sexta-feira, 29 de junho de 2012

The differences between English and Portuguese

Introduction: Portuguese is a Romance language and part of the Indo-European language family. It is closely related to Spanish. It is spoken by about 180 million people world-wide, principally in Brazil and Portugal. The Portuguese spoken in Europe (EP) and the Portuguese spoken in Brazil (BP) are further apart in terms of pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary than the English spoken in England and the English spoken in the USA.

Alphabet: The Portuguese alphabet consists of 23 letters (lacking the K, W and Y of the English alphabet), plus 11 letters with diacritics such as the Ç. Punctuation corresponds largely to that in English. The English writing system, therefore, presents little difficulty to Portuguese learners. (But see below for problems with spelling.)
Phonology: Brazilian Portuguese is a syllable-timed language, in contrast to English. This can result in learners having serious difficulty reproducing the appropriate intonation patterns of spoken English. This is less of a problem for EP speakers, whose Portuguese variety is stress-timed like English. Portuguese contains about 9 vowel sounds (plus 6 diphthongs) and 19 consonant sounds. This is fewer than English, and there are fewer consonant clusters. These differences can result in the following pronunciation issues:
  • failure to distinguish minimal pairs such as rich/reach, pack/puck or head/had
  • inaudibility of unstressed vowels at the end of a word, e.g., part (for party)
  • problems with diphthongs such as inhear/hair
  • the inclusion of vowel sounds before, between or following consonants, e.g.,estrap (for strap) or monthes (for months)
  • nasalization of the final /m/ or /n/, soran, for example, becomes rang
  • the expected problems with words such as then, think or breathe
  • failure to discriminate between words such as pig/big or gale/kale
  • substitution of ear for hear or high for I.

These are only some of the pronunciation issues, but they give a good idea of the serious difficulties facing ESL students who want to sound like English native speakers. And they explain why even some very proficient Portuguese speakers of English never lose their accent.
Grammar - Verb/Tense: Much of the English verb system will be familiar to Portuguese learners since the same features exist in their own language. However, some significant differences exist, which may lead to mistakes of negative transfer. For example, interrogatives in Portuguese are conveyed by intonation. This results in questionable English such as You like me? orHe came to school yesterday? The use of the double negative in Portuguese leads to such errors as I don't know nothing.
Tense choice is a significant problem for most learners of English. It is clear that advanced students will struggle, for example, to choose the correct tense to talk about the future or to choose between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. At a less advanced level the main area of difficulty lies in the choice of the appropriate present tense. Mistakes in this area include: He has a bath .. (= he's having a bath ..) / She is knowing .. (she knows ..) / It is ages since I don't play tennis .. (=It's ages since I have played tennis. Beginners also make errors in using modal verbs. Sentences such as I must to go now are common.
Grammar - Other: Portuguese word order is a little more flexible than that of English; and there are variations between the two languages in the placement of adjectives, adverbials or pronouns and in the syntax of sentences containing indirect speech. However, basic Portuguese sentence structure is similar to that of English so learners have no especial difficulty expressing their ideas comprehensibly.
Following are some further grammar differences that may result in interference mistakes. Firstly, English prepositions are difficult for Portuguese learners since their own language has far fewer, and there is no simple correspondence between those that do exist and their English equivalents. Secondly, there is a single possessive pronoun for his/her which agrees in gender with the item 'possessed'. This can lead to ambiguity in sentences such as: She's having lunch with his brother (= her brother). Personal pronouns, especially direct object pronouns, are often omitted in Portuguese, which gives rise to mistakes such as I told (=I told him). Thirdly, there is only only question tag in Portuguese, in contrast to English which has several different ones depending on the tense and form of the opening words. Errors such asShe's coming tomorrow, isn't it? are the result.
Vocabulary: Because of shared Latin roots there are many English/Portuguese cognates, which can facilitate the acquisition of a strong academic vocabulary. (There is less overlap in everyday vocabulary of the two languages.) A corollary of cognates, of course, is the presence of false friends. Here are just a few of the many that wait to trap the Portuguese learner of English: parents <> parentes (=relatives) / familiar <> familiar (=respectable) / local <> local (= place).

Miscellaneous: A spelling reform in Portugal in 1911 made Portuguese spelling much more phonetic in order to help raise standards of literacy in the country. As with all learners whose native language is phonetic, Portuguese ESL students have significant problems spelling English words that they encounter first in spoken language and pronouncing words that they encounter first in written language.


quinta-feira, 28 de junho de 2012

25 Ways to Find or Create Comprehensible Input

By Aaaron Myers

In my last post I promised ten ways to find or create comprehensible input. As I started writing though, ten seemed like just a beginning and so I kept writing. Comprehensible input is too important to restrict to ten ideas. As well, I find that I learn the language in one of three settings and so it seemed fitting to divide this post into sections reflecting those environments.

I learn language in the personal setting, by myself as I study on my own. I learn language in a lesson setting, where I intentionally work with a native speaker for a set period of time. And I learn language in a community setting, when I head out to be with native speakers in an informal way. Each of these settings is different and present their own unique challenges for obtaining comprehensible input. Regardless of the setting though, it is important as independent language learners that you find or create the comprehensible input that you need to learn the language. It is your responsibility.

