Anxiety and Learning Languages

It cannot be expressed enough that anxiety wrecks many things. Want to be an actor, politician, musician or philanthropist-speech maker? You can’t. You have a niggling condition where all your faculties shut down and you feel as if you’ve just sprinted 1/4 mile.

In a way, language is about performing. As well as taking on a different personality when you attempt to speak/think it, you need to engage in conversation in order to acquire it more. As much as I hate to admit it, you can’t just become fluent through muted study with books. Which was why I signed myself up for a language express course in Italian. I was doing well teaching myself, however after 6 months I ran out of steam. Despite having materials to assist with pronunciation, I still felt I needed help from a native speaker.

The first lesson was, as expected, nerve-wracking. I anticipated some speaking but was not prepared for the amount of basic conversational phrases we were pushed to use. But that’s the thing: it needed to happen. I came away from the lesson feeling like I’d gained from being forced to speak. The beauty of the situation was that we were all beginners and we were all (well, most of us) nervous about speaking. We were allowed to look at our notes for help and were allowed to tap out if we were really stuck. Now I feel confident enough to make a mistake because we’re all learning. If you think about it, this awkward on-the-spot situation is exactly what will happen when we go out into the countries of origin for our languages. There’ll be moments where you’re umming and ahing, and that may work in your favour because it alerts the native speaker that you’re a novice; they’ll speak a lot slower and more basically (if they’re not a-holes, that is).

With those points in mind, I feel liberated and free to make mistakes and continue learning. The anxiety I felt in the first lesson is dying down. There’ll always be a bad lesson where things will go wrong, but I’ll have to make my peace with that.

What drives our anxiety is perfectionism and the fear of embarrassing ourselves. Remove those using the understanding that there are people out there like yourself, and you’ll progress much quicker because you’re not allowing yourself to be blocked or limited.

Limiting yourself will not allow you to reach your goals.

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Bookworm, Film/TV consumer, polyglot aspirant with an eye on social issues.

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