Overcoming language anxiety with the tools and techniques for success
Many people feel intimidated when attempting to learn a new language, and this can cause what is known as “language anxiety.” In the previous article we explored the challenges this poses. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques available that can help individuals improve their language skills while overcoming their anxieties. In this article, we will discuss the importance of having the right tools & techniques for managing your language anxiety and how to use them for a more enjoyable learning experience.
Managing Language Anxiety
When we feel stressed or anxious, it’s understandable to want to ignore or push it away. The reality, however, is that this only serves to increase feelings of anxiety. Learning to manage anxiety starts by changing our relationship to it. This begins by understanding anxiety and the purpose it serves. Anxiety is a natural response meant to bring our attention to a potential threat.
Whilst anxiety feels uncomfortable, it ultimately serves as a protective function. When you see anxiety as something not to be feared, you’ll be in a better position to address its cause. There will always be challenges in life, moments of chaos and stress; learning how to manage them constructively will help you remain composed amidst all the uncertainties. The following techniques can help you achieve this.
Mindfulness and meditation
How great would it be to feel more positive and energised for language learning, especially when the learning journey is starting to feel like a struggle?
Luckily for all of us foreign language learning enthusiasts, meditation can be one of the things we can do to achieve a happier language learning experience. Meditation, and more specifically mindfulness, is an evidence-based practice that helps foreign language students have a smoother, more rewarding foreign language learning experience. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help to reduce language anxiety by increasing self-awareness and focus.
Mindfulness has been linked not only to improved focus and motivation but also better academic performance in language classes. Mindfulness helps you to detach from thoughts, bringing a calmer and more focused approach to your studies. Giving you newfound confidence in your ability to learn a new language. So, it can feel daunting if you experience anxiety while studying a foreign language, but Mindfulness can definitively help.
Knowing the struggles of foreign language learning anxiety personally, Raffaella and Nicole have developed a 21-Day Italian language course that addresses language anxiety to make your learning journey more enjoyable and worthwhile. This innovative course includes research-based tools to help you tackle language learning anxiety and other difficulties with greater ease and understanding. As a result, you feel more confident and motivated with a sense of ownership over your learning.
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A mindful meditation can help unlock a more enjoyable learning experience. It enables you to hone in on the present moment, allowing awareness and calmness to take over. When used intentionally—such as slowing down breathing when feeling overwhelmed—meditation fosters greater self-awareness of negative thoughts so they do not become oppressive burdens.
Mindfulness helps you to identify and let go of negative thoughts while you feel more relaxed, positive and motivated. But how does this work in real-life situations? Mindfulness is not something just reserved for when we are meditating. It brings a greater sense of awareness into our day-to-day life. Mindfulness brings forth a real shift in perspective that enables us to be more in control of our thoughts and feelings.
When negative thoughts and feelings arise, mindfulness brings them up to the surface of our awareness without judgement or criticism, which allows us to see them for what they are. Through mindfulness, we can take charge of our reactions and thought patterns instead of getting carried away by them. As a result, we can better tackle any situation that arises. Practising mindfulness builds resilience to uncomfortable emotions. Helping you manage your emotions rather than them controlling you.
The great thing about mindfulness is that once you learn how to do it, you can apply it to every area of your life. By being more present and aware of the intrusive thoughts in stressful situations, you can begin to challenge these thoughts and refocus your attention, helping you remain calmer.
Positive psychology is another powerful tool for managing language learning anxiety. As discussed in the previous article, anxiety tends to narrow our focus to the negative aspects of our experience. Positive psychology works to counteract this and to take a more balanced perspective by focusing on the positive elements of our experience.
This help to break out of the cycle of negative thinking that often accompanies anxious mindsets. With a few simple steps, we can train ourselves to reframe learning challenges as opportunities for growth and self-improvement, allowing us to mitigate anxiety’s impact on our learning.
