Lesson 3: Anxiety

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?

Play

Learners' accounts of anxiety.

Duration: 02:23

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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.