacle to being a good speaker is really yourself – the people around you are only going to give you encouragement if you show that you are brave enough to open your mouth.