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OALD: The Impact of Digitalization on Information Search

OALD 10th edition bookIn this article, I would like to explore the impact of digitalization on how we use dictionaries to search for information. To highlight the strengths of the OALD’s digital search functions, I will focus on the following two points: Headword identification, the fourth of Hartmann’s 7 stages of dictionary searches1 (4 External search [macrostructure]) which has the most conspicuous influence from digitalization, and Full text search, an application which significantly increases the search range and flexibility.

Headword Identification

Thanks to digital technology, it is much easier to find the right headword. Functions such as incremental search, wildcard search, and voice input (the latter two only available on the app) allow us to search for words even without knowing the exact spelling. You can also see your search history when using the app2. Searching for idioms is also easy. For example, when searching for kick the bucket, you don’t need to worry about whether to search for kick or bucket. You can simply enter the entire idiom. Digital formats also make searching easier by displaying several candidate words and phrases. By the time you have entered kick t, kick the bucket has already appeared in the drop-down list. In the app version, by the time kick the has been entered into the search box, kick the bucket appears in the list of candidate phrases:

Incremental search has an educational value. For example, when searching for the phrasal verb fight out (which you can see in context in the excerpt below), just by typing fight, fight it out appears as a candidate phrase, teaching you that it is a set phrase.


Considerant and Proudhon fight it out. The caption reads: “Proudhon and Considerant know very well that neither one can digest the other. Nonetheless each seeks to devour the other. … A strange social aberration!!” Cartoon by Bertall, Le journal pour rire, February 24, 1849, reprinted in Bêtisorama. Photo by Harvard University Library Reproduction Services. By permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Beecher, Jonathan. “Chapter 11 – June 13, 1849” Victor Considerant and the Rise and Fall of French Romantic Socialism, Part Ⅲ Revolution. (California: University of California Press, California Scholarship Online, 2001), pp.246-266.

Full text search

Full text search allows you to search for headwords, idioms, and example sentences based on single or multiple key words. Notes attached to example sentences, extra examples, and other columns are also searchable3. This function also picks up words and phrases which are not headwords, idioms, and other subheadings, making searching on the app more comprehensive, more flexible, and complementary than the online version, which doesn’t allow such searches.

For example, if you search for eye contact using Simple search, it does not appear on the list of candidates, showing you that this is not a headword. If you search using Full text search, 8 example sentences appear:

If we look closely, we can see that eye contact are written in bold type in the example sentences under the respective entries for contact and eye:

contact (noun, sense 1):
eye (noun, sense1):

The conventional process for looking up words (headword → definition → example sentence)4 has been reversed here. This is something wonderful which cannot be done with a paper or online dictionary. As we can see from the 6 examples below, useful collocations, context, and cultural information are also provided:

contact (noun, sense 1, Extra Examples):
conversation (Extra Examples5):
polite (Extra Examples):
rule (sense 3):

Finally, I would like to look at 2 complementary ways of using Full text search. By “complementary search”, I mean ‘a search performed to supplement the description in the dictionary’. As we can see from the entry for weakness below, OALD traditionally uses forward slashes to save space and present several collocations:

As an inquisitive student, you would like to know in what context each collocation is used. If you conduct Full text search using the keywords expose and weakness, reveal and weakness, etc., the search engine will search through OALD and display examples containing these words. Some phrases have variations. The example below shows the following pattern:
down to + adjective (superlative, etc.) + noun
(In OALD, “etc.” shows that other options are possible6.):

If you want to know what kind of adjectives and nouns this pattern is used with, try Full text search with the key words down to the. There were 7 hits and most of the examples contained … down to the last detail. 6 of the examples contained the verb plan. This showed a useful pattern containing the verb (plan … down to the last detail). There was also an example sentence containing down to the smallest …:
Everything had been planned down to the smallest detail.
A tap on the example takes you to the original entry, small (adjective, sense 5), teaching you the adjective is used in the sense of ‘slight, not important’:

Using Full text search and bringing examples sentences together in one place, certain things become clear. Tapping an example sentence brings up an entry for the source. You can deepen your understanding by checking definitions and other example sentences as appropriate.

