It's All Greek to Me: Anxiety in the Foreign Language Classroom
When you've never studied foreign language and you also happen to be an adolescent - anxiety runs high! That anxiety isn't just a discomfort; it's something caused by your brain's "affective filters." Identified and described by Stephen Krashen decades ago, affective filters are mental blocks that prohibit comprehensible input and negatively impact a student's ability to thrive in a foreign language setting. The piece that many may not realize is that these filters can hinder the learning of novice learners and advanced learners alike.
When your affective filters run high, your language learning ability is low. Here they are at a glance:
- anxiety or stress from not recognizing what you hear
- embarrassment, low self-esteem, low confidence
- fear of making a mistake
- fear of speaking in front of peers (or colleagues)
- fear of failure
- fear of not being able to speak with perfection or flow
Each of these fears manifest themselves in the classroom setting, throughout my career as a foreign language teacher, I've seen them during any Q&A activity I've ever done or witnessed. The confident student doesn't think twice upon being asked something in the target language and simply responds, but the student who lets the affective filters get the best of him or her shuts down or shuts off actual listening (and thus, comprehension). These students may have the knowledge but answer with a question - or can't answer at all because they have convinced themselves they couldn't do it... before they even started or attempted to.
Finding ways to tame these affective filters can transform your language learning experience.
Tips—they may sound simple, but they work
- Remain positive with a "can-do" attitude - positivity works! Second Language Acquisition research shows that just putting on a (genuinely) happy face can significantly impact your performance in learning a foreign language. Confidence is key, so focus on what you can do, read, hear, or recognize.
- Keep "Open Ears" - work hard to listen carefully and your active listening will quiet some of the fear and anxiety.
- Make friends with mistakes. Ever watch a toddler learn to walk? The determination to master a new skill can drive you to get right back up any time you stumble. You will always learn more quickly from mistakes than successes.
- Stay engaged. Your teacher knows you are learning and won't expect you to know everything. If you participate in an immersion-style class and walk away only getting 30 - 50% - that's okay. More importantly, did you continue participating even though you didn't understand everything? If the answer is yes, then you did your job! Keep it up, and comprehensible input will only increase while anxiety decreases.