Before I begin, if you are not sure why you need to find or create comprehensible input, I would encourage you to go back and read Comprehensible Input, my last post. As well, for the sake of brevity, I have tried to do my best to offer brief summaries of the ideas below. If I or others have written about them elsewhere, I have tried to include a link so that you can get more in depth information if you would like. Are there more ideas out there? I am sure there are and I would love to see you share your ideas in the comment section below.

The Personal Setting
  1. Children’s Books: Children’s books are written with a narrower vocabulary and are usually supported with pictures, both of which help aid comprehension. Read More.
  2. Dora the Explorer: Children’s cartoons can be a great source of comprehensible input. Some are better than others. Dora the Explorer for example narrates nearly everything she does in a repetitive fashion so that as Dora is walking down the yellow brick road she is usually saying something like, “I’m walking down the yellow brick road. I’m walking, walking, walking. I am walking down the yellow brick road.” Finding dubbed versions of these can be a great source of comprehensible input.

  3. Google Translate: Finding resources like Dora the Explorer in the target language is usually the challenge. With Google Translate and Youtube though, you can find just about anything. Type: Watch Dora the Explorer into Google Translate and then copy the translated phrase into the Youtube search bar. You can use Google Translate to search for tons of things in this way. A few to consider: clothing catalogue, children’s stories, world news, or the name of your favorite hobby. Read More. Read More.

  4. Passion Podcasts or Blogs: Using Google Translate, find podcasts or blogs about the things you are passionate about. If you are a Man United fanatic, find blogs and podcasts about Man United in the target language. What’s your passion? Harley Davidson? Fly Fishing? Star Trek? Apple Computers? George Cloony? Internet Marketing? Find a blog or podcast created by a native speaker about that topic.

  5. Comic Books: Comic books use the pictures to tell half the story, giving you a tremendous amount of background knowledge. The reading is mostly just the dialogue between characters. A comic book or graphic novel can be a great source of comprehensible input.

  6. Dubbed Movies: Finding your favorite movie dubbed into the language you are learning can be an excellent source of comprehensible input. Your interest is high, you have great amount of background knowledge and you can watch scenes or the whole movie again and again.

  7. Narrow Reading: Rather than skipping around and reading about a lot of different subjects, reading a variety of different texts about the same subject builds background knowledge and creates more comprehensible input. As an example you may read four different newspaper articles about the same current event. Each author writes from their own point of view, but each uses the same set of words and structures. Read More. This could also be expanded to other activities: watching movies, listening to podcasts and listening to other native speakers – all about the same topic. Read More.

  8. Books in a Series: Reading a series (Narnia or Harry Potter for example) is another great way to create comprehensible input. A great deal of background knowledge, vocabulary and the writer’s style carries over from one book to the next. For example, as I have read through the Harry Potter series, there was a larger percentage of words that I knew in book 2 that had carried over from book 1. This allowed my mind to get integrated review of what I already knew while being able to focus on the new stuff that was coming up.

  9. Label Up: We have probably all at one time or another labeled the things in our home with the new language. This is great, but we can increase the amount of comprehensible input available by expanding this labeling to include statements about what the object does, or what we do to it. For example if you label the door, why not also write a few sentences below the word: I open the door. I close the door. I knock on the door. This will give you more interaction with more of the language. Read More.

  10. Repeat – reread, re-watch, re-listen: Don’t be afraid to read the same book twice or watch a movie four times in a row. With each pass through, you will understand more, allowing your brain to make more and deeper connections of meaning with the words and structures you are seeing.

  11. Side-by-side reading: Side-by-side books have the story in both languages in the same book. One language on the right page, the other language on the left page. I would avoid reading sentence by sentence, but being able to look back and forth as you read does much to increase comprehensible input. Learn More.

  12. Livemocha or Rosetta Stone: These two programs will not do everything for you, but can be a supplemental activity that will provide you with lots of comprehensible input. Do a lesson a day as part of your program and they can be a great resource. Read More. Read More.

The Lesson Setting
  1. Catalogues: Home Furnishing catalogues like the ones IKEA gives away can be a great resource to use with a native speaker. You can do a lot of great activities that provide really great comprehensible input with them. Read More.

  2. Total Physical Response: Total Physical Response is a classroom activity that language teachers have been using for some time. It is time tested and proven to really work. The challenge is to turn it around so that you the learner can direct what is going on while still receiving the great input. A good game of Simon Says may be a good place to start. See an Example in the classroom.

  3. Language Acquisition Projects (LAPs): Developed by Dwight Gradin, LAPs are an amazing way to get structured and ever expanding comprehensible input. There is a brief summary of how to use LAPs as well as 26 LAPs in Peter Pikkert’s FREE LACE Manual. I am hoping that a training video will be made for LAPs one day because they are amazing once you know how to use them. LAPs were the single most powerful tool I used at the beginning of my Turkish journey.

  4. Handcrafted Stories: Handcrafted stories are stories that you have written. After you correct them with a native speaking friend, they become a great source of comprehensible input because they are interesting and filled with background knowledge (you wrote them after all). And since you wrote them, they are at your level. Perfect! Record your native speaking friend reading them, put them on your ipod and now you have an amazing source of comprehensible input that you can add to your personal study time. Read More.

