In Spain it is very common to suffer from linguistic anxiety , which is, broadly speaking, fear and nervousness to express ourselves in a foreign language. This anxiety, not only can block the learning of new languages, with all that it entails, but it can lead to feelings such as frustration or low self-esteem, especially among adolescents. To prevent it and not to last over time, it must be stopped from childhood , but, as Inés Ruiz, BA in Translation and Interpreting and director of ELEInternaciona l, told me , it is never too late to treat it.
What is language anxiety?
Language anxiety arises when using a foreign language and can affect both learning and performance. It creates a feeling of vulnerability when having to use a language other than the native one and can also influence levels of self-esteem and motivation. When we speak in another language, we experience this type of anxiety appears because we have to express ourselves in front of others and we can feel vulnerable, because we are not using our full communication potential. Peer pressure can also increase it, especially in teens .
How does it manifest?
Among the most frequent symptoms are nervousness, palpitations, sweating, trembling, mental blockage and, above all, difficulty concentrating when speaking, writing, reading or listening in that language. They have less interest in learning the language and are therefore less involved. This anxiety can lead to loss of self-esteem, refusal to communicate if they feel they cannot speak properly, and fear of being judged by classmates or native speakers.
Why is it produced?
Normally, linguistic anxiety appears when the person feels stressed, either because they are afraid of making mistakes or are ashamed to express themselves in that second foreign language that they have not yet mastered. You can even create a rejection towards learning that language because you feel high levels of vulnerability if classmates laugh at the pronunciation in class.
Are there people more prone than others?
If a person has generalized anxiety or a lack of self-esteem, this will negatively affect their learning process. Also, the more introverted or embarrassed we are, the more pressure we can feel when having to express ourselves in another language.
“If a person has generalized anxiety or a lack of self-esteem, this will negatively affect their learning process”
What signs do we need to look out for before it becomes a problem?
Language anxiety can manifest itself as blockage, nervousness, tremors, or embarrassment when expressing yourself in the language. Motivation may also be affected, since, if we are going through these processes, a rejection of it will begin to create and we may lose interest. In the most extreme case, with an outright refusal to communicate or use the language.
In Spain it is more common than in other countries, why?
In the Spanish educational system for many years there has been a deficiency in language teaching, especially at the communicative level. It has been based on the study of grammar and has not delved into aspects such as pronunciation. At the same time, Spanish is what is called a “transparent” language, because the letters are generally pronounced the same in different words. While English is “opaque”, because the letters can have different sounds and, therefore, are variable. Therefore, for a native Spanish to pronounce in the English language becomes more complicated.
Another interesting point is the lack of exposure to the language. In Spain, films are dubbed and it is not very common to see them in their original version with subtitles as countries like Denmark or Norway do, which have better levels of English proficiency.
What can we do to combat it?
It is not so much “making anxiety disappear”, but developing skills that allow you to face uncomfortable situations, such as having to express yourself in a language other than your mother tongue. Students must understand that vulnerability is normal and have to accept their feelings. You have to make them see that it is okay to make mistakes, that this is how you learn, encourage curiosity and that they can ask questions and express themselves. It is key to motivate them to assimilate new concepts and to have confidence in themselves.
A linguistic anxiety that is not fought in childhood and adolescence, does it last into adulthood?
Anxiety will not go away completely, but we can create safe environments in which they feel they can be themselves, motivate them to continue learning and improve every day so that they know how to cope and regulate themselves in uncomfortable situations, so that they feel safe to speak and make mistakes … these are skills that will last throughout your life and that you can continue to reinforce.
If it lasts into adulthood, can it still be treated?
Language anxiety can appear in the process of learning a foreign language at any age. Children and adolescents require the support of their parents, while an adult has to take responsibility for their learning process. In both cases it is key that the teacher creates a positive, emotionally safe and participatory environment.
“Linguistic anxiety can appear in the process of learning a foreign language at any age”
If it happens in adulthood, it requires more commitment. Although the responsibility of the teacher is the same: to create a safe environment so that students can express themselves fluently and without prejudice whatever their age.
Adults, for their part, must find ways to normalize the language in their day-to-day lives: they listen to podcasts of topics that motivate them in the language they study, watch subtitled series and films, watch the video on YouTube with the lyrics to sing along to karaoke mode and practice pronunciation, read books on the Kindle in another language, select a word and see its translation… In short, find ways to use the language in a meaningful way through activities that you carry out in your day-to-day life. On the other hand, before class, you can do some Mindfulness practice to start more relaxed and be more open to participation.
Tips to prevent language anxiety
Five steps to learning a language well and getting results
To avoid problems in the future, it is best to prevent language anxiety. For this, Inés Ruiz proposes “to create an environment both in the center and at home in which error is used as a learning vehicle, that is played to be able to practice without fear, that attempts are rewarded and that the use of the foreign language in its day ”. These are some of their tips:
● Carry out affective dynamics to create a feeling of security and belonging to a group.
● Highlight error as a learning tool.
● Reflect on fears when learning languages.
● Make roadmaps for the student to analyze their progress.
● Support students with positive reinforcement and do not punish mistakes.
● Provide students with communication and interaction strategies to avoid blockages.
● Get involved in the children’s language learning and let the children take a leading role, teaching them, for example, how to pronounce a word or how to say an expression.
● Watch movies and series with subtitles.
● Integrating the language into its usual context will normalize its use.
● Ask your children how they feel when they speak in that language and help them overcome that challenge with something that motivates them: a song or their favorite book.