Mindfulness and FLA — Foreign Language Anxiety

Written by: Flávia Rigonato Rodrigues, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Have you ever heard this?

“I’ve tried to learn a foreign language many times. I just can’t, so I gave up”.

“I need so much to learn another language, but I don’t have time.

Well, attitudes like these are very common.

The Necessity

Speaking another language is a basic need, especially for business. It has become synonymous with survival and global integration. Can you imagine the stress?

The increasing internationalization of markets has led nations to adopt the use of a second language.

The mastery of another language means growth, development, and above all, better conditions to keep up with fast changes that have been taking place in this new and technological century.

The Stress and Anxiety

Learning a foreign language can be a very exposed task - mistakes are made, lack of understanding or vocabulary, especially in oral communication.

Also, the fear of making mistakes in front of other students in a classroom might be stressful.

All this stress can cause FLA — foreign language anxiety, as described by Elaine and Michael Horwitz and Joann Cope in their book Foreign language classroom anxiety.

Anxiety results from abnormal regulation of "fear" emotion, manifesting itself in response to specific stimuli of the environment, body, and mind.

In contexts more focused on learning the second language, it can be said that the "fear" of failure, of exposing oneself, for example, maybe enough to trigger physiological responses such as acceleration of the heartbeat and, even, what neuroscientists call an emotional sequestration, which corresponds to the momentary loss of conscious decision-making capacity under high psychological pressure.

Teachers and students realize that anxiety is a major obstacle to overcome in learning to speak another language.

It is known that individual reactions can vary greatly.

Students with a higher intensity of anxiety may postpone learning another language until the last possible moment.

Students with moderate anxiety intensity can procrastinate on a homework assignment or avoid speaking in class.

The Solution

According to Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, one possible way to seek self-control of emotions and reduce the state of anxiety significantly, collaborating with focus and attention to learning a second language, is mindfulness meditation.

Meditation practices can be oriented towards the concentration of attention by stimulating improvement in cognitive and emotional processes.

It turned out that meditation improves working memory and helpful processes as well as perceptual skills. It also promotes prosocial behavior and emotional regulation.

The Studies of Mindfulness Mediation

Many studies show the power of meditation in our brains.

One of them is students at the University of Rome in Italy that conducted a study of meta-analysis, resonance imaging of the brain in 2015, under the practice of meditation.

The result revealed:

  • A network of areas from the occipital lobe to the frontal lobes was highly activated.

  • Meditation was associated with an increased volume of gray matter in the frontal lobe.

Mindfulness Meditation has proven to be a trend in public schools in several countries, mainly Australia and Canada. It is accessible to everyone as it requires only meditation practices to control anxiety.

The Results

We know that anxiety is one of the major factors of the learning difficulty of a foreign language.

We know how the brain acts in the face of this problem, and the practice of mindfulness meditation is a great ally for the control of anxiety.

So why not use this powerful tool in aid of foreign language learning?

At a State University of Turkey, a study was done to find out if meditation can be effective in terms of anxiety and vocabulary learning in the context of foreign language learning.

The results showed that meditation led to a great difference in anxiety and learning levels, leading to better learning.

Another study was Qinghong Cai's doctoral thesis for the School of Education (US) in 2017- in New England.

It was a specific program with the benefits of guided meditation and a background with relaxing music with Chinese learning as a foreign language.

The anxiety reduction was significant.

Students' results included greater relaxation and tranquility, reduced stress/anxiety, more confidence in Chinese performance, improved learning (pronunciation, speech, and listening), and greater concentration of skills during class.


As a teacher for almost 30 years and very curious to discover methods that help students finish their foreign language studies, feeling satisfied, after all those discoveries, I began to use meditation in my classes.

I assure you the results have been amazing!

The students do not skip classes. They come to classes with a smile and get rid of the thought of English being too hard to learn.

Yes, many still work hard, but do not give up and begin to believe that learning a new language can be more pleasant than they might think!

For more info, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and visit my website!

Flávia Rigonato Rodrigues, Executive Contributor, Brainz Magazine

Flávia Rigonato Rodrigues is an ESL Brazilian teacher. She’s been teaching English for almost 30 years and runs her own school called Business Talk® English and Immersion.

Apart from teaching in a classroom, she takes people to hotels for a whole English speaking weekend.

She’s a postgraduate in psycho pedagogy and also neuroscience and behavior.

She’s recently become a TEDx Speaker.

Her main focus is about FLA -Foreign Language Anxiety and the use of mindfulness meditation to help people speak a foreign language with no barriers.



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