Language Learning and Fear

Fear of speaking a foreign language
Fear of speaking a foreign language

This year I started a new job teaching 3rd through 8th grade Spanish. My first day, I was nervous since I had never taught in a classroom setting like this before. I took a deep breath and asked myself even if I did make a mistake what was the worst that would happen? Since this was beginning Spanish I realized no one, but me would even know I made a mistake. My fears weren’t reasonable. I then thought about my students and theirs fears. I remember the panic that came over me every time my teacher called on me and the fear of making a mistake. For some reason making a mistake in Spanish class always seemed to me to be a 100% worse than making a mistake in math or science. I was bound and determined to ease the anxiety of learning a foreign language. My solution was to give my students permission to make mistakes. The first day of class I walked in and told them that each and every person, including me is going to make a mistake and that’s ok. Mistakes are how we learn. I expect everyone to make mistakes and we will even laugh about some of them. I could see the tension just leave their bodies. So in case nobody has ever told you its ok to make mistakes I am here to tell you, you have permission to make mistakes as you struggle to learn a new language.

So I just gave you permission to make mistakes while you learn. What did I really do? What I did was to take away the anxiety for fear of failure or fear of being negatively evaluated. Think about a foreigner to your country and their attempt to speak your language. Do you judge them harshly or do you try to assist them in communicating? If you assist them they will continue to try to speak with natives thus only improving every time, perhaps even to the point of being fluent.

The nice thing about writing in a foreign language is it allows for time to think or even using a dictionary. Speaking, on the other hand demands immediate attention. The problem is when you are speaking in another language your mind is first thinking in your native tongue then translating it then thinking of a response then translating that. Whew! That’s a lot of work. Then of course, the fear kicks in wondering if you translated it correctly. One of the best ways to improve your speaking and reducing your fear level is by practicing listening. You want to practice listening so that you skip the translating step. It is important to realize that an actual conversation is still more difficult than listening to news or the radio, because in a conversation you must also respond.

laughing

Take a deep breath now and remember its ok to make mistakes…and even laugh about them!

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