In these new times of uncertainty, ‘anxiety’ rather than ‘confidence’ seems to be the buzzword. Circumstances have changed but we still need to communicate, oftentimes – in a foreign language. Many language learners don’t feel comfortable in online group meetings, especially in front of a camera. They experience a kind of ‘stage fright’ that would not appear when interacting face-to-face. This can make speaking online a formidable task. In view of this, one-to-one classes, “cosy meetings” with a helpful trainer, come across as a natural choice… or do they?
Private lessons and speaking to one person at a time – a person who’s usually friendly and can create a safe environment (yes, hopefully, that’s the coach or teacher 😊) – have many advantages. They can definitely help you ‘warm-up’ before group performance and simply become more fluent because no other participants are there to ‘do the talking’. But it’s not going to prepare you to perform well within a group, because it’s just not the same as being in a group. The teacher is usually someone we trust (after all, it’s their job to listen to us), they won’t judge you if you make mistakes, they care for you to open up. For many learners, this is absolutely necessary – at the beginning. But there comes a time to move on.
In real life, we come across different people: those who are better speakers than us, or worse. Those that we get on with like a house on fire and those we’d rather not have to talk to at all. And we have a variety of interaction patterns that one-to-one teaching cannot provide.
So, to become more confident as a speaker, don’t stay cosy for too long. Put yourself out there, practise with groups, try yourself out. Some people might judge you for your language imperfections – just as they will outside of the classroom, in the real world, in conference calls, in meetings. More often than not, they won’t. People mostly focus on the content, on the message, because communication is about being effective, not perfect. But some of them might. And you must be able to tolerate this thought, and to shift your focus elsewhere – to your task, to what you are trying to get across or achieve.
A group can give you so much. In times when we often work from home 100 %, when the interaction has changed radically and we have fewer opportunities to work and be together, teamworking remains a crucial skill in any organisation. In language classes and group coaching, members of the group share their experiences and learn from each other. You hear the others talk, you exchange learning strategies, you build relations.
Taking into account the Social Brain hypothesis, being in larger and more complex social groups helps to develop our cognitive abilities. An interesting study carried out at the University of Michigan demonstrated that after just 10 minutes of interactive sessions, participants performed better in cognitive tests than the control group. In another study from 2011, it has been demonstrated that the *amygdala volume correlates positively with the size and complexity of social networks.
Many reasons, then, not to give up on opportunities to communicate in a group. I’m sure there are other reasons that prompt you to the opposite. Only you can make the right decision. Let me just say, as my great mentor once said to me… often the thing you fear doing the most is exactly the one that you should do.
If you decide this option is for you, look out for my article on how to choose a group that will offer a safe and supportive environment – the article will appear soon.
Amygdala – the area of the brain that is responsible for regulating emotions and helps to encode memories
Buzzword – a very popular word
Stage fright – fear that actors or singers feel before getting on the stage and that we often experience before a speech or some other kind of performance
Formidable – impressive in size, powerful and demanding a lot of skill
Come across 1. Seem (she comes across as confident) 2. Meet (In my work, I come across people who…)
Get on like a house on fire – be good friends, understand each other
Feel short of something – feel that you don’t have enough of something
Cosy – warm, comfortable, making you feel relaxed
Vent (anger, feelings) – express your feelings strongly