Anxiety Causes and Effects on Language Learning

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When it comes to learning and attaining new knowledge that can help a person become successful in life, anxiety can be either disruptive or facilitative. All students feel anxious at times, some experience negative feelings to a greater extent compared to others and some deal with anxiety on a chronic and pervasive basis, which is a great challenge. When anxiety is disruptive in nature, it can facilitate the emergence of behavioural, emotional and cognitive issues that create barriers within the learning process. When the issues are severe and pervasive, they can be diagnosed as anxiety disorders. Nevertheless, it is also imperative to note that anxiety is a common feeling and in the case when it does not have a severe impact on the learning and overall well-being of a person, it should not be approached as a psychopathological issue. This paper aims to explore the issue of anxiety in the context of learning, determining the causes of the phenomenon and its influence on individuals.

Experiencing anxiety is a regular part of life experiences because some situations in which people may find ourselves can be challenging or even scary. The common definition of anxiety is a feeling that is characterised by the increased tension, worrying and physical changes, such as increased blood pressure.1 When an individual faces worrying or harmful triggers, the feeling of anxiety appears as a response to the external environment that encourages negative emotions. For example, a nervous feeling before an important event such as project presentation is a natural echo to the initial ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction inherent to our ancestors who ran away from predators. The rush of adrenalin that inflows into the body is a sign that either internal or external factors increase the levels of anxiety, leading to additional stress and worry. However, it is important to understand the difference between the normal feeling of anxiety and anxiety disorder because the latter requires medical attention in order to treat the condition effectively. Anxiety disorders develop when the feelings of anxiety exceed the proportions of an original stressor or trigger. Additional symptoms, as nausea or increased blood pressure may appear, signalling that anxiety is reaching extreme levels. When the physical symptoms of anxiety appear on a regular basis and an individual has recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns, there is a risk of anxiety reaching the stage of disorder that greatly interferes with the daily functioning.

The causes of anxiety are varied and depend on the situations in which people find themselves on a regular basis. For example, environmental stressors, such as difficulties at work or school, relationship or family issues, can be significant triggers for anxiety. Also, genetics can also contribute to increased anxiety levels as people who have family members with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience it themselves. Medical factors and brain chemistry, as well as withdrawal from the abuse of substances all, increase the likelihood of anxiety. Although, environmental stressors are applicable to the current exploration.

For the purpose of the current study of anxiety in the context of language learning, it was chosen to provide autobiographic accounts of the process to identify triggers for negative emotions as well as look for ways to overcome them. As mentioned by Pavlenko, autobiographic narratives have been widely used in the exploration of language learning because they reflect upon people’s efforts to understand how they approach the process as well as make sense of their experience.2 Exploring the phenomenon of anxiety from the autobiographic perspective is expected to reveal the causes for the negative emotions as well as their influence on the learning process, which aligns with the goal of the current essay. Reflecting on my experience with learning a new language, there were many points that could be characterised as anxiety. As a first-time learner of Italian, I thought that acquiring the language would not be the most significant challenge since I am Spanish, and there are some similarities between the two. Writing journal allowed me to ‘think aloud’ and verbalise my thoughts through the lens of retrospection.3 In the very beginning of my reflective journal entries, I mentioned that “the experience of learning Italian should not be complicated for me, as someone who is Spanish, I am pretty confident that the new language will be similar to my mother tongue despite the fact that I had no previous experience of speaking Italian […].” The entire experience was perceived as the one that should go well, so initially, I had no worries.

Despite the optimistic look at learning Italian, anxiety came during the process of learning, which was unexpected. As of now, I am not quite ready yet to have a regular conversation in Italian, but my learning has gone far for me to understand the majority of the things that people would say in an everyday conversation. Reaching this point was challenging in specific points, and anxiety came when I was not ready to overcome it. In one of my entries regarding the problems that I had during learning, I wrote, “our teacher had a model of teaching when they asked us questions individually, and students had to respond out loud, in front of the entire class. Being an introverted person who is quite shy in front of large groups of people, the moments when the teacher asked me questions were quite stressful.” I was already anxious when other students before me were giving their responses, and I understood that the teacher would ask me, and I would have to respond. As mentioned in my journal, “resolving anxiety of speaking Italian in front of the entire class is a matter of confidence. My inner fear that somebody would laugh at me for not speaking correctly is something that I should work on to overcome.” When writing this reflection, I was aware that the problem was not with people but rather with the way I perceive myself. Projecting anxiety through the lens of the outside perspective is counter-productive because I should be the one to overcome my fears; no one else could do this for me. Therefore, I had to work on developing my inner sense of confidence through understanding my strengths and how they could help me become more effective in language learning. Still, there is a long road ahead of me.

