What Gets in the Way of Language Acquisition?

Posted by Cheryl Lingjuan Yan

Last week, we talked about language globalization in class. Language globalization allows language itself and its culture to spread and dominate on a global scale. And when Alison asked a question afterwards that whether there were some scenarios in our life we felt embarrassed to speak a certain language, it reminds me of some of my personal experiences, which I think is quite relevant to the issues we were talking about. This semester I registered two language courses, one Korean language course at McGill and another French course at Concordia. Both of them are very intensive.

Right at the first time I came to that Korean class, I noticed that quite a few students in my class were either full Korean or half-Korean because they talked to each other in fluent Korean rather than English. So it is doubtless they have already had some foundation before they came to the class. I found this class really competitive, and every time the professor asked me to read Korean characters, I felt quite nervous. Not because I was unfamiliar with Korean vowels and consonants, but because I did not make myself stupid in front of the whole class. I always got a feeling that their level of Korean language is so high, and I totally I have no idea why they registered the beginner level. As a beginner of Korean language, I guess I just need more time to digest and practice what I have learnt in class. Apart from that, Korean has different sentence structures depending on to whom you are speaking to. Generally speaking, if you speak to one who is older than you, you are supposed to show your respect to him or her through the sentence structure used in particular. That makes me awkward when I speak to my professor. Because I do not want to be rude to her, I have to pay special attention to my sentence structure and my word choice. That is one of the situations where I feel quite uncomfortable to speak a language.

I find a video clip to illustrate my point.

Another scenario happened in my French class. I guess my French reading and writing are just better than my speaking and listening due to the reason that when you are reading and writing, you have time to think about sentence structures and fix the grammatical errors. However, when it comes to listening and speaking, it is a different story. My placement test was to write an essay in French, and I do not know somehow they put me into the advanced level. I do not want to ask them to lower my level because I want to finish it as soon as possible, which means I really have to put more efforts into learning French so that I can catch up on the rest of the class. I think it is the case for me but maybe it is not necessary for everyone that I feel more embarrassed and nervous to speak a language when I know others will do a better job than me. Therefore, every time the teacher asks us to do group discussion I am not quite involved into it. And when other people speak, I am too stressed out to be really into it.

These are the two scenarios I am struggling with. Please feel free to make comment on.

5 thoughts on “What Gets in the Way of Language Acquisition?”

  1. Hi Lingjuan,
    These are both really clear examples of classroom-based language anxiety. This is a very common experience for language learners, and I really appreciate you sharing your reflections. There is a lot language teachers can learn from listening to how learners feel in class with respect to how we (teachers) develop and design learning activities and foster a safe and open learning environment.


    1. Thank you Alison! These are what I came up with when you brought up the question of language anxiety last week. And hopefully I can get it through.
      BTW, I guess you may receive a lot of requests today. Because yesterday I was not sure whether I posted it successfully, I tried several times, sorry about thatđŸ˜¢.


  2. Emmanouela Tisizi: Dear Cheryl, reading your post made me reflect on the complexity of teachers’ role as they need to be able to distinguish and accommodate the numerous needs of the students, which might vary to a great extent. You mentioned that you feel more comfortable writing and reading French than speaking it and this could be related to your confidence as a learner, to the contexts and frequency that you have had to use French, or simply to your own way of learning. Distinguishing the different needs of students and finding ways and activities to accommodate them and make them feel comfortable while learning can be a very challenging task.


  3. Bonnie Reimer

    It’s great that you posted your feelings as I think many students can empathize with you. I teach adult immigrants English in Vancouver, and we have eight different levels in our program, but as usual there are still students who are at a higher level in certain skills. Even so, I find language learners seem to mostly measure and compare their proficiency in speaking and are embarrassed when they don’t speak as fluently as others. Some students speak fluently, but their speech is riddled with errors. Others speak slowly and carefully with few errors. Also, you may be hesitant to speak but also stronger in another skill such as writing. In general, I find that my students are quite supportive of one another, especially once they get to know each other better. I think it’s natural for people to feel at least a little anxious in front of a large group, especially if they don’t know anyone. As for your Korean teacher, I’m sure he or she understands that you have few of the sociocultural competencies of that culture as you are a beginner learner of Korean. Finally, kudos for registering for two language courses as well as your masters courses.


  4. Hi Cheryl,
    Thanks for your posting. Your post just reminded me of what we discussed about last semester. I told you that whenever I spoke to a Native English speaker, I automatically felt nervous. My sentence structures went broken, the grammar was also in a mess. The most terrible thing was that I was able to notice that I had made mistakes in my speaking, and then I had to correct my spoken English a second time. You suggested me that I should be confident and practice makes perfect. This semester, fortunately, I find that I did make some improvement, even though I still found I made mistakes. I very appreciate my classmates and instructors at McGill, because they are so supportive. For example, you might find my voice did not tremble when I presented on Alison’s class (My voice trembled severely when I presented last semester, I was really afraid of speaking something wrong.) You encouraged me to be confident and practice as much as possible. Now, I would like to support you and you believe in yourself that you are able to learn French well.

    colinczayan comment 2


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