Suggested Points for Overcoming the Fear Factor
One of the things that is present in all beginning students studying another language is fear. Immediately, someone will say: “Oh no! I had a student who was so sure of himself he was a real nuisance in the classroom.” That’s true. We have all seen them. That doesn’t mean that student is not afraid. Maybe that self assured attitude is a big cover up.
We are conditioned for all of our childhood years to say things properly. As a youngster, every person has been subject to taunts about being “stupid”. These usually result from something “stupid” that we have said. We are made to feel stupid thousands of times in our childhood by saying something that others consider “stupid”. Now, suddenly, in an ESL class, we are asked to say something that is difficult and unfamiliar. All of the old fears return. We have been conditioned for years to avoid saying something stupid, and now everyone in the class is looking at you, and you are going to make a mistake! This is the fear factor.
All students have this fear to some degree, and it can get in the way of learning. Once we know that this fear is there, what can we do about it?
– Save the hardest questions for the best students. If you have a question that you think they will find difficult, say something like: “Could anyone here answer this? How about you Jane, can you get it?” If Jane even attempts an answer give her lots and lots of praise. Then put her answer, (with your corrections) on the board. Repeat the question a number of times to other students in the class, and praise them for the right answer. If they make a mistake, point to the answer on the board and ask again. Finally, you will have everyone in the class answering correctly. Then go back and tell them all that this was a difficult question but by working on it, all of the students could do it.
– Testing can be a real confidence builder. Our books have a test every fourth lesson, and the tests were written so that every student should get over 80%. It was quite usual for our students to score in the high nineties on a test. After just four lessons, a beginner can feel a real sense of achievement if they score in the nineties on a test. They then come to class with confidence, rather than fear.
– Never allow a student to say that they are stupid. The very fact that they are studying a second language denies that. Help them to discover that making mistakes is part of the learning process.
– Even the worst student in a class does some things right. Watch for those things and make a point of praising all the things that your students do right.
– There are lots of free resources online that the students can access, to practice at home.
– Soon, you will find that you have developed an atmosphere in the room where you and your students are working together for a common goal, and fear is no longer a factor.