Language anxiety: 4 insights into the psychological barriers

Nov 15, 2023Anxiety

Language anxiety: 4 insights into the psychological barriers

Language anxiety

Language anxiety isn’t a subject that many people talk about, but it’s very real to those struggling to learn a second language.

What is language anxiety?

Although difficult to define, Language anxiety is situational anxiety.

It makes people feel the same as other types of anxiety. For example, people can worry and get brain fog, so they struggle to think or memorise things such as new words, grammar or how to pronounce something.

There can also be physical issues, such as difficulty sleeping, tension, headaches and digestive problems.

I know this because I have met many adults over the years who have anxiety, and sometimes, it is related to moving abroad and learning a new language. For other people, it can also include test or exam anxiety related to learning a second language.

Yet mastering a new language can be transformational.

It could lead to new career prospects, new relationships, different foods and cultures, and an immense sense of achievement in understanding speakers of other languages.

However, underneath that positivity to learn a second language, there can be substantial psychological barriers caused by anxiety.

To succeed in a new language, I believe that it is essential to identify and understand the mental challenges that adult learners face.

Today, I would like to help you identify these psychological barriers to learning a new language and provide four insights as to why adults, in particular, struggle. I will also offer some ways hypnotherapy might help in conquering language anxiety.

What causes language anxiety?

The roots of this anxiety come from a variety of psychological factors.

1. Fear of being judged

We all want to fit in, especially when learning a language. You don’t want to appear slow, stupid or incapable of pronouncing new words or understanding the grammar. Furthermore, you want people to like you. In a language classroom, this may be difficult as some people will excel, and others will feel inadequate.

2. Perfectionism

Adults want to do things perfectly. They don’t want to make mistakes and worry they won’t do things correctly. Perfectionists have high standards. They critically self-evaluate everything that they do.

On the one hand, this will keep up standards and may also motivate people. However, it can also cause stress and anxiety as people develop unhelpful thinking patterns.

3. Previous negative experiences

This can be previous negative experiences of learning a language or just learning in general. People who have struggled at school or do not have academic qualifications may feel that they can’t understand or aren’t good enough. The negative experience can lead to a fixed or negative mindset and induce language anxiety.

4. Social comparisons

Adults often compare themselves to the top performers rather than judging the progress that they have made. This also can lead to anxiety as it encourages feelings of inadequacy and a belief that they will never be good at learning a language.

Why do adults seem to struggle more with language learning?

Children don’t analyse everything like adults do as they don’t have the experiences and knowledge of an adult.

There are three main psychological reasons why adults struggle more.

What is the impact of language anxiety on the individual?

Psychologically, they can feel demotivated and feel like giving up when things get tough.

They can feel stressed and anxious, developing cognitive distortions.

And they can start to develop avoidant behaviour.

How can hypnotherapy help with the psychological barriers of language learning?

Hypnotherapy might not be the first way you consider to reduce language anxiety, but it can help.

Firstly, it can help reframe negative thinking patterns by using positive suggestions to change beliefs. Positive thinking will also help to motivate. Hypnotherapy is known to help reduce anxiety.

Next, it can enhance concentration by helping the person to focus and relax the mind and the body. This will result in better assimilation and memory recall.

Finally, it can reduce the performance anxiety of speaking a second language by using visualisation to imagine the future with speaking and understanding ease.

Finally, I’m Linda from Awaken the Change. If you are struggling to learn a language or are a language teacher who wants to learn more, please get in touch with me and learn about individual sessions or courses on second language mastery.

Awaken the Change is about Focusing Minds for Positive Results

Awaken the Change is a self-help service providing education and information.

Linda sees clients at her practice in Bournemouth, in the UK. She is also happy to provide online help via webcam for hypnotherapy, counselling and supervision. Counselling and supervision can also be provided by telephone.

Linda is an accredited trainer and supervisor.

Linda Witchell
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