ESL and EFL students face numerous obstacles on the road to fluency. For many students young and old, however, the greatest obstacle to their progress in a foreign language is their own fear of making mistakes when speaking. The linguist Stephen Krashen talks about an “affective filter” in language acquisition. When a student’s anxiety is high, the filter is raised, blocking any input no matter how comprehensible (Krashen, 2010). In other words, students’ fear of having to speak could prevent them from acquiring language in the first place through listening.
This is quite a complex problem, as students within the same class will most certainly differ in their levels of anxiety. For some students, no matter how congenial a classroom is, they remain terrified of speaking in front of their peers. One possible way to help students overcome this fear is speaking homework.
In the past, I have used cassettes, emailed Mp3s, and most recently voice messages sent via free apps, like LINE. Google Voice, with its free voicemail transcription delivered to one’s inbox, is the simplest tool yet for students and the teacher to turn such assignments into private ongoing lines of interactive communication.
Krashen, Stephen. (2010). Stephen Krashen on Language Acquisition [Online video]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiTsduRreug
ZyMOS. (2010). Google Voice (Online image). Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Google_voice.svg