  5. Road Map: On a large poster board, draw a map of your town with some of the main landmarks. Borrow one of your son’s matchbox cars (optional). Now sit down with a native speaker and have him tell you how to get to one place or another as if you are the taxi driver. This is a great way to get a lot of input and also really get a lot of practice at understanding directions.

  6. Story Telling: Have your native speaking friend or language helper tell you a common story that you both know. Thinks of childhood stories, folktales, etc. You could also give them a bunch of props and have them use the props to make up and tell a story. Read More.

  7. Re-tell: Have a friend or language helper re-tell something that you both saw. Last night’s football match. A TV show or movie. It has to be something that you watched as well. This will give you the background knowledge that will help create comprehensible input.

  8. Speak to a Topic: Chose a common topic and have your native speaking friend talk about it for a few minutes. Have them tell you about their family, their favorite team, their favorite food, etc.

The Community Setting

  1. The Grand Tour Question: The grand tour question is asked about a specific personal narrative of a person’s life. Examples could be questions about a favorite childhood memory, about a national event that everyone experienced, or about a future event. Questions about the past will give you answers using the past forms of grammar, questions about the future will give you future forms. The key to creating comprehensible input is to ask multiple people the same question. Each will give you their own story about the same topic. Grammar forms and much of the vocabulary will be repeated. Asking this question to four or five people in the same week and by the the time you are listening to the last one, your comprehension will have improved significantly. If it’s possible, record these narratives for later listening. Read More.

  2. Strategic Shopping: Admit it. You love to shop. For language learning, shopping strategically will increase the amount of comprehensible input you receive. Chose an item that you need (want) to buy. Before you head out to shop for it, prepare yourself by looking up key vocabulary and writing down some key questions. Then proceed to the first store and ask the clerk about the product. Listen intently. Ask questions. Ask them to repeat what they said if you need them to. Ask them to write new words down. Thank them and leave. Go to store two. Repeat the same process with a new clerk. Thank them a leave. Go to store three. Repeat the process. Read More.

  3. Dumb/Smart Questions: One of my favorites, the Dumb/Smart question is dumb because you already know the answer to the question you are going to ask and it’s smart because this background knowledge gives you a a much greater chance of understanding what the person says and thus, receiving comprehensible input. Read More. Watch.

  4. Take Control: One of the best things you can do in the community setting to ensure you receive comprehensible input is to take control of the conversations. You can do this with some of the ideas above, but you can also do this by just asking people to slow down, or repeat things or to give examples. Watch More.

  5. Help them Help you: In general, people aren’t all that good at giving comprehensible input. Usually they either realize you aren’t a native speaker and break into a really loud and generally grammatically incorrect sort of caveman dialect or they don’t realize and continue to talk a mile a minute with no concept that you may not be following them at all. With a little gentle instruction however, most can become great sources of comprehensible input. As an added bonus this will increase the amount of actual communication that takes place and your friendship will become much richer.

If you have any questions about these, please ask them in the comment section and I will do my best to answer them there and would ask for your input as well. Together we can create a great conversation that will help all of us as everyday language learners.

Do you have other ideas for finding comprehensible input?


quarta-feira, 27 de junho de 2012

The World’s Best Language Learning Method

By Aaron Myers

There are a lot of choices available for learning another language. There always have been. With the Internet though, the quantity of information about learning language has grown exponentially. So have the number of programs that promise you more than could ever be true. Programs, methods, course, resources – there are more options for learning language now than there have ever been.
There are also more opinions and arguments over what works best. So the question is, should you:
  • begin speaking right away or wait to speak until you’re ready?
  • use LingQ or Livemocha or Rosetta Stone or does all online learning really just stink?
  • study grammar or is studying grammar of the devil?
  • study for hours a day or just play with the language and have fun?
  • use SRS, DLI, SSR, AL, UG, or just sit around in your BVDs?
  • use the TV method, core novel method or the put the book under your pillow at night method?
Anyway, a casual trip through the blogs of those of us who write about language learning will reveal a myriad of ideas, programs, methods and arguments for and against all of them. Drop down into the comment section and it seems often that the fate of all mankind rests on one method or another being defended and proven with out a doubt to be the best or attacked as an inferior idea that will lead to the death of millions.

I try to steer clear of the arguments, but the discussions, when tactful, are truly useful and indeed an important part of improving language learning for all of us. They are discussions that need to keep taking place, for with out them a stagnation can occur that hurts language learners everywhere. It is why I encourage all of my readers to read other bloggers, to learn from them and their language learning.

But I must tell you that there is one program, one method that is the worlds best when it comes to language learning. It is YOU. You the language learner. You are the best method, the best program, the best thing that has happened to your language learning and it is because of you that you will learn the language.

People have been learning languages for thousands of years using all sorts of crazy methods and ideas, some of which are ridiculous. But they still learned other languages.

Methods and programs are important to think about. I wrote as much when I shared a bit of an Annie Dillard story a few weeks back. But in the end, your learning depends on you. We are all different.

Everyone I know who has learned another language well, has done it in a different way. I have one friend here in Istanbul who is an academic geek. He loves the process of learning as much as he loves being able to use the language. He loves studying grammar books and working through stuff that would kill me. I think he makes grammar trees as a hobby.
Another friend volunteers as a waiter on his off days at a local restaurant just so he can be in the language for eight hours straight once a week. Others have used language helpers and others signed up for local classes. And they are all successful language learners.

