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Bao

Social anxiety and learning Chinese

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Bao

Do you feel your accent/fluency of speech has reached native-level or near native-level, but your conversation ability is still embarrassingly low? How would one overcome this?

I've lived with social anxiety since middle school and have a feeling this has played a big role in what kinds of issues I've faced in language learning. I've never had problems with pronunciation, reading or writing, and my listening comprehension has improved quite a bit. My problem is that I can very rarely have long conversations with people other than my husband (which are usually very simple and 家常 convos). I often just can't 反应过来 when people speak and I usually don't add anything to the conversation besides answering questions (and occasionally asking simple questions, but when they answer I usually can't form a comment about it).

The obvious thing to do would be to just keep practicing having conversations, but this is very nerve-wracking for me and I've come to the conclusion that my oral Chinese has no chance of improving unless I do something serious about my anxiety.

Does anyone else here struggle with this? Has it affected your language learning? I'm interested in hearing about other people's experiences :lol:

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LiMo

I'm sorry to hear about your troubles. I can empathise to a certain degree because I've had some struggles with social anxiety myself. In fact, it peaked right around the time I first started trying to go to language meet ups. I'll never forget standing outside the pub struggling to go in for about 5 minutes before turning around and going home, there to mentally beat myself up for being such a pathetic baby! 

 

Thankfully things are somewhat better now although I still tend not to go to these meet ups very often for various reasons. I tell myself it's a lack of time but if I'm honest I do just find them very stressful and my conversational fluency is so low that I can't really have free flowing conversations of any depth. 

 

I feel that we may well be in similar situations. One of the things I've managed to do is find a few Chinese language partners at university and I'm gradually building up to seeing them once a week in person or on skype for practice sessions. I do find it difficult but mainly because we aren't close and don't share interests or playful banter and I'm not comfortable discussing personal issues such as they are. So everything I have to say feels either incredibly boring and basic (it's cloudy today, I went shopping) or has to be prepared before hand. I'm currently in a bit of a slump and so proper lesson prep feels way too draining at this point in time. Yet, despite my troubles it may well be useful for you, and if English is your native tongue then you usually have the upper hand in the language exchange market place because there are just so many Chinese people trying to learn English. If it doesn't work out with one you need never fear a shortage of potential partners, at least if you're in an urban area or near a university. Failing that you can find people online. I was using lang8 (a website for textual language exchange), and I casually put my wechat on my profile and was soon inundated with friend requests. You could try that.

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abcdefg
1 hour ago, Bao said:

The obvious thing to do would be to just keep practicing having conversations, but this is very nerve-wracking for me and I've come to the conclusion that my oral Chinese has no chance of improving unless I do something serious about my anxiety.

 

For the time being, I would suggest having lots of conversations in a protected and safe environment instead of searching outside "in the wild." A steady teacher, whom you learn to trust over time, would be much less stressful than conversing with strangers.

 

Eventually, you could branch out in small doses so as to not be overwhelmed. You could also "replay" some of those conversations with your trusted teacher, so as to explore how they might have been fuller and richer.

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Flickserve

How much time is a long conversation?

 

 

It is helpful to have some tactics. Rather than think of just topics to speak about, you can also get people to talk themselves so that you facilitate interaction.

 

it helps to have some general knowledge or sharing some task based activity.

 

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Lu
4 hours ago, Bao said:

I often just can't 反应过来 when people speak and I usually don't add anything to the conversation besides answering questions (and occasionally asking simple questions, but when they answer I usually can't form a comment about it).

If I understand you correctly, the reason for this is not that you don't understand them, but that you're just not able to come up with something to say, right? In that case, the solution is the same as for social anxiety in your own language. Some conversation techniques: asking someone about their last/upcoming weekend; complimenting something about them; asking follow-up questions (if someone tells you about their hobby: how often do you ride a horse, where did you learn to carve ostrich eggs, what was your latest project/match...); relating to something of yourself (I've also travelled to Place last year, we saw the waterfalls; if you liked series X, you should try series Y as well, it's about...). And in the end, tell them that you enjoyed talking to them (if applicable).

 

Also consider Takeshi's advice (also here): it's better to talk with someone who doesn't like you than to not talk to anyone at all. You're not there to make friends, you're there to speak Chinese. Of course, you should try not to intentionally insult anyone, but if you walk out of a gathering having spoken Chinese for an hour but without having met anyone you'd care to see again, it has still been a success. There is no need to get them to like you, or for you to like them. If their impression of you, after the weekly Chinese Corner, is 'My god that guy/girl is awkward and boring'... you have lost nothing. (If you do make friends, that's nice of course, but that doesn't have to be your goal.) You need a fairly thick skin to do this, but at the same time, this mindset makes the task more simple. Not 'have a pleasant conversation', just 'have a conversation', not 'meet a cool Chinese friend', but 'talk to someone, anyone at all'.

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roddy

Find a sympathetic tutor, explain the problem, and start building up confidence. If possible start building up to longer conversations in a way that puts you in control (You initiate a conversation, you have a rough idea of what you'll say, you end it).

 

But also - how much of this is Chinese, and how much is you? If your only Chinese conversation options are strangers, and you're nervous talking to strangers in any language... then this isn't really a Chinese problem. If you want to tackle it, great, but you need to do it at a 'higher' level than just getting better at Chinese. Similarly, someone who doesn't like reading books in their native language is probably never going to read the Chinese classics. 

