Have you ever felt like you wanted to speak Italian to someone but were too shy to do so? You start to sweat, your heart races, you blush, and you don’t approach anyone. What happened here?
It might be that you’re truly shy.
But what is shyness?
According the American Psychological Association,
“shyness is the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.”
Now tell me, do you feel identified?
Personally, I do. I’ve always been shy, from a very young age. And when I was at school, I was often scared of speaking in front of my classmates. Especially if I had to speak in another language.
I got nervous, my voice would become lower and weaker, and I suddenly was no longer sure of what I was saying.
I knew that, deep down, I knew what to say. But I just wasn’t able to take my words out when I spoke to someone in another language.
“What if I make a mistake?”
“What will everybody think of me?”
“What will my teacher say?”
These were just a few of the thoughts that were unconsciously running through my head back then.
Things are different today. I make mistakes, but I’m no longer worried about them. I’m still a bit shy, but I’ve found a way to cope with it and don’t let my speaking opportunities fade away because of my insecurities.
Shyness is not a disease, it’s a feeling. And you can deal with it.
Below you’ll find some tips that I’ve personally used and that have helped me become the speaker that I am today:
confident, relaxed, and resilient.
I suggest you start from the very first one and proceed step by step giving yourself time and patience to process every step.
Results won’t come from one day to another, but if you’re constant with these changes, you’ll soon start to see your first beams of light.
Accept your shyness
Before overcoming shyness, the first step is to accept it and became aware of it. Most of the time, people tend to avoid looking at reality, especially when it hurts. This is what might prevent them from speaking Italian with someone. They avoid shyness, they don’t acknowledge it and, therefore, they avoid uncomfortable situations that might cause it. So, take a moment for yourself and observe all the times that you avoided joining or beginning a conversation. What were the feelings behind that rejection? Accept them. There’s nothing wrong with them, and there’s clearly nothing wrong with you.
Stay with your feelings
Try and imagine how speaking Italian makes you feel. Focus on your body. What do you feel? Where? Pay attention to the physical sensations that arise. To where they are and where they move. How intense are they? Does their intensity change? Observe them with curiosity and stay with them, without fighting them or pushing them away. You will realize that not only you can face your feelings on your own without negative consequences, but also that the more you face them, the more they will fade. Fighting your feelings creates resistance and frustration. Accepting and embracing them makes them less scary than they seem
Practice some breathing exercises
To calm yourself down, you can take a few slow deep breaths. Here is how to do it:
- first, let your air out through your mouth
- then, fill your belly with air while breathing in through your nose
- finally, slowly empty your belly while breathing out through your mouth with your lips pursed
Remember that the purpose of this exercise is not to complete your breaths quickly, but to allow yourself to complete them fully. Give yourself the time you need.
This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s a great ally to reduce stress. But, remember, it’s not a miracle medicine. This is a training, like speaking Italian or running. So don’t forget to do a little bit every day to begin to see the first results.
Prepare yourself in advance
Fight panic with preparation. Fear can jump out of the blue making you forget what you wanted to say. Practice in advance to recall your words more easily. When you practice for a few times by yourself, it’s easier to remember what you want to say. Even when the going gets tough. By practicing your words and your sentences, you will slowly store them into your long-term memory. And when something is in your long-term memory, it’s easier and more immediate for you to recall it. So get ready for the battle.
Speak while feeling uncomfortable
It’s one of the best ways to overcome shyness and other uncomfortable feelings that show up with new and unfamiliar situations. You can’t expect to speak fearlessly on your first try. You will experience some uncomfortableness, for sure. But the more you speak while feeling uncomfortable, the more this feeling will fade. Again, avoiding and escaping an uncomfortable situation will only make it stronger and more overwhelming. Accepting and embracing it will make it smaller and more manageable.
Focus on the message, rather than on grammar
Too often people give more importance to grammar, accuracy, word choice… thinking that they need this in order to speak properly. But paying attention to all these things becomes quite difficult when stress and shyness show up. So, instead of getting crazy trying to find the perfect word and saying your sentences right, shift your focus to the other person. Why is it important for that person to hear what you’re about to say? Why do you want to talk to them? Why do they have to hear your message? Focus on the content and on the intention, rather than on perfection.
Celebrate your achievements
You deserve a celebration. You’ve been through a lot, and you did it on your own. Celebrate yourself. Dance, buy yourself a gelato, shout out of joy, go to the park, and run like a kid…. Whatever gives you the feeling that you’re celebrating your achievement. We’re often tempted to be unhappy because we didn’t reach the “final” result. But every tiny result is a small step towards the bigger one. Every little step matters, not just the big ones.
Join a supportive community
Sometimes, being surrounded by supportive people makes things a lot easier. You can find a few online friends, join a local Meetup group (even an online one, given this time and year), or join my Italian Warriors Club. Things might get hard from time to time, but friends will always be there to help you see the bright side of things and remind you of how far you’ve come.
Are you shy by nature? Do you feel shy when you speak Italian?
Feel free to share your experience, and let me know how it goes after trying these tips.