The thing they all had going for them was that they knew themselves. They recognized what they liked, what their learning style was and how they felt like they could best learn. They put themselves firmly in charge of their learning and made the choices they needed to make so that they could succeed.
For one friend, that meant signing up for a Turkish class but never doing any of the assigned homework. It messed with her teacher, but hey, she was paying the bill and was learning loads and enjoying the journey.

I look at it this way. In order to learn a language you need two things. You need good exposure to the language – comprehensible input – and you need time. Lots of time. A 1,000 page grammar textbook written at the turn of the century will get you both if you can stomach it and I am pretty sure you would learn the language working through it.
I once read that, with the Defense Language Institute material, soldiers signed up and then spent eight hours a day, five days a week, sitting in a classroom going through the books for a year straight. That is over 2,000 hours of exposure to the language.
Now, I need to step back and say that while input plus time will lead to language learning, the reality is that if you hate something, you won’t put in the time. And that is a big part of the reason why the discussions on the various blogs are so very important.

Everyone is out there experimenting, finding out what they love to do to learn language. The more people who do this, the more likely it is that you will run across an idea or method or strategy that fits what you need.
But you need to decide. I can’t. I can offer ideas. Lots of ideas. I can encourage you to think about ways to maximize any method to get the most out of it for your learning style and your personality and all that goes in to making you who you are.

But in the end, it’s up to YOU.


terça-feira, 26 de junho de 2012

As Aventuras do You

Chapter 8: Review

You não veio para a aula hoje. What a pity - Que pena! Houve alguma reunião, You está doente, You está preso no traffic jam; qualquer coisa que o fez estar ausente. What a pity, digo isso porque cada aula perdida quebra o ritmo do aprendizado e You ainda não tem disciplina para estudar sozinho, por isso, as aulas presenciais são importantes para manter o progresso dele.

Você vem acompanhando o progresso do You, aula após aula. Isn't it?

No começo, You mal conseguia dizer o Seu nome, mas com as conexões e as palavras certas, You conseguiu dizer" I would like to talk about me. My name is You and I like to learn, but I don't like to speak in public because I am shy!" - para uma primeira aula, You mostrou que tinha potencial para ser um grande learner.
As aventuras de You part  I -

Algumas aulas depois e com uma vontade de se expressar que não parava de aumentar, You provou do efeito do " Crescendo" - um movimento automático da comunicação que vai ligando as estruturas e vocabulários já aprendidos de acordo com o que se quer dizer e o resultado foi que You descreveu não só a Sua rotina, mais detalhes dela:

" I would like to describe my routine! I wake up very early and I go to bed very late! I go to work from Monday to Friday and I work very much, but I like it. I don´t like my boss, but I need my job, right? So, I have to work with my boss, but I have good friends in my job. They are very good people. We have lunch at 12:00 every day. The food in the restaurant is not very good, but it is good to be with my friends. They are very funny and they like me very much. I think this is my routine."

As aventuras de You part II -

Vimos que You quase desistiu de aprender porque ele foi corrigido por um colega. Aprendemos com You que errar faz parte do processo, humilhante é não tentar.

As aventuras de You  part III -

Logo depois, You aprendeu como utilizar (ou não utilizar) os slangs - gírias- em inglês porque de acordo com as Suas palavras:
"I don't want to sound like my grandmother".

As aventuras de You  part IV -

Um dos perigos de se usar " slangs" ou idiomatic expressions é a tradução ao pé da letra daquilo que usamos em português. You aprendeu que expressões como " Ah, vá!" ou " belê" não podem ser traduzidas palavras por palavras.

As aventuras de You  part V -

Falando em não traduzir ao pé da letra, You precisou aprender que certos verbos como " ficar" em português não pode ser traduzido por " stay" em qualquer contexto. Ao traduzir " eu fiquei melhor" para o inglês, You usou " I stayed better" o que foi puro português falado em inglês. A melhor maneira de se falar essa frase seria: I got better!

As aventuras de You  part VI -

Da mesma forma, estruturas em português com sujeito oculto como:
Está frio!
Não pode ser traduzida como " is cold". Precisamos usar um sujeito/pronome na frase para que ela faça sentido: It is cold! You aprendeu como colocar "it" on it!

As aventuras de You  part VII -

All in all, como Você pode perceber, You tem melhorado cada vez mais, e creio que em breve - soon - You conseguirá manter uma conversa comigo sem que nenhum de nós fale em português. It just depends on him, so, let's wait and see!

segunda-feira, 25 de junho de 2012

Negative Sentences

A negative sentence (or statement) states that something is not true or incorrect. A negative adverb has to be added in order to negate or “cancel” the validity of the sentence. This “negation” element is created according to the following general rule.

The Negation Rule: In English, in order to claim that something is not true, you form a negative sentence by adding the word not after the first auxiliary verb in the positive sentence. If there is no auxiliary verb in the positive sentence, as in the Present Simple and Past Simple tenses, then you add one (in both these cases, the auxiliary verb do).

Pay attention:

  • • When an auxiliary verb (including modals) is used, the main verb is not inflected (no s or ed ending), meaning that either the base form or past participle is used.
  • • The verb to be uses a different negation pattern.

Review the following table for examples of negation in English. Some examples use the contracted forms more used in informal writing and speech, and some others use the full forms.

