Speaking English and the limbic brain

If you feel panic and even terror when you have to speak English in front of an important customer or in a meeting with colleagues, don’t worry, this is just how the brain functions.

Every time there is danger of humiliation or loss of dignity or the possibility of exclusion, our limbic brain reacts. We are constantly scanning the environment for threats to our psychological safety and losing our dignity is as dangerous for us as a sabre toothed tiger was for our prehistoric ancestors!!


So, what’s the solution? Firstly, there’s no point in adding to the problem by beating yourself up and telling yourself how stupid you are for feeling that way! So why not just observe and note with curiosity that your limbic brain is shouting out to try and protect you and say some things internally to reassure it!

One of the biggest feeders of paralyzing emotions is letting the limbic brain dictate its dialogue to us:

“You are going to look ridiculous”

“How can someone of your status make grammar mistakes and have to search for your words?”

“Your reputation is at stake!”

Here are the kind of things you can say back, to reassure your limbic brain:

“I hear you, I know you’re trying to protect me. Thank you for that!”

“Look around, these people aren’t enemies, they’re also probably scared when they have to speak a foreign language in public”

“My colleagues care about me and if I show my courage this might impress them more than perfectly formed grammatical sentences”

“My smile, my commitment and my personality are all there whatever the language I’m speaking”

“I can prepare for this with a list of words I know I’ll need. I can speak out loud in the shower and get used to hearing myself speaking in English”

“Don’t worry, I will create the best conditions for my safety. I’ll breathe, smile and trust that nothing terrible will happen”

It is essential to calm the limbic brain if you want to have access to your neo-cortex – higher thinking skills and be able to use the English that you know. When the limbic brain is over-reacting, we lose the ability to think straight!

Notice sensations like your beating heart and the butterflies in your stomach, with acceptance and curiosity. It’s not very different from the excitement you may feel before a date!! Then connect with the sensation of your breathing and feel your feet firmly in touch with the floor. This is your anchor and also helps to calm the limbic brain.

So, know that it’s normal to feel stressed and dialogue with your limbic brain to reassure it!!

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