1 Hartmann (2001: 89-92) abstracted dictionary lookup into seven steps. Although based on using a paper dictionary, it provides a useful model that applies to searches for both receptive and productive purposes. Researching information in a dictionary is complicated, requiring users to follow these steps to get to the correct answer:

  • 1) Activity problem
  • 2) Determining problem word
  • 3) Selecting dictionary
  • 4) External search (macrostructure)
  • 5) Internal search (microstructure)
  • 6) Extracting relevant data
  • 7) Integrating information

2For information on which search functions are available in paper, online (free/premium), and app versions, see the table “Search” at the end of my previous article, “OALD: The Impact of Digitization on Information Presentation”. Please refer to:
3Etymology is not covered.
4Since the meaning of a word can be identified by using example sentences similar to the sentences being read, it is also possible to use this process for looking up words: headword → example sentence → meaning.
5There are 54 extra example sentences for conversation, and it’s hard to find the ones that include eye contact. Without using Full text search, there is no way to know that example sentences containing eye contact exist.
6 Slots may be indicated by “…” without representative words shown (e.g., in terms of something | in … terms).

Hartmann, R. R. K. 2001. Teaching and Researching Lexicography. Pearson Education.

Shigeru Yamada is a Professor at Waseda University, Tokyo. He is on the editorial advisory board of Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America. He was a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Lexicography: Journal of ASIALEX. His specialization is EFL and bilingual lexicography. His recent publications include “Monolingual Learners’ Dictionaries – Past and Future” (The Bloomsbury Handbook of Lexicography, 2nd ed., Ch. 11, 2022).

Guide to the practical usage of English monolingual learners’ dictionaries: Effective ways of teaching dictionary use in the English class (2014, Oxford University Press)

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Managing learner anxiety and stress

Emotions are a natural part of life and learning. Emotional ups and downs are a normal part of language learning and use. While some emotions can be supportive and facilitative for language learning, others can cause problems leading to inhibitions and a reluctance to use the language. As such, it can be helpful If a learner is feeling especially stressed or anxious, it will be difficult for them to concentrate and they may be reluctant to engage in classroom tasks or communication.  


Emotional regulation refers to the ability to manage emotions in a healthy way, not suppressing or ignoring them, but finding ways to understand them and cope with them effectively. Generally, learners can develop their emotional literacy by keeping an emotions journal in the target language noting down what emotions they felt, when, where, and what triggered the emotion. This raises their awareness of their emotions, their impact, and their causes. Learners can discuss things they notice from their journals with other learners to inspire each other. However, how comfortable people are talking about emotions can vary across cultures and individually, so every teacher will need to reflect how best to approach this in their setting. While the focus of this blog is on how to cope with the negative emotions that can inhibit learner engagement, it can be especially worthwhile exploring positive emotions with learners and thinking how to bring more of these into their daily lives – for example, joy, awe, pride, happiness, gratitude, and contentment among others. When learners are feeling more positive, they tend to be more open to trying new things and willing to engage in classroom life and tasks.  


Two particular emotions can be especially problematic for learners: Anxiety and stress.  

Language anxiety refers to the fears, nervousness, and worry that students have about learning or especially using the language. If they have excessive anxiety, this can stop them processing the language making it difficult to comprehend input but also limiting their ability to produce the language. While a little anxiety may be a normal part of communicating in another language, when it tips over into a level that is preventing learners from taking part in tasks and speaking up, then it is important to know what steps to take to combat this.  


Obviously, the more confidence learners have and the safer they feel in class, the lower their levels of anxiety are likely to be. However, it is perhaps still worth discussing the nature and role of anxiety explicitly with learners. There are three aspects the group could discuss together. (1) Firstly, get learners to consider what anxiety before a speaking task or test physically feels like so they can identify the symptoms in themselves (e.g., raised heartbeat, fast breathing, feeling hot or nauseous, or being restless or jittery). (2) Next, learners can discuss times when they might feel nervous or anxious also beyond the context of language learning – it can also be a good idea for teachers to share things which make them anxious too. In this way, learners see everyone can feel anxious about something and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Discussing anxiety and nervousness needs to be normalised. (3) The final stage would be to get learners to brainstorm ideas for managing their anxiety when speaking such as doing breathing exercises, focusing on a positive face in the room, thinking of a favourite memory just beforehand, having a polished stone in your hand to soothingly rub etc. After some time, learners can try out different anxiety-regulation strategies and report back to others how effective they found them or any other ideas they have had.  


Stress refers to the feelings of tension and possibly also anxiety that stem from perceived pressure or when facing a difficult situation. It can arise in specific moments (e.g., having to do a presentation in class) or emerge over a period of time (e.g., having to cope with excessive workload for longer periods of time or coping with difficult living situations at home). Stress is also often cumulative meaning that learners may be experiencing stress in other parts of their lives which can add to their tension or anxiety in the language classroom. Nobody can isolate one aspect of their lives from other things they experience. Ideally, teachers will have open channels of communication with learners and good rapport so that learners can feel able to share when they are struggling to cope or feeling overwhelmed. It is useful for teachers to know professionals in school or the community to recommend to students for those instances which go beyond what can be meaningfully addressed by teachers in class.  


All students may benefit from a group discussion about stress, what can cause it, how best to manage it, and when to seek professional support. It is important to break down taboos about talking about stress and mental health so that learners are able to recognise when they are not coping well and feel confident to approach others for help. In terms of coping strategies, students can discuss effective time management strategies – not so that they can do more work for school but so they can ensure they have enough time to do hobbies and sport – things which take them physically and mentally away from school life. Students can maybe do some research about the importance of sleep and a healthy diet for lowering stress. They can share ideas with each other of how they help themselves to relax such as by taking a walk with their dog, listening to their favourite music, playing chess, or perhaps dancing or doing yoga. Social support is also important for managing stress. Learners need to think of who they could share their feelings with or just hang out with to have a break – support can come from friends, family, neighbours, sports clubs, a music group, or even pets who make great non-judgemental friends and listeners! Learners need to be able to identify things that give them pleasure and recharge their batteries, and find ways to ensure they make time for them.  


Reflection questions 

  • Emotional literacy is a key life skill and learners can pick up from how teachers demonstrate this too. How aware are you of your emotions? How well do you manage your own stress? 
  • Are there ways to bring more positive emotions into classroom life?  
  • In what ways could we use teaching activities in the target language to talk about issues such as stress, wellbeing, work/life balance with learners? 


Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books in this area including, Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers (2015, with Marion Williams and Stephen Ryan), Teacher Wellbeing (2020, with Tammy Gregersen), and Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (2020, with Zoltán Dörnyei). She has published over 150 book chapters and journal articles and has served as Principal Investigator on several funded research projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP). Sarah is the author of this paper.

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Enhancing learner self-confidence 

Learner confidence can be slow to change and is deeply rooted. It is based on experiences in all areas of learners’ lives – some beyond our reach. However, it is easier to change if we focus on language learning and strengthen their confidence specifically in that domain, rather than aiming for their overall sense of self. When learners feel confident, they are more willing to try out new aspects of language and are less afraid of getting things wrong. If we want learners to actively use the language, helping them to feel confident is one key way to facilitate this.

In language learning, there are a number of things teachers can do to authentically boost learners’ confidence. Simply telling them to be confident or giving false praise will not work – learners have to feel they have earned their successes in order to take ownership of it and feel empowered by it. 