Tense Negative Element + Contracted Forms Examples
Present Simple do+not = don’t
does+not = doesn’t
I do not play.
She doesn’t play.
Past Simple did+not = didn’t I didn’t play.
Present Progressive am + not (*no amn’t)
is+not = isn’t
are+not = aren't
I am not playing.

  • He is not playing.
  • We aren’t playing.

Past Progressive
was+not = wasn’t
were+not = weren’t I wasn’t playing.
They were not playing.
Present Perfect have+not = haven’t
has+not = hasn’t You haven’t played.
She has not played.
Present Perfect
Progressive have+not+been= haven’t been
has+not+been = hasn’t been I have not been playing.
She hasn’t been playing.
Past Perfect had+not = hadn’t You hadn’t played.
Past Perfect
Progressive had+not+been = hadn’t been She hadn’t been playing.
Future Simple will+not = won’t I won’t play.
Future Perfect will+not+have = won’t have He will not have played.
Conditional would+not She wouldn’t play.
Conditional perfect would+not+have She wouldn’t have played.
Modals can + not = can’t or cannot (formal)
should+not = shouldn’t I can’t play.
I cannot play.
We shouldn’t play.

In informal writing settings, you can contract the auxiliary verb with either the sentence subject or the word not. In formal writing settings, refrain from contracting any words.

  • She is not playing. [formal]
  • She isn’t playing. = She’s not playing. [informal]

quinta-feira, 21 de junho de 2012

The Importance of Reviewing

By Kane

Depending on your point of view regarding the acquisition of another language, successful learning can be attributed to a number of factors: Materials studied, Appropriate level of said material, Teaching style/method and effectiveness of it with regards to the students learning style, Frequency of lessons; Comprehension of material and ability to practice it in class.

All of these have to do with the class itself. If a class is once or twice a week the opportunity to learn new material and practice it is quite small/short for the material to be a real part of a students skill set.

I know!

This term in the English language encompasses a wide range of 'knowing'. The Greek language has two words for what we say in English 'know':

1. Oida
2. Ginosko

Ginosko is more like an objective knowledge or mental understanding of what is going on. Oida is a subjective knowledge which is acquired from experience.

I believe from our own consideration, forgetting our experiences of getting kissed the first time is much harder than forgetting what Miss Monteith taught us in Physics class last Wednesday afternoon.

Learning or understanding objectively (ginosko) English material isn't really that hard. Actually using it effectively in either daily conversation, writing emails etc. is another matter entirely. So how do we get our new information from something we know (ginosko) to something we know (oida).

This is not totally analogous to a discussion about how to transfer information from our short term memory to long term memory yet it does share some similarities, but simply knowing something (ginosko) and being able to recall it from our long term memory still does not give us what many commonly consider fluency. Consider your own native tongue. We really don't 'think' about what we are going to say, we just say it. The words are just magically there (unless we are thinking of a particularly elusive/difficult word). 

How does this happen? 

Well, I think a lot of us make a mistake in considering what language is. Is it a subject or a skill? Objectively it's a subject, so we have to study it. Subjectively it's a skill, so we need to practice it. It's at this point we as English Instructors fail our students.

Our classes, teaching methodology, materials may be off the hook fantastic, our students can leave the class with 100% comprehension of all the new stuff they learned. 100% ginosko. Use this new material next week in a conversation with a new client... and it's at this point, this juncture I say, Reviewing is the real key to acquiring language skill. It's reviewing that takes I know (ginosko) to I know (oida).

A big hurdle to overcome is that reviewing or practicing the same stuff over and over is boring. At a university setting the students would complain to the Professor that they're not learning anything new. In a private business setting, students would just drop out of class. So just like any business the old (many would argue erroneous, myself included) phrase the customer is always right, needs to be changed to 'the customer needs to be educated'.

Students need to understand how pivotal and vital it is to review material. To practice it repeatedly until it IS second nature to just 'say it like that' without thinking. Only then with their English skills really start to take off. 

Teaching ginosko is easy. Encouraging students to spend the time, everyday to practice and review material for it to become oida is the hard part.

The tragedy is that reviewing/practicing class material takes all of 5min a day and would save hours and hours of having to repeat the same material a few months or years later because their ginosko is gone and their oida just never happened.

Taking a page from long term/short term memory discussions, the first review of material must take place the next day (24hrs). It the first 24hrs that are the most critical for memory retention. Next a few days later and then 1 week later, or thereabouts. But, nothing will beat review/practicing material everyday.

Language Anxiety: Creative or Negative Force in the Language Classroom?

ByMark Daubney, Portugal

Mark Daubney is an EFL lecturer and teacher trainer at Leiria Polytechnic, Portugal.


"...é deplorável constatar que a maioria dos professores continua a proporcionar aos alunos aulas que, quanto a mim, se revelam chatas e desmotivantes, em que a leitura e interpretação de textos são rainhas."

('s deplorable that the great majority of teachers continue to treat students to lessons, which in my view, are boring and demotivating, lessons in which reading comprehensions rule.)

"...considero que, dentro da sala de aula, o desempenho de algumas pessoas não é tão brilhante, pois elas sentem-se um pouco inibidas por estarem em frente do professor. Pensam sempre que estão a ser avaliadas."

