Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety: What It Is and How to Overcome It
Have you ever felt that you just aren’t built to learn a second language? Does your mind go blank when asked to contribute in class? Does the idea of having to speak in Spanish make you feel tense and nervous? If so, you are not alone! Many students learning Spanish face these obstacles, often described as Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety (Horwitz et al. 1986).
The experience of learning a language can be unsettling. As an expert in your native tongue you are used to being able to communicate automatically and without too much consideration. When you start a new language, you are suddenly in a situation where you are not able to communicate in this way. Those around you may be fluent in the language and this creates a dynamic that can be extremely anxiety provoking.
Not only is this type of anxiety fairly unpleasant, it can also impede your progress and deter you from reaching your goal of learning a new language. You may have trouble concentrating in class, you may be less likely to attempt speaking or stick to simpler sentences that you feel more comfortable with. Spoken assessments or role plays are often really difficult when you are experiencing this.
Fear of making mistakes is a fundamental component of Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. Making an error can bring about feelings of worry and shame and lead to a student avoiding speaking rather than experience this again. Rather than seeing mistakes as part of the learning process, they are seen as something negative to be avoided.
The good news is there are lots of steps you can take overcome to this specific form of anxiety. Here are my top tips for you to begin to tackle your worries and fast track your Spanish learning:
1. Recognise the Anxiety
Initially, it is important to identify the patterns of thinking and concerns that are leading to discomfort when learning Spanish. If you know you are experiencing anxiety, you can become more aware of how it is affecting you. This awareness will allow you to put in place strategies to improve things.
2. Identify What Foreign Language Activities Cause the Anxiety
What are the specific activities that you feel the urge to avoid? Which parts of learning Spanish make you really uncomfortable? Different activities will cause worries for different people. For some, trying to listen to a passage in spoken Spanish can be overwhelming. Others may struggle to have the confidence to speak. Writing and spelling can also be something that causes apprehension.
3. Find A Supportive Teacher or Tutor
There are a lot of strategies that can be used to reduce stress levels in a classroom or tuition environment. Songs, games and providing model responses instead of jumping in and directly correcting mistakes can all help. (Huang, 2012). If you feel nervous about learning a new language, you want a teacher who is aware of this phenomenon and who can help to put you at your ease. One to one tuition may also be helpful if you find a classroom environment stressful. A good teacher or tutor can also help you to find further support if needed.
4. Face the Fear
Although the obvious thing to do if something makes you uncomfortable is to avoid it, this could undermine your chance of reaching your language goal. It could also inadvertently confirm your belief that avoiding speaking or using Spanish, especially in front of other people, is the only way to reduce your anxiety.
Instead gently challenge yourself to do an activity that you generally avoid. Perhaps you avoid speaking to native speakers or you prefer not to speak in class? Try to focus on doing one of these things. You may be surprised that your fear of looking stupid or making a mistake does not materialise. Alternatively, you may make a mistake and find that, instead of it being a negative experience, it allows you to learn and improve your Spanish. The more you prove to yourself that facing the fear can be positive, the easier you will find your journey to learning the language.
5. Make Mistakes
It is a well kept secret that fluency in a language does not require perfect speech without mistakes. If there was one skill that I could give each of my students, it would be the ability to embrace mistakes and approach speaking Spanish with a spirit of curiosity and openness.
A complete command over verb conjugation tables or the ability to digest huge lists of vocabulary, whilst certainly useful, can only take you so far. In order to improve your Spanish you have to use the language.
Instead of avoiding mistakes why not celebrate them. Have an aim to make at least three mistakes in each class. Perhaps you can even write them down. By doing this you will take more risks in class in order to achieve the mistakes. This will turbo-boost your language learning because every mistake that you make will also be a really effective mini-lesson tailored to you.
6. Remember Why You Are Learning Spanish
It is not always easy to combat your worries and fears about communicating in another language. Having a clear idea why you are learning Spanish can really help. You may be learning Spanish for travel or to communicate with family and friends. It may be to boost your exam results in order to achieve a broader academic or career goal. Whatever is driving you to learn Spanish, make sure you remind yourself every so often.
7. Look After Yourself
Keep a balance between your learning and other aspects of your life. If learning Spanish is generating feelings of apprehension and nervousness, then make sure you balance that out with other activities that help you relax. That might be exercise or spending time with friends and family. This way you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle the challenges of the next lesson.
I hope you have found this helpful. I have certainly experienced feelings of worry and anxiety during my journey to learn Spanish. For me that has made the journey learning the language even more rich and exciting. Early on I felt very self-conscious and nervous when attempting to speak in Spanish. Over time, I was able to face that fear and experience what is like to look a little silly when making a mistake. What I found was that everyone around me was extremely forgiving of mistakes and the feeling of achievement I got when I reached some of my language goals made it all worth it! I hope this is what you will find too!
To learn more about my own journey to learning Spanish click here.
For three simple phrases you can learn to boost your Spanish now click here.
Hi, I am Karen. I am a languages tutor and blogger. I offer online tuition for students across the UK. I live in Tonbridge, in Kent, with my husband and my son. For me learning Spanish has meant fun, adventure, friendship and fulfilling work. I love sharing all that I have learnt with my students and via my blog. If you would like to receive 10% off your first online lesson, as well as regular updates and tips for learning Spanish, subscribe here.