FC The Learner : Lesson 3

The Learner : Lesson 3




Learners’ Accounts

Many learners experience anxiety about their language classes even though they are not anxious in other seemingly similar life situations such as taking tests or speaking in public.
Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986) argue that foreign language anxiety (FLA) is a specific anxiety that some people experience when learning or using a second language. They suggest that foreign language anxiety is similar to some other well-known anxieties such as public speaking anxiety or test anxiety. Specifically, they think that FLA is related to the discomfort some people feel when their limited language proficiency keeps them from “being themselves” when using the new language. Just as we feel uncomfortable when we have a new hairstyle that we perceive to be unflattering, some people are uncomfortable because they cannot express their true personality in the new language.
Have you ever encountered students or classmates who experienced foreign language anxiety? What did they say about their difficulties in language learning? Have you yourself ever experienced FLA? What factors seem to encourage people’s anxieties? What aspects of language classes would tend to increase students’ anxieties?


Learners’ accounts of anxiety.
Duration: 02:23

The anxious learner described in the video who is comfortable speaking with her teacher but not with her classmates is afraid of looking “stupid” in front of others. The Chinese teacher in the video notes that perfectionism plays a role in FLA. This relationship was supported by a study by Gregersen and Horwitz in 2002. They found that perfectionists did tend to have higher levels of FLA than learners who were not perfectionists.


Sources of Anxiety

Why do some people feel anxious when speaking a new language? As noted in Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986), FLA possibly results when people don’t feel like themselves when speaking the other language. Witty people are not able to be as amusing; warm people cannot express their caring and empathy, etc. And most people sound less intelligent than they really are or think they are when speaking the second language. Language classes are typically more public and more personal than classes in other subject matters. Many of the lessons in this program have encouraged you to plan communicative lessons where students talk about their personal feelings and experiences. When language teachers ask students to talk about themselves in front of their classmates, we are putting them in an especially vulnerable position.
A number of studies (see Horwitz, Tallon, & Luo, 2009) have suggested that about a third of language students experience some foreign language anxiety. Some of these students experience mild anxiety, while some can experience truly debilitating levels of anxiety.


Learners can’t present self in different language.
Duration: 03:20

Do feel like yourself when you speak a second language? If you make compromises between what you want to say and what you know you will be able to articulate, does that bother you?
If you are a non-native speaker of your target language, do you have concerns about your target language proficiency?
Although some language learners are always anxious, some language teaching practices promote anxiety. Imagine that your language teacher asked you to share something personal in the target language, and just as you were getting to the important part, he or she interrupted you to correct a grammatical error.
When thinking about anxiety in conjunction with other learner characteristics, it is important to remember that anxiety can cause learners to withdraw from language study. To avoid feeling anxious, they may fail to do homework or even skip class. Thus, it is very important to consider that students who appear unmotivated may be experiencing FLA.


Correcting the learner.
Duration: 01:40

Ways to Decrease Anxiety

In the previous lessons, current research about the widespread phenomenon of foreign language anxiety was summarized. Still, many teachers believe that some degree of anxiety is actually good for learning, including language learning. This raised the question: How much anxiety is good for learning and when does it become detrimental?

Is some anxiety good?
Duration: 01:30

While some anxiety increases adrenalin and actually facilitates performance, too much anxiety greatly hampers performance (e.g., the well-known phenomenon of a student who “goes blank” when called on by the teacher). Given that classroom language learning is already inherently stressful, it follows that teachers should seek ways to reduce their students’ anxiety. But how is this best accomplished?
Brainstorm a few practical techniques to reduce your students’ anxiety.

Attack Negative Thoughts

One of the most effective ways to help your students to deal with anxiety is to attack their negative thoughts. Many anxious students actually provoke their anxiety by setting unreasonable standards for their performance. Teachers can help students simply by identifying perfectionist tendencies that keep them from recognizing their language learning successes. In essence, the teacher should help anxious students to focus less on what they are doing wrong and more on what they are doing right.


Helping students to stay positive about their performance.
Duration: 01:35

Student-Centered Lessons

Teachers should plan their lessons from the students’ perspective. In other words, teachers should ask themselves whether an activity may be embarrassing or anxiety-provoking for students.

Creating lesson plans from the students’ perspective.
Duration: 00:38

Create Opportunities to Discuss Anxiety

Many students find it tremendously helpful to know that their teacher acknowledges the reality of their anxiety. Anxious students almost always benefit from finding out that they are not alone in their struggles. Therefore, teachers are encouraged to discuss language anxiety openly with their students.


Making anxiety a topic of discussion in language classes.
Duration: 01:02

Here is a summary of a few tips to follow to reduce anxiety:
• Use group work to give students practice saying new phrases before asking them to perform individually.
• Acknowledge students’ anxious feelings and help them realize that anxiety is a widespread phenomenon.
• Encourage students to concentrate on communicative success rather than formal accuracy.
• Ask yourself how it must feel to be a student in your language classroom from time to time.



[Module Instructor Dr. Elaine Horwitz]. 2010. [Language Learner]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu

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