Language learning: an emotional roller coaster?

Ups and downs… maybe more Downs than Ups? Does this sum up your language learning journey? If so, well, take heart, you are not alone!

We all know the Ups; the boost you get when you get it right, when you have that unexpected  conversation when you suddenly feel the thrill of the flow of words coming together in a coherent sentence. However, for most of us this light-headed moment of success quickly dissipates, and we chute headfirst into a Down! Why, why, oh why?

In my experience it can be summed up in one short sentence “Fear of making mistakes”.

This moment of panic, loss of control and  feeling adrift can stem from either the fear of unintentional slips of the tongue, or maybe the frustration of forgetting something that you learnt recently, or often because of what we perceive as a basic lack of knowledge. That little negative voice in our head oten whispers, “I’m not good enough”, it’s so easy to be intimidated by other people who speak “so much better than me”.

These fears, coupled with one of the most common underlaying difficulties for many people that of not feeling comfortable when speaking in public can lead to paralyzing silence. 

Maybe we are haunted by our experiences at school, but as adults learning a language we have to remember that we are no longer at school! As adults, we have to see language learning in a new light; we no longer need to get 10/10 in a homework exercise, we need to COMMUNICATE. We should also bear in mind that much of this communication takes place in an international context where very few people are  speaking text book English, but nevertheless these people are successfully reaching their professional objectives.

So, how can you overcome the emotional barrier of language learning? 

  1. Understand that learning a language is an emotional experience. In this respect language learning stirs emotions which other subjects do not. How many of us feel intimated if we don’t know the capital of a country, the chemical formula for XX but when we can’t article our ideas in English, our emotions get the better of us. Maybe you feel that your English is “better” with some people more than others. I would suggest that this has more to do with your feelings towards the people you are talking to rather than with your level of English. Many people feel more relaxed talking in English with their colleagues than with their boss, or people they don’t know.
  2. Be kind to yourself. Work with a teacher who “allows mistakes”. The mark of a good teacher is one who doesn’t judge you when you make a mistake (because, of course, you will make many, many, many mistakes). So my advice is to participate as much as possible in your training sessions, speak and make lots of mistake. We all know the expression “practice makes perfect”…. Well it does ! At some point in your training you may need to take an exam, give a presentation or take part in an important meeting when you will need to minimize errors, so use your training time to make sure you make, and correct, all your mistakes before the D-Day of an important test/event.  
  1. Work with a teacher/ trainer who gives opportunities for “free speech”, i.e. activities which are not graded, which reduce tension and encourage trying out new structures and vocabulary. Get out of your comfort zone, take some risks, learn and progress.
  2. Once you have improved your confidence and you feel less apprehensive plan to focus more on grammar and vocabulary when the time is right, for example if you have an exam or work event.
  3. Expect positive, and constructive feedback from your teacher/trainer.    #enjoyenglish


Susan Barke 06/04/2022


Buckland Business English