The number one fear in the world is public speaking! People are more afraid of speaking in public than they are of death, snakes, spiders, zombies and clowns. Jerry Seinfeld said that means “you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Now imagine speaking a foreign language in public — in middle school! Even scarier. This is how many students feel when stepping into a foreign language class for the first time. The anxiety is at an all-time high.
What's so scary? There is fear of failure, fear of the unknown and fear of making a mistake and being laughed at by peers. Fear is destructive. It keeps people stuck in comfort zones and prevents growth. In the foreign language classroom, it prevents language acquisition and learning. Teachers play the primary role in eliminating students' fears. It is our job to create a classroom environment where learning occurs.
How do we create an environment where students overcome their fear of speaking and feel comfortable expressing themselves in Spanish?
ONE. Communicate that mistakes are OK. Mistakes are a necessary part of learning. Students should not be concerned with speaking perfectly — they need to just begin speaking. The most important thing is to try. Meaning is the focus, not grammar. Every mistake made is progress!
TWO. Challenge students to leave their comfort zone. Discomfort causes us to change. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing that scares you every day.” First conversations in a foreign language can be scary. Encourage students to embrace fear, take a risk and do something uncomfortable. With every attempt to speak in the target language, speaking becomes easier and fears diminish. Every experience builds confidence.
THREE. Create community in your classroom. Language learning happens in a social context. Help students get to know each other and find connections with other students through cooperative learning activities. This is done best with ice breakers. Activities like "Find Someone Who," “Stand Up If…” and “4 Corners” help students immediately find people who share their likes and dislikes. Students become more comfortable speaking with others when they know them better. Find ready-made Community Building Activities here
FOUR. Practice in pairs. We can’t communicate as well when we are experiencing anxiety. Students panic if they have to perform a task without preparation. Give students time to work in pairs or small groups to practice conversation before presenting orally. One-on-one conversations are much easier than speaking before a large group. These types of low-anxiety interactions build confidence and help students feel more at ease.
FIVE. Play a game! Not only do games reduce anxiety, they provide a necessary break from the routine, provide meaningful context, and motivate students to learn and use the language. Students will enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and competion against classmates.
My favorite activity to get students talking is "Find Someone Who" - a quick and easy game that is great for novice learners. It gets students out of their seats and speaking with one another about their favorite subject — themselves! They answer questions about favorite foods, their family, likes / dislikes and so much more. Students receive a chart full of simple questions and find someone who can answer the questions affirmatively. They must speak Spanish to receive a signature. Everything they need to communicate is on their paper. It involves a lot of repetition so students focus on asking the questions and finding the right people. The classroom becomes filled with the wonderful sound of students speaking in the target language! It is a great ice breaker and helps students learn about each other. It gives students time to practice the language and build confidence.
As you incorporate these ideas, you really can create a "no fear" zone in your classroom!
8 great “Find Someone Who” games to use with Spanish 1: