How to help overcome learner anxiety

Student Motivation/Classroom management
Diary submitted by Alexia C, Madrid.

Learner anxiety is something that I have experienced quite often in the classroom, possibly due to the fact that the lesson structure I have followed has been 1 on 1 lessons, meaning that students may feel that they don’t have a crutch, or someone else to rely on in a lesson, and may be nervous to speak to a native speaker, especially during their first few classes. In my experience, this is the case particularly with children and occasionally young adults. For example, an 8 year old girl whom I have taught every Saturday that I have worked is a particularly anxious learner, especially since she started having lessons by herself as opposed to with her brother.

The way I have got around this, has been through starting the lesson by asking her simple questions about what she has done during the day and what she will be doing for the rest of the weekend before starting to discuss the listening and reading. Then I will break up the text by asking her to read a couple of lines at a time, and then discuss them with her, making sure to assure her that she is pronouncing and understanding the text correctly.

After we have finished the text I will prompt her to talk about her interests and family/school life so that she feels more relaxed and confident. If she doesn’t know a word and becomes nervous again, I will lend her the initiative to think of a word or help her communicate what she wants to say using drawings. More generally, I have overwhelmingly noticed that learners have exhibited Communication Apprehension, which is defined as having difficulty ‘in expressing their thoughts and feelings in their target language. It’s hard for them to speak and comprehend the messages of others’ (Johnson, 2018).

I believe that it largely stems from the belief that a student is expected to be perfect grammatically and vocally, even from early stages of them starting to learn the language. Therefore, reassuring the student that they are making normal or common mistakes is a good way to ease it. Johnson affirms that it is crucial to inform the learner that it is normal to make mistakes and that this is the way to best learn a language. It is also important in my opinion, to give the student a compliment at the end of the class and to reassure them that you notice they are improving. 

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