If sheer willpower equals accomplishment then I would have been proficient in Russian long ago. One time while in Moscow, out of sheer frustration, I stepped away from my room and simply cried on our balcony overlooking the city. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, as soon as I walked into the language classroom all thoughts went out of my mind and I was unable to form correct Russian sentences. I felt nervous and tense and I literally went to the back of the class.
Although inability can be a great motivator, anxiety issues can make it extremely hard for language learners to calm down and open up to their language instructor. This is not just for the traditional classroom. You may be a student at Live Lingua learning language through Skype and you have a mild panic attack as you digitally connect with your teacher.
If language learning makes you feel apprehensive and gives you an abnormal amount of worry then you are not alone! Here are a few observations that have helped me tackle my anxiety associated with learning a foreign language. Hopefull,y they can give you some helpful tools and insights:
1. Learning A Language (and overcoming language learning anxiety) Is Not Connected To Intelligence
When I couldn’t tackle Russian (and later French) I simply felt stupid. Because it is so easy to define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are, I began to think that I wasn’t smart enough to learn a language. This, of course, is simply not true. When we convince ourselves that we simply cannot do something, we stop trying so hard and we accept premature defeat. Unless you have a mental handicap that truly limits your ability, anyone can learn a foreign language.
2. Give Yourself Time
Time is your friend when learning a new language and if you try to rush it then you will probably experience feelings of anxiety. If your employer or school has given you a short amount of time, or you simply procrastinated in contacting Live Lingua, then set realistic goals. The more relaxed your time frame, the less stress you will feel.
The best way to consistently get better over time is through immersion. Live Lingua proudly offers immersive language lessons via Skype with native speakers of 11 different languages. No matter where you are in the world, you can study with one of our non-imposing teachers on your schedule and progress at your own rate. (As a bonus, we’re offering the first lesson free — sign up here!)
3. Ain’t Nobody Speaks Perfectly!
If you tend to be a perfectionist, struggling with language can be difficult. If you find yourself holding back because you want to make sure every verb is conjugated correctly and all of your pronouns are in perfect order, you might start to feel anxious. When learning a language you must embrace the fact that no one, not even a native speaker, speaks a language perfectly.
4. Go Against The Flow of Traditional Language Learning
In the 1980’s Elaine Horwitz was one of the first professors to study and identify foreign language anxiety. In her article published in the Modern Language Journal, she suggested that students who struggle with anxiety get out of the traditional language classroom. You can do this by signing up with a program like Live Lingua or simply meeting a native speaker once a week in the park for some casual conversation. If you are a teacher then take your students outside or to the local coffee shop for a few hours of conversation. The more creative you can think, the more your barriers will fall and your anxiety will decrease to a manageable level.
Don’t let anxiety keep you from the joys of language learning! Identify it for what it is, don’t let it identify your ability to learn and then seek creative ways to master your fears and work on overcoming language learning anxiety.
I also highly recommend checking out our collection of free language learning courses, The Live Lingua Project. There you will find audio courses, textbooks, and more, all free and the perfect way to do some studying on your own time. This can greatly help with overcoming language learning anxiety because you’ll have more of a frame of reference and a higher comfort level the next time you take a class or have a conversation in the language you’re trying to learn.