(...I think that the effort of some people in the classroom is not that great because they feel somewhat inhibited being in front of the teacher because they always think that they are being evaluated…)

"...acho que como alunos, como pessoas, também gostamos de dar uma resposta correcta e quando a professora nos diz que não está correcta se calhar sentimo-nos um pouco mal não é? Afinal eu falei, fiz isso errado portanto mais valia estar calado. Acho que por vezes pensamos assim."

(...I think that as students, as people, we like to respond correctly and when the teacher says to us that our answer is not correct, maybe we feel a little bad, don't we? Well, I spoke and said something wrong, it would have been better to have said nothing. I believe we think like this sometimes.)

"...acho que os professores que não conseguem valorizar a participação em si procuram mais a resposta correcta e se calhar não optam pela melhor forma de correcção e se calhar contribuem muitas vezes para que os alunos se arrependam de ter participado e evitem participar novamente…não é a correção em frente à turma é a forma como é a correção."

(...I think the teachers who are unable to value participation in itself look for the correct answer and maybe don't choose the best form of correction, which probably very often contributes to students regretting having participated and to them avoiding participating again's not the correction in front of the class but the way the correction is done.)

(Comments made by third year students studying to be lower-secondary school teachers of English in Portugal.)

This is a reflection based on my research and experience as a teacher-researcher and on my experience as a second language learner. Language anxiety is a theme that has been researched extensively in North America and many European countries. However, for some reason it has not, until my own recent research (Daubney, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, Daubney and Araújo e Sá, submitted for publication), been a topic that has attracted much interest here in Portugal.

The background to language anxiety

Language anxiety can be defined as the fear or apprehension occurring when a learner is expected to perform in the second or foreign language (Gardner & MacIntyre 1993) or the worry and negative emotional reaction when learning or using a second language (MacIntyre 1999). Generally speaking, language anxiety has been viewed as a particularly negative psychological factor in the language learning process by many of the researchers and academics who have considered its impact on learners. In some cases, language anxiety has actually been cited as "possibly the affective factor that most pervasively obstructs the learning process" (Arnold and Brown, 1999:8), a negative energy that affects the brain, more specifically, our short-term memory, and hence our ability to hold words and ideas long enough on this creative table so to speak in order to mould them into suitably communicative sentences or utterances. In some cases we may freeze, unable to find the words. One of its effects is to lessen our ability to produce and, therefore, create linguistically. Perhaps the most well-known metaphor used to represent learners' negative emotional reactions to language learning is Stephen Krashen's 'affective filter', an imaginary emotional barrier which is erected when learners feel threatened by, disinclined to engage with or emotionally unreceptive to the language input available to them. On the other hand, if learners are relaxed and motivated, then this wall-like barrier will be lowered and the language input surrounding them will more likely be attended to and acquired.

Is language anxiety always negative?

Some researchers have questioned the notion that anxiety is always a negative influence. Indeed, some have pointed to the potential benefits of anxiety (Mathews, 1996; Spielmann and Radnofsky, 2001). For example, to take an experience that most of us here today may have had: writing under pressure. Sometimes it seems we are capable of writing more effectively and, indeed creatively, when we have to complete a dreadline and have little time in which to complete it. Sometimes the more time we have on our hands, the more ineffective, dull and uninspiring our writing seems to be; more often than not we may leave things until another day, allowing tension and anxiety to be cranked up to the necessary levels in order to spur us into action. As for speaking, and here I am essentially referring to public speaking, anxiety may actually push us on to greater effort and fluency, a motivational buzz that acts like a cerebral pump, pushing the creative juices around our brains and freeing up our creative instincts, as opposed to bringing our thought processes and ability to produce to a creative standstill. I am sure many have experienced the sensation of being nervous and tense before speaking, and when actually speaking this nervousness being reflected in stuttering, false starts and inaccurate pronunciation only to find these feelings and 'mistakes' giving way to more confidence and greater fluency, and in some cases a real reluctance to leave the floor!

This is why these two strains of anxiety, one a negative force the other a positive one, have respectively been referred to as 'debilitating' and 'facilitating' anxiety in the literature. The positive anxiety pushes you forward, motivates, helps, energises and facilitates whilst the negative anxiety weakens our resolve, creates doubts, encourages us to run away and debilitates.

Language anxiety and its relationship to creativity

So how does anxiety relate to creativity? Well, before we try to approach this question, perhaps it is worthwhile in considering what we actually think creativity is. Fehr and Russell opine when talking about emotions that "Everyone knows what an emotion is, until asked to give a definition" (cited in Oatley and Jenkins, 1996:96). Perhaps we are on the same ground when attempting to define creativity. I would like to ask you to think of five words which you associate with creativity. After giving this some thought I would imagine that you may have some, but not all, of the following words - or forms of these - on your lists: difference, new, novelty, imaginative, originality, freshness, inspiration, ingenuity, inventiveness, innovative and uniqueness. Now, these notions of creativity transferred to the language classroom may be perceived completely differently by different teachers. A reading comprehension implemented and overseen by certain teachers in their own particular teaching styles may well be seen as dull and boring by others. Conversely, other teachers' attempts to whip up students' interest by asking them to write down what they feel about a certain piece of music, for example, might be judged by others as trendy but boring. Creativity really is a case of one man's meat is another man's poison. Yet, leaving aside this question of taste in creativity, I think we can point to certain activities that are likely to be more inherently creative. Indeed, as Dörnyei has pointed out "creativity is inhibited by certain common classroom conditions and tasks (e.g., test-like activities) whereas activities that are presented in a 'permissive and game-like fashion' appear to release creativity" (2005: 242-243).