  1. Help learners see progress.

    Language learning is gradual and takes time. Sometimes it can be hard for learners to see their progress so making their growth visible is helpful for boosting their sense of achievement. For example, learners can respond to can-do statements, keep portfolios, or make a list of all the things they can already do in a language. It is also important to discourage social comparisons. All learners are individuals and make progress at their own pace. Ideally, we want learners to focus on their own progress and ensure they keep moving forward without comparing their own gains to those of others. Teachers need to avoid presenting a public comparison of grades or progress.  

  2. Ensure learners experience success.

    To gain confidence, they need to experience success. However, it is important that learners recognise this as a genuine earned success – if something is too easy, learners will not feel a sense of pride or a boost to their confidence. One way to ensure moments of success is for teachers to use scaffolding. This is when teachers break down bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks which build up in gradual degrees of difficulty. For example, if practising a specific language structure such as questioning, the teacher may begin with an easier task which just requires more limited responses such as filling in sentences. They may make the next task a little more difficult where they have to add questions to a dialogue. Finally, if they feel learners have had sufficient practice and support, they could then move on to a more challenging task such as interviewing a partner where there is less structure and support. There are many ways to scaffold depending on aims and tasks, but the idea is to build up difficulty and take away support as learners gain confidence and mastery.  

  3. Empower learners with strategies.

    Confidence also comes from having a sense of direction and knowing what to do. This means it helps if teachers explicitly teach learners strategies for how to learn and use a language. For example, we can show learners how to carry on a conversation even when they don’t know certain words, how to read a text without knowing every single word, how to learn new vocabulary, how to plan and structure an oral presentation, where to find resources for practising writing blogs, who to approach for feedback or extra practice opportunities etc. Learners can be encouraged to try out different strategies and report back on how useful they found them. It is empowering to have a pathway of action to try out and ideas for how to overcome obstacles as well as believing one can improve one’s own ability. This is where having a growth mindset is also critically important for confidence and a willingness to even try out strategies.  

  4. Foster learner autonomy.

    A related feeling of control and empowerment can come from learners being given opportunities to make decisions about their learning. Learners can be given choices in (1) what they work on (e.g., between different tasks) or (2) how they work on it (e.g., offered the choice of who to work with or choosing between different forms of output such as a video or podcast). Any degree of choice can help learners feel they have control over their learning and helps them also make choices they feel comfortable with. This sense of control and empowerment can boost their confidence and willingness to become active participants in class.  

  5. Tackle unrealistic expectations and perfectionism.

    A threat to learner confidence can stem from them having unrealistic expectations of what they should be able to do or tending towards perfectionism. It is beneficial for teachers to explicitly discuss the nature of language learning with learners stressing how normal it is for progress to be slow and how mistakes are typical for every learner. In addition, teachers can use tasks (in writing and speaking) where they deliberately encourage learners to focus on communicating their main message and not worry about mistakes. Learners can be prompted try out new language and be creative in using a diverse array of communication strategies such as, reformulating complex expressions, using mime or gesture, or drawing on their other languages if need be. Language use can be extremely rewarding when they can get their message across to a partner successfully using whatever communication strategies they may know! It is communication that counts, not perfection! 


Reflection questions 

  • Can you think of a learner who needs a boost to their confidence? Would any of these strategies help them to see what they are positively capable of? 
  • Looking at upcoming tasks you have planned, can you see any which would benefit from the addition of other steps to scaffold it for weaker learners? 
  • In feedback, how often do you focus on highlighting the positive things learners can do and did well?  





Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books in this area including, Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers (2015, with Marion Williams and Stephen Ryan), Teacher Wellbeing (2020, with Tammy Gregersen), and Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (2020, with Zoltán Dörnyei). She has published over 150 book chapters and journal articles and has served as Principal Investigator on several funded research projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP). Sarah is the auhor of this paper.