Positive psychology encourages people to focus on their strengths. Instead of wasting energy trying to avoid anxiety and only worrying about negative responses, positive psychology focuses on the inner power each individual has to overcome them. This shift can be life-changing, empowering us to come out of our comfort zone and reach our potential.
When combined with the power of mindfulness, you remember not to let anxious thoughts take over. Over time, you begin to take on a whole new perspective as you realise that mistakes are a normal part of learning something new, and they don’t determine your skill level or worth as a person. The situations you once feared are now seen as opportunities to practice your language skills. Your foreign language learning experience is transformed into a more enjoyable one.
Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their ability to take meaningful action towards their goals. When you have a sense of self-efficacy, it gives you the confidence to move forward on your path—trusting that with effort, determination, and perseverance, you will eventually achieve the results you desire. This works alongside positive psychology by helping you identify and focus on the power within you to assert control over your life.
Self-efficacy helps us become more resilient when facing obstacles and develop greater confidence in our abilities. This allows us to approach situations with adaptive strategies that motivate and build our confidence. Similar to positive psychology, the more faith we have in ourselves, the more resilient and motivated we will be. Like mindfulness and positive psychology, self-efficacy is empirically shown to be effective when dealing with anxiety management among students.
Many of us sometimes get frustrated when learning something new, leading to thoughts of “I could never do this.” Often, this type of thinking creates a barrier to us achieving our goals. However, when we change the narrative and start talking to ourselves using affirmations like “Surely, with some practice, I can and I will”. This kind of self-talk can motivate us to keep going while giving ourselves permission to fail but providing encouragement along the way. With time and effort, we can better tackle learning challenges with confidence.
Emotional intelligence also plays a role in language anxiety. The more emotionally intelligent one is, the easier it becomes to navigate emotions such as boredom or restlessness that often arise whilst learning. People with emotional intelligence are also more likely to understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions. To see negative thoughts as just thoughts and not actual representations of the situation. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence tend to have a reciprocal relationship, one enhancing the other.
The more self-aware you become, the easier it becomes to regulate your emotions and evaluate them more critically. When you can take the time to understand your triggers and cultivate self-awareness, your emotional intelligence level grows. With this in mind, start paying attention to your reactions and see if you can find patterns. Once you’ve identified your triggers, work on developing strategies to deal with them. When you have a better handle on your emotions, you’ll be able to manage them more effectively to achieve your language learning goals.
Importance of expectations
Expectations can be a decisive factor when it comes to foreign language learning. Unrealistic goals can quickly become a source of anxiety, self-doubt and boredom. Whilst realistic goals will help you maintain a positive outlook towards foreign language learning and recognise even the smallest and most incremental successes. When setting goals, it’s also important to take into count your strengths, weaknesses, preferences and learning style to set achievable goals that match your learning needs and style.
Comparing oneself to others is equally unhelpful and results in unrealistic expectations. To help counterbalance this, always keep in mind that learning a language is an individual journey, and everyone learns at their own pace.
In their article, Oxford (2015) discusses and puts the dangers of unrealistic expectations in this way:
‘Specifically, the learner must recognise that beliefs, especially irrational beliefs, about adversity cause consequent negative feelings (e.g., anxiety), but disputation, which means presenting counter-evidence, results in energisation, or a positive change of mind (Seligman, 2006)’, and states that a lot of second language learners’ hold dysfunctional, irrational beliefs about their learning, and this contributes to language anxiety. Identifying irrational beliefs must always be accompanied by (a) identifying counter-evidence and (b) creating a new mindset’.
Learning a new language can be both challenging and rewarding. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and learn something new. If you’re feeling anxious about learning a foreign language, know that you’re not alone. These anxiety-management tools will help you stay calm and focused so you can make the most of your language-learning experience. Start feeling the benefits of Mindfulness on your Italian learning journey now by clicking here.
Find out about the impact of positive psychology on language learning here https://www.languagesalive.com/positive-psychology-emotions-and-why-it-is-relevant-to-language-learning/
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