Everyone who has learned a new language has experienced it: you are trying to find the right word for what you are trying to say, but your mind goes blank. While this can be embarrassing, rest assured that it is a universal experience, and an unavoidable part of learning a new language. Here, we will give you some tips for how to handle it when you forget a word during a conversation in your new language:


The first step to avoid this situation is prevention. When you are learning new words, be sure to also learn their synonyms. Additionally, learn how to describe this word in your new language. This will help you to make associations with other words in the language so you can better express yourself. You can practice this by playing word association games by yourself or with friends. This way, when you do forget a word, you have a plethora of options to say what you are trying to say in a different way.

Take a guess

While you may not remember the exact word, just take a stab at it and see if you can guess what it would be. The English language is heavily influenced by many languages, so there is a good chance that if you simply try and guess what the word could be, you could be right, or close enough.

Make it up

Sometimes, even if you don’t know a word, you can just make it up and still get your message across. For example, if you are trying to use the word “glove,” you could take two probable words, such as “hand” and “shoe,” to describe what you mean. If you were speaking German, you would actually be right! Handschuh is the German word for glove, a portmanteau of hand and shoe. Even if your word is not the real word, it will be easier for who you are speaking to to understand what you mean. You can also use words such as “something” or “thing” to fill in context.

Use body language

Body language is universal, so it can be a powerful way to communicate what you mean when words fail you. Use your body to communicate your message by pantomiming, making sound effects, or gesticulating; it may seem silly, but this is a great way to get your message across!

Say it in English

This should be your absolute last resort. It is not ideal to say it in English because it defeats the purpose of practicing conversation in your new language, but it is better than saying nothing. When you do need to fall back on this, only say the word you have forgotten in English; the rest of your sentence should be in your new language. If you are speaking to a native speaker, use it as a learning opportunity, and ask them how to say the word. They may not know, but it may help them to understand you.

At Crossing Borders, we want to show you the beauty of learning a foreign language. Come in for French, German, Mandarin, or Spanish classes today!