Catching Feelings: How Emotions Impact Learning a Language

Who would've thought that learning a new language would require so much vulnerability?

In school, Spanish class was difficult because it was one of the few subjects in which you had to actually embrace being wrong. I remember being so frustrated every time I spoke in class over the blunders I was making. So out of my fear of being wrong I often stopped speaking in class. Unfortunately, sparing myself of embarrassment had an unintentional effect of me not learning the language and doing even worse on exams.

This was a much different environment than my math or science classes for example, where the whole point of the class was about being right. Whoever was the most correct and did the best problem solving had the best grade in the class. This really contrasted my experience in Spanish where those who did the best on written exams weren't necessarily rewarded the most, but rather the people who talked a lot and participated the most often did the best in class -- even though they were the ones that made the most mistakes.

The latter also mirrors the way babies learn through mistakes - shamelessly. As an adult, it's normal for us to want to avoid mistakes or risk embarrassment among our peers. But by avoiding these feelings, we wind up with exactly the opposite of what we want - just like a basketball player's intense fear of missing a basket often leads to a missed shot.

In other words, I learned that fear and frustration are normal to learning a language, and that you have to have courage and persistence in order to learn it because it can be frightening. And that's okay. Public speaking is already frightening for nearly everyone. Add onto that the fear of being unintelligible to a native speaker of another language...

Fear and frustration, among other emotions, are natural aspects of learning a language because you have to start with baby steps and like a baby taking his or her first steps you are going to embrace a fall.

You don’t just have to have courage in order to learn a language but also enthusiasm for learning it. When I was a junior in high school I had a physics teacher that was so enthusiastic about physics that it was contagious. The whole class seemed to be alive with excitement and interest in physics including myself, despite the fact that I hadn't been a big fan of physics before then. His enthusiasm gave me reason to be enthusiastic about physics and that helped me do very well in his class. Without enthusiasm I would have had less motivation to do my best on the homework and exams. This is also true for learning a language.

Enthusiasm to learn leads to better results.

Many emotions impact learning a language: from fear to frustration, from enthusiasm to courage. These emotions are not only involved in the process of learning a language, but also are involved in the initial impetus people have for wanting to learn a language. For example, people are often enthusiastic about the notion of learning a language and they decide to learn it on the basis of that emotion.

Emotions are important for learning a language because although in the short-term they can be a force for bad they are often a force for good in achieving your goal. Enthusiasm and courage give you the motivation to keep learning in spite of emotions like fear, anger, and frustration that might arise in the difficult process of learning a language. Many people also have deep emotions of honoring or respecting a culture when they learn a language, because they are not only learning how to speak and understand a foreign language, but also are learning about a culture that is different from their own.

While emotions like frustration, anger, and fear are often felt when learning a language because it can be difficult at times, keep in mind that these emotions are natural. People feel them when they engage in any difficult but rewarding process. Even though the process may be filled with challenging emotions, more positive, fulfilling emotions follow close behind and they are what make the pursuit worthwhile.

Alex Mackiel...

is a student at Carleton College majoring in English and Psychology and plans on attaining a Ph.D. in experimental psychology after graduation. He has engaged in blog writing for very unique startups in different markets, including local business review, E-commerce, tech (AI & Machine Learning), social media, and Internet markets. (LinkedIn)

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