Raise your hand if you agree:
The only way to get better at speaking a foreign language is to speak a foreign language.
Speaking often feels like the hardest skill of them all.
In this blog post, you’ll learn a simple, powerful method to get you speaking more.
I call them the Spoken Minutes.
Speaking, Ego, and Resistance
Why do we avoid speaking?
At its core, it’s an ego issue. We’re afraid of something.
- We’re embarrassed by our current level and think we should be better, especially for somebody who’s been studying for this long
- We’re afraid of wasting somebody else’s time
You ever have that experience where you meet somebody, forget their name, and then feel too embarrassed to ever ask for it? And then it goes on longer and longer and your embarrassment gets bigger and bigger until you resort to some underhanded tactic to uncover their name?
(Just me? Okay.)
Speaking works the same way. If you’re embarrassed about speaking, you don’t speak. You hide and focus on other things, and then, as more time passes, your embarrassment about not being great at speaking grows.
Eventually, you quit altogether.
But there’s a really simple, easy remedy for this.
Sit your ego down and just speak.
Ego is the Enemy?
Ryan Holiday, a marketer-turned-Stoic, wrote a little book called Ego is the Enemy.
The general thesis of the book is in the title: your ego, the part of you that’s concerned with your image, with how people perceive you, that beats you down because you’re not good enough, is not your friend.
At least, not in scenario.
You have to flip your perspective. Look, eliminating your ego entirely isn’t a good thing. We need an ego because, y’know, wanting to get better at a skill involves your ego.
But you can take your ego and say: thank you for holding me to a higher standard. Can you help me rise to the challenge that you’ve set?
Let your ego serve you. Not the other way around.
Steven Pressfield talks about The Resistance, or that force in the way of you realizing your (often creative) goals.
Think of it as the gap. There’s something you want to do (speak a foreign language), but your behavior doesn’t match that desire. Why? It’s The Resistance.
But the great thing about The Resistance is that it’s all in your head. It’s not real. And once you identify what it is, you can set about finding ways to deal with it.
…notice how I said “deal with it,” not “conquer” or “overcome” it. The Resistance is never going away. That doesn’t matter. Once you know how to negotiate with The Resistance, it loses all of its power. It stops being a blocker.
I’ve found that The Resistance responds to a few things:
- My sense of safety (my fear)
- My sense of entitlement (my ego)
Let’s briefly get into each of these.
My sense of safety (fear)
What am I afraid of?
Can I recognize that these fears aren’t real? Or, if they are, can I decide to move forward anyway?
Here’s the thing about fear: it’s like the middle school bully. Once you stand up to Fear, it turns tail and runs away.
Write out 5 fears you have about speaking a new language. Then, next to each, write out a reason you feel safe instead.
Here’s an example:
Fear: I’m afraid that people will laugh at me if I try to speak and screw up.
Safety: Even if they do laugh, that doesn’t matter. I choose to believe that they’re laughing because it’s wonderful to see me try, the same way I laugh when I see somebody try to ride a bike for the first time and recognize the magic of them trying to figure it out, fall over, adn get back up again. They’re not laughing out of maliciousness. They’re laughing because they like to see my trying.
My sense of entitlement (ego)
First, let’s reclaim the word “entitlement” from the Boomers and the media. You are allowed to be entitled.
In order to speak—especially if you want to speak with confidence—you need a sense of entitlement. You need to feel like you belong here.
The poet David Whyte called this “the arrogance of belonging.”
You need to plant your stake in the ground and declare that you belong here. Let that be your bedrock.
The Resistance is nothing more than a light breeze, after all. It’s the Big Bad Wolf who can’t do anything to a house made of bricks.
Let your entitlement be your house of bricks.
How do you do that?
Get clear on why you’re here. Why are you learning this language?
Entitlement is strong. (There’s a reason the older generation and the news media don’t like it!) Let it help you.
The Spoken Minutes Exercise
The only way to get better at speaking a foreign language is to speak. So let’s speak.
Here’s what I want you to do:
- Open the Voice Memos app on your phone.
- Click “record”
- Speak for 1 minute
- Repeat tomorrow morning
Yes, it’s that simple.
One minute. Every morning.
What to talk about during the spoken minutes?
Say whatever comes to mind. The goal is not to be perfect, or even to be good. It’s simply to have words tumbling out of your mouth.
This is your time to feel the language on the contours of your lips, to test the way your tongue lies against your teeth, to awaken and elongate your cheek muscles so make the sounds of this new, unfamiliar language.
You can narrate your house. Talk about what happened yesterday, or what you would like to do today. Can you introduce yourself? What do you do for work? What do you dream of? Where do you want to travel, what experiences do you want to have, and what kinds of people would you like to meet?
What about your doubts? What are you working towards—do you have a higher purpose? Do you have children? Talk about them. A partner? Talk about them. Pets? Parents? Neighbors? Friends?
We are, in a sense, decluttering the mind. We are trying to engage the subconscious. The reason we engage the subconscious is because we want this new language to find a home there. We want resting in this new language to be as easy for us as our native language.
The specifics, the rules, the boundaries
A couple of things that I require.
- You MUST make mistakes. If you ever go a minute without making a mistake, then you graduate to 2 minutes. (You will, eventually, want to graduate all the way to 5 minutes.) I REQUIRE imperfection.
- Do not worry about grammar, pronunciation, verb conjugation, tenses, or anything of the sort. Your goal is to form a conduit between your thoughts and your vocal cords. This is the beginning. The rough draft. It must be messy. There is no other way for it to be.
- Do this every morning, as close to waking up as you can muster. Do it in the shower, or right after that, as you wait to dry off. Do it over breakfast, between sips of your coffee.
- You are not allowed to listen to these recordings for at least 3 months.
A note on the imperfection, because I know that feels odd.
One of the purposes of this exercise that it’s a safe space. You are not supposed to stay living in your comfort zone. Nobody will hear you do this. Nobody gets to listen to these recordings.
Mistakes will happen. Make peace with that. You will make mistakes in front of other people. You will make a LOT of mistakes. You will have uncomfortable moments where you can’t communicate.
The spoken minutes exercise is like sandpaper, or running water over a pebble. You make your mistakes here so that you smooth down the path. You make mistakes here so that you can grow.
This is not intentional practice. It is a process of uncovering what you’ve already learned. It’s you letting your subconscious peek out and try new things.
You should notice your mistakes. But you cannot let them stop you.
Download the Spoken Minutes Exercise PDF
Want this exercise as a PDF you can download and print out?