Oh no, I hope my teacher doesn’t call on me! What if I mispronounce a word in French and the whole class laughs at me?
I don’t even like reading in English. How does my teacher expect me to read and understand German?
When it comes time for the speaking tests in Spanish, I always draw a blank. I try to prepare beforehand, but I just get too nervous.
Today, the level of student anxiety is at an all-time high—there’s tremendous pressure to achieve at a high level. It’s no surprise our students are fearful when it comes to learning a second language. Regardless of what stressors students bring with them into the classroom, we’ve all witnessed some level of fear or worry in our language learners.
In fact, anxiety in the world language classroom is no new concept—it has been an area of research since the 1970s. This type of anxiety was found to be distinct from other types of anxiety—including general school-related anxiety—because, according to one study, "no other field of study implicates self-concept and self-expression to the degree that language study does." This anxiety can affect students’ motivation and desire to succeed.
So, how do we provide the support our students need so that they find growth and success? Here are three ways to build up your students to help reduce anxiety in your world language classroom.
1. Talk About It!
Acknowledge that learning a second language is hard. We expect our students to put themselves out there, to take risks in the target language, and to get out of their comfort zones. This is hard work! When we legitimize our students’ anxiety, we help reinforce the idea that language learning is a process. Naming a fear or a source of anxiety affirms that progress is more important than perfection.
Bringing light to our students’ fears also often reduces the severity of the fear. We can ask them questions like:
- What is easiest for you in the target language? Why do you think it’s the easiest?
- Do you (or did you in the past) feel anxious in regard to the target language class? Why? What was it? What helped you to overcome it?
- What’s the most difficult aspect of learning a target language for you?
- What does your teacher do to help support you? What could he/she do more of?
Reflecting on the good and the bad helps to highlight student strengths and weaknesses. Moving forward, a teacher can lead students into goal setting regarding their personal weaknesses. Empowering students to move toward their weaknesses instead of away from them is one step in breaking down foreign language anxiety.