Learner’s Confidence and Insecurity in Second Language Production

The Production Stage is the most important stage of communicative language teaching. Successful Production is a definite sign that the language learners have made the transition from „students” of the target language to „users” of the language. The production of language can be positively affected by the speaker’s confidence and negatively by his or her insecurity.


There are numerous examples of students whose fluency suffers because they pay too much attention to accuracy rather than to smooth language production. For instance, a great number of second language learners respond rather slow to questions because they analyze and translate every single word rather than trying to understand the general meaning of the utterance. Communication is hindered if too much attention is given to mistakes (Cotter, 2009).

Confidence plays a very important role in the efficient production and usage of language.  If students do not have confidence in the language then they will be hesitant to independently use it. Heyde (1979) pointed out that confidence correlated positively with the students’ proficiency in oral performance.

The research done in the domain shows that confidence increases a learner’s desire to produce and use the target language (Park and Lee, 2004).  Language teachers often hear their students complain about the fact that they understand the target language but do not have enough confidence to join a conversation. The reasons behind this hindrance are: mind translation from native language into target language, nervousness, the speaker is using a specific word rather than using, the lack of conversation opportunities within the classroom, students are unable to speak with their peers because of age difference or level of knowledge, the curricula is focused more on grammar and vocabulary structures and leaves little time for speaking practice.

Language learners, especially if they are children or teenagers, are extremely vulnerable and their level of confidence can be quite low. Thus, in order to learn students of any age must feel confident. It is of utmost importance for language students to understand that if they do not understand certain words in the target language this is not due to limited language skills. Even native speakers do not understand all the words extant in their language, they use dictionaries too.

Confidence in language production is obtained through practice and repetition. Proficient users of the target language have managed to reach a level where they understand so much of the key language that they are no longer concerned about the words and expression that they do not fully understand. The objective is not to learn all words in a language but to improve second speech production day by day. (en.littlelinguist.org, 2010).

Insecurity in second language production

Linguistic insecurity refers to the anxiety or lack of confidence experienced by second language speakers in both writing and speaking, because they have the impression that their use of language does not correspond to the norms of the standardised second language.

The sense of insecurity is amplified when a second language users has to appeal to his language in order to communicate with native speakers. The fear of being laughed at is a barrier even for more proficient speakers not to mention for beginners (Bogdan, 1998). Insecurity in language production is caused by negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration and lack of confidence. The societal as well as the individual contexts were found to determine levels of communicative insecurity.

Barror (1976) considered that there are two major factors that determine insecurity in the production of the second language: the stereotyping of languages and an educational system based on the doctrine of correctness and purity of language. Language teachers in many countries must respect the national curricula and teach mainly grammar and vocabulary structures. Therefore, both speaking and creative writing are neglected in language classes. Thus, lots of teachers have students that are extremely proficient in grammar, who are the possessors of a wide vocabulary but who actually cannot properly use the language they know for communicative purposes. It can be stated that insecurity in second language production is also the result of insufficient oral language practice and repetition.

One of the current challenges for teachers is to create a safe, learned-centred classroom environment. Teachers must bear in mind that outside the classroom, listening is used twice as often as speaking, which in turn is used twice as much as reading and writing (Rivers, 1981).  Inside a language classroom, speaking and listening are the most often used skills. Teachers must closely study the learners’ speech production process so as to determine what skills and knowledge they have and what areas need to be developed.

Teachers can adopt various techniques and strategies in order to reduce insecurity in second language production. Pair work does wonders since it increases the amount of learner talk and also lowers the inhibition of those who do not want to speak in front of the whole class. The classroom activities should be based on an easy language. The language used must be easy to recall and produced by all students so as to allow them to speak fluently with little or no hesitation. It is important to give some instructions or training in discussion skills. For example if the activity is based on group discussion then the teacher should give instructions about participation and tell students that each person in the group has to bring his/her own participation to the discussion (Harmer, 2006).

If a teacher wants to turn his/her students from language learners into language users then he/she must help them overcome their insecurity in language production. This type of insecurity is a foolish habit and the sooner the learner breaks it the better it is for his/her knowledge of the target language. Students must understand that saving a little embarrassment does not weigh enough in the long run. By overcoming insecurity language learners open new possibilities for themselves thus having the chance to use their newly acquired knowledge. The capacity of speaking two, three and even more foreign languages is a talent that should not be kept inside.

The phenomenon of avoidance in second language production

The expression avoidance of second language production was first introduced into the domain literature by Schachter (1974). It has been observed that when speaking or writing in a second language, the learners often tried to avoid using more complex words and grammatical structures in the favor of some simpler ones.

Kleinmann (1977, 1978) pointed out that the avoidance behaviour is in fact a strategy employed by the second language learner when he/she has the impression that a certain structure is too difficult for him/her to produce. However, it has to be stated that avoidance is not a sign of linguistic ignorance. On the contrary it is a conscious strategy through which a person decides whether or not to use a certain language structure. Manniruzzaman (2012) considers that the researchers in the domain of language learning have not paid enough attention to the avoidance behaviour, despite the undeniably influence upon second language production and performance.

In 1974, Schachter made a study on a group of native speakers of Arabian, Japanese, Chinese and Persian language students who used English as their second language. The results of the study revealed that the relative clauses were quite a milestone difficult to overcome by Japanese and Chinese students. The difficulty resided not in the number of errors committed by the learners but in the number of the relative clauses they managed to utter (Manniruzzaman, 2012). They produce fewer relative clauses than the Arabic and Persian students, trying to avoid them as much as possible. Thus, Schachter concluded that if a second language learner finds it difficult to produce a certain structure in the target language, he/she will do everything possible to avoid it when speaking or writing.

All the research done in the field of avoidance of second language production shows that this phenomenon is extant in the behaviour of second language learners; however its frequency is determined by various causes such as the type of learner, the setting in which the target language is taught and learnt and by the similarities and differences between the first and the second language.

Teacher can help students suppress their desire to adopt avoidance when confronted with a difficult language structure. Thus, the lessons have to be designed in such a way so as to incorporate the learners’ needs and wants. The vocabulary and sentences structures that have to be learnt must be selected by taking into consideration the learners’ desires and necessities. The communicative competence has to be the final goal. The teaching sequencing of words, grammar rules, set phrases should be determined by taking into account content, function and meaning but they still should be centred on the student. Language learners have to be encouraged to encounter and solve communication problems since speaking skills are enhanced only thorough communication in authentic situations. Easier terms have to be taught first and the more complex one later when the learners are already accustomed to the target language. The teacher must provide feedback in a judicious and supportive way. Students must be aware of the similarities and differences extant between the first and the second language so as to be able to pay more attention to them (Harmer, 2006).

It seems reasonable to think that confidence is a variable that would affect an individual’s choice of to avoid or not to avoid. Confidence does not necessarily reflect the learner’s knowledge of some structures. Rather it reflects the learner’s perception of his knowledge which may or may not be accurate. By conducting several studies Kleinmann reached the conclusion that personality factors such as anxiety, self-confidence, and willingness to take risks may offer information on which structures are likely to be avoided when using the target language (Mattar, 2002). According to these findings it can be stated that avoidance can have certain psychological determinants. The level of proficiency in the target language might also be a cause of avoidance. Thus, beginners rely on avoidance while advanced learners on paraphrasing (Ellis, 1984).

Avoidance strategies in second language production

Researchers classified avoidance strategies in three main categories by taking into consideration the work and studies carried out by Tarone (1997) and Varadi (1980). The three main avoidance strategies are:

1. Topic avoidance which occurs when the second language users does not talk about concepts for which he/she does not possess the necessary vocabulary to convey the message he/she wants. In extreme cases this can lead to the total absence of communication. In more common cases the speaker might direct the conversation away from the problematic topic (Palmberg, 2008).

2. Message abandonment occurs when a learner begins to convey a certain concept and suddenly realizes that he/she has no idea on how to go on. The learner stops in the middle of the conversation and chooses another topic (Palmberg, 2008).

3. Meaning replacement occurs when the speaker decides to be less specific than he originally intended to be. This kind of avoidance leads to vagueness. In this case the topic is not dropped by the speaker but he/she does not try to expand his/her linguistic resources and overcome the communicative problem (Palmberg, 2008).

The strategy of topic avoidance is used by learners who know that they have a problem in reaching their communication goal. Message abandonment and meaning replacement may be used by learners confronted by a planning or retrieval problem at a later stage.

Avoidance behaviour is an easy way out for the second language learner. Paradoxically, avoidance strategies are used by the target language speaker to ensure that his conversation partner understands correctly the message conveyed. Learners who are tired of being misunderstood deliberately choose language structures that are less difficult for them to utter. This phenomenon is called “true-avoidance” and it is largely used by language teachers, and translators.


prof. Andreea Fundeanu

Scoala Gimnaziala Nr. 1 Voluntari (Ilfov) , România
Profil iTeach: iteach.ro/profesor/andreea.fundeanu

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