Communicative approaches, then, allowing for a greater focus on student-centred, interactive and open-ended activities are going to cater for greater student freedom and allow them to contribute to tasks and activities in their own particular way and express their own unique interests. All well and good so far. But what exactly do we consider to be creative activities? Role-plays, for example, do allow for spontaneous language input and communication but more often than not are 'spontaneously' put together, that is, they are unplanned and give students little support. Indeed, role-plays may well function best when students have a firm idea of what is expected of them, when they have had time to think about the vocabulary needed and possible ways of expressing their ideas. Therefore, creativity does not have to be utterly spontaneous, although it may well be. Conversations with groups of my own students in higher education are often largely spontaneous and, I like to think, frequently creative, so creativity does not de facto need to be planned or dependent on inventive materials, although creativity itself may arise out of such creative materials and well thought-out lesson plans. Word play, word games, inventing and playing quizzes, acting, (re)telling stories, singing and drawing may all lend themselves to creativity in the language classroom.

Creativity, then, is a slippery bar of soap, easy to cite as an important influence in the classroom but more difficult to pinpoint in terms of what it actually consists of and probably, for the majority of us, even more difficult to conjure up in the classroom. What we do in the classroom depends on the pupils or students and their relationship with each other as well as the teacher. Indeed, the fact that I have used the words 'pupils' and 'students' indicates that age is also an important factor in the equation of whether or not we can be creative in the classroom. Primary school pupils (I use the word 'pupil' for those in education up to 18 years of age, 'students' for those studying in higher education) are, generally speaking, less inhibited, willing to join in activities and very enthusiastic. Very often, secondary school pupils, especially teenagers, take more convincing of the relevance of activities if they are to partake in these, while students often want to see a direct connection to their futures and/or their courses before they are willing to complete certain tasks.

Indeed, it is perhaps no coincidence that as pupils move through the different cycles of education they may well see a decrease in creative activities in their language education. As the importance of marks and accurate performance are increasingly stressed and the types of exercises encountered in tests are repeated and carried out in the classroom, it is also likely that pupils and students become more aware of their own performance in a foreign language and are therefore more likely to experience anxiety as a result of this added pressure. If creativity is more likely to thrive in communicative, open-ended and student-centred activities, it is certainly open to question whether pupils and students will find themselves either being creative or in a creative environment when they are doing repetitive exercises that want the 'right' answers to closed questions - be it in written or spoken form. Indeed, teachers may gradually come to focus on form as opposed to content, devaluing the 'act of having tried' as one of my students memorably put it. In fact, it can be argued that success in language education does not, in fact, lie in creativity but in conformity and the ability to reproduce 'correct' answers in a grammatically acceptable way. I am not suggesting that all language classes are devoid of creativity. Of course, it is possible and desirable that creativity and accuracy are both encouraged and promoted. Task-based learning is particularly valuable in this sense. But an over-insistence on accuracy can chip away at enthusiasm for participation and spontaneous language use. For this reason teachers should not only think carefully about the classic when, how and how often to correct but why correct, who corrects and who is corrected.

Debilitating language anxiety has the potential of exerting a considerable influence on classroom dynamics. We can talk about how this anxiety can affect pupils and students on at least three levels, which are clearly interconnected. Firstly, anxiety may result from fear of negative academic evaluation. Mistakes, therefore, are feared. Better to keep within the limits of what you know as opposed to experimenting and creating. The more mistakes you make, the lower your mark will be. Secondly, anxiety may result from the fear of making mistakes in front of others, that is to say teacher and colleagues. What do people think of me? I look and sound stupid! are possible reactions. Given language learning is a social activity, creating with your peers in this state of mind is likely to be more difficult. Your mind is elsewhere. Thirdly, learning a foreign language means you are not expressing yourself as you want to, as you know you can in your mother tongue. Pupils and students therefore often fear looking stupid because of their inability to express themselves. Learning a language means engaging with and reflecting on our very identities and perceptions of who we are. Teenagers in particular are both susceptible and sensitive to perceived threats to their changing identities.

Striking the right balance 

Given these potential sources of anxiety, it is no surprise that creativity in language classes has to be achieved through hard work. In order to reduce the debilitating type of anxiety and hit the right levels of facilitating anxiety a positive working environment is helpful. Jerome Bruner has talked about one of the principle goals of teachers being that of creating the 'optimum state of learning', that is, not a classroom environment characterised by apathy or debilitating anxiety but one which is exemplified by curiosity, a sense of adventure and students who are eager to learn. A friendly relationship between the learners themselves as well as between learners and the teacher is a good base from which to move forward. If teachers are to encourage creativity, then students should feel happy about taking risks. Learning is about taking risks, making mistakes, thinking about difference and contrast and (re)constructing our own learning paths. It is not about teachers serving up slices of knowledge to be devoured and encouraging a 'feed me' syndrome. In language learning risk-taking is necessary so we can get to grips with the language. Teachers should also be encouraged to take risks. The pressures of completing the programme and getting good results often work against the creative instinct. As a teacher trainer in Portugal, I have often witnessed the class teacher initiate conversations that have pleasingly snowballed and diverged from the original topic - real conversation if you like - only for the teacher to get the learners 'back on track', that is, back to the programme and the ever-present student book. The seeds of creativity can often be found in simple class warm-ups, where often student enthusiasm is at a high but which is often repressed and bottled up by a focus on form and a somewhat slavish adherence to the PPP model.

