Necessity of improving learners’ self-esteem and lowering anxiety

Essay 2008 5 Pages

English - Pedagogy, Didactics, Literature Studies


Necessity of improving learners’ self-esteem and lowering anxiety

This paper will comment on the teaching practice of lowering learners’, especially school pupils’, anxiety and improving self-esteem in the classroom. Based on the course book “Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom” by Zoltán Dörnyei, the essay “Anxiety and Identity in the Language Classroom” by Christopher Stroud and Lionel Wee as well as “Voices from the Language Classroom” by Kathleen M. Baily and David Nunan, I will first of all explain the term anxiety and its significance in foreign language didactics. I will then look at strategies teachers might use in order to alleviate the level of anxiety in the classroom and put these strategies into a critical context. This will lead to a concluding paragraph dealing with the relevance of these strategies for teachers and their teaching.

Student anxiety is a crucial factor teachers have to be aware of when teaching a foreign language. But what does the term anxiety mean? According to the Oxford American Dictionary, anxiety, derived from latin “anxietas”, means “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”. With regard to an educational situation, the term describes a classroom atmosphere in which learners do not feel free to act or speak in the individually preferred manner. In a foreign language classroom there are always a number of anxious learners. As early as 1989, a survey, which is mentioned in Baily’s and Nunan’s “Voices from the Language Classroom”, found out that the number of students suffering from anxiety is enormous. A further questionnaire created for university students found out that even among this group of learners there is a huge number of people who are afraid of answering questions in a foreign language setting. Half of the people who took part in the survey said they started to panic as soon as they were expected to answer a question spontaneously. Similarly, ten percent of the school students who were interviewed said they were afraid of being laughed at. On the one hand it might seem surprising that there are so many university students who suffer from anxiety, because university students are out of puberty and therefore do not have problems concerned with their personality development. In contrast, the problem with adolescent students is of course not only the challenge of using a language that is not familiar to them, but also the fact that they are at an age at which they are facing many changes and new experiences. Dörnyei talks about the “developmental age” and specifically points out that these extremely sensitive learners usually do not show their anxiety but prefer to hide their inner feelings. On the other hand, however, the fact also a huge number of university students suffer from anxiety is not surprising at all. We have to keep in mind that apart from the learner’s age, his personality and his level of proficiency, the foreign language will always remain a foreign language. This means that it is not the target language but a learner language that the learner produces. This learner language of course is different from the first language and even very advanced speakers are usually not as comfortable when speaking the foreign language as they are when using their mother tongue. Stroud and Wee moreover distinguish between two anxiety types. Whereas identity-based anxiety is rather seen as personal trait, for example due to the fact that a person experiences a lack of essential needs, such as building up faith, competence-based anxiety often occurs often in foreign language settings and learners are usually aware of the fact that they are afraid of making mistakes. This proves the thesis that every kind of person learning a foreign language can suffer from anxiety. Whether the anxiety is a type of identity-based anxiety, or the learner is afraid of making mistakes, he or she is suffering from a competence-based anxiety. To my mind, adolescent learners usually experience a mixture of both, since first of all learners at that age go through a kind of “personality crisis” called puberty and also they usually know that they are afraid of making mistakes because their learner language level is not very advanced. In contrast, the university students mentioned in the survey (see above) are definitely suffering from competence-based anxiety since this group consists of relatively advanced learners who nevertheless do not feel secure about using their learner language. In view of all this it is clear that teachers have to be aware of anxiety, especially in regard to its different forms as well as the different personalities suffering from anxiety.



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Institution / College
Bielefeld University




Title: Necessity of improving learners’ self-esteem and lowering anxiety