rom my flexible perspective as an English teacher, teacher trainer and a psychologist, I am particularly aware of the interference of the affective variables with the cognitive domain. I have often found myself engaged in trying to boost students’ and/or teachers’ motivation, curiosity, self-efficacy, but I have also strived to help them tackle difficult psycho-emotional dimensions such as anxiety, demotivation, stress, and frustration related to learning and teaching.
It is important to point out that no linear cause-and-effect relationship between psychological dimensions and achievement can be seen, because such factors as anxiety or motivation are not linear but dynamic and social phenomena, and “the relationship between these phenomena and the levels of achievement is reciprocal rather than unidirectional”. This is to say that psychological aspects of learning alone cannot serve as reliable ‘predictors’ of learning outcomes. Moreover they are not the same across cultures and races. All the same, the perspective on the psychological side of learning, the affective paradigm, can be useful pragmatically as a starting point in order to mould didactic methods to the learners’ psychological needs.
n this article I’d like to consider anxiety as a frequent psycho-emotional condition associated with learning a foreign language, which shapes the students’ experience in the classroom and at home. I am fully convinced that educators should be trained to recognize this type of – sometimes debilitating – anxiety and address it effectively through specific pedagogical strategies.
I will first give a brief, general overview of anxiety, then examine some types of anxieties related to oral communication and foreign language speaking; finally I would like to suggest some anxiety-reducing strategies to be adopted by teachers, as well as some anti-anxiety hints for students.
What is anxiety?
It is a psycho-emotional state characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat. 
It is useful to identify the basic mechanisms of anxiety insofar as they express ancestral evolutionary behaviours which served as coping strategies in front of life-threatening dangers. We can say that fear is good because it is necessary for survival. In a sense we are the descendants of anxious ancestors who, thanks to their ability to anticipate life-threats, managed to continue our species. The three main reactions to a danger are fight, flight or freeze; each has its neurophysiological paths of activation (see picture 1) which accounts for the physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms associated with anxiety.
Different levels of anxiety can be perceived according to several variables such as personality traits, stressful situations, individual coping strategies, cognitive processes involved, core beliefs about one’s efficacy at facing stressors, feeling of helplessness, etcetera. Levels of anxiety can be high, moderately high, moderate, moderately low or low. Different types can also be mentioned, ranging from mild forms such as apprehensiveness, nervousness, to more severe symptoms «brain freeze», block, stage fright, and further on to more clinically relevant types like panic, phobia, social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Anxiety can be divided into state anxiety and trait anxiety. Situational or state anxiety is the type of anxiety caused by a specific situation, like public speaking; as Mark Twain said “There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars”, that is to say that most of the general population is afraid of confronting an audience. Trait Anxiety is the internal anxiety that an individual brings to the situation, not dependent on the specific situation. Anxious people overestimate how likely it is that an unpleasant event will happen and how bad the consequences will be if the event does happen; at the same time they underestimate their ability to cope with the anxiety and the unpleasant event. If our threshold of activation is too low our “fight or flight response” is recurrent, which brings a condition of prolonged stress. Also, if it is activated once it tends to be activated again in the same situation, which leads to the so-called “learned anxiety”.
The effect of anxiety on performance can be twofold: on one hand, if the anxiety level is too high (distress), it can diminish our performance considerably; “…high, debilitating levels of anxiety do interfere with academic achievement in foreign language classes…[and can result in] slower speed in their learning and processing…underestimate their true L2 competence and…engage in risk-avoiding behaviours…” (Ortega, 2014) However, and maybe counterintuitively, if the psycho-physical arousal is optimal, we remain in a zone of eustress, which allows the highest levels of performance (Hebbian version of the famous Dodson law, see picture 2).
This is useful to remember, because
we as educators should remind our students that their goal is not to get rid of anxiety altogether, which is impossible and also not desirable, but to keep it at a reasonable level of eustress, and to consider it as psychic fuel for optimal perfomance.
This pedagogical strategy wil be discussed below.
The role of teachers in foreign language ped-agogy is crucial, not only because of the methods, activities or contents they may decide to insert in the lessons, but principally because of their beliefs and perceptions about students, language learning and teaching.
In this article I have strived to give a very general overview of language learning anxiety with the double purpose of making teachers more aware of their crucial role as far as their attitudes, beliefs and teaching style are concerned, and offering some very precise suggestions for introducing more effective pedagogical approaches. Of course, instructors and learners will identify other sources of language anxiety and may offer additional sugges- tions for coping with it.
The objective in ridding language learning of unnecessary anxiety is to create more effective language learning and to instill in students increased interest and motivation to learn another language.
Reducing anxiety is not enough though: a virtuous circle of positive reinforcement must then be im- plemented in order to lead to a higher emotional well-be- ing in the classroom for both students and teachers.
 Dornvei and Ushioda, 2009, quoted in Danuta Gabrys-Barker,Joanna Bielska, The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition, 2013, MPG PrintGroup Ltd
 The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition , in Lourdes Ortega, Understanding Second Language Acquisition, Routledge, 2014
 Hebb, D. O. (1955). Psychological Review, 62, 243-254