Thanks to guest blogger Eve Pearce, who’s written today’s really helpful article about something every language learner has had to deal with at some point – overcoming the fear of actually speaking it. If you have any other top stress-busting tips, we’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Seasoned foreign language teachers will probably tell you that one mark of a successful student in terms of language learning, is ‘openness’, ‘daring’ and sometimes, even ‘cheek’. The more free of self-consciousness and shame a student is, the more likely they are to progress, since one vital part of language learning is using it – having conversation with other speakers, communicating, living the language one is learning.
It is easier said than done for some learners, however, especially those suffering from anxiety. Far from being an exotic condition, anxiety is actually the most common mental condition in the US, the UK and many other countries. The daily stresses and demands of life can invoke our ‘fight or flight’ response, raising our heart and breathing rates and sometimes, even causing debilitating panic attacks.
As a language learner, anxiety may have stopped you in your tracks. It may have made you fear situations and people you do not know well. It can stop you from making many important changes in your life, or from learning a new language and interacting with other students and foreign language speakers. Anxiety can play big tricks on body and mind; excess oxygen levels (produced by breathing too rapidly) can cause muscles to cramp and can cause hyperventilation. Sometimes, the problem is mild but still uncomfortable – for instance, a person may fear having to get up in front of a class and make a speech in another language.
If you are suffering from anxiety, and you feel like it is interfering with your ability to progress as a foreign language learner, try some of the most effective relaxation techniques known to those who have recovered from this condition. Foremost among these techniques is abdominal breathing. It is quite simple – just breathe in a large amount of air through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand. Keep the breath in for a few seconds then exhale, slowly, through your mouth. Do this various times and you will note that your heart rate drops, even when you are very stressed.
Yoga is another highly successful technique at quelling anxiety and stress, so much so that it is offered at practically every top rehabilitation centre for addiction and for eating disorders. Yoga is such an excellent way to battle anxiety because it can be practised by people of all fitness levels and ages, it is cheap, and also a proven method of lowering stress hormone (cortisol) levels. It involves a connection between body, mind and spirit. Controlled breathing is also used, and various poses (asanas) are performed.
Sometimes, mindful meditation can be practised during a yoga session, yet meditation is also useful on its own to calm stress. If you have anxiety, you should definitely set aside a few moments during the day to meditate. There are numerous free online meditation sessions lasting minutes, as well as meditation and breathing apps for your phone, which you can follow while you are in the car or on the bus to work or school.
If you try these methods out and you do not improve, or your anxiety is very severe, then expert help may be required. A good therapist will be able to help you in a handful of session, by utilizing techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which aims to help patients identify stress triggers and find positive ways to channel tension.
If you have an upcoming talk in a foreign language and you are worried about what others will think if your delivery isn’t perfect, remember that most speakers make mistakes and even suffer from nerves before they begin. Language isn’t a competition; it is a progression and it pays to keep in mind that even if the worst possible outcome occurs (e.g. you forget your speech or you feel too nervous to speak), the event is not the be-all, end-all of your language learning experience. There will always be another chance, further down the line, to do that exam or speak before an audience.
Through relaxation techniques, breathing and therapy, you soon discover that anxiety is little more than a trick – it is your body’s way of choosing ‘flight’ (escape) when the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in. By simply breathing for a few minutes until your heart rate settles, you can stop anxiety in its tracks – and begin to view language learning as the enjoyable pursuit it really is.
Patricia is one of our most hard working uTalk challenge participants, learning Basque, Czech, Farsi and Kazakh since January (and let’s not forget Icelandic, Esperanto and Latvian last year)! We can’t wait to hear which language she’ll choose next…
There are many reasons why I love learning languages, including popular ones such as improving my résumé or getting by on a trip (and yes, I’ve got another trip to Iceland lined up, það er spennandi!). However, today I’d like to share with you one reason that is perhaps a little less obvious.
Due to an unexpected flight delay on my way from Pittsburgh, I recently overnighted in Toronto. The airline provided us (wonderful) accommodation in downtown Toronto and I shared a cab ride with two other stranded passengers. The cab driver had a talk radio station on, but it was not in a language I immediately recognized. Curious, I asked the driver which language that was. He told me it was Amharic, one of the languages of Ethiopia. I excitedly told him it was a language that was on my uTalk Challenge list and that I would learn it soon. Promise. He laughed and told me a little about Ethiopia and the Ethiopian community in Toronto. He taught me how to say “Hello” in Amharic and said I was brave to take on a new language every month. He then asked which language I was learning at the moment. I told him I was learning Persian (Farsi) and loving it.
