Anxiety, Empathy and Extroversion – Their Role in Language Learning

Personality factors are considered essential in the learning of a language. Three of the most important personality factors in human behavior are anxiety, empathy and extroversion. All these three play an important affective role in second language acquisition.

Anxiety is an abnormal apprehension and fear, by doubt about the nature and reality of the threat itself, and by self-doubt. It is associated with feelings of uneasiness, frustration or worry over a task to be accomplished. On the other spectrum, empathy is the process of reaching beyond the self and understanding and feeling what other person understands or feels. It is usually described as the projection of ones’ own personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better. In other words, it is the compassion one can render for another person. While extroversion is the extent to which a person has a deep-seated need to receive ego enhancement, self-esteem, and a sense of wholeness from other people.

Research has shown valuable points concerning these three potentially important personality factors in the acquisition of a second language. In the case of language anxiety, this state of apprehension, as studied, has negative effects on the learners’ acquisition of a language. It may hinder the learners’ progress in class or may motivate him to study harder. But such effects vary on how one views anxiety. Different measurements have been done in the degree of empathy in communication and language learning. It explains that in second language learning, not only must learner-speaker correctly identify cognitive and affective sets in the hearer, but they must do so in a language they are trying to comprehend. In extroversion, research found that it has no significant effect in characterizing a good language learner. But nevertheless, it may be a factor in the development of general oral communication competence, which requires face to face interaction.

Thus, anxiety, empathy and extroversion have essential roles in learning a language. Human anxieties on complex tasks are susceptible in language learning which include communication apprehension, fear of negative evaluation and test anxiety. Having the compassion of putting ones’ self on someone else’ shoes, understanding ones’ feelings, analyzing ones’ feedback and identifying ones’ linguistic, cognitive, and affective sets are the few important roles of empathy in successful language learning. On the other end, language extroversion is culturally bound. It is readily apparent that cross-cultural norms of nonverbal and verbal interaction vary widely. Thus, extroversion is a factor in the development of general oral communicative competence, where participation is highly valued considering the cultural norms of the learners.

Moreover, the three variables have interesting implications in language teaching. Such in the vulnerable case of learners’ anxiety, a constructive approach of teaching is needed. It is right for teachers to distinguish between types of anxieties his or her students are possessing and how his learners are affected by it so he or she can explain how indispensable it is in language learning. In the study of empathy, its implication in language teaching includes the teachers’ wide understanding of the different responses of the learners. One would need to determine if empathy is something one can learn in the adult years, especially cross-culturally. This is same with the implications of extroversion in language teaching. Teachers need to be sensitive to cultural norms, to a students’ willingness to speak out in class, and to optimal points between extreme extroversion and introversion that may vary from student to student.

Therefore, understanding how these personality factors in human behavior work from person to person is an important as understanding its roles in language learning and teaching. As part of the affective domain of human behavior, anxiety, empathy and extroversion, indeed, play important roles in language acquisition and successful language teaching process.