Fostering a growth mindset 

 Learners hold a range of beliefs about language learning – some of which may stem from their own experiences, but many of which they have picked up from media, family, or friends. One set of beliefs which can be impactful on how learners approach language use and learning are called mindsets. This refers to whether a learner fundamentally believes that their ability to learn a language is a fixed, given talent that cannot really be changed by anything a person does (fixed mindset), or whether they feel language learning ability is something you can develop with the right strategies, motivation, and investment of time and energy (growth mindset). In reality, most people lie somewhere along a continuum between fixed and growth.  


Naturally, it is empowering to hold a growth mindset and believe you can make a difference to your learning and improve. Not only does it give you some control over your learning, but it means that what you do matters to your learning outcomes. It implies that a mistake does not have to define you, but instead can offer an opportunity to learn. Getting things wrong is not a statement about one’s ability or talent, but merely a normal part of the language learning process. It allows you to see engaging consciously with mistakes is a valuable strategy to help you improve. Having a growth mindset is a cornerstone of a positive frame of mind which is likely to facilitate learners’ willingness to take risks and use the language. 


So, how do we foster a growth mindset and how to we work with learners who hold more of a fixed mindset? Here the notion of a continuum is vitally important. Mindsets have typically been positioned as binary opposites with people considered as having either a fixed or growth mindset. However, when we understand we are all along a continuum with a more or less fixed/growth orientation, it becomes easier to understand the positive potential for change. We are not asking learners to make a radical shift from one set of beliefs to another but to move along the continuum to a more growth rather than fixed orientation. Beliefs change gradually and take time, but they are fundamentally open to change. Below are three areas teachers can actively work on to boost a growth mindset orientation.  


  1. Raising the topic of mindsets explicitly

    To raise learners’ awareness of this set of beliefs and how they might be impacting on their approaches to language learning, it can be worth discussing the topic explicitly. There are many resources online that explain what mindset beliefs are and show how the fixed mindset beliefs can hold learners back from taking proactive action to enhance their learning. Students can also be given a series of statements about ability. They can reflect on which ones mirror their own opinions and examine whether this suggests a fixed or growth mindset orientation. It is important learners do not feel judged in their orientation but see this as a chance to become aware of any unhelpful beliefs that may be holding them back.  


A growth mindset does not suggest everyone can reach the same level of ability. Rather, it stresses that everyone can improve their current abilities with motivation, an investment of time and energy, opportunities to practice, and a knowledge of useful learning strategies. Knowing that everyone, including themselves, has the potential to improve on where they are now can be extremely empowering. It implies that it can be helpful to accompany a discussion of mindsets with an exploration of learning strategies and how to learn. Learners can be helped to recognize the power and control they can have of their own learning through goal setting, use of strategies, regular practice, and actively learning from one’s mistakes.   


  1. Discussing the nature of mistakes and their value for learning.

    Similarly, it can be important to have an open discussion about mistakes and the potential they offer for learning. This in turn can strengthen a growth mindset. Teachers themselves also serve as critical role models in how we respond to mistakes – we must take care not to jump on learner mistakes as problems but embrace them with enthusiasm and show learners how they can be a learning or teaching opportunity. Of course, teachers are not perfect either, and we are certain to make mistakes too – students will learn a lot from watching how we respond to our own mistakes, and we can use those moments to model growth mindset behaviours. Have learners look for examples in real life of people who struggled, experienced failures or setbacks, but overcame them through effort, perseverance, strategies, and seeking out support from others. 

  2. Thinking about teacher language and feedback.

    As with all beliefs, learners will often pick up on how the teacher talks about language learning and how they respond to mistakes. When we provide feedback to learners, we need to focus less on the outcome and be wary of praising ability or intelligence. Instead, we need to focus on the aspects learners can control and influence such as how they approached the tasks, the strategies they can use, celebrating effort and progress. Naturally, we must take care not to inadvertently imply that progress is only about effort and a growth mindset. Instead, we can show how it is also requires an active approach and we can highlight these aspects in the feedback we give. Finally, we need to talk about the meaning of the word ‘yet’ and its importance for mindsets. If a learner says, ‘I cannot do this’, we can tell them, ‘ok, you cannot do this YET but with the right kind of approach and time, you will be able to do it’. Teachers need to have positive expectations of all learners and communicate that directly and indirectly. If we can show learners that we believe in their potential for improvement, it will be easier for learners to believe this about themselves.  


