Growing up attempting to speak multiple languages was not an easy task and there were many struggles that came with it. I always felt as though, I was not competent enough in any of the languages I was speaking, whether it was my mother tongue or a new language. This lead me to being a very shy and introverted child, I was to afraid to speak any language for fear of being inadequate. Ironically years later, I learned that many others feel this way and that there is actually a name to it, Language Anxiety. I realize now it was silly of me to think I would be the only person feeling these struggles, but having someone put a name to it, was a moment of clarity.
When my professor started to explain the concept of Language Anxiety, I found myself sitting in my seat nodding my head in agreement, and thinking “wow, this sounds like how I’ve felt my whole life!” I had always felt very alone with my language struggles, the majority of my friends grew up in multi-ethnic families and could speak multiple languages with ease. I remember when we were younger and would play games at parties, some of my friends would say “now we play the whole game in french”, and I would dread the moment I had to talk. It was the same experience in school. In any class, English or French, if the teacher was asking the students to read aloud, I would fearfully count ahead to when I was going to have to read and practice my lines, and if ever someone read too little or too much I would go into sheer panic because I had not pre-read my section. I never knew what contextually happened before or after my section of reading, because I was so nervous about reading mine. Even now as an educator I like to read the texts I will be doing with the class beforehand, because I do not want to appear as though I am an inadequate English teacher. I don’t want the students thinking, she can’t pronounce that word, she shouldn’t be an English teacher. I realise this fear is silly, because there are many words in the English language that are incredibly difficult to pronounce, and some words even have multiple pronunciations. Yet, for the beginning years of my teaching career I was terrified. Through my education I learned that teachers don’t know everything and that is ok. No one is perfect all the time, and the goal is to learn. In any classroom, at any given time, the teacher and the students are both learning, both improving. This is how it should be. Understanding how I felt as a student with language anxiety will better help me understand my students, and hopefully help them overcome their language anxiety.
But what practices can I implement in my classroom to help my students overcome this fear?