A personal reflection on language anxiety

At the beginning of this paper, I mentioned my own experience as a second language leaner as a shaping influence on what I have to say here. I have learnt Portuguese both in and out of the classroom but, personally speaking, the greatest anxiety I have felt was while I was in the classroom studying the various disciplines on the Master's in Language Didactics at the University of Aveiro. It is pretty difficult to contribute let alone be creative when you are struggling to keep up with what is being said. I had always managed outside of the classroom and was in greater control of the situations I found myself in - I could change the topic of conversation, I could ask people, who I generally didn't know, to repeat what they had said, and I could have even made my excuses and walked away if I had wanted to. In the classroom, more eyes are upon us, ears are more attentive to what we say and we generally have far less time to make our contributions. Physical escape is not an option, although avoiding participation and nodding your head and smiling whilst not fully understanding is! Furthermore, these other learners are our peers and we see them regularly. At times, the anxiety I felt before, while and after speaking left me thinking unduly about what my peers and teachers thought of me. As a result, I sometimes avoided speaking although I really did want to contribute. Yet the anxiety I experienced - and at times it was uncomfortable - was a spur, an added incentive to understand and be understood. But gaining confidence takes time and learning languages is a lifelong process. I mention this experience as I think it is important for teachers to reflect on their own practices. Sometimes we are too close to our own classrooms to discern more clearly what is really happening in them. We should reflect on how we feel when participating in conferences, when taking part in in-service training sessions and other events. Even better, a return to the foreign language classroom as students comes fully recommended as an antidote to explaining away our own failings on students' lack of interest and motivation.


In the literature on language anxiety there is an overwhelming tendency to see anxiety as something that should be reduced at all costs, if not eliminated from the language classroom. Yet, this is a dubious notion. Surely we want to have classrooms where the students are anxious to learn, students who have a desire to participate. An anxiety-free classroom, for all its apparent appeal, may not, in fact, be conducive to learning, nor for that matter to a creative environment. Anxiety, then, as I have indicated elsewhere (Daubney, 2005), is part and parcel of the language classroom. Some learners - teachers even! - will feel more anxious than others. What is important is that teachers are aware that anxiety may complement creativity in the classroom and spur students on to perform better; on the other hand, it make take a more negative form, leading learners to avoid contact with the language, an anxiety that may discourage creative input and encourage feelings of inadequacy. Such perspectives of anxiety are best not viewed as direct opposites but rather as possible occurrences along an emotional continuum.

Whether language anxiety is a more negative or positive force in the classroom will largely be determined by the interaction between teachers, their objectives, methodology and the learners. However, an ability to forge a healthy working environment for language classes out of these factors will certainly give creativity a better chance of flourishing.


Daubney, M. (2002) Anxiety and inhibitive factors in oral in the classroom: a study of third year English language specialists at the Catholic University in Viseu. Máthesis, Viseu, 11, pp. 287-309.

Daubney, M. (2003) Language anxiety in oral communication: case studies of third year Portuguese polytechnic students studying to be second cycle state teachers of Portuguese and English. In C. Mello, A. Silva et al. (eds.) Didáctica das línguas e literaturas em Portugal: contextos de emergência, condições de existência e modos de desenvolvimento. Actas do 1º Encontro Nacional da SPDLL - FLUC - Fevereiro de 2002. Coimbra: Pé de Página, pp. 321-328.

Daubney, M. (2004) Language anxiety in oral communication in the classroom: a case study of future teachers of English. Unpublished Master's dissertation. Aveiro: University of Aveiro,.

Daubney, M. (2005) Language Anxiety: Part and parcel of the foreign language classroom.The APPI Journal, Year 5, no. 1, Spring 2005, p.10-15.

Daubney, M. and Araújo e Sá, M. H. Researching affect: Towards and understanding of language anxiety and its relationship to interaction in the foreign language classroom. Aveiro, Universidade de Aveiro. (Submitted for publication)

Dornyei, Z. (2005) The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gardner, R. C. and Macintyre, P. D. (1993) A student's contributions to second-language learning. Part II: Affective variables. Language Teaching, 26, pp. 1-11.

Macintyre, P. D. (1999) Language Anxiety: A Review of the Research for Language Teachers. In D. J. Young (ed.) Affect In Foreign Language And Second Language Learning: A Practical Guide To Creating A Low-Anxiety Classroom Atmosphere. Boston: McGraw-Hill, pp. 24-45.

Mathews, T. J. (1996) A case for increasing negative affect in foreign language classes.Language Learning Journal, No.13, March, pp. 38-41.

Oatley, K. and Jenkins, J. (1996) Understanding Emotions. Oxford: Blackwell.

Spielmann, G. and Radnofsky, M. L. (2001) Learning Language under Tension: New Directions from a Qualitative Study. Modern Language Journal, 85, pp. 259-278