Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"
lizard brain, iguana

Have you ever felt anxiety when you were talking to a native English speaker?

Do you ever freeze up and feel like you don’t know the right thing to say?

If you have felt unsure or anxious or didn’t know what to say in these conversations, you are not alone.

We’re going to look at how to work through that anxiety, tactics you can use to retrain your brain, and how you can make the most of this often stressful situation.

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We have a listener question about how to work through anxiety you may feel in conversations with natives.

Hi ladies,

I love your show, and I listen to it all the time! I learn so much, and you all are so helpful. I find myself in a common situation though where I feel unsure of what to do.

My main problem is that I freeze up in front of natives and forget what I wanted to say. The worst part is that after the fact, I realize that I knew most of what I wanted to say. I just get too nervous to say it when I’m talking to a native. I get too self conscious of every word! Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you for your help!


Your Mind Creates Your Fear

Do you get nervous when you speak with native speakers and feel unsure of what to do or say?

You need some strategies and tactics for keeping that uncertainty under control so you can make it through this.

Our mind creates negative thoughts and feelings that hold us back.

You might think in your mind that don’t know what to say, or that you aren’t capable of having this conversation.

Oftentimes the only thing holding you back is your fear or uncertainty.

We want to help you through this situation where you feel too nervous to speak to natives.

There are some wonderful strategies to ensure that you don’t give into this and assume that you don’t know what to say.

Though you may have struggled with this in the past, if you have the right tactics you can make it through any conversation.

Preparation Is So Important

When you feel that anxiety it may come to you in the moment.

You may have every good intention to have a nice conversation, and then you freeze up.

This is where you have to prepare yourself to work through that anxiety and get to a place where you can talk the way that you really want to.

One idea is to have note cards to write down strategies that will help you in the moment.

Use these note cards to help you to focus on the world around you when you need it.

If you are nervous around a native speaker, then take control over your brain and your words.

The idea of the “lizard brain” is that you may worry and think that the person you are speaking to is going to attack you.

This is the oldest part of the brain that is responsible for your defensive nature to fight off potential predators.

Our brains are still wired to think in a “fight or flight” way, and we have to retrain our brains to think differently.

You have to retrain your brain to say that this is just a person and that they are not going to cause you any harm.

Though you may be intimidated, you don’t want to get caught up in that.

When you can see this person as one that will not harm you, then you will be able to successfully enjoy conversations without the stress.

Tactics To Help You To Focus

There are a few things you can do to work through the anxiety you may experience in conversations.

If you are talking to a native or if you experience uncertainty or anxiety, these tactics can help.

It’s all about learning to retrain your brain and to focus, and these strategies will help you to do just that.

  1. Observe, write things down, and make a collection: Look around and write down the things around you. Take the time to observe what is around you and take note of it. If you are deep into a situation and panicking a bit, write down what is around you. This forces you to observe the situation for what it is. By just taking inventory of things around you, then you can calm yourself down. You are sending some compassion to your brain. You are telling yourself that you have other things to focus on, and then you are retraining yourself to calm down. It’s all about having things to focus on when you need it in the moment.
  2. Read the signs around you: Play games with yourself and create a word game. Create a game where you are looking for words around you and then think them through. You want to bring yourself back to the present so you can relax and move on. Just observe the world around you, and then create word games in your head based on what you see. This forces you to stay present in your world. Creating fun little games can help you to filter out the negative feelings and focus on the conversation you are trying to have.
  3. Deciding which sense you want to bring you back: You can always rely upon your senses to help you to get through that moment of temporary panic. You may choose sounds or sights, or even colors. Notice the richness of life and use your senses to help you to see what is going on around you. Focus on the person that is making you nervous and then observe them to calm you down. This is still a human and you can talk to this person, so use your senses and observations to help you calm down.
  4. Do a body scan: Focus on something in your body like your left toe for example. You have control over your attention, and when you focus on one part of your body it helps you to instantly calm down. Notice how something in your body feels or focus on something that you have within you. This takes the focus off of the negative and allows you to be mindful of yourself as an individual.

In the end you need things to focus on which will help to calm you down.

Even taking a moment to focus and work through your uncertainty can make a big difference.

You Need This To Make Important Connections

It’s about connection, and you have to allow it to happen.

If you are too much in your own head and worried, then you won’t ever get to make that important connection.

You need to work through the anxiety and become relaxed and confident.

This is the only way you can stay under control and do your best.

You have to learn how to put your mind at ease and show and feel confidence.

That’s how you will get ahead, and that’s how you will learn to successfully talk to natives.

Once you feel calm and confident, you can enjoy conversations with anyone including natives.

You have to realize that you have the control to make this work for you.

Once you learn to work through the stress and focus in a positive way, you can get to those important connections that you want to make.

Making A Choice In The Moment

It’s about where you choose to put your attention, and what that will do to your current state of mind.

If you are struggling in a moment, then you want to do your part to work through that.

It may be something official or structured like meditation.

It may even be about being more mindful and focused, so that you can develop coping strategies that work for you as an individual.

You might worry about how long this will all take, but it can be something you work through in a matter of minutes.

Taking even a momentary pause can help you, and it won’t take away from the conversation at all.

Know that using any of these strategies or your very own tactics can help you to focus and readjust as you need to.

You have the power to make this work, and the more that you practice this mindfulness the easier it will become for you.

Try it in a moment where you need that focus, and see how well it can work for you.


It can send a sense of panic if you feel like you freeze up in conversations.

This can be especially true if you are talking to natives, but it doesn’t have to be a source of worry.

You have to retrain your brain to work through the anxiety that you may feel.

Use these tactics to help you to focus and to ensure that you can work through even the most stressful situation.

You can retrain your brain and have successful and enjoyable conversations with natives.

This is an important part of connecting, and knowing how to focus and work through the anxiety will help you to get there!

You can also use today’s tips to prepare for your IELTS Exam, especially the Speaking test.

Go here to learn more about IELTS.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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