The Importance of Student Self-Confidence when teaching a second/third language

Montreal - Monday, May 25, 2020

Note: Anna Panunto is a teacher at the High School of Montreal Adult Education Centre of the EMSB. She has been teaching for 22 years and submitted this article.


  Anna Panunto

following are my observations based on my 22 years of teaching adults both at the EMSB ( Academic English Secondary I to V) and Basic English Intermediate- Advanced levels), McGill University School of Continuing Studies in the Language Department (Intermediate and Advanced levels) and Corporate training at Revenue Quebec and Revenue Canada employees.


Adult learners bring into the classroom varied life experience and a sense of socio-cultural awareness. That is why most adults approach learning with a sense of who they are. Once they have established their purpose for learning, it becomes clearer for them to pave their way towards their goal. How can a teacher promote their students’ full potential to learn? The answer is simple: by conducing a safe and empowering learning environment. Consequently, this will create confident students.

Why Learn This Language?

Becoming functional and/or fluent in any given language is a big step. Initially, the challenges may feel overwhelming to the learner. Fluency opens doors. As a result, they can read, write, listen, and converse in the given language. Furthermore, they can integrate into the given society because speaking the native tongue will mean some form of integration. More often than not, attaining fluency in the given language means that the students can have opportunities in that given language – be it for professional or personal reasons .

However, fluency is not only about being literate. Aside from its functional purpose, it also fosters critical thinking and political/ social/cultural awareness. This is what we carry with us everywhere we go as it helps us connect with others on multiple levels . Moreover, understanding the body language of the subculture of that given language plays a fundamental role when learning the new language – we need to separate what we already know from our native language to the new one. Hence, there is a culture to understand behind every language.

Teaching/Learning Process – the interchangeable process

It is salient to say that learners bring to the teaching/learning process their contributions both as an individual and as a member of society. This inevitably highlights the teacher’s own functional purpose. Furthermore, it expands the teacher’s own self awareness. So, there is an exchange that takes place in the classroom – wherein the teacher is also the learner.

The fundamental role of any teacher is to believe in his/her students’ capacity to learn- regardless of their linguistic limitations. How does a teacher measure “capacity”? Capacity can only be measured once the learner has reached a certain level of confidence. How does the teacher prepare students for this certain level of confidence to take place? First, by encouraging students to face their everyday realities outside the classroom (by assigning small assignments such as short surveys, questionnaires, short interviews, etc.) and give them an opportunity to share their experiences with native speakers outside the classroom. Second, provide students with useful and practical tools when dealing with challenges such as misinterpretations/ cultural misunderstandings , social anxiety, etc. As much as it may be challenging to communicate in the new language among native speakers, it can also be rewarding. Sharing students’ small victories such as having a successful job interview, writing entrance exams, etc... Step by step, this will build confidence, students will realize that their integration is possible. Then, the teacher is ready to measure capacity.

Reluctant Students- I don’t want to learn this language!

Sometimes, teachers will face the challenge of reluctant students – those who do not wish to learn the language because they are forced into it. This resistance can cause a negative attitude in the classroom. They may dislike the language for various reasons - its grammatical structure, pronunciation, etc and this consequently, impacts their self-confidence. Remind students that they already speak more than one language and that in itself is victorious. Guide them with compassion and understanding every step of the way. Language learning is not based on the percentage mark but more on the skills acquired that they had not prior to the class. It is a step by step process that although may feel individualistic, requires communal support.

Language and Technology

All learning involves some unlearning, especially with today’s times. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace that we need to all be flexible with this process. Pressure to learn new technology can cause distress - not only for students but also for teachers. This is where conducing a safe learning environment is vital. The key to overcoming this barrier is by allowing everyone to make mistakes. Make sure that students get support when learning new technology. Make jokes if mistakes do occur. Peer support is also helpful as this creates a sense of community in the classroom. There is always someone in the classroom who can help whenever there is a technological issue – even to the teacher. It has happened to me many times wherein a student helped me learn new ways of using technology. This exchange conduces confidence. Also, creating a Facebook group has also proven to be effective. Social media can be a positive outlet and it gives those shy students an opportunity for self-expression, I have been doing this in the classroom in the last six years and more often than not, students continue to stay connected even after the class is over.

Peer Feedback

In the classroom, an effective type of feedback in order to boost self- confidence is “peer feedback.” First, the teacher should make sure that the objectives learned are clear and that the feedback given reflects that. Feedback in the classroom should be constructive – providing an opportunity for students to understand how to improve. A suggestion might be to create a feedback sheet wherein those objectives are clearly stated and students can refer to it. I call mine, “A checklist/feedback sheet.” When students give and receive feedback to one another, the teacher can initiate the process, so students can observe how it is done. Peer feedback can vary from class to class depending on the dynamic of the students. Set rules as to how it can be given and always refer to the objectives. After some time, peer feedback will feel natural and gradually create a sense of community in the classroom. The teacher observes their interaction and can provide additional input when necessary.

The dynamics of building self confidence is a process indeed, but the teacher will also have learned from students and this exchange is beyond enriching – for as the saying goes “Teaching is learning twice,Joseph Joubert.

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