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I'm from China, currently doing my internship in an art gallery founded by a French art dealer. Our gallery exhibit artworks from a variety of countries and have broad social relations abroad. As an intern, I'm engaged with welcoming visitors and introducing artworks on show to them. Almost 1/3 of them are English speakers, which I seldom expected before. (The rest are mainly Chinese.) This troubled me a lot, mainly not because my spoken English is too bad but I'm far from self-confident, especially when visitors are "big" people.

Here with the case:
1. One day an art collector came by and I showed her around nervously. She asked me casually (in English) how certain paintings were rendered, which I had answered 50 times skillfully, I replied with uncontrollable stutter at that time, however.
2. Once an art journalist came for a visit. He spoke so fast that I could not catch what he meant exactly. I asked him to slow down a little but after a while he sped back up, which embarrassed me.

Similar things recurred several times. I knew my coworkers next door, who are all Chinese and advanced English users, especially my demanding director, all heard the way I talked, which made me frustrated and feel like a fool. This is my first formal internship and it's an opportunity for my future career. The more I try to do a great job, the more worried I become about my performance. My director occasionally praised me for translating gallery paperwork from and into English (which is what I take care of, too) and doing some other chores, and I value her positive impressions on me. Even I cannot do the greeting thing as well, I don't want to be thought poorly of, due to my spoken English. There's another intern who majors in English literature and had been an exchange student in the U.K, able to chat in English naturally. I'm not jealous or mean to compete, but feel the pressure from time to time.

In fact, I'm not always as anxious. Despite being an introvert, normally I can socialize with people and do public speaking. I also have a few English-speaking friends, with whom I'm not-that-easily inclined to chat in anxiety. They know I'm still a learner between intermediate and advanced, thus they'll never mind my speaking speed, which may turn slow when idiomatic expressions suddenly escape me at certain topics. When I have trouble understanding their speech, I ask for clarification without hesitation. (But we don't meet up frequently, so there are not enough opportunities for me to speak English after work. Maybe it partially explains my anxiety.)

It's so hard to be myself at work. I persuaded myself several times that my director and those visitors are just people and they will never bite me, but I can't help feeling anxious.

How can I overcome my nervousness when I need to welcome English-speaking clients?

closed as off-topic by Ælis, avazula, sphennings, ElizB, Rainbacon Nov 19 '18 at 20:07

  • This question does not appear to be about interpersonal skills, within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because nervousness when talking English is an intrapersonal problem, not an interpersonal one. – Tinkeringbell Nov 14 '17 at 9:56
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    @Tinkeringbell this is an intrapersonal problem that interferes with interpersonal relationship. This is on-topic. – Vylix Nov 19 '17 at 18:02
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    @Vylix The question is focused entirely on the intrapersonal problem, not on 1 specific interaction/relationship. So, it's more about the intrapersonal problem than the interpersonal relationship, and that makes it off-topic or at least way too broad as it is now. Please reconsider carefully before reopening something if there aren't any other problems that should be fixed before reopening. – Tinkeringbell Nov 19 '17 at 18:10
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    You say that 1/3 of the visitors are English speakers. Do you have any problems with the other 2/3? Are they Chinese, or do they speak another language in which you are fluent? ALSO -- 4th paragraph "....being an introvert...." Do you mean introvert or extrovert? – user1760 Nov 20 '17 at 0:44
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is an intrapersonal question which are off-topic here. – Ælis Nov 19 '18 at 15:13
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Overcoming nervousness in one social situation is much the same as any other. You must have confidence in yourself and your abilities. That does not require you to be 100% proficient at what you are doing, but believe that you at least meet the 'minimum' requirement for the job you are doing. Your employers must believe you are capable of completing the task to a reasonable degree or they would not give such important clients to you! This alone should give you confidence.

As a native English speaker I can assure you that we are very used to other nationalities speaking English to us (most of us are too lazy to learn another language!) and your English clients can probably understand your spoken English far better than you imagine. Don't attempt idioms if you don't understand them. While they may add some colour to literature, 'plain English' is often far better when explaining something. In fact here in England we have 'plain English' campaigns which aim to take idiomatic expressions out of important documents (such as legal forms) to make sure that everybody can understand them.

I would not be offended if I was asked to speak more slowly. But if someone does take offence, try to have confidence that it is not your fault if you have been as polite as you can be. Some people in every nationality and culture are just rude or intolerant, but you cannot do anything about that. You can only handle yourself the best way that you can.

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    Really good answer @Astralbee, and I upvote! This question is the subject of an ongoing discussion on meta: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2136/… - in my answer there I suggested that "When an intrapersonal problem complicates interpersonal interactions (...) the best solutions might well not be 'interpersonal' solutions." Someone might consider this answer such a case. So could you try to address a few more interpersonal elements, in order to make your answer even more topical for IPS.SE? – English Student Nov 20 '17 at 15:31
  • @EnglishStudent Thank you. I thought my answer did tackle the interpersonal element, namely the communication between the OP and the clients they meet. I do feel that the language difference is not actually the cause of a problem, but rather causing confusion or uncertainty leading to a perceived problem, but even if it is the OP's perception I don't see that makes it intrapersonal because communication is involved. What I have tried to do is reassure the OP and hopefully this will make communication easier. I guess if the question is deleted then my answer will go with it. – Astralbee Nov 20 '17 at 15:55
  • I'm a native English speaker and IELTS 9. I have done the same job in German, as you do in English and it is really hard to do. I echo @Astralbee in saying "don't attempt idioms" and add unless you fully understand them Its really easy to get them slightly wrong and leave someone confused or even offended if you choose a wrong word. – bigbadmouse Nov 21 '17 at 8:48

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