Games in the Classroom - The Antidote to Foreign Language Speaking Anxiety
When an English speaker is traveling in the Philippines, it is not uncommon for a friendly conversation with a local to end with the local stating they have a nosebleed and escape from the conversation. In Filipino culture, nosebleeds indicate that the brain is too stressed. Although Filipinos pride themselves in being fluent in English, many are not as confident to speak it when the time requires.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Terence L.
BACKGROUND: Too Anxious to Speak
This phenomenon of foreign language speaking anxiety is not limited to just the Philippines. Anxiety is one of the vital factors when learning any foreign language. Multiple studies have shown that ESL learners struggle with the language because of the stresses that are brought about through speaking. Iranian students stated that when it came to speaking English, their fear of making mistakes, negative evaluations and their limited vocabulary caused them anxiety. Saudi students studying English admitted their fear stemmed from previous negative feedback in the classroom. Chinese students confessed that they fear of losing face, embarrassment from mistakes, fear of negative criticism, and they lack confidence.
Because of these fears, English students are stressed. Even when they are no longer in the classroom, they have been conditioned to fear because their motivators had been harsh teachers and poor scores. This speaking anxiety leads to poorer performances and is not limited by age or level of language learning. It can strike anyone.
INTRODUCTION: Work VS Play
Students’ suggestions on how to help their anxiety can mostly be summed up in a better learning environment. The classroom should be friendly, the teacher encouraging, and the tasks more practical and relatable.
A learning environment that encourages all of these aspects is the use of games in the classroom. There is the notion to believe that games are mere time-fillers. For some reason, society has made “work” and “play” into antonyms. Society has made it a staple that classrooms must resemble an adult’s workplace with a desk and a deadline. However, when has a workplace felt encouraging, friendly and comfortable? When has a workplace felt like a safe learning environment?
Games allow the student to escape from routine. Games are a great motivator for students, creates a safe environment, and contributes to self-esteem. If done well, the use of games in the classroom could be the antidote for foreign language speaking anxiety.
When acquiring a new language, motivation and self-esteem are just some of the top factors. The task in games is to win, not to pass. Failing a game is less stressful than to fail a class. To win the game, one has to speak the target language. When done properly, the desire to communicate in the target language will be connected with the same eagerness to win and enjoy. Students can often get so absorbed into the competition of the game that they forget the classroom. The competition also gets students a reason to pay attention. Not only are games effective in the classroom, but students who enjoyed the game can play (or practice further) outside the classroom as well.
It is also important to note that games in the classroom are not just for children. Adults also enjoy games as well as children since they are more task-focused and do not disregard rules. Games allow adults to be in charge of their own learning, execution, and evaluation. Adults also enjoy the real world application of games. The reasons why adults learn a foreign language is either because of a job, family, or some other needed connection. What better way to practice connection in the target language than through games?
The Saudi student in the study mentioned earlier suggested an encouraging learning environment. The Chinese students wished to practice more with their classmates (who are on their level and learning as well) rather than their teacher (who criticizes them). The majority of speaking is informal, yet English language curriculum forces a formal, performance-based agenda. Students are taught formulas and vocabulary to plug-and-chug, remember and regurgitate. Games do not focus on memorization, but application. Games allow for real-life scenarios that call for communication skills that require critical thinking in different environments.
Games should not be used as a time-filler but should be used in the classroom as frequently as possible. Games are a teaching aid used to help explain or reinforce a lesson. A study showed that when games are more frequently played, the students are more comfortable to join the activity. Making games a habit in the classroom reduces the stress of participation because participation becomes the norm.
When speaking in the classroom is met with positive feelings, the students will associate speaking as something positive. Their English doesn’t sound choppy or meek because games allow for speaking to be creative and spontaneous. The teacher’s only job during a game is a guide.
Students have confessed that the biggest cause of anxiety in the classroom is the teacher. Students confessed that they preferred writing in English because the paper doesn’t judge the student.
Finally, not only are games helpful to motivate the student and provides a less stressful environment, but it helps the inner-self of the student. With less embarrassment and more freedom, students can have higher self-esteem. With games, students may not even realize they are learning. Speaking becomes purposeful, not forceful.
Multiple studies have been conducted in whether foreign language students performed better when taught through games or through traditional methods. In one study two groups of students were taught an English lesson. The control group used the conventional method while the experimental group used games to learn and perform.
The experimental group outperformed the control group, were more motivated to learn and enjoyed the new method. Another study with fourth graders saw that students performed better when they were evaluated through games rather than a traditional test. Students in one other case study said that playing motivated them to learn the vocabulary and become less stressed.
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