Language Learning: The Speaking Barrier

The Speaking Barrier

The fact is that speaking is naturally harder than everything else in the language learning journey. It is also one of the final stepping stones in the journey. When we try to utter sounds we aren’t familiar with, we either butcher them completely or we replace the sound with the closest thing we know by association. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s your brain putting the safety lock on your tongue so you don’t potentially socially embarrass yourself, leading to a greater threat. It’s a kind of death lock your brain activates the moment that unnatural vibe or rhythm rolls from the back of your throat. So why is it then that speaking is so darn hard?

Your Mouth Doesn’t Know

  • Firstly, it’s no coincidence that is like that, any other way would be …well…weird. The mouth is one of the only mechanisms we use to communicate our thoughts to the world. Even with all our brilliance, if we are unable to speak then both the world and our reality remains frozen. Learning to speak another language should be considered a separate category than just “Learning a Language”. The methods that need to be undertaken can seem like a full-fledged workout, think about it! You are reconstructing your facial muscles to move in ways they’ve never ever dreamed of. They are probably screaming bloody murder while you torture them to bits and pieces. There is a saying from a TED Talker by the name of Chris Lonsdale, he said: “If your face hurts you’re doing it right.”

Is it Worth Speaking?

  • Besides from the physical burden speaking places on an individual’s face, there is the aspect of social fortitude. Learning to speak a language is a social experiment, you are measuring the outcomes of opening your mouth and asking, “Is it worth it?” The thing is that your personal thoughts that you took the time and energy to express are always worth it…it’s just that 90% of the time the language learning journey denies that idea completely and treats you like you are nothing – but you know better…right?

How Confident Are You?

  • Then there is the aspect of confidence, as language learners, we must go into speaking with the same kind of motivation that made us want to learn the language in the first place. Speaking is the only part of the journey that requires interaction. You can sit in your room with music/podcast, watch TV shows and read books without ever even opening your mouth. Unless of course…you craft up and imaginary friend and speak to yourself- but you would still be speaking to another side of you and not another person, you’d lack the different and unique reactions you need to further your jerk reflexes. When asked a question in your first language, or carrying on a conversation, freezing for 5 seconds before you respond isn’t an appropriate response in most situations. If you lean on the introverted personality types this may be quite troublesome for you, but I inspire you now at this very moment to break outside of this shell.


Overall speaking holds most of us language learners in a stalemate during our journey. And it’s usually the thing that determines if we’re able to actively continue our language learning journey. It is indeed a powerful tool capable of overcoming cultural and language barriers. So we ought not to be surprised at its alarming difficulty. Keep pushing language learners and don’t be afraid to open your mouth, realize that your brain is your worst enemy in this scenario and go on gut instinct. Impulse over thought!

TEDxTalks. “| TEDxLingnanUniversity.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Nov. 2013,

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