It Can’t Be Stressed Enough: English Is Stressful
Experiencing stress in a classroom can be inhibitory to the learning process of a student; however, stress can originate from many causes and cannot always be avoided as the cause may be an integral part of learning, especially in the case of new languages. Students learning English will have to learn to accept and overcome stress as part of the process if they hope to not allow stress to inhibit their learning. Understanding when and why difficulty is being experienced may help a student overcome these issues, and it can help a teacher support his or her students through difficulty.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Christian F. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Fear of Failure
Failure is a necessary evil in learning a new language. Because of the many aspects involved in language learning and because language is developed through the formation of habits, mistakes will be made and are meant to be an educational opportunity rather than a stressor. However, for those that fear failure and mistakes, the necessity to make mistakes and the time period before being adequate in a language may be stressful. This characteristic of learning English can be difficult to develop an actionable plan as a teacher, but one step that can be taken is encouraging the effort even when mistakes are made. It is important in these situations to pander to the confidence levels of the students; otherwise, students may lessen participation. Ensuring the participation and practice of students is key to creating an environment that allows for habit formation and that builds an atmosphere conducive to learning.
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Another issue that could be faced by ESL students in the classroom is not being able to adequately communicate a message or idea. While students may have a general idea of what they want to say, they can still have trouble forming the right statement or question to put their message into English. Whether this issue comes from a lack of grammar knowledge, vocabulary, or both, frustration can build within a student, and they may, therefore, feel that they are being left behind. They may also lose confidence in their abilities. This could eventually lead to giving up. Inability to communicate can also be difficult to notice or address as a teacher and could go on without a teacher’s knowledge because it could present itself as unwillingness to participate or communicate. As a teacher, ensuring equal participation, not allowing a student’s native language to be used, and correcting or informing in a manner that is encouraging and that builds confidence can ease a student’s stress and frustration. Patience is also important in these cases, and if the student requiring extra time or attention begins to hinder the educational quality of the class, outside attention may be necessary to appropriately aid in the student’s development.
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Both mistakes and inability to create a message can be stressful, but adding those stressors on top of the stress of presenting in front of peers and a teacher can yield the production of a lot of cortisol (the stress hormone). Whether in a large or a small classroom, public speech and presentation is a common fear among people. In the setting of an ESL classroom, students must present and participate in order for a teacher to have a sense of strengths, weaknesses, growth, and inhibitions. It is also necessary for students to participate vocally in order to learn and practice the language they have studied. However, feelings of embarrassment, stress, frustration, and anxiety can arise in students when prompted to present. This is especially true if a large portion of their grade is dependent on the presentation. Ignoring the stress that can be caused by a student by fear of presentation and allowing students to participate less can inhibit a student’s learning by not developing a strong, positive relationship with learning English. While this is a difficult issue to address retroactively, a proactive approach may have better results. If a teacher builds strong rapport within the class and between students and creates an environment that is conducive to participation, encouraging, and free from judgment, the pressure may not be as heavy for those with fear of presentation. Methods to ensure this environment can be developed involve creating group work and presentations. This may allow students to slowly develop confidence in presenting in front of their peers. Testing with small groups and allowing the group size to gradually increase may ease a student into presenting in front of peers. Also, in this situation, ensuring that students are encouraging of each other and offer positive feedback and constructive suggestions for the speaker’s development will encourage the speaker to continue building this skill, even in uncomfortable or new territories of English.
Do you want to help your students to conquer stress? Learn how by taking a TEFL course!
The most important part of understanding stressors and inhibitors for students in an ESL classroom comes with knowing that each individual may have different solutions for surpassing their stress. While proactively creating a fun and encouraging environment may help lessen the effects of stress on a student’s performance, reactionary measures may still be necessary. Being consistent and intentional with monitoring of and interaction with students can help a teacher understand the needs of a student and to develop steps necessary in providing an exciting and fun experience.
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