foreign language anxiety

If you are receiving classroom instruction in a language that is not your native tongue, you may sometimes experience foreign language anxiety. Like other forms of anxiety in general, foreign language anxiety stems from feelings of uneasiness and self-doubt, and, unsurprisingly, it’s easy to fall into a state of anxiousness when you’re surrounded by a language you may not be fluent in. So how can you avoid that and reduce foreign language anxiety?

In this article, we’ll cover what foreign language anxiety is and how it’s diagnosed, focusing on how to reduce foreign language anxiety both in the classroom and during test-taking.

What is Foreign Language Anxiety?

English Language Learners (ELLs), students who are learning English as a second (or even third!) language, often express some form of anxious behavior in the classroom. Foreign language anxiety theory posits that language learners in general tend to exhibit symptoms of anxiety, apprehension, or nervousness when they must demonstrate their knowledge under pressure. This anxiety can stem from a few different primary stressors:

  • Fear of Judgement: When you’re speaking a language that is not native to you, it’s common to feel scared of sounding juvenile or uneducated. Many ELL students fear sounding “babyish” as they may not be familiar with more advanced grammar yet.
  • Fear of Loss of Identity: Students may be nervous about putting in effort with the English language if they feel that in doing so they may be losing a part of their cultural identity.
  • General Learning Disabilities: In addition to the difficulties in learning a language, some students may also have a learning disorder like ADHD or dyslexia, which makes classroom learning doubly difficult. In those situations, teachers are presented with another layer that needs peeling in order to best accommodate that particular student.

If you’re an English Language Arts teacher who is struggling to find new ways to encourage your students (ELL and otherwise!) to engage with classroom material, you might find our collection of awesome Tips for Reluctant Readers to be a source of inspiration!

Diagnosing Foreign Language Anxiety

Foreign language anxiety is considered a specific type of anxiety, and can be diagnosed. The foreign language classroom anxiety scale (FLCAS) is a questionnaire developed by experts to assess students who are suspected to have some kind of foreign language anxiety. The FLCAS questionnaire consists of 33 questions asking students to describe how they feel in various classroom situations.

The student answers using the 5-point Likert scale, which requires responders to rate certain sentences on a scale with five different options: strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), neither agree nor disagree (3), agree (4), and strongly agree (5). From the student’s answers, a determination can be made as to the likelihood of their exhibiting foreign language anxiety.

Generally, foreign language anxiety is easier to diagnose when dealing with a student’s feelings about speaking, rather than reading or writing English (though some of this may have to do with general fears about public speaking). However, there’s still a fair amount of anxiety that accompanies nonverbal test-taking, particularly related to reading directions: while students may be able to read the words, their comprehension may not be as solid as they would like, which can cause frustration and an escalation of their anxious feelings.

Note that while a person who has a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is likely to be more susceptible to developing foreign language anxiety, this does not mean that every student with foreign language anxiety also has GAD.

Having difficulties getting your students psyched about math? Piqosity’s got you covered with our exploration of Strategies for Overcoming Math Anxiety. You might also appreciate our deep-dive into The Myth of “I Suck at Math.”

How to Reduce Foreign Language Anxiety

There are a variety of techniques you can implement to encourage your ELL students. Of these, we will focus on three baseline strategies which focus on how to reduce foreign language classroom anxiety:

  1. Don’t force it. If a student is not yet comfortable speaking up in class, don’t push them to do so. Instead, try to work with them one-on-one until they feel ready to speak in front of their peers. When they do speak, make sure to acknowledge their contribution to reinforce the idea that their participation in classroom discussions is valuable.
  2. Encourage diversity in the classroom. Instill the idea in all of your students that a diversity of languages makes for a richer classroom experience, and that students should never laugh at their peers if they make language errors. You might even ask your ELL students to teach the class how to say some basic phrases in their native language: this can shift the perceived power dynamics and breed empathy among their native-English peers.
  3. Develop a system with your student. As part of your ongoing dialogue with your anxious ELL students, you might consider developing a subtle system for them to let you know how they are managing. For instance, if they’re having a particularly difficult day, you could have them place a certain item on their desk. This item’s presence could, for instance, indicate whether or not they’re comfortable speaking in class that day.

