“Tongue tied” is an idiom that people use to refer to having a hard time speaking. They may also say that “I felt like my tongue was tied in knots”, about a situation when they couldn’t think of what to say. This article describes research about language learning in 2 different groups of immigrants who came to Edmonton a dozen (12) years ago.
2 interesting quotes in the article:
The Slavs in the study were more assertive about making small talk with English speakers, Derwing said. “They’d find it scary to strike up a conversation with a stranger, but they’d force themselves to do it because they knew they had to.”
Mandarin speakers, by contrast, “would wait for someone else to initiate the conversation. They tended to be more reticent. But that’s hard. If you’re a newcomer you have to push yourself on others.”
The Mandarin participants in particular said it was hard to find native speakers to practise with. One Chinese couple told Derwing they’d gone to a church in the hopes of finding people to make conversation with them in English. “The wife said to me, ‘I wish I knew how to find native speakers to talk to.’ You’d assume they’re all around you, but how do you break in?”
There are many possible reasons why one group of immigrants would have an easier or a harder time learning a new language. It definitely makes a difference when immigrants have to spend a lot of their time with English-speakers. Some students have told me that they deliberately ask questions that they know the answers to, just to practice speaking with many different people. This is a great strategy. Many people find that people are generally helpful, when they ask for some help.