For me this task is making phone calls. Typing the words sends shivers down my spine. I hate making phone calls in a language I’m not yet comfortable with. I would rather walk 10 km in the rain to an office and speak to someone in person than call them from the comfort of my own home. Some might call it an irrational fear, oh but it is rational. When talking on the phone it’s just your voice and your language skills laid bare. There are no papers or pictures to help you make a point, no facial or hand gestures to fall back on*.
There is also little preparation you can do to ensure an effective phone call – it’s the luck of the draw. Sure, you can prepare what you’re going to say, but you can’t prepare for the answer you’ll get in return, or how fast that person will speak, or new and mysterious words they’ll choose to use. You can ask the speaker to repeat what they said, of course, but this only adds to my stress. And then there are the pauses. Oh the dreaded pauses of failed comprehension, on your part or theirs. I once had someone hang up on me, not in a rude way but in a, “that’s all I can help you with, ok bye bye” way as my question hung in the air after she’d left the conversation. Oh the SHAME!
So how to cope with this fear? Do it anyway. Not all phone conversations in a second language will be awful. The ones that work out can give a huge boost to your confidence, and anyway, each attempt is practice. These days I try not to put off making calls for too long. The longer I wait, the more stressful the phone call seems. I prepare a few key words, practise my intro and then leave the rest up to fate.
*This is only partially true. I do use facial expressions and hand gestures, but they’re of little use when I’m standing in a room alone. Plus, flapping my hands and pulling faces are of little use in general.