Logo Learning Foreign Languages Online

Language Anxiety and the Self-Directed Learner

Anxiety during language learning has been extensively researched, and numerous elements have been identified as potential causes. It has been established that anxiety in a foreign language classroom, whether physical or virtual; is distinct from other types of anxiety and that it negatively affects both proficiency and rate of language acquisition. Anxiety in learning a foreign language can stem from a variety of factors; some of them include the student, the teacher, the instructional approach, or the methodology. Low self-esteem, false assumptions about language learning, unfavourable encounters with the foreign language or culture, or the overall experience of language learning can all be sources of anxiety (Russell, 2020).

Language anxiety is “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviours related to language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope; 1986). Remember that learning a language in a naturalistic environment, such as through immersion while travelling or residing abroad, is unrelated to the type of anxiety that is associated with language learning in traditional brick-and-mortar classroom or online. A self-directed learner of foreign language online on the contrary can be at advantage as they don’t have to struggle with the communication apprehension as evident in the physical classrooms. They do however suffer from test anxiety “the tendency to view with alarm the consequences of inadequate performance in an evaluative situation” (Sarason, 1984, p. 214). 

Some learners are not good candidates for online language learning, particularly those who lack the drive and/or self-discipline necessary to take ownership of their own learning. Additionally, online learners must allot enough time to complete the course on time, ask for assistance when necessary, and be willing to learn despite being emotionally and physically isolated from their peers (Russell & Murphy‐Judy, 2020; White, 2010). Some learners with high levels of language anxiety might decide to enrol in an online course because they want the comfort of anonymity and the assurance that they won’t have to participate in speaking exercises or contact with other learners as much (Pichette, 2009). As a result, learners may experience anxiety related to both the language and the use of the instructional technologies that are used to communicate in the target language. Online language learners are, however, typically required to interact with other learners and with their instructor if any, in the target language using audio and video tools. More precisely to enhance their learning and reduce their anxiety, the learners must find a way to engage in synchronous conversations with a native language speaker.

  • Strategies for overcoming foreign language Anxiety 

The fear of negative evaluation, test anxiety and, communication apprehension are most common influential factors among the self-directed learners regarding foreign language learning. Language learners who have low self-esteem, negative self-talk, or a general lack of confidence in their language abilities may be more prone to anxiety (Almekhlafy, 2020). The use of techniques including mindfulness exercises, cognitive behavioural therapy, and relaxation techniques has been demonstrated to assist language learners overcome their anxieties and progress more quickly. Following strategies can be employed to overcome anxiety or fear in learning foreign language:

  • Focus on the real objective: Communication

Speaking flawlessly is not the aim of learning foreign language. Aside from the ridiculous amount of pressure it places on you, expecting yourself to talk without any mistakes is also wildly unreasonable. Thus, it is vital to concentrate on communicating only. But you do need to know enough words to do this, so develop your vocabulary. Use dictionaries with audio pronunciations that you may imitate and make sure you are familiar with the most typical nouns and verbs in your target language. It will be beneficial to make a commitment to acquiring a specific number of common nouns and verbs—for example, seven per week or one per day—and then it is advisable to speak with native speakers as frequently as you can to practise your new vocabulary. Shift your emphasis from speaking precisely to communicating and you’ll feel the strain melt away, and you’ll most likely make fewer mistakes!

  • Set achievable Goals

If your perfectionism causes you to aim for the unattainable, you won’t progress very far in your language learning. Making sure your language learning goals are reasonable and attainable will help you avoid feeling worse when you are unable to meet them. Perfectionism and anxiety related to learning a foreign language feed off of each other. Here are some instances of typical unattainable language learning objectives and their equivalents in reality:

Unrealistic: Even though I’m just starting out, I’ll speak flawlessly if I practise and study really hard.

Realistic: I can’t expect to avoid using the mangled terminology. To become fluent, I must pass through many phases of fluency. What I can do is track how many errors I make while striving to make less.

  • Transform unproductive ideas

You may be familiar with the term “cognitive distortion,” which refers to the incorrect, irrational, and negative thought processes that lead us to believe we are less-than. For instance, you might go to a party and say, “The people there won’t like me,” even though you have no idea how they’ll react to you. Besides, how could complete strangers have an opinion of you? Now is the time to identify the cognitive distortions impeding your achievement in learning a language. We can catch ourselves in the act if we can identify what they are. Some of the most common cognitive distortions pertinent to the language learning are:

Should: “By now, I should be fluent.”
Personalization: “Due to my foreign accent, the cashier was extremely mean to me.”
Filtering: “I just spoke with perfect grammar and excellent fluency, but the one word I mispronounced is all that matters.”
Generalization: “I might as well give up since that one native speaker couldn’t understand me when I tried to speak in Italian years ago.”
Control fallacies: My life is so busy with work and family that I’ll never have the opportunity to learn French, therefore I can’t help it if it’s bad.

Foreign language anxiety is unpleasant, but certainly above-mentioned tips can make the battle to overcome it a lot easier.” Don’t let anxiety hinder your language learning efforts!

If you enjoyed reading above article, feel free to leave your feedback below. Stay up-to-date with the LFLO project for useful resources that will support you on your socially-distant language learning journey. You can find out more at https://www.learninglanguages.eu/, and don’t forget to follow us on our social media channels: 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lfloproject  
Twitter: https://twitter.com/LearningLangu18  
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lflo_project/  


  1. Almekhlafy, S. S. A. (2020). Online learning of English language courses via blackboard at Saudi universities in the era of COVID-19: perception and use. PSU Research Review5(1), 16-32.
  2. Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern language journal70(2), 125-132.
  3. Kawa, S. (2023). Strategies for reducing anxiety in language learning: Measuring the effective techniques for managing anxiety in the language learning process.
  4. Pichette, F. (2009). Second language anxiety and distance language learning. Foreign Language Annals42(1), 77-93.
  5. Russell, V. (2020). Language anxiety and the online learner. Foreign Language Annals53(2), 338-352.
  6. Russell, V., & Murphy-Judy, K. (2020). Teaching language online: A guide for designing, developing, and delivering online, blended, and flipped language courses. Routledge.
  7. Sarason, I. G. (1984). Stress, anxiety, and cognitive interference: reactions to tests. Journal of personality and social psychology46(4), 929.
  8. White, C. (2003). Language learning in distance education. Cambridge University Press.
  9. Reaves, L. (2022). 4 Trusted Tips for Overcoming Foreign Language Anxiety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *