In today’s article I’d like to talk about a very common issue: foreign language anxiety.
What is it? Foreign language anxiety is the feeling of unease, nervousness, and apprehension that we may encounter when using or learning a second language, generally because of both fear and lack of confidence.
If you too are experiencing this type of anxiety, here’s the first good news: you’re not alone. Foreign language anxiety is more common than you think.
The second good news is that you can actually do something to reduce the feeling of anxiety that overwhelms you each time a foreign language is involved. Keep on reading!
UNDERSTAND IT TO FIGHT IT
As every other problem we might have in our lives, the first thing to do to try to reduce anxiety is to understand what causes it.
Which activity triggers it?
Do we feel it when we speak a foreign language, when we write in a foreign language, when we’re listening to a native speaker or when we’re learning a foreign language?
Then we should ask ourselves another question. Why does this activity makes us anxious?
In general the causes of foreign language anxiety can be divided into three main areas: communication apprehension, fear of negative and social evaluation and text anxiety.
Communication apprehension generally arises because we feel that our foreign language knowledge is inadequate to express our thoughts.
Fear of negative and social evaluation, instead, arises when we want to make a good impression on others – being them fellow students, teachers, or people we’ve just met – but we feel that we’re actually making a very bad impression on them or worst, we feel that we’re making a fool of ourselves.
Finally, text anxiety arises when we’re worried about academic evaluation, about failing.
So, which one of these three areas is causing us anxiety?
We should just stop one moment, take a little breath and think rationally to try see things from another perspective.
The same process of learning a new language involves the acquisition of new vocabulary and structures. It involves learning a language step by step. So, it’s normal we do not speak like native speakers from the first lesson!
If we already knew everything what would be the point of learning something?
We should think also about this situation. If we met a tourist who doesn’t speak English well but with the help of a small dictionary he’s trying hard to ask us for some directions in English, would we make fun of him or would we simply try to help him, mentally praising his efforts for trying to make himself understood?
So, why should other people make fun of us when we struggle to speak another language?
SET SMALL ATTAINABLE GOALS
Now that we’ve understood what causes us anxiety and we’ve managed to see things from another perspective, the last thing left to do is to sit in front of a hot cappuccino with pen and paper and set small attainable goals that will help us reduce our anxiety day by day.
Let’s think about something we’ve always wanted to do but we’ve always be too anxious to try.
Let’s say we feel nervous about speaking a foreign language with other people. Good. We take our pen and we write on that paper that by the end of the week we should pronounce at least one sentence in a foreign language with someone. Even a sentence like Fa parecchio freddo oggi, eh! – It’s pretty cold today, eh! – works fine.
We keep doing this exercise and with time we’ll gain in confidence.
What about you? Do you suffer of foreign language anxiety too? What have you done to try to reduce it?
Are you particularly shy? Have a look at How to overcome shyness in language class.
Original image by skeeze