The other two passengers in the cab then turned to me and said “well maybe we can help you then”. I lit up and proudly said “shabetun bekheyr”, “parvaz”, and “ba t’akhir” – “good evening”, “flight”, and “delayed”. They smiled and asked me what else I knew and if I had any questions about the language. And from there on, we talked about the old Persian script, Noruz, the influence of French, various historical events, Persian poets, and many other things. When I had left my house that day, I hadn’t expected to learn so much from people who, up to that taxi ride, were perfect strangers.
And that’s exactly the point: learning languages, even at a rudimentary level, opens you up to the world because it fuels curiosity. I didn’t converse in fluent Persian with my fellow passengers – I just let them know that I was interested in it and the culture and history that surround it (but it was very nice to hear that my pronunciation’s lovely!).
On that night, immersed in the vast multiculturalism of Toronto, I suddenly felt extremely connected to the world. And that’s the feeling I keep seeking over and over again in my language-learning journey. Perhaps it’s one of those “chicken or egg?” things, where it’s unclear whether learning languages opens up your mind or if it’s the curiosity that encourages you to learn languages… but whichever one came first for me, I’m certainly happy they keep feeding off each other.
So go ahead, tackle a new language, just start with a few words – you never know where it’ll take you.
Shane came in 3rd in The Junior Language Challenge in 2014 and is now in year 7 studying German and Latin. Below he talks about the wonderful JLC experience and why any teacher/parent should register their kids.
If you’re a parent or teacher of children aged 10 and under in the UK, visit juniorlanguagechallenge.com to find out more about our annual competition, which is now open! Entry costs just £5, which is all donated to our fantastic charity, onebillion.
In 2014 I entered the JLC for the second time, having got to the final the previous year. This time I knew what to expect and was really keen to get going. The first language was Italian, which was probably the language I found the easiest (of the 6 over 2 years). Two pupils from my school, Denmead, got through to the semi-final and we were told that we would be learning Japanese. I knew one word of Japanese already, but this wasn’t going to give me any advantage! It proved to be a very interesting language to learn, but when it came to the quick fire round this was the most challenging.
At the semi-final it all seemed much quicker than the previous year. During the final round, I managed to resist the temptation to look up at the leaderboard before I had finished. My dad compared the leaderboard to the football league tables when a goal is scored, a couple of wrong answers can move you up or down several places very quickly. I think it is much more nerve racking for the teachers and parents than the children as they watch this. I was lucky and saw my name stay in the top three so knew I had qualified for the final.
The language for the final was Somali and although it was completely new to me I knew that the app and website were the only tools I needed to get me through. The combination of games, the increasing level of difficulty and the chance to hear the words pronounced correctly meant it worked for me. I actually enjoyed practising, learning and the idea of preparing for a competition.
When it came to the final, I probably had my best round to date and as I was answering the last couple of questions my eyes were drawn towards the big screen displaying the leaderboard. I saw I was in third place with a few points to spare so knew I had done it. I felt speechless for a few minutes after we stopped, I had hoped to improve on the year before but didn’t think I would manage to get the bronze medal! My top tip for anyone getting through to the final is to stay calm and distract yourself with some great music and a good book. Calm parents and teachers (like mine) help you relax, just enjoy the experience and do the best you can.
To be part of a national competition is great and to gain third place is something I will always be very proud of. During the competition Franco (part of the JLC team) was always really kind and understanding with the children who needed help with their equipment and his good humour made sure everyone attending felt relaxed. We were always made to feel proud of what we’d achieved.
If your school isn’t yet involved in the JLC then I suggest you ask your headteacher to sign you up. It raises money for a great cause, introduces a fun and easy way to start learning different languages (some you might never have heard of before) and gives you a chance to compete against school mates and then possibly children from other schools if you are lucky enough to get through to the next round.
In today’s blog post, father and son Joseph and Reuben share with us their JLC story and how learning made fun got them counting the days until this year’s competition.
If you’re a parent or teacher of children aged 10 and under in the UK, visit juniorlanguagechallenge.com to find out more about our annual competition, which opens on Friday 11th March.
