Five tips for overcoming anxiety in your lessons

Have you ever sat in a language classroom and wished that the ground would swallow you up? Have you ever stayed awake all night panicking about an exam? Have you ever avoided speaking in class, because you were worried that your opinion wasn’t worth hearing or because you were scared of making a mistake? 

All these anxious thoughts and feelings are common among foreign language learners. So how can you manage this anxiety to prevent it affecting your progress?  

1. Lose the ‘every word in my sentence must be correct’ attitude

It’s completely normal to feel nervous when speaking in class and it’s important to recognise that you aren’t alone in feeling this way. There are, however, lots of strategies to reduce or manage these nerves, starting with your beliefs about and attitude to language learning. Many students are ashamed of their mistakes, so are unwilling to speak unless they are certain that every word is correct. 

I, for one, can really understand this attitude, as I’m a complete perfectionist. It’s taken me years of learning languages to realise that mistakes are not only natural and unavoidable but can be highly advantageous to the language-learning process. Speaking freely without worrying about every little mistake will make you more fluent and allow your teacher to better identify areas for development and tailor lessons to your needs. The sooner you stop worrying about mistakes and start taking risks with your language, the sooner you will reach your goals.  

2. Record yourself speaking at home

Public speaking can be scary enough in your mother tongue, so doing so in a second language is likely to be even more terrifying! Students often worry a lot about giving presentations in class, because they think they’re going to make a fool of themselves in front of other learners. If you find it nerve-wracking, I would strongly recommend that you record yourself practising at home. This can really help you to focus on your body language and pronunciation, and identify areas to improve before the real presentation.  

3. Remind yourself that you don't need to be an expert in everything

General English classes cover a wide range of topics, such as health, education, politics and the environment. Sometimes, you may have to talk about topics that you’re not hugely interested in or don’t know much about. Fear of not knowing enough about the topic can stop you from participating in group discussions or debates. 

As a reserved language learner myself, I can certainly empathise with students who feel as if their opinion isn’t worth hearing, but now, as a teacher, I think back to my university days and regret not speaking up more in class and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more about unfamiliar topics. So, next time you’re discussing legal systems or debating the causes of global warming, remember: you probably know more than you think you do, any lack of knowledge should be seen as an opportunity to learn and, most importantly, you’re being assessed on your English, not your world knowledge!  

4. Admit when you’re struggling and try not to compare yourself to others 

It can be really hard to admit you’re struggling or finding something difficult, because you’re so wrapped up in what others think of you and how you compare. Caring too much about my classmates’ opinion certainly resulted in me limiting my own speaking opportunities and slowed down the rate at which I improved.  

You have to remember that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and that we all progress at different rates. There will be some tasks that you find more difficult than the person sitting next to you and other tasks that you find easier, so treat this as an opportunity to share and help each other. Finally, try to make a conscious effort to put your progress before your pride, and don’t ever be afraid to ask for help! 

5. Reward your successes rather than dwelling on your failures 

Students often say that they feel like they’re not improving as quickly as they would like. This could be for a number of reasons, such as having unrealistically high expectations, or, perhaps more commonly, focusing too much on setbacks and not enough on achievements. Dwelling on mistakes you made can cause negative feelings about your language learning.

My advice would be to write down every night one thing that you feel you’ve achieved that day. This will remind you of your hard work and, hopefully, make you feel better about your progress. I would also suggest treating yourself at the end of the week. Whether you choose to go out with friends or relax at home, make sure you give yourself a break from speaking English! 


Glossary

  • To wish that the ground would swallow you up (idiom)- to want to escape an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation 
  • Worthy (adjective) - to deserve attention, respect etc
  • To identify (verb) - to find or recognise
  • To tailor (verb) - to adapt something for a specific person or purpose
  • To empathise (verb) - to understand and share another person’s feelings
  • To struggle (verb) - to find something difficult
  • To be wrapped up in (idiom) - to give so much of your attention to something that you do not have time for other things or people
  • Mother tongue (noun phrase) - native language 
  • To make a fool of oneself (idiom) - to embarrass oneself in front of others
  • Nerve-wracking (adjective) - causing a lot of worry or anxiety
  • Setback (noun) - an obstacle or problem that prevents progress  
  • To dwell on (verb) to keep thinking about something bad or unpleasant
  • To treat (somebody/yourself) (verb) - to do something or buy something special for somebody/yourself 

This post was written by Maddy, one of our trainers at The London School of English.

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