Essay Sample: Fear and Anxiety in Learning a Foreign Language

Published: 2022-05-10
Essay Sample: Fear and Anxiety in Learning a Foreign Language
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Learning Languages
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1032 words
9 min read

Schmidt and Frota, (2015) point out, after careful research, that novice students are more anxious than those at intermediate or advanced levels, which means that anxiety decreases as one learns more language and acquires more tools to communicate in the foreign language. The current standards of the Ministry of Education in UK and US aim to develop communication skills as a priority, which implies that students must face oral practices such as conversations, roll plays, support in different topics, or talk about their daily life among others. They make use of the foreign language, situations that develop various levels of anxiety and stress, especially when the grammatical structures, vocabulary and idiomatic expressions of English are not mastered, as one would wish. However, according to the theories of Gardner and Smythe, anxiety should decrease as the level is advanced.

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The teaching of English in UK has been standardized with the European Common Core which classifies the levels of language proficiency taking into account the linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic competence. As students' progress in knowledge and language proficiency, they move up from A1 (beginner) to C2 (expert). School anxiety over learning a foreign language comes from three main sources: fear of communicating in another language, fear of negative evaluation by others and anxiety about exams (Schmidt & Frota, 2015). According to this study, anxiety and fear diminish as communication skills develop in the foreign language, but this is not always the case. Difficult experiences such as humiliation, abandonment, aggression among others, especially when they occur in childhood or youth, can generate permanent traumas in the individual, depending on the features of their personality.

Reinders and Pegrum (2015), have described how anxiety can arise; A student, in his early stages of learning, could encounter many difficulties, ranging from the inability to acquire an adequate pronunciation of the foreign language to the difficulty to grasp the grammar rules. If these first experiences make you nervous and, in addition, you feel uncomfortable when making mistakes, the so-called "situation anxiety" develops, that is, a particular situation can trigger high levels of anxiety, such as talking in public. When this happens repeatedly, the student begins to associate the activation of anxiety ("anxiety arousal") with the foreign language and with its learning. These investigations show that a student, even if he has the necessary cognitive skills, can block the learning of a foreign language. This is due to the anxiety that this process produces the fear of grades, not expressing himself well, the mockery, investing a lot of time in the study and getting few results can cause the student to conclude that he is not good at language learning even when the causes may be anxiety and frustration that have been experienced.


Stress is another problem for many of the international students. Khawaja, Chan, & Stein (2017) investigated some of the stressors that are unique to the learning environment of a foreign country. The study was founded on the experience of the international students in the United States (Khawaja, Chan, & Stein, 2017). Language and communication was one group of stressors that the researchers identified. This study revealed that international nursing students lacked self-confidence because they could not communicate well within and outside the classroom (Khawaja, Chan, & Stein, 2017). They experienced challenges expressing themselves verbally or in written English and they felt as if others considered them inferior because of their language deficiency. Additionally, these students noted that generally it takes time to master English to such a degree that they are as good as students for whom English is their first language (Khawaja, Chan, & Stein, 2017). According to the researchers, this had a negative impact on their overall academic achievement


Barkhuizen (2015) mentions many of the desirable characteristics of the motivated student by describing him as the student who directs his own learning. He is referred to as a student who he is responsible and is aware of his learning objectives. This student self-evaluates and therefore he is aware of how he manages to learn, as well as having a reasonable idea of his level of competence. In short, take an active role in your learning and take every opportunity what you have to understand, practice and learn. That is why it can also be said that motivation to learn implies quality and commitment in the teaching-learning process. Barkhuizen (2015) addresses three of the most important psychological theories that explain motivation in education. The behavioral theory explains it with the existence of external stimuli and reinforcement (the student is motivated with punishments or rewards) explains the humanist theory Based on the need for self-esteem, freedom, sense of competence and ability to choose. Finally, from the cognitive point of view we speak of an active search for meaning, sense and satisfaction for what is done and that the student is guided by the goals that establishes, its internal representations, beliefs and attributions, for example, the explanation of the lost hopelessness of Seligman and the model TARGET of Ames that speaks of the promotion to motivation through self-regulated learning.

In consideration of the concept of motivation and attitudes from which we have started, from an educational perspective is widely recognized that both the one and the other are factors essential for effective learning. Mainly, because without motivation there is no learning and because attitudes support that motivation. Positioning ourselves in the framework of psychology educational and social, we followed Gardner and his socio-educational model of acquisition of second languages (Gardner 2015). Gardner's motivational theory includes a educational dimension and deals with the evaluation of the student in the learning situation in the classroom and outside the classroom. It assumes that the social context determines the attitudes of the apprentices.

On the one hand, the degree of motivation of a student for learning is conditioned for what you want to achieve by doing a specific activity. So, the motivation is endowed with a driving force or interest (effort, desire and affection of the individual), that involves a continuous, dynamic and changing process, since it evolves according to interests and the priorities of the person if motivation turns out to be a complex variable. It is not easy to determine what attitude is, either because of its multiplicity.

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