Miss Education says:
I really enjoyed last week’s presentation on language and place, particularly the activity we discussed in groups at the end of class. The whole concept of anxiety and (second or foreign) language learning really interests me and so, I decided to do a little research in regards to this. There is one article in particular that I read and feel is worth sharing because it made me realise how important it is to take the time to address anxiety issues in order to break down the barriers that some of our students put up because of this.
Ariza (2002) writes a very touching story about the struggles she faced when having to teach “a group of terrified children, angry at the prospect of being forced to learn [a foreign language]” (p.719). Her students were American boys that were relocated to Puerto Rico due to several factors mainly linked to family issues. All of her students had very solid “affective filters” (Krashen, 1983; as cited in Ariza (2002) p. 719) which got in the way of them processing the foreign language. So, she turned to CLL (Community Language Learning) to potentially reduce the effects of these filters and get her students learning. She explains that her approach as a “counselor” (instead of teacher) was a key solution to the problem that she, but more importantly her students, was facing.
So, how is a counselor different from a teacher? The CLL approach defines a counselor as someone who is “in support of the student’s personal comfort [and] demonstrates understanding of the learner’s anxiety” (Curran, 1976; as cited in Ariza (2002) p.718). In sum, a counselor shows empathy to the language learners when they are negatively influenced by how they are linked to the second or foreign language they are learning. Ariza (2002) took up the role of counselor since day 1 with her students and was able to lower the effects of her students’ affective filters. Her next strategy was to build a relationship of trust with her students, thus create a sense of community. So, she would bring in cookies and have students do easy ice-breakers in English and simply have fun with each other. I believe this is key when working with students with or without the barriers of affective filters, but I feel it to be a little difficult for an ESL specialist due to time constraints.
Next, she attempted to use the “Human Computer” technique that is basically student-generated conversations that allows the speaker to say what they want in their L1 and then is translated by the teacher, and then repeated by the student while being recorded. The recordings are listened to afterwards. I laughed when I read the transcript of the first conversation attempt (and I think you will too!) which she then transcribed to teach students about grammatical notions. When I read about this “Human Computer” technique, I was really impressed by how easily it brought laughter into her classroom. I believe there is something special about hearing yourself speak in another language, it just puts a smile on your face. However, I do find it difficult to do this activity with groups of 27 students, I will attempt it as a remedial activity for my struggling students.
As the year progressed, the students associated happier experiences with the foreign language and moved from stage 1 of the CLL stages, to stage 2 (Ariza, 2002, p. 721). Their barriers were taken down and the students were starting to use the language they feared with more ease. I strongly suggest that you look at the different stages of CLL and try to situate you students in regards to this, it will somewhat pave a clear way to which approaches you can use (they are briefly describe in Ariza’s (2002) article).
This article might not have given me all the answers to how to lower the anxiety some of my students exhibit while in my classes, however, it does provide a tool and a framework to better cater to the needs of my students. And it did indeed remind me that we should try every technique/approach possible, even the ones that do not work in theory, to address some of the issues in our classrooms. We never know for sure what will or will not work because there are many factors that come into play. I thank Ariza (2002) for reminding me that we should never give up, no matter how impossible our job may seem at times. As an ESL specialist, I have over 300 students a year and many of them are stressed and afraid of English, but I will cater to their need to the best of my abilities, and I think we should all do the same.
That being said, what has worked with you in terms of addressing anxiety in your classes? What have been your experiences? I am interested in learning about your ways of dealing with this common issue in classrooms all over the world.
Ariza, E.N. (2002). Resurrecting “Old” Langauge Learning Methods to Reduce Anxiety for New Language Learners: Community Language Learning to the Rescue. Bilingual Research Jounal, 26 (3), p.717-726.
What is the affective Filter? http://www.eldstrategies.com/affectivefilter.html