It’s a terrifying thing and it’s incredibly powerful. Many language learners experience it and it stays with them for quite some time.
Many times Polish people I’ve met have confessed that this is what is preventing them from real progress and achieving a higher level of fluency. The inner self just takes over and dominates the narrative in their heads. This results in paralysis. Well, maybe that is a bit strong but it’s damn close to it. What I am referring to is the common reason my Polish students struggle with their speaking fluency. Generally speaking “the block” is them being stuck or unable to express themselves for fear of making a mistake and being embarrassed.
It’s a scary thing. We fear and worry about being judged, especially in a negative way . It has to be exhausting, all that pressure we put on ourselves to make sure we say the right thing, in the correct way. I have people, not necessarily my students, who will apologize to me for their English, even though it’s communicative and I am grateful they try. It’s interesting, we’re communicating effectively, this person has decided to speak a second language for my convenience, yet this person feels embarrassed.
I believe it is the biggest obstacle my students have to achieving their fluency goals.
What is the narrative in each student’s head?
What are they telling themselves after an English lesson?
Maybe it’s not the grammar rules, word formation and sentence structures that are critical but letting our students speak and just guiding them with correction. A new approach is needed, one where we reward effort in taking risks rather than checking knowledge of rules.
Our work as teachers can be better. Why not?