5-week crash course for language teachers: anxiety


Welcome to the 5-Week Linguist Show. If you want to learn a language or you teach a language, you’ve come to the right place. Join Janina each week for tips, resources, and advice for making engaging language learning happen anytime, anywhere.

Welcome to the 5-Week Linguist Show. This week, I wanted to talk about starting the year and anxiety. One of the things that has always really resonated with me about languages is the amount of anxiety that it produces. I think that coming from a traditional background in languages, I consider myself someone who has … I’m a native speaker of English. I took languages at school. I loved it. Going to a real environment, as much of a passion as I had for it, I’m not sure what the kind of communication skills that I had. And that’s when I really started to experience a lot of anxiety. And so I know it’s different for everybody, but anxiety for so many reasons, not being able to communicate at all, not being able to communicate adequately, feeling embarrassed, making mistakes, those all come with the package. So I wanted to talk a little bit about that beginning of the year and anxiety today.

So I first want to start with teacher anxiety. It can be really difficult to feel like, well, maybe I don’t have all the answers. What if I don’t know something? What if I forget a word? Believe me, I’ve been there and it’s not the end of the world. And I do think that there are some really great things about being able to see things through the student lens, it’s being able to create a really accessible and compassionate experience, really focusing on making language attainable and understandable for students. And with that said, though I really invested to become a really strong speaker of Spanish and I’m so grateful that I did that. I don’t experience any of that anxiety, but I still really value the being to see things through the student lens. And that’s one reason that continues to motivate me to learn new languages is that it keeps me in that mindset of where they are. And I get my best ideas I think from it. And so I think that it’s really important to just honor that anxiety and work with it somehow and make the anxiety work for you.

In my case, I think I was able to … It motivated me to really learn languages to a really high level, which was able to help me really understand the proficiency scale and about moving from one place to another and be able to put that into really specific activities in a classroom to be able to help my students do that. And to be able to help myself do that and the people I work with, who want advice on learning languages. So that’s been really great. So I think anxiety has a huge place in the language teacher’s toolbox of being something that we should kind of honor and fall in love with a little bit as crazy as that might sound, falling in love with anxiety. But honoring the process of, in having the experience of being anxious to help us understand how our students might feel.

And with that said, I want to talk about how to use that in the classroom, some was really specific ways to use that to help students get over their anxiety. The very first way that I would … Piece of advice. Very first tip is CI, comprehensible input. Anything that you can do that’s going to make language easy to understand is going to really help lower your students’ anxiety. Visuals, gestures, technology that allows language to be able to be repeated. That’s hugely important. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of CI for every level that’s appropriate for every level.

Game. They’re absolutely critical. You should have a bunch of games that can be adapted to any lesson, any language. They’re really, really helpful. Again, I say should, that’s my opinion, but they’re really, really helpful just to have in your repertoire, a bunch of stuff that you can do, and they don’t require any prep and they can easily be adapted to lots and lots and lots of different lessons, and that’s going to help lower your anxiety. And while I haven’t gotten super into the research on learning and fun, I know it’s there. I love the research of Dr. Stuart Brown, talks about play. Now our environment isn’t exactly play, but I think it all rings true. It’s good for us just to have fun and start associating this language thing with fun.

And lastly, I want to talk about review. And when I first started teaching, I saw, do a thorough review of the previous year’s course, and it took me five weeks. That was one of my first five week experiences. And it was about five weeks to really review the previous courses. So when you’re talking about teaching language one, you definitely have to set up the environment, but then language two, three, four, kids have taken a few months break in they come back and it can be really, really, really anxiety inducing to be back in the environment and feel like, ooh, We’re going to pick up where we left off and I’ve forgotten everything from last year when they really haven’t. They just need to have it reactivated.

Generally speaking, the anxiety is lower by the first class, after the first couple of classes, and then the end of two weeks, everyone’s comfortable again. And then by five weeks, it takes about that long to review a year of language. And I wouldn’t present the lessons in the same way. I do lots of projects and dramas that incorporate all, recycle all of that language. But I think it’s really, really to really dedicate some time into reviewing language from the year before. And if the students don’t like … Oftentimes students will see a number on a book and they really associate that with making progress. And we know of course that has absolutely nothing to do with it so they want to start right away in the book and not necessarily do the vital, the critical review.

So I really try to make it something that’s outside the book. The books can be used for reference the review section of the book. And I really work hard to do lots of planning for immersive projects that incorporate the language that they learned the week before. So some of the ideas are hot seat. I like that one. Research projects, plays. I’ll link to some of my resources. So how do you lower anxiety for yourself and in your classroom? Until next time.

Thank you for listening to the 5-Week Linguist Show with Janina Klimas. Join us each week here and visit us at reallifelanguage.com/reallifelanguageblog for more resources for learning and teaching languages.

Looking for more resources for your classes? Language Class Activities: Five Weeks of Low and No Prep Fun

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