Suggestions to Reduce Language Anxiety and Fears
The mission for teachers is helping students to diminish language anxiety providing the right tools and avoiding problematic situations for them. Dörnyei formulates the key question: How can we turn the language classroom into an anxiety-free-zone? The answer is obvious: By removing the factors that can lead to anxiety and fear. Therefore: “avoid social comparison, even in its subtle forms, promote cooperation instead of competition, help learners to accept the fact that they will make mistakes as part of the learning process and make tests and assessment completely transparent and involve students in the negotiation of the final mark” (Dörnyei, 2002, p. 92-94).
Since reducing language speaking fears does not only depend on the teachers, let us look at what concerns learners, what learning strategies exist and how they can be classified (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Dörnyei, 2002).
“These are the specific procedures learners use with individual learning tasks” (Richards & Lockhart 1994, p. 63).
Each student looks for and uses his/her functional method in order to succeed in the proposed tasks. Another definition of learning strategies is “specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, and more transferable to new situations” (Oxford, 1990, p. 9). O’Malley & Chamot state that “strategies begin as declarative knowledge that can become proceduralized with practice and, like complex cognitive skills, proceed through the cognitive, associative, and autonomous stages of learning” (p. 85). Dörnyei aims to illustrate to teachers how to motivate learners in the language classroom through thirty-five specific strategies. Next we include two taxonomies of strategies: Language learning strategies (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990) and motivational strategies (Dörnyei, 2002).
Language Learning Strategies
Based on their descriptive studies, O’Malley & Chamot (1990) outlined two classifications of Language Learning Strategies (LLS). One for the strategies used by Second Language Learners (SLLS) and the other for the strategies used by Foreign Language Learners (FLLS). For our purpose, to identify what strategies our students use to overcome their fears to express orally, we chose the first group: metacognitive, cognitive and social / affective.
In connection to metacognitive strategies, “Metacognition has been used to refer to knowledge about cognition or the regulation of cognition... Examples of metacognitive strategies are directed attention, or consciously directing one’s own attention to the learning task, and self-evaluation...” (O’Malley & Chamot, 1990, p.99). Within this category we have taken four: Functional planning, self-management, self-monitoring and evaluation. Once our students select the topic, they start planning and rehearsing; we made initial agreements about respect and support to assure the conditions that help them learn and do their presentations with permanent monitoring and evaluation.
Cognitive strategies refer to those specific learning activities that would include using operations or steps in learning or problem solving that require analysis, transformation, or synthesis of learning materials. The students carried out actions such as resourcing, deduction, use of visual images, previous auditory representations, note taking, summarizing and translation.
On the other hand, social-affective strategies help learners interact with other people. When students are asked to work with other students most of them enjoy and celebrate since they think the work will be easier and faster working in groups. It is not the same as an individual presentation in public. Working together with one or more peers to solve a problem, pool information, check a learning task, model a language activity or get feedback on oral and written performance constitutes one of the pillars of our study.