Language Learning Tip #20


“My anxiety about my language performance is affecting my performance.”

Idea:  Attack your anxieties indirectly.

First of all, I think it is important to recognize language anxiety as a common problem.  Many people are in denial as they try to discount how anxious they actually are about their language performance.  We like to think of ourselves as being able to handle ourselves well and be cool under pressure, but learning a second language has a unique way of making us feel uncool.  This is threatening to us on a basic psychological level.

You are also recognizing that high anxiety hinders recall.  Your memory skills are hindered because your focus and attention is side-tracked.  You may have noticed that your motivation is weakened.  You used to feel confident and excited about learning the language, but now you are just trying to get through the days.  You may have even noticed that you are having more mood swings or struggle with low energy.  This is a result of culture stress, language anxiety, and self-shock (the unpleasant realization that you are not as ‘together’ as you thought)  All these things gang up on you with the result that you can not achieve as much, which causes more anxiety, which causes more debilitation, which causes more anxiety and so on.  Am I scaring you too much?

The Syndrome

Stressful situations feed both anxiety and/or action.  Your body experiences stress with rapid heartbeats, reddening ears, butterflies in the stomach, nervous laughter, etc.  This results in urges to ‘fight or flight’.  The stress is not a bad thing if it is not overwhelming, but for many it leads to avoidance behavior.  At first, we are energized to meet the challenges and overcome the threatening feelings (fight!), but before too long, we may find ourselves avoiding situations that cause us stress (flight!).


In order to avoid anxiety, we start to avoid things that are associated with the anxiety.  We withdraw.  Here are some signs that I may be avoiding some language difficulties.

  1. I avoid some language difficulties.  : )  I choose to do what I am good at.
  2.  I isolate myself from speakers of the language because I am not good enough to carry on adult-like conversations with them.
  3.  I find myself speaking softly.  Perhaps then others will not notice my mistakes or bad pronunciation.
  4.  Instead of using the language, I spend a lot of study time trying to figure it out.  I feel if I can grasp the rules, I won’t feel as if I am lost.
  5.  I compare myself to others trying to figure out just how clever I am.  If I withhold judgement, how can I validate myself?
  6.  I take little mental vacations in class wishing I were elsewhere.  It’s easier to withdraw than to stay fully engaged.
  7.  I focus on my performance in class; if it is not my turn to perform, I shift into neutral.
  8.  In order to avoid battering my own ego, I blame others (teachers, native speakers, classmates, etc) for my shortcomings.

Next time:  The indirect attack.



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