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Bao
On 8/16/2017 at 11:36 PM, LiMo said:

I'm sorry to hear about your troubles. I can empathise to a certain degree because I've had some struggles with social anxiety myself. In fact, it peaked right around the time I first started trying to go to language meet ups. I'll never forget standing outside the pub struggling to go in for about 5 minutes before turning around and going home, there to mentally beat myself up for being such a pathetic baby!

 

Oh man. I know EXACTLY what you mean. I've done pretty much the same thing except it was even more embarrassing, because instead of just a meetup at a pub, it was a volunteer job at an old folks home in a Chinese neighborhood (was actually excited about it) that was TWO HOURS AWAY BY SUBWAY, early Sunday morning- at the last minute just like you I chickened out and told them something came up. So yeah. Stood up a bunch of cute old people. After waking up at 7am and a two-hour commute. On a Sunday.

I'm glad you've managed to pull through though. I've also had a few language exchange buddies and can relate to the feeling of not being close enough to have meaningful conversations and feeling like you need to prepare things to say. I guess just like everything else in life (especially for us introverts), the only thing we can do is to just keep trying until we get comfortable at it or find just the right person to click with.

 

On 8/17/2017 at 12:10 AM, abcdefg said:

You could also "replay" some of those conversations with your trusted teacher, so as to explore how they might have been fuller and richer.

This is actually a great idea I never considered... It's easy to get overwhelmed with trying all different topics but actually going over the same stuff repeatedly not only serves as extra practice, it also exposes you to all different ways a native speaker could respond in a given situation and therefore make you better prepared in the future.

 

Thanks everyone for the responses! Some great advice here I'll start following. Plus I recently started seeing a therapist for my anxiety (turns out due to repressed childhood trauma I'm terrified of confrontation of any kind:roll:)

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Maria Wolters

I'm the same. What I would suggest is to find someone who shares a common interest. You will know what to talk about, and you will know how to talk about it from discussions that you've had about it on the internet with others. I haven't managed to find someone yet, but am coming closer and closer through random contacts via italki.

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sywi

I totally understand that. Since learning English from 4, I'm fluent now but sometimes i still feel nervous and a bit lost when groups of Native English speakers speaking. So it's really solely because you have anxiety is just sometimes second language communication is really draining. 
Try to focus on small group or one on one conversation and then you'll notice that you're actually pretty fluent and you're not that bad as you think you are.

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Flickserve
1 hour ago, sywi said:

groups of Native English speakers speaking

 

Group conversations are a different level. You get slang, and people refer to past experiences and missing out information.

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sywi
3 minutes ago, Flickserve said:

Group conversations are a different level. You get slang, and people refer to past experiences and missing out information.

 Of course, I do understand that and I know how important it is to partcipate in a group convo. But you can see how anxious and self-doubting Bao is.  I'm encouraging Bao that the ability to join group convo effortlessly do takes time.

 

On 8/16/2017 at 10:43 PM, Bao said:

The obvious thing to do would be to just keep practicing having conversations, but this is very nerve-wracking for me and I've come to the conclusion that my oral Chinese has no chance of improving unless I do something serious about my anxiety.

 

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AdamD

I'm giving away far too much here, but a couple of years ago I discovered I had a quite serious anxiety disorder, having leaped from panic attack to panic attack for decades. I had it treated over the best part of a year, and now I'm able to deal with all sorts of issues like a pro.

 

One of the big improvements for me is speaking Chinese. I used to be such a mess that even going to language exchanges would send me into a loop. Now I have the confidence and stability to go into any language exchange and speak terrible Chinese.

 

Looking back, it's incredible how badly anxiety affected my progress.

 

On 17/08/2017 at 1:36 PM, LiMo said:

I'll never forget standing outside the pub struggling to go in for about 5 minutes before turning around and going home, there to mentally beat myself up for being such a pathetic baby!

 

In the past I reckon I've done this at least 20 times. Never again.

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Flickserve

It happens to everybody to a certain degree. I got better when working and forced to speak to strangers and that was using English!

 

Then I worked in HK and had no choice but to start using Cantonese otherwise no work would get done. 

 

I also used to have to do to presentations and then volunteered for more. Stressful but it gets you used to speaking up. 

 

Almost all people have anxiety. It's common. Though try not to let it control you. 

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Wippen (inactive)

How about trying to repeat what they just said as if you were a foreigner wanting to make sure you got their point a la:  你是说。。。

 

That way you are forced to concentrate on what they say (and not your anxiety) and it appears you have contributed more than you have plus it is a chance to learn new phrases (if the speaker employs them).

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abcdefg
2 hours ago, Tøsen said:

How about trying to repeat what they just said as if you were a foreigner wanting to make sure you got their point...

 

That's a good idea whether you are anxious or not. Notice how taxi drivers nearly always do that. Helps prevent misunderstandings. In other settings, it also helps draw the other person out.

 

I usually sit in the front so we can chat. Once they realize I can handle their language, the cabbies often unload on me about their problems with foreign tourists. Some of the stories are bizarre. "That English woman last month got all huffy and said she would report me when I refused to drive her to the Great Wall." (This was in Kunming.) 

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DavyJonesLocker
On 03/02/2018 at 2:54 PM, abcdefg said:

"That English woman last month got all huffy and said she would report me when I refused to drive her to the Great Wall." (This was in Kunming.) 

 

 

Sounds like he missed out on a good cab fair.! I did get a taxi from qinhuangdao to Beijing once (∼300km) as all train tickets sold out. The shifu looked at me like I was crazy so we agreed the price first and I gave him half the cash in advance. He was happy  as I knew he was charging to much and I couldn't be bothered haggling. 

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