Reuben was just 6 and in Year 2 when a teacher with a passion for languages opened the JLC to this year group for the 1st time. Reuben got stuck in to learning Spanish, then Greek, breezed past most of the school including the Y6s and in to the East-Midlands’ semi-final. He came 4th. This was an inspiration to the other children that left them waiting for the next JLC. His success justified an early introduction of Abbey Road children to the exciting challenge of learning a new language. The sheer passion and excitement with which he approached the languages, the colourful child-friendly software and the brain-teasing range of games that increased in difficulty as his competence increased and introduced the language as it might be used in every-day life, kept him glued to learning, so much so that he was at it during every waking moment. For once, we parents did not have to battle with him to get off his game console or the iPad! Most importantly he remains as enthusiastic and motivated several challenges on.
Reuben waited eagerly for his next shot at the JLC in Year 3. While the 1st round was a doddle for him, he crashed ignominiously out of the semi-final, learning an important life lesson, that there is no substitute for hard work. Rather than letting this get him down, he worked very hard and consistently in Year 4, at gaining a working knowledge of Portuguese, then Mandarin and qualified for the final in London. He was very excited and enthused by his success and immersed himself in learning Arabic for this. The fierce competition did not deter him but rather spurred him on and he came 13th after a hard fought set of heats.
Having enjoyed himself so much and coming within a hair-breadth of winning, he continues his JLC journey. He cannot wait for this year’s challenge to begin. He is counting the days!
I started the Junior Language Challenge in Year 2 at the age of 6 and have taken the Challenge every year since then. It is an amazing experience that I look forward to.
I love languages and was extremely interested in participating. I loved the way the games were laid out. This makes them really easy to understand and play and most importantly, it makes the whole experience really fun. No matter how hard the language is or may seem, EuroTalk makes it easy to learn and understand.
JLC combines two extremely important things in life, having lots of fun and language learning. It’s definitely not boring; it’s one of the best and most exciting experiences you can have. I love the competition it creates; the urge to win in all competitors is great. One of the things I love about the JLC is how you can share the massive excitement and competitiveness with other people who are also in the challenge. I strained to be at the top of the scoreboard, competing with my friends Adam and Farah Akbar and many others.
Getting to the semi-final and final is a special feeling I will never forget. The feeling that you’re among the best of the massive amount of participants is simply amazing. The best thing is, the entrance fee is only £5 and it goes to an absolutely wonderful cause, a non-profit organisation called onebillion, whose sole aim and cause is to give the children in Malawi a better education and a much brighter future.
I hope that more people can join the Junior Language Challenge and share this brilliant experience. I love the Junior Language Challenge and I will never forget it. JLC 2016 is a few mere days away!
Jenny’s daughter Grace was a finalist in the 2015 Junior Language Challenge – and one of the stars of our video from the day! In today’s blog post, Jenny tells us about her experience of the competition as a mum, and what taking part in the JLC has meant to Grace.
I was amazed by the commitment she put into the challenge, especially as she was only 7 at the time. She practised daily with her Daddy and it became a really fun part of the day. Even though she was ‘learning’, she didn’t/doesn’t class it in the same way as homework.
Grace got through to the semi-finals in Cambridge. She was so very nervous and had no idea what to expect (similarly to myself!). She completed the first round and got through to the final 12. It was this round I sat in to watch, oh my goodness… It was nerve wrecking watching the scores go up and down. Unfortunately Grace didn’t make it through to the final that year. She wasn’t too downbeat about it and declared she would do better next time! I wasn’t sure my nerves could stand another one!
March 2015 came and Grace started the challenge again. Proudly, she got through to the semi-finals and this time she came top in the final 12, so she was through to the Grand Final at Olympia! To us, this was an amazing achievement and we were so proud.
On the day she made it through to the last round but only came 10th. Although, only 10th at the age of 8 from thousands of entrants is fairly epic for us all. The JLC team were fabulous throughout the trials, very reassuring and putting the children at ease.
Grace is determined to make the top three in the finals this autumn!
I cannot speak highly enough of the JLC and would thoroughly recommend all parents let their child experience this modern way of learning a language. It is a fun and challenging game with only positive results. So, as we commence the new challenge with Romanian, Grace reiterates her desire to make the Grand Final! Fingers crossed!
Good luck to Grace and everyone who takes part in this year’s JLC, which will launch on March 11th and is open to children aged 10 and under across the UK. Entry costs just £5 and is donated to our charity onebillion. The first of our three languages this year will be Romanian!