Anxiety came as a surprise initially because I was confident that learning Italian would be an easy task to undertake. A lot of Italian words are similar to those in Spanish, so I was aware of what may happen. However, the confidence decreased as I started learning, and there were so many differences that are quite hard to learn because I would get confused between the two languages. In addition, there were situations in class when I would get confident about the right answer and would be wrong because I confused Italian with Spanish. I the journal, I wrote, “I often felt like a failure because I felt too confident about the right answers to questions. I turned out that I was often confusing between Spanish and Italian, which prevented me from using what I had learned previously, relying on the overall experience.” Being wrong and the entire class, knowing that I was wrong despite being confident gave me immense anxiety. Such an experience was not favourable for me because I began doubting myself and re-checking every word several times, failing to rely on my already existing knowledge. This experience correlated with what Sadiq wrote about language learning: “language anxiety is cause by personal and interpersonal perspectives, learner beliefs about language learning, […] and classroom procedures.”4 It is important not to doubt myself, and even if I am wrong in some cases, learning to accept mistakes and learn from them is something on which I would work.

The final cause of anxiety within the process of learning Italian was associated with the fact that most of my classmates already knew the language and were a little older. Because of their previous experience with Italian, I felt intimidated. When reflecting on this issue, I wrote in the journal that “I wish that my classmates were on the same level with Italian as I am, however selfish this may sound. This could have brought us closer because of the similar struggles that we would be facing.” Again, the lack of confidence and the fear to overcome self-doubts contributed to the increased anxiety levels when learning Italian. I should learn how to use my strengths to my advantage and not think about others. Ultimately, I am learning Italian as a second language for myself, to be successful as well as develop as a well-rounded individual.

After exploring my experience learning Italian, I understood that my anxiety emerged as a result of the learning barriers that took place in the classroom. From being afraid to speak a non-native language in front of the class to doubting myself after making mistakes, anxiety came and went, and therefore altered my experience with learning Italian. Anxious feelings were surprising for me initially because I was very confident about learning the language that was similar to my native one. The feeling of confidence was sometimes exceeded by anxiety that made me doubt my knowledge, skills and personal accomplishments. Research on the connections between anxiety and language learning showed that negative attitudes and emotions had an influence on students’ performance in language learning.5 Because of this, it is important for educators to understand the possibility of learners developing anxiety when encountering a new language. By having such an understanding, it is essential to facilitate a positive setting in the classroom that welcomes mistakes as a way of learning. I think that anxiety is a normal part of life despite the challenges that it has shown to bring during language learning, as long as anxiety does not develop in a persistent issue that causes severe challenges to individuals. I feel that there is always room for having a positive outlook on acquiring new knowledge and experiences.

Reference List

  1. McKay, S. ‘Introspective Techniques’, in J. Heigham and R. Croker (ed.), Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics: A Practical Introduction, New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. 220-241.
  2. Pavlenko, A. ‘Autobiographic Narratives as Data in Applied Linguistics’, Applied Linguistics, vol. 28, no. 2, 2007, pp. 163-188.
  3. Raskin, J. Abnormal Psychology: Contrasting Perspectives, London, Red Globe Press, 2019.
  4. Sadiq, J. ‘Anxiety in English Language Learning: A Case Study of English Language Learners in Saudi Arabia’, English Language Teaching, vol. 10, no. 7, 2017, pp. 1-7.

Footnotes

  1. J. Raskin, Abnormal Psychology: Contrasting Perspectives, London, Red Globe Press, 2019, p. 177.
  2. A. Pavlenko, ‘Autobiographic Narratives as Data in Applied Linguistics’, Applied Linguistics, vol. 28, no. 2, 2007, p. 164.
  3. S. McKay, ‘Introspective Techniques’, in J. Heigham and R. Croker (ed.), Qualitative Research in Applied Linguistics: A Practical Introduction, New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, p. 221.
  4. J. Sadiq. ‘Anxiety in English Language Learning: A Case Study of English Language Learners in Saudi Arabia’, English Language Teaching, vol. 10, no. 7, 2017, p. 3.
  5. J. Sadiq. ‘Anxiety in English Language Learning: A Case Study of English Language Learners in Saudi Arabia’, p. 4.

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ChalkyPapers. 2022. "Anxiety Causes and Effects on Language Learning." February 1, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/anxiety-causes-and-effects-on-language-learning/.

1. ChalkyPapers. "Anxiety Causes and Effects on Language Learning." February 1, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/anxiety-causes-and-effects-on-language-learning/.


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ChalkyPapers. "Anxiety Causes and Effects on Language Learning." February 1, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/anxiety-causes-and-effects-on-language-learning/.