As you read through these three strategies, you’ll notice there’s one common denominator: making students feel welcome. Students who experience a welcoming learning environment are far more likely to feel safe and comfortable in the classroom. In turn, that safety and comfort in the classroom makes them far less likely to feel anxious during tests.

How Do You Overcome Foreign Language Anxiety During Test-Taking?

Standardized test anxiety is common among all students; unsurprisingly, that anxiety tends to be heightened when taking a test in another language. Accordingly, ELL students tend to feel an added nervousness during tests like the ACT or SAT for fear of not fully understanding the questions or reading prompts given.

Since most of us, when possible, avoid activities that cause stress, students are often reluctant to focus on preparing for standardized tests. This creates an additional challenge for teachers, who often wonder how to motivate students for standardized tests.

Standardized Test Prep

By far the best way to reduce a student’s standardized test anxiety is to ensure that they are adequately prepared. Students who feel confident about their understanding of the material and test format are more likely to have a low-stress testing experience.

Particularly for ELL students, studying vocabulary is crucial to building standardized test confidence. Piqosity has you covered, with extensive FREE vocabulary practice at three levels: Lower, Middle, and Upper. Although these lists were designed to help students preparing for the ISEE, they work just as well for general vocabulary-building.

We recommend three different ways to effectively teach these vocabulary words:

  • Flashcards: Use paper or digital flashcards to memorize the definitions of challenge words, or mix things up, Jeopardy-style, by having the student identify the word from its definition!
  • Grouping by Definition: Many of these words have similar meanings. Have students group these words by definition to reinforce each word’s meaning and to review the concept(s) of synonyms and antonyms.
  • Use for Sentence Making: Once students have learned the definition of a word, it’s helpful for them to use the word in various contexts. Have them write sentences using one or more of the new words to reinforce how a word should properly be used in written or spoken English.

More advanced students, who are preparing for standardized tests like the ACT or SAT, can get similar boosts in confidence by partaking in some form of ACT prep or SAT prep. By reviewing the content covered by these and gaining familiarity with the types of questions they will be asked, students can set themselves up for standardized test success!

Eradicating Foreign Language Anxiety in the Classroom

The presence of foreign language anxiety amongst English Language Learners is common, but alleviating those anxious feelings isn’t as tricky as it may seem. By fostering an inclusive and welcoming classroom environment, and offering extra resources to ELL students, teachers and tutors can set their students up for success in the classroom and beyond.

For students, utilizing at-home courses, like the ones offered here at Piqosity, are an important tool for language enrichment. These courses are a great way for ELL students to gain familiarity with the English language from the comfort of their own home.

Piqosity’s latest curriculum offerings are particularly useful for ELL students: our at-home 5th Grade English and 8th Grade English classes. Features of these complete courses include:

  • More than 100 different Reading Passages
  • Dozens of Concept Lessons (including Tutorial Videos)
  • Adaptive, Gamified Practice Questions
  • Personal “Strengths and Weaknesses Analysis”
  • Real-Time Score Analysis
  • Printable PDFs
  • Options for Parent-Tutor Consultations and Private Tutoring Sessions
  • …and Much More!

An added attraction: these courses can be bundled for FREE with our ISEE test prep courses!

Registering for Piqosity takes less than 30 seconds and doesn’t require the input of your credit card information. Our FREE Community-Level Package offers a wide selection of study materials, and all of our reasonably-priced upgraded packages come with a 7-Day Free Trial, so you have time to decide if Piqosity is for you!

Learning any language takes time, patience, and a lot of practice. Don’t feel stressed if you aren’t where you feel you need to be—use Piqosity to get there!

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