Overcoming Foreign Language Anxiety

OVERCOMING FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANXIETY By Saranda Nuredini Instructor: Luiza Zeqiri Course: ESP Communication I January 2012 “Sweaty palms, shaking hands, dry mouth and muscle tension mean for many of us, that we are about to speak in public. Couple this fear of speaking in public with performing or speaking in another language and the success of the speaker may be dramatically compromised” (Leigh, 2009). By having to speak in a foreign language, the amount of fear in us grows and transforms into the feeling of anxiety, which is scientifically named as a Foreign Language Anxiety (FLA).
The fear of dealing in a foreign language environment is most felt when a student must perform orally in some way but it can also occur when listening, reading or writing (Brantmeier, 2005). FLA has been the subject of many scholarly surveys and papers as overcoming it can lead to better and faster language acquisition as well as a much more pleasurable learning experience (Guess, 2007). Between one third and one half of second language learners suffer from FLA (Von Worde, 2003; Randall 2007) and it is important to be aware that many of these students have not come up with a way to deal with their anxiety (Hauck & Hurd, 1991).
This research paper aims to outline the causes and effects of FLA as well as the ways that help overcoming it. Despite the fact that Foreign Language Anxiety has been proven to be the main concern to the modern teaching environment, a progress has been noticed at the development of the overcoming strategies. The overcoming foreign language anxiety process includes strategies that can be implemented by the teacher, a tutor and the students. The causes of this kind of anxiety vary from the student itself.

According to the article “Factors Associated with Foreign Language Anxiety”, there are variables like age, previous academic success or previous high school experience with foreign languages which may contribute to the fear of learning a foreign language (Leigh, 2009). Nevertheless, the most common causes according to Ph. D. Renee Von Worde (2003) are the non-comprehension of the target language, speaking activities during language class and the public error correction by the teacher. Moreover, it is interesting to note that FLA occurs more commonly in mandatory language classes.
This is because students who are not language inclined are ‘‘forced’’ to take them (Guess, 1997). Feeling insecure about the knowledge at a certain foreign language can have drastic side effects for the foreign language student. The extreme stress, the beating heart or clammy hands are the most common ones. There may also appear problems with attainment, preservation and production in the foreign language (Von Worde, 2003). According to Professor Von Worde (2003), “If anxiety impairs cognitive function, students who are anxious may learn less and also may not be able to demonstrate what they have learned.
Therefore, they may experience even more failure, which in turn escalates their anxiety”. In extreme cases, the student may even not show up to classes just to avoid speaking (Von Worde, 2003). If we could find and isolate what it is that makes us nervous, we could increase our learning abilities and have a more enjoyable learning experience (Leigh, 2009). Ideally, teachers can provide a learning environment that may reduce the fear associated with learning another language for their students (Guess, 1997; Von Worde, 2003).
However, not only the teacher can help to the overcoming foreign language anxiety process. The question remains how someone can overcome their fears in language learning to develop language skills to their full potential (Leigh, 2009). There are implementable ways that beside the teachers, the tutor and the students themselves can use to reduce the anxiety and insecurity they feel. The methods and the behavior of a language teacher during language classes play a significant role at the development of a student speaking confidence.
There are several things that a teacher may do to decrease anxiety felt in the classroom according to Von Worde (2003): * Pick topics to teach that are relevant to the students. * Try and make the learning ‘‘fun’’. * Try to create a sense of community where the students feel more comfortable in front of each other. One suggestion made was to have the students sit in a circle. * Avoid calling on people or putting them on the spot. Besides the above mentioned suggestions, a teacher can take the initiative to create a “mistake happy zone”.
Teachers can avoid correcting students during certain sections of the day (e. g. for 30 minutes we will talk amongst ourselves). In this way, students do not need to fear working on perfect grammar, but rather they can just talk without feeling judged. This allows students to get a feel for fluency and letting go (Leigh, 2009). A tutor can also be very helpful to its students when it comes to overcoming those language obstacles. By judging of the state of its student, a tutor has the freedom to choose which of the above mentioned suggestions will be used during the overcoming process.
Although there may not be a classroom of students to whom the tutor is teaching, the one-on-one environment allows a greater sense of intimacy and a safer atmosphere (Leigh, 2009). Alongside to the teachers and tutors effort, the most significant role still remains the one from the student itself. According to Amanda Leigh, a student should take the following recommendations in action to “boost their self-confidence in speaking, reading and writing a language”: * Be aware of Foreign Language Anxiety- Knowing that you are not alone in feeling self-conscious or afraid of speaking in a foreign language is half the battle (Von Worde, 2003).
Fear of speaking in front of people is normal and so is performing in another language, even if it is just with your friends. * Set 4 or 5 SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) language goals for yourself in your academic term- Attach numbers to your learning so that you can see your improvement. Make measurable goals and make sure that they are realistic. Do some research to see what level you should be at by end of your term in a different country. Do not expect to be bilingual on your return to your home country. Be prepared- If you are prepared for your class or presentation then you will feel more confident in front of people. Feeling more prepared makes you feel relaxed which allows for better communication and language skills (Guess, 2007). Prepare by going over your work or presentation at least twice reading, then at least twice out loud. Get someone to help proofread. * Maintain a positive attitude- Even though it may seem hard, try and have a positive attitude. Happy people will learn faster and have a more pleasurable learning experience (Bayer, 2004).
Smile. Make native speakers aware that you are happy to be corrected. * Do some research- Find out how other students handle their anxiety. Many of their suggestions may work for you. Look online or ask around. Alter their strategies so they work for you. By adopting some of these suggestions, there is a chance that a student will personally begin to overcome their foreign language learning fears. Students may choose to adopt one of these strategies and tailor it towards their needs until they find something that works for them (Leigh, 2009).
To sum up, Foreign Language Anxiety has been labeled as an issue that should not be ignored and should be handled carefully. Therefore, the overcoming FLA process includes effort that should be made from the students as well as from the teachers and tutors. This will not only help students to overcome their fear and anxiety, but will also enable language teachers and tutors to reach a higher progress at their subject. In my opinion, the main goal of the overcoming progress should be to create a comfortable teaching environment where a speaking accent or grammar mistake will not mean the end of the world.
As Guess claims, “the trick is to convince the students that discomfort is a good thing- that’s when the real learning process will begin. ”. References Bayer, R. (2004). Benefits of happiness; Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services, Inc. Retrieved Jan 03, 2012, from: http://www. upperbay. org/articles/benefits%20of%20happiness. pdf . Brantmeier, C. (2005). Anxiety about L2 reading or L2 reading tasks. A study with advanced language learners. The Reading Matrix. Vol. 5, No. 2. Retrieved Jan. , 2012, from:http://74. 125. 95. 132/search? q=cache:4pmdX6G7bwJ:www. readingmatrix. com/articles/brantmeier/article4. df+reading+matrix. +2005+Foreign+Language+Anxiety&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca Guess, A. (1997, June). Overcoming Language Anxiety. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved Jan. , 2012, from http://www. insidehighered. com/news/2007/06/29/language. Hauck, M. &Hurd, S. (1991). Exploring the link between language anxiety and learner self-management in open language learning contexts. European Journal of Open, Distance and E- learning. Retrieved Jan 05, 2012, from: http://www. eurodl. org/materials/contrib/2005/Mirjam_Hauck. htm. Randall, K. (2007). Words fail me. The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved Jan. 06,

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