Foreign Language Anxiety - Overcoming Your Fear of Foreign Languages

Foreign Language Anxiety – What it is, What Causes it, & How to Overcome it


girl suffering foreign language anxiety

Foreign language anxiety is a situation-specific fear or anxiety which occurs when trying to use a foreign language.

As you likely know, mastering a foreign language involves much more than just learning vocabulary and grammar rules. You also need to develop such key skills as reading, listening, writing, and speaking. This may be already quite enough stuff to handle, however, language learners often have to do even more than that.

One of the things that greatly affect language learning is the learner’s mindset, as well as various feelings and emotions they may experience while learning the language. A language learner may have to do some psychological work: adjust their attitude or confront their fears, for instance.

In this article, we are going to take a detailed look at foreign language anxiety. We’ll explain what it is, what causes it, and, more importantly, how you can recognise and overcome it.

What Is Foreign Language Anxiety

Foreign language anxiety, also known as xenoglossophobia, can be generally defined as the feeling of tension, fear, worry, or apprehension one can experience when learning or using a second or foreign language. As you can imagine, it negatively affects language learning and performance.

The term ‘foreign language anxiety’ doesn’t describe a particular fear or foreign language context, it is more of an umbrella term. This feeling can happen in any foreign language context: learning or communication, speech production or perception.

Different types of foreign language anxiety can be singled out depending on the context:

Communication apprehension

This type of anxiety is triggered by the real or anticipated act of communication in a foreign language. People who experience it have difficulty expressing themselves in their target language.  They also struggle to comprehend what others say.

Assessment anxiety

This is a feature of academic assessment: taking tests and exams, writing various quizzes, handing in any type of work for assessment

Social evaluation apprehension

We are often afraid of making a bad impression and being judged by others. This can also happen in foreign language communication contexts.

Cultural anxiety

Even if you know your target language fairly well, you can still experience fear of cultural misunderstandings.

Teacher-induced anxiety

This type of anxiety is specific to the classroom, however, it can negatively affect how you use the language in the future.

Anxiety and fear when learning another language is not specific to any particular language or language group. Indeed, anyone studying Chinese, Korean, Arabic, English – or any other language you can imagine learning – can experience it more or less equally.

What Causes Foreign Language Anxiety

Foreign language anxiety can be caused by a wide variety of factors (or combinations of them). Here are some of the most common ones:

Learner’s personality

People who generally tend to worry a lot, have social anxiety, or low self-esteem are more likely to experience anxiety in foreign language-related contexts.

Negative mindset

If you approach language learning with the belief that ‘it is hard’ or that ‘you are not good at it’, you will feel anxious more often.

Previous negative experience

If you have been laughed at for mispronouncing a word or reprimanded by the teacher one time too often, you will be more anxious in similar situations in the future.

Unrealistic expectations

If you set the bar too high – for instance, expecting to reach native speaker-like fluency in a few months, – you are in for a lot of disappointment and negative feelings about yourself.

Personal relationships

If you have a strained relationship with the teacher, a fellow student, or someone you have to talk to in a foreign language, using the language in their presence may be quite anxiety-inducing.

How To Know If You Have Foreign Language Anxiety

Fortunately, foreign language anxiety is fairly easy to recognise. Take a look at the following questions and see if you answer ‘yes’ to any of them:

•  Are you anxious about speaking your target language even if your level is high enough or you actually know the answer to the teacher’s question?

•  Even when you’re in a familiar social situation, do you sometimes stay silent for fear of making embarrassing pronunciation or grammatical mistakes?

•  Do you panic when you don’t know how to say something in your target language or can’t understand what someone is saying?

•  Does the mere thought of communicating in a foreign fill you with dread and fear?

•  Does fear of being judged or laughed make you avoid speaking in your target language?

•  Do you struggle with saying the simplest of words even though you can build perfect sentences in your mind?

• Do you struggle with saying the simplest of words even though you can build perfect sentences in your mind?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions, you are familiar with foreign language anxiety – and the more ‘yeses’, the stronger it is. Don’t feel discouraged, though: foreign language anxiety is natural, and the majority of language learners experience it in some form.

How To Overcome Foreign Language Anxiety

Being anxious and fearful of using another language demotivates and discourages learners. It makes them doubt their language-learning abilities and it can ultimately force them to give up language learning altogether.

To help you avoid this, here are some tips on how to deal with your fear of using a foreign language:

Prepare in advance

Make a cheat sheet of the key words and phrases you might need. Brush up on the grammar. Read up on the topic that will be discussed. Practice typical responses. And it goes without saying that you need to prepare for tests.

Practice in a safe environment

Find a like-minded friend and practice speaking one-on-one on familiar topics. Granted, not all real-life situations will be like this, but such practice will help you get more confident about speaking your target language – and avoid anxiety in the future.

Make peace with making mistakes

This may be easier said than done, but it is a very important step. Mistakes are natural – even native speakers make mistakes sometimes. Making mistakes is also how we learn, so don’t avoid them – learn from them.

The 7 Biggest Mistakes Language Learners Make (And How To Stop Them Sabotaging Your Progress Today!)

Take small steps

Even if you are a genius, you can’t do it all at once! You’ll never learn all there is to learn and overcome your language anxiety in a matter of days. Be patient. Take small regular steps, and you are bound to gain more confidence.

Keep practicing

You can only get better at speaking your target language and reduce your fears and anxiety if you actually speak it. Find ways to practice in and out of the classroom, and make sure to say at least a few sentences. While it may seem daunting, if you practice regularly, it will get easier – and less scary.


Overcoming language anxiety takes time, just as language learning itself does. However, it is totally worth it! Without the burden of fear and anxiety, you will learn easier, faster, more successfully. You’ll also have a lot more fun!

Here at Q Language Centre, you’ll be pleased to discover exactly the kind of supportive environment you need to ease any language learning anxiety.

Whether you’ve just decided to start learning Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean or English, or are already well on your way to speaking it fluently, Q Language offers tailored classes to suit your personal goals in a relaxed learning environment.

Our courses include: intensive boot camps, business and corporate speak-focused classes, small group classes, and one-on-one tutoring. If you’re a university student looking for some extra help with English, we’ve got you covered.  We also provide school enhancement courses, that cover: exam preparation, debating, presentation skills, and much more.

Study alongside peers from multinational backgrounds, taught by native-speaking professionals with internationally recognised academic training qualifications and worldwide working experience, and see yourself well on your way to fluency in your chosen language. Enrol yourself in a class at Q Language before you let excuses of “I’m not good enough” or “ What if I fail?” take you over!

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