What is language anxiety?
Oh, the times! Oh, the fears! In the modern world, anxiety has become one of our biggest mental problems. It often needs a moment of confession. Language, according to the 19th-century Russian poet Pyotr Vyazemsky, is a form of people's confession. So, it is time, then, to confess our language anxiety.
Language anxiety encompasses all sorts of fears and anxieties we associate with learning and using a foreign language. Traditionally, what causes the most confusion is the need to either speak it or understand what others are saying. Psychologists classify language anxiety as situational, i.e. a person may be susceptible to it in certain conditions. Even if in some other stressful situations, they can maintain self-control. In 1986, Elaine Horwitz, a professor of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin, and her co-authors published an article describing the phenomenon of language anxiety in The Modern Language Journal. The researchers hypothesized that language anxiety originates from more specific linguistic fears.
- First, we may fear not understanding what our interlocutor has said or equally that they will not understand us.
- Second, we may worry that the person we are talking to or others will judge us for mistakes or imperfections in our speech.
- Third, it can be a more "applied" fear, for example, before or during an exam.
Later in the 1990s and 2000s, their counterparts from other countries offered some new options to be a "fourth" fear, such as the fear of going to class.
What is the mechanism of language anxiety? Similar to psychologists' more general view of anxiety, two details play the key role — (a) whether we perceive the language situation as a threat and (b) how much we evaluate our ability to cope with that threat. Accordingly, if we are unsure of our vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation skills, a sudden need to demonstrate them is unlikely to awaken our dashing enthusiasm.
Deeper into psychology, some researchers suggest that language anxiety is an in-depth experience related to an individual's self-identification with society. If we cannot fully communicate in a language, won't it raise questions about our cognitive development and ability to speak coherently and meaningfully in general? A frightening assumption that yet has its humble share of truth. ➡️ The second part