"I knew how to speak German, but I just couldn't get it out"

The fear of speaking German (or any foreign language) is more common, than you would expect. This is Matthew's story, a 32-year-old physical therapist from the UK:


"I moved to Germany because of my girlfriend, and as my German was always pretty good, I never expected to have difficulties with the language. But the moment I was living in Germany, it all went wrong. I just couldn't speak! As soon as someone started to talk to me, I completely lost all my words. It was very embarrassing for me. In addition, my German girlfriend and her family were putting a lot of pressure on me to improve my German, as I nearly never spoke to them. It was also hard to make new friends and I was feeling quite lonely. So one day I found Natalie's website and immediately booked an appointment. We quickly found out that my German phobia was related to my upbringing. I come from a family with quite a lot of mental issues, my parents were both alcoholics and I was the eldest of 4 children. I always felt very responsible for my younger siblings and tried to fill in for my absent parents. Therefore, at a very young age, I couldn't allow myself any mistakes, as my siblings relied heavily on me. I had to grow up quickly, and it made me indifferent towards my own feelings. Looking back, I just couldn't afford to feel anything.


The connection to my fear of speaking German is as follows: As soon as I came to Germany, I felt the expectation to function, to make friends, to make my girlfriend happy and to settle down in Germany. It took me some time to understand that these expectations in combination with speaking a foreign language triggered old, suppressed fears from the past: Will I make it? Am I good enough? Can I make others happy? Will I be accepted by others? Do I have all the words to get what I want and what I need? These were actually the questions I constantly had when I was a child, and I felt them again in Germany, together with this huge pressure to make no mistakes. Something inside of me shut down and created the language fear, I suppose to protect me from taking on too much responsibility again. My anxiety to speak German went away after a few sessions with Natalie. I got rid of my fear of making mistakes and of the fear of not being good enough and of not beeing accepted by others due to my lack of language. Meanwhile, I have no problems expressing myself in German and I even enjoy speaking it."


Do you suffer from foreign language anxiety? I'm Natalie Marby, an English speaking therapist in Hamburg, Germany. I specialise in the treatment of foreign language phobia (mostly German and English). Read more about my work: Therapy for foreign language anxiety (also via phone).


Continue reading: Terrified of speaking German? 5 tips to beat the fear.

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