You’re dreaming of a time when you’ll be able to speak French fluently but every time you open your mouth you freeze. You also seem to forget words you’ve learnt. Stress can be paralyzing and it’s hard to get out of “panic mode”. Let’s look at 3 ways to “lift the fog” that’s slowing your brain down and preventing you from speaking to the best of your beat abilities.
You’ll notice that all 3 ways invite you to reconnect with your body and use some kind of mouvement.
As with everything, you need practice so I’m including some activities for you to experiment and find techniques that might work for you. Try each one a few times (2-3 a week) for a short period of time over the course of a month before you jump to any conclusion. Your brain needs variety so it’s always good to have a few different options to fall back on if your favourite one isn’t working one day.
“La musique adoucit les moeurs” (music soothes the soul)
First, do you know about the healing powers of music? Our brains are electrical devices and they react to certain wave lengths. For example, when you need to focus, you can search for binaural beats. When you need to calm down, look for alpha waves.
And personnally, when I feel really tensed or bored, I put on some music (Latin American music because I’m learning Spanish) and start singing and dancing in the middle of my living room. Just going with the flow of the music helps to “get out of my head” 🙂
Dancing (and physical activity in general) releases neurotransmitters and endorphins which are “feel good” hormones. They lower the stress level and create the conditions to view the world more optimistically.
Plus, when you’re singing you’re also passively working on your listening and pronunciation, two skills that will help speak French more fluently.
After your dancing/singing break, you can go back to studying feeling refreshed!
Play some music, turn up the volume and dance! I’ve selected some French songs to get you started integrating French into your everyday life and get additional practice.
Breathing helps to speak French more fluently
Another powerful way of calming the mind is to simply breathe deeply. Meditation and in particular guided meditation helps (there are a lot of Youtube or apps like Insight timer). A lot of people (and I was one of them a few years ago) think “meditation isn’t for me, I can’t meditate, I’m not able to stay there doing nothing, I constantly think about something”.
However, there are many forms of meditation, for example if you can’t stay put, try a walking meditation or chanting mantras or yoga. What’s important at first is to reconnect with your breathing (this is like language level A1) and your body. Then take it one step after the other until you reach a level you’re satisfied with.
The brain is plastic and when you repeat something enough times, it starts to create the connections you need to acquire this new skill. It requires a lot of energy to create new connections so you need to take it slow and be patient, just like when you’re learning a language. The only secret is: practice, practice, practice. Even just starting with 5 minutes every day and slowly increasing will bring measurable progress.
Breathing before speaking in public and also while you’re speaking will greatly improve your fluency by allowing your brain to function efficiently.
– Stress relief: a 3-minute introduction to meditation by Christophe André, psychiatrist (in French with transcript)
– Before speaking in public: Gilles Payet, coach and sophrologue, explains 3 short techniques (podcast in French)
Keep your hands busy to give your brain a break
Doodle, color or do something creative with your hands that doesn’t require you to focus too hard. Your whole brain will stop being absorbed by this one thing that’s bothering you. What you’re creating with your hands will also let you express some of the subconscious feelings causing the stress*. As you doodle or color, you may feel the stress come down. Your thinking brain starting to work more efficiently, finding new perspectives and solutions. On top of that, studies show that doodling while listening to something boring actually enhances retention of information. You’ll see how much more you remember after listening!
If you’re a runner, you know that the right pace for endurance training is the pace that allows you to chit-chat while running without being out of breath. Running too fast, like thinking over and over about something (the feeling of being caught in a “hamster wheel”) is counter productive. Taking a step back to leave some space for a relaxing activity will actually have benefits in the long run.
If you don’t already know what kind of activities you like, why not try doodling? Best thing about it: you don’t need to know how to draw, you can doodle anything!
Going into auto-pilot like this also teaches us about letting go of our desire to control everything. This is key to speak fluently!
I absolutely love these printable mandalas by Ami imginaire street art (cute animal mandalas) and his friends (also street artists, each with their own style)