Hawaii Edition
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Second Language Anxiety

Living in Hawaii means living among a wide array of cultures. Not only are there significant Asian influences, there are also tourists arriving from around the world. From Honolulu’s busy Chinatown district to Waikiki’s famous beach, it’s not uncommon to hear multiple languages being spoken in the same space. 

While the blending of cultures makes Hawaii a true cultural crossroads, it can also lead to increased anxiety for those that make their home in the islands and speak English as a second language.

“In recent years, more and more of the anxious clients that we work with grew up speaking a language other than English,” explains Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock of Hawaii Hypnosis Center.  

“Not only is there a fear of saying some-thing incorrectly, the protective subconscious mind also seems to be on higher alert when people fear that their accents will draw extra attention to them.”

Many research studies have looked at second language anxieties and the results of the research are mixed enough that a specific cause is difficult to pin-point. A 2006 Australian study did find that language learners from China, Korea, and Japan were more likely to deal with anxiousness. While identifying the dis-parity, the study did not assess whether the increased anxiousness among Asians is related to higher learning standards in those cultures or other factors. Many of the language anxiety studies focus on school-age learners. The studies con-firm that the increased level of anxiety that students experience can lower their educational outcomes in all classes, not just language classes.

“We know that learning is impaired by anxiousness in the subconscious mind,” Beverly says. “Anxiousness can also create difficulty in social situations — including withdrawing from activities — and can make it more difficult for people to remember things. Anxiety has also been strongly linked to addiction, anger issues, lower self-esteem and depression.”

Language anxieties can also lead to issues in relationships. Beverly says one of her clients with fairly good English skills was troubled by her partner’s constant corrections, especially in front of other people. This language challenge made the client feel that her partner thought she was not intelligent. As her language anxiety grew, the comprehension and interpretation errors increased, causing the relationship to encounter significant additional stress.

One of the most complicated things about learning English is learning the phrases that people tend to use. Saying something like “missed it by a hair” or describing a statement as being “out of left field” may be common to a native speaker, but they are complicated for English language learners. When you throw in the regionalisms and pidgin that are common in Hawaii and its mixed cultures, this can be a tough place to be a second-language speaker.

“We’ve been very surprised by the number of clients that have this kind of anxiousness,” Beverly adds. “Anyone suffering from this kind of thing should know that they aren’t alone.”
Because speaking or reading are dominantly subconscious activities — versus the conscious side of the mind used for interpreting something totally new or complex — Beverly says hypnosis can be useful for language anxiousness. “Our first step is to help the client calm the part of their mind that is causing the anxiety. Then we work with clients to help make the secondary language have a more subconscious flow.”

Hypnosis can also be used by English speakers that are learning additional  languages and experiencing the same kind of anxious feelings when they try to speak to native speakers or speak in a class.

Randy Hampton is a writer, social scientist, hypnotist and blogger living in Honolulu.

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