Self-esteem matters in language learning !

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Self-confidence is an essential source of energy in life and plays a peculiar role in language learning as well in learning overall.

Some people have a huge dose of self-confidence (you probably know some of those kind, don’t you?), some people have a very poor self-esteem (usually easy prey of the first category): to some extent we are like trees and luckily we are different from one other, as stated at the beginning of the story “The King of Ireland’s Son”:

“He (the King) had three sons, and, as the fir-trees grow, some crooked and some straight, one of them grew up so wild that in the end the King and the King’s Councillor had to let him have his own way in everything.”

While the story proceeds, the wild son goes through many obstacles and a thread of harmful experiences being able to find “his own way in everything” and -like many other heroes of fairy tales and myths- never loses his faith and confidence.

In fact self-confidence is the capability to keep your faith alive in every circumstance and face the difficulties without anxiety, knowing that a positive outcome will occur either by deepening into your own resources or with help of “external factors“.

The Roots of Self-Confidence

The first root of self-confidence is “confidence”, that is within us from the birth and is nourished through the whole time of education by parents particularly in the early years and teachers during the school journey. When a child or a pupil grows with the feeling: I can trust them, I can rely on them, I can walk through my life with confidence, then the original gift of confidence will stay in their heart for the entire life and will be a solid support every time they have to cross trouble waters.

Teenage is one of those crossing points over troubled waters, when the counter-feeling of being bad and not capable might rise: I am so ugly, i feel so bad, I can’t do it.


There is a powerful tool to tackle those dark moments: positivity! We adults, parents and teachers, have to be deeply confident that out of the “ugly duckling” a beautiful swan, a bright flower, a capable lady or gentleman will be born again and will stand for his life! Should the adults be hesitant, uncertain, unfaithful, how the youngsters can find their confidence again?

Going Abroad

When students travel abroad -away from their daily routine, off the familiar places and faces- they somehow lose part of the habitual world that makes them feeling well and secure. Leaving the father’s house is a step towards personal development and responsibility, it is a necessary step on the way to “discovering myself“. Even if going abroad is a very enjoyable experience, we want to rise more awareness of the implications related to moving to a new world, although only temporarily.

Elaine K. Horowitz observed that “…many learners experience anxiety when they feel that they are unable to “be themselves” when speaking a new language, and more advanced learners may actually be more sensitive to differences between their true identity and the version of themselves they can communicate in the new language” (Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety, Horwitz and Cope 1986).

The acquisition of a new language is really part of the journey of education that includes the exploration of yourself, your weaknesses and fragilities as well as your strong points.

Travelling abroad has two faces: the great joy of sailing off the harbour and breathing the fresh air of the wide, open see ahead, and -on the other side-  the uncertainty of sailing out of the well known home towards the unknown… 

Having this in mind, we await the young learners who come to our courses, preparing the programme and the whole environment so that they will enjoy the exploration of the new horizon while still feeling at home,  feeling good as much confident and secure as in their own country

Nourishing self-confidence means in our case to accompany our young ladies and gentlemen to improve their English skills -especially the confidence with the spoken language-, to experience the joy of learning, to develop social awareness.

Self-Esteem and Foreign Language Learning

While I was investigating the relation between self-confidence and language learning in the past months, I came across a book titled “Self-Esteem and Foreign Language Learning” written by Fernando Rubio and published in 2007 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing,


In a foreword to this book Elaine K Horwitz reckons that language learning should not be considered any longer as a matter of “cognitive terms”:

“… we have truly come a long way from the early years of language aptitude research when the likelihood for success in language learning was conceived of primarily in cognitive terms”.

In my own words, learning a language is a peculiar process that is not resolved by a unidirectional cognitive approach but -I would say- has to take into account multiple variables as mentioned before, an approach that needs to be holistic and embrace the vision the young learner and his wellbeing.

In a further analyse of the emotional condition of a learner abroad, Elaine writes:  “At this moment in language teaching history, the role of affective variables and the necessity of focusing on the emotional states of learners are readily acknowledged by the language teaching community. As this volume clearly attests, this understanding of the emotional vulnerability of language learners is shared by many language teachers and researchers around the world.

Questions remain, however, as to why language learning is so much more ego-involving than other fields of study, and moreover, what can be done to assist the learner’s emotional journey. The authors in this volume have done an impressive job addressing these two issues; they offer a wealth of interesting and useful theoretical frameworks from which to understand the place of self-esteem in language learning as well as an abundance of truly creative and humanistic approaches to supporting and encouraging positive self-esteem in language classrooms.

I think that educators either parents or teachers- especially language teachers- should seriously ponder on the findings of this research that may provide a significant insight of the foreign language learner experience and open a door to find how we adults can accompany the process of language learning in children, teenagers and young people.

Well, there is plenty to think about and almost plenty to change about language learning and language teaching!

When I started to offer my students a pilot project (1998) that led to the Active English Learning (2007), I found many sympathetic supports but also some sceptic reactions. Nowadays it is quite clear that we need courage! We need to feed courage and offerr young people the opportunity to create their vision of the future that doesn’t stick with the world as it is. The challenges that they are going to face require courage enlightened by high skills, passion for their job and creativity to solve unexpected problems. Self-esteem would be the result of a healthy educational process that doesn’t undermine, but grows the inherited confidence we were born with.

Values like courage, enthusiasm, creativity can’t be provided by machines. Nourishing self-confidence -with all its background- can be only provided by responsible adults, who should join together, create synergies and cooperation rather conflicts and isolation, who should share their projects and speak about their vision of education without prejudices and stereotypes!

My suggested start point to help our young ladies and gentlemen build up their self-esteem, is again very simple: explore yourself! but I am sure, you will find other start points…. choose yours and go! but the goal should be the same: learning with joy, living with confidence!