How feel confident speaking French
1. Most people you come into contact with only speak 1 language, so you’re already ahead of the game. The majority of French people do not speak English at a conversational level (especially outside of major cities and outside of business contexts), so you’re already one step ahead if you’re at least getting by in French. You’re doing the best you can and trying to converse because without your French ability (no matter how low you perceive that ability to be right now) with someone who doesn’t speak English, there wouldn’t be a conversation otherwise.
2. Other people can shake our confidence and it really sucks. Like when we can’t make ourselves understood or can’t get the point across fast enough. People can be short and even rude. This next line is so, so important. We are in control of what we say and do, and NOT how people react to us. If people react rudely, that’s all on them. Ya hear? People’s reactions of impatience or frustration or rudeness say way more about them than they do us. All we can do is present ourselves confidently, stand tall, and do our best.
3. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can in this moment. Are there people who speak better French? With more confidence? Yes, of course. But there are also people who are at a lower level struggling more than you are right now. Keep things in perspective and remember how far you’ve come. Absolutely nothing good comes out of beating yourself up and being hard on yourself about how much better you could or should be doing. Or what you should have done yesterday or last week or last year to improve your level of French. Trust me on that. All you have is right now and what you can do from this point onward.
4. Remember that tomorrow is a new day. So simple but so true. The power of a good night’s sleep is insane. The stress of today will melt away and you’l have a clean slate to start again tomorrow. Get some rest. Pick it up tomorrow. Forget about today. Give yourself a clean slate.
5. If you consistently put in effort day in and day out, you will improve. The only way to go is up if you’re putting in the time. You will gain confidence and feel better about this whole speaking a foreign language thing as you improve, and I’m speaking from experience here. It’s the consistency part that counts, so don’t give up or slack off when you’re at your worst.
Maybe one day, all you can manage is a 20-minute podcast in French and the next day it’s studying grammar for an hour. Or conversation practice with your French teacher. Or 10 minutes of vocab review. You get the picture. Make sure you’re putting in the effort consistently to see progress. With progress, your confidence will improve because you’ll notice you’re saying, “Comment ?” less and people will ask you to repeat yourself less. You have to get through the hard stages to get on top of it. Practice does not make perfect. It makes progress and that’s what we’re shooting for.
In all honesty, it probably took me 2 years of living in France to get to a more confident level where I could make phone calls and approach people with confidence in my day-to-day life. Keep in mind, I work in English 95% of the time, speak English to my husband at home, and do not have a tight-knit group of French friends with whom to converse. Your progress timeline will vary.
6. Take time to focus on the things you’re good at for a confidence boost. If we constantly force ourselves to work on only the areas we’re the worst in, we’ll never feel good about what we’re doing. Yes, of course work on things you need to work on but make time to reinforce your skills in areas where you already excel. Are you good at making conversation? Are you a good listener? Strong at grammar exercises? Enjoy reading? Whatever area you feel you are the best in, spend time doing that whenever you can. It’ll give you a little internal boost.
7. OK, now if the accent thing is knocking your progress, listen up. It’s a fact that if you started learning French after age 14 or something like that, you will have a foreign accent of some sort. It’s inevitable and it’s totally cool. Really, like who cares. I can’t say this loudly enough. An accent is not a defect, nor is it indicative of your level of French. There are some people who speak near-flawless French but have quite a heavy accent.
On the flip side, some people are better at mimicking a French accent but their overall level of French isn’t very good. An accent, in and of itself, is not a reason to doubt yourself but I know it’s easy to do so. The one exception here is if your accent is getting in the way of comprehension. If people regularly ask you to repeat yourself or look confused when you talk, that’s a clue that it’s time to brush up on your pronunciation with a native speaker.