How to deal with perfectionism and anxiety in language learning? Gloria, eager language learner and Italian teacher at Speakita, shares her story and her best 3 tips for a stress-free language learning experience.
I’ve always really loved languages, since when I began learning English in Primary School. I thought it was something that came easily to me, so I never worried about not being good enough when facing a new topic. Nevertheless, I did experience some struggles during my language learning journey.
First of all, being strongly passionate about languages, I wanted to know everything immediately. I wanted to be able to communicate, express myself as I would in my first language, and get access to new sources of information.
Logically, I knew I should have taken my time to learn everything step by step, but my heart wanted to fully dive into each new language. I would stress myself out for anything that I couldn’t remember, and I would go back to each grammar section of my book or to a word list to fill that knowledge gap that I saw in my mind.
Secondly, I also happen to be a slightly anxious person. I jokingly say that I suffer from performance anxiety, which in other words means that I spend time “rehearsing” words, phrases, and grammar, and end up feeling insecure when talking to someone else, especially if they are native speakers.
Other people’s judgment affects me and my language learning. The minute someone points out that I have an
I was always told to “get out there”, to “get out of the shell”, and to “speak up”. But you can’t force behaviour. You cannot ask a flower to blossom when you want it to blossom. You can insist as much as you want, but chances are you will see the first petals once the flower is ready. So, the best thing you can do is to provide that flower with the best conditions in order for it to blossom when the times are right. If you get what I mean. 🙂
To the quiet language learners…
Now, at this point, you’re probably feeling identified with my words. We grow up with a specific idea of what an ideal language student should be like:
- Willing to take risks
- Not worried at all about making mistakes
- Embody these traits when surrounded by plenty of people.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel identified with this description at all, except for the extroverted part. I have always felt more comfortable in small groups, therefore, unless I have to deal with a tiny amount of peers, there’s no chance these traits can show up in me.
Then I realised that, if I wanted to feel calmer and confident when speaking in another language, I had to prepare myself in advance. I can’t fight anxiety, but I can plan ahead how to face it.
So, if after reading this, you feel like you and I have something in common, keep on reading. Below you will find three tips to help you
- release stress when learning a new language,
- enjoy your learning process and be in the present moment,
- face the outside world in a new language,
- train your speaking when you don’t feel like exposing yourself yet.
Ready? Here they are.
Post-it notes are your ally
Now you’re probably picturing yourself in your room, surrounded by thousands of post-it notes like a crazy person. Actually, post-it notes are a great tool to remember new words and ideas effortlessly. You can use them in a couple of different ways.
You can place a post-it note on an object.
If, for example, you can’t remember how to say television in your target language, you can write it and place the post-it note on your television. This way, you will create a powerful and immediate connection in your brain, which will mirror the one you created during your childhood.
If you think about it, anytime you learned a new word in your first language, you would unconsciously match that word to an image. This is how you acquired and retained new words. The same happens here. Going back to the television example, anytime you walk past your television, you will see the post-it note and immediately associate the word to the picture. All of this without having to think twice, and without stressfully looking up in a dictionary.
To remember difficult grammar or expressions
A second way in which you can use post-it notes is to remember a tough grammar rule or a phrase you struggle to memorise. In this case, all you have to do is to write that particular grammar rule or phrase and put the post-it note on a place you would normally look at. Once again, you would get great results with a minimum effort and without getting stressed out.
The power of games
Growing up, we think we have to learn formally, with books, drilling exercises, and black-and-white material. We’re adults after all. Lies! Using games and playful activities can be a great solution to lower your levels of stress and anxiety and remember new information on the long-term.
How? By distracting you. When you play, you shift your focus from doing everything right to finishing your game. If, for example, you’re doing a word search game, you’re too busy finding the words in the grid to realise that you’re also revising the spelling of those words. As a result, you will remember how to spell those specific words easily and with no stress involved.
It seems too easy to be true, but it is actually true and it has been widely demonstrated. The more fun you have, and the more engaged you are in a game, the less aware you are that you’re learning, and the more you learn.
Speaking can be done on your own
Many of us assume that, in order to speak a language, we have to speak to someone else. Speaking with someone, better if a native speaker, is the best way to practice our target language. That’s what we’re told since our childhood.
What happens, however, when we don’t feel like talking to other people? Or when we don’t feel confident enough to use our target language with someone else? Does it mean we will start to speak later and will build our fluency later and more slowly?
Surely not. You can easily train your fluency by speaking to yourself and rehearse the sentences and words that you learn. Of course, you need feedback to make sure you’re saying everything right, and this is when the famous shadowing technique comes in handy. If you’re not familiar with it, this technique consists of listening to bits of sentences and repeating them out loud. The “out loud” part is crucial, as it is what will make you familiar with new sounds and a new pronunciation.
Alternatively, you can begin by speaking to yourself mentally and gradually shift to speaking to yourself out loud. You can then start to have sample conversations with yourself, go through your daily tasks in your target language, and stop to think about how you would say that particular sentence in your target language.
The sky is the limit.
Now that you have these ideas, do you feel like putting them into practice?
I’m really curious to read about your experience, and I really hope this post made you feel more empowered and proud to be a quiet language learner.
I teach Italian to beginners and “false” beginners through games and fun activities, by encouraging speaking, and by respecting each student’s learning time. Learning is a more pleasant journey when taken at your pace and with a bit of humour and fun. Find me at Speakita, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Looking for ways to keep language learning in your life even on those days when anxiety won’t let go of you? Join this free 4-day email course and let’s discover together how to do just that.