How to Cope With Learning a Second Language When You Have Social Anxiety

Getty / Steve Golden
Learning a new language can be made harder when you feel anxious talking to strangers. Getty / Steve Golden

Are you socially anxious and have recently moved to a new country? Do you find the new culture and language a barrier to meeting people in your new home?

If so, here are a few tips to help you overcome your fears and make new friends!

One problem that faces many people who move to a new country is a language barrier that exists. If you do not know the local language, or only know it to a small degree, you should definitely go out and start trying to talk to people.

Interacting with people who are native or fluent in the language will not only help you learn the language, but will give you exposure to meeting new people.

Foreign language acquisition programs highly recommend immersion in a new language, and the best way to do this is to put yourself out there! You would probably be surprised at how many people will be interested and want to help when they see you have difficulties with the language.

If your issue is more related to feeling out of place from the local culture, the best way to overcome these fears is to get outside and start talking to local people!

While this might seem scary at first, you will likely find that the first few people with whom you speak will be welcoming and friendly, which will ease your tensions and likely motivate you to continue on your journey.

If you aren’t the type to simply go up to people and talk to them (read: socially anxious), you can start small by simply going to a few local shops to peruse foods, clothes, and other items.

You will expose yourself to other people but not necessarily have to initiate any conversations if you don’t feel comfortable.

You can listen in on conversations between other shoppers to get a better feel for the area. You could even comment on an item in the shop to other customers or ask for their opinions to begin a conversation.

Should you choose to take the next step, you could decide to buy something at a shop such as a cup of coffee or a small trinket and strike up a conversation with the cashier.

Cashiers work in customer service and are typically extremely talkative and friendly; taking to a cashier is a good first step because it is that person's job to make you comfortable and happy.

When talking to the cashier, you could ask him where locals like to go for fun or if there are any hangout places for people your age.

Practicing with customer service professionals helps you continue developing your language skills that you can then carry over into personal interactions.

Once you have accomplished these “initiation” strategies, you could move on to more authentic social interactions by going to local spots where people your age congregate (either based on your perceptions or the cashier’s advice).

Typical places younger people like to go include coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or cultural institutions like museums or theater performances.

Beginning to immerse yourself in the culture of everyday people in your new country and town will help ease the anxieties you had when you first moved there.

While you might have some reservations about throwing yourself into a new situation, getting out and about and talking to people in your new country is one of the most important ways to learn or even practice a new language.

Once you get over that first hurdle, you will likely find subsequent social interactions much less stressful and much more enjoyable.

If, however, you find that your social anxiety is severe and a hindrance to taking the first step in a new country, it may be worth taking a look at your anxiety as a problem separate from learning a new language.

Once you've got your anxiety under control (through professional treatment or self-help strategies), then you will be in a better place to start immersing yourself in a new culture.

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