Second Language Stress   

Lesson 4: Topic 2 of 6

There are great advantages to learning a language in context, where many people use it daily as a primary means of communication. We’ve already established that trying to navigate a new culture and society brings stress. Research indicates that increases in cortisol and heart rate also accompany second language use in social situations. The entire acculturation process is quite complex!

One of the main sources of stress is the feeling of not belonging. Immigrants often sense that they just don’t fit in and are unable to truly participate in the culture and society of their new home. Many people around them have shared knowledge and experiences that are so unlike their own. This can lead to feelings of isolation and alienation, which can in turn make it harder for them to learn the new language. It can be tempting to retreat to an alone space when enduring prolonged culture stress.

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The realities of being linguistically misunderstood can also cause anxiety. This can lead to feelings of frustration and can make it harder for them to establish connections and relationships with others. Sometimes people in the native culture will assume that immigrants are less intelligent than they really are, simply because they cannot communicate well in a foreign language. For non-native English speakers at a lower level of language competency, this often leads to discouragement and sometimes even resentment. 

What would help in this type of scenario? Kindness and patience are critical. If coworkers or neighbors invite the newcomer into social circles, even if they cannot communicate easily, it sends a signal that there is hope. That is worth the small risk of rejection.