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Very often, we read essays about successful ESL practices that focus on external factors such as inventive teaching methodologies, or the use of technology in the classroom. But although it’s true that great teachers and engaging, up-to-date materials are a big part of any rewarding learning experience, we mustn’t forget that learning a language is something that happens in the mind of every individual. As a result, when discussing how students can learn better, we should focus on the internal processes that come into play while acquiring a second language.

In this article, we will take a look at the main psychological factors that affect second language acquisition, and what you can do to use them in your favor.

For more tips on what you can do to improve your learning, please visit our ultimate guide on how to learn languages online.

Motivation

Every time we take up a new activity, we become quickly aware of how motivated we are to navigate both the rewards and the challenges of learning. Motivation, first and foremost, has to do with a sense of purpose. The question that you should be able to answer is “What am I learning this for?” If the answer is something like “To pass a test”, or “To get a better job”, we are looking at extrinsic motivation. People who learn a new language out of extrinsic motivation do it to get an external reward. Their objectives involve instrumental gains, such as wealth, professional achievement, or academic success.

These goals, of course, can act as a crucial incentive towards second language acquisition, but because they are focused on an outcome rather than on your psychological or emotional needs, they can only take you so far. At the end of the day, what really helps a student overcome the anxiety and stress that come with learning a new skill is finding personal satisfaction in the process.

Intrinsic motivation will make the learning experience internally rewarding without the prospect of any external reward. As a result, you will be less likely to quit an activity in the face of external or internal challenges.

The second question you should ask yourself, then, is “How can I enjoy this more?”. In other words, “How can I make this activity more interesting, more challenging, more rewarding?”. The answer, of course, will depend on your personal preferences. If you love literature, you might want to consider joining a book club conducted in the target language. If you love games, then you could play online card games with foreign people, or set change the setting of your games console to match the language you’re studying.

In short, you should assess your own cognitive and emotional needs and adapt your approach so that the learning process becomes more interesting and enjoyable.

Attitudes

An attitude is a predisposed state of mind that dominates how you feel or what you think about a person or thing. Attitudes play a crucial role in learning a second language. If you’re learning English, for example, and you have a negative predisposition toward the language, the culture, and English-speaking people in general, your motivation levels are bound to be affected as a result. On the contrary, if you have a positive attitude a language and the people who speak it, you will approach every learning opportunity with greater excitement and, more importantly, with an open mind.

But attitude is not only related to a settled way of thinking about a culture or a language. Attitude also refers to how you perceive other people in the immediate learning environment —mainly, the teacher in charge of the course.

To understand how important this aspect of learning is, you just need to think back to when you were a school student. Try to recall, for example, which were your favorite and your least favorite subjects, the ones you were very strong at and the ones you struggled to pass. Now think about the teachers who taught these subjects. Don’t you have better memories of the teachers who taught the subjects you loved?

It might just be a coincidence, of course. After all, every individual’s experience is different. But most probably, this has to do with the fact that empathy and good predisposition towards a teacher has an immensely positive impact on your attitude towards the things that he or she is trying to teach you. This is because, when you respect and trust the person who is doing the teaching, your mind and your emotions open up in a way that facilitates learning and turns it into a more meaningful and memorable experience.

Anxiety

Language anxiety is defined as a situation-specific personality trait characterized by negative emotional arousal that is born from fear of negative evaluation. Almost everyone experiences it at some level when learning, and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, low levels of anxiety can actually be an incentive to achieve better results. As it turns out, mild fear of ‘losing face’ in front of others might push people to work on their weak areas and to improve their linguistic performance.

But how happens when anxiety becomes an obstacle? People who suffer from severe anxiety might miss learning opportunities because they are too scared to speak in front of the teacher or their peers. Feelings of self-doubt and apprehension can bring so much tension to students that they will often remain quiet during lessons and make excuses to avoid speaking, even when they know the answer to a question or have an interesting point to make.

If you experience extreme levels of anxiety, the first thing you need to do is be open about your feelings. You don’t need to get too serious about it. You can just joke about how nervous you are, or ask if anyone else is as anxious as you are, or tell your teacher to be patient with you today because you’re experiencing a lot of tension. Sharing your fears with your teachers and your classmates is bound to make you feel better because the terrible thing about anxiety is that anxious people are constantly afraid of being found out. By being honest about it you stop worrying that other people will notice your nervousness.

At Language Trainers, we offer tailor-made online courses that are not only designed to suit every student’s learning style, but also to support them throughout their learning process. For that reason, we work with native teachers who are fully qualified to motivate students, to transmit the passion they feel for their language, and to deal with the negative emotions that anxious students might feel during the course.

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