Do you get nervous, anxious, or scared when speaking your second language? YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
This phenomenon is called Foreign Language Anxiety and it is based on three main constructs: fear of negative evaluation, test (performance) anxiety, and communication (speaking) apprehension. Foreign Language Anxiety can manifest itself in negative thoughts, feelings, and (self-) perceptions about language learning.
Because of Foreign Language Anxiety, you may have certain thoughts and/or beliefs that stop you from feeling confident in using your new language. Maybe a couple, or all, of these thoughts have crossed your mind:
· “There’s something wrong with me; I can’t learn a language no matter how hard I try.”
· “Every time I speak I make too many mistakes and nobody understands me.”
· “I always feel like other students learn faster and speak better than me.”
· “My accent is terrible. It’s so embarrassing.”
· “I’m afraid people will laugh at me if I speak this language.”
Let’s address each of these misconceptions one at a time.
1. “There’s something wrong with me; I can’t learn a language no matter how hard I try.”
While it’s true that there is such a thing as a language learning disability, most likely what is going on in your scenario is poor language learning strategy use. Take a moment and reflect. Are you using the same study techniques that you used when you were younger? Are they still effective? Are they the best use of your time? New technology is just a click away to help you on your language learning journey. Why not try a new technique and see if you can’t improve your vocabulary retention or boost your listening skills? Why not hire a language coach who can teach you language learning strategies along with the language of your choosing? These strategies could be just what you need to break through your language learning plateau!
2. “Every time I speak I make too many mistakes and nobody understands me.”
Let’s take another moment to reflect. Do you speak your first language perfectly? Be honest. Think about the last conversation you had with a friend. There was probably a lot of repetitions and “huh?!?!’s”, “what’s?”, and requests for clarification. We make mistakes while speaking in our first language quite consistently, so why can’t you make mistakes in your new language? Here it’s important to set realistic, attainable goals for your language learning. I suggest that your goal should be to communicate with other speakers of the language, not to attain a superficial level of perfection that even native speakers don’t have.
3. “I always feel like other students learn faster and speak better than me.”
Language learning is not a race. You may learn vocabulary quicker than your friend and he/she may learn grammar concepts quicker. The important concept here is to compare your progress to your own language learning journey, not that of anyone else in your life. You should strive for continual improvement (even with set-backs sometimes!) and forward movement toward your goals. Remember, even if you fall on your face you’re still moving forward! That’s progress! Celebrate your friend’s success, of course, but remember that this is your life to live, not his or hers.
4. “My accent is terrible. It’s so embarrassing.”
Reality check. You are not a native speaker of this language and you will never be a native speaker of this language. Why are you trying to sound like one? Again, we need to set realistic, attainable goals to strive for while learning a language. It is commonly believed in the field of Second Language Acquisition that an individual’s phonetics and phonology solidify before puberty, thus reaching ultimate attainment, i.e. a native-like accent of a language very rare (although some very motivated and special individuals do!). My challenge to individuals who hold the above belief would be for them to reflect on why having an accent is embarrassing. Doesn’t having an accent indicate that you are bilingual, that you come from another culture that you are proud of, that you are gaining a new talent? There is nothing to be ashamed of in having an accent; our goal should not be to get rid of accents, but to strive for comprehensibility during conversations.
5. “I’m afraid people will laugh at me if I speak this language.”
Fear of negative evaluation is one of the tree main constructs of Foreign Language Anxiety. It is normal, as human beings, for us to fear losing face (being embarrassed) in front of others. However, consider this, would you ever make fun of someone who is trying to speak your native language, or would you help them and encourage them? Most likely it’s the latter. In general, we wish for others to succeed, not fail. Nobody is watching you, judging you, waiting for you to mess up just so they can have a laugh. Speak with confidence; you have an amazing new skill! You can speak to thousands, millions more people now with your new language. Be proud! Don’t shy away from opportunities to communicate.
I hope you found this information useful and that you can apply it to your language learning journey. To gain more confidence in speaking your second language, find a tutor or teacher with experience in Foreign Language Anxiety reduction and focus on not only learning the language, but also skills to manage your Foreign Language Anxiety as well! Good luck on your language journey! Be brave! You can do it!