In sum, having a growth mindset can help learner believe in their potential to improve through practice and the learning potential of mistakes. This can reduce their anxiety, boost their confidence, and empower them to speak up and use the language seeing it not as a potential threat or risk of failure but an opportunity for growth. 


Reflection questions 

  • Think about your learners. Do you know whether they have a more fixed/growth mindset? 
  • Are you aware of ways in which you talk about challenge, mistakes, difficulties, and abilities – to what extent are you consistently communicating a belief in growth for all learners? 
  • Can you think of a class where it might be worthwhile doing some explicit activities and work on a growth mindset?  



Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books in this area including, Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers (2015, with Marion Williams and Stephen Ryan), Teacher Wellbeing (2020, with Tammy Gregersen), and Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (2020, with Zoltán Dörnyei). She has published over 150 book chapters and journal articles and has served as Principal Investigator on several funded research projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP). Sarah is the author of this paper.

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Understanding the impact of task design on learners’ willingness to speak 

Have you noticed that in some classes and with some speaking activities, learners are more actively engaged than with others? Have you ever wondered why? One social factor is the group atmosphere. This is centrally important to how comfortable and safe learners feel in a class generally, and it can notably impact learners’ willingness to speak up.  


However, another social factor affecting learner engagement concerns the speaking activity itself. How a speaking task is set up can influence how anxious a learner feels about speaking and how willing they are to interact with others. For example, compare how it feels to talk to strangers about something you know little about with no prior warning with how it feels to talk to a friend about a topic you are passionate about and know lots about. There are three main dimensions of a speaking activity that we can pay attention to, in order to lower anxiety and enhance learners’ willingness to engage: 

1. The topic and level of preparedness.

Learners need two main things in order to feel prepared to engage in a speaking task: (1) They need knowledge and ideas of what to say about the topic; (2) and they need the language to be able to talk about it. When learners feel adequately prepared, it lowers their anxiety and helps them feel confident enough to engage. One way of contributing to this is to also ensure that task instructions are clearly articulated, and any complex task is broken down into manageable steps so learners know what is expected of them and how to proceed.  


Regarding the topic itself, teachers may consider offering pre-speaking activities to trigger initial thinking and brainstorming, or they may give input on a topic. Obviously, if learners are being asked to talk about their favourite film, they may need less preparation time to talk spontaneously than if they were being asked to discuss a topic where they may need to gather their thoughts, such as if asked to make suggestions of how to live in a more environmentally respectful way.  


In terms of language, again, it depends on how familiar learners are with the topic and its related field of vocabulary. If it is a new or less familiar topic area, it can help learners to do some explicit vocabulary work or brainstorming of expressions to equip learners with the language they need to take part.  


Another dimension that can impact on learners’ willingness to speak is the topic itself. How interesting will they find the task? How personally relevant or meaningful is it? Taking time to find out about learner interests or what aspects of a topic learners could find interesting is worthwhile as it can notably boost learners’ motivation to speak about the topic.  

2. Interlocutors

 This refers to speaking partners and who learners are being asked to talk to. In some ways, reflecting on interlocutors ties in together with a consideration of the topic. Learners need to feel safe talking about a specific topic with a particular partner. For low-risk topics and themes that are not too personal, they may be comfortable working with diverse peers. However, especially at the start of the course or in respect to more sensitive topics, learners may prefer to work with a friend who they know well and are familiar with. Sometimes teachers allow students to choose their partners and sometimes they may assign partners. Occasionally, it is useful to have learners work with people they know less well to provide an authentic reason to talk such as when they do not know each other’s hobbies or favourite films. This can also strengthen overall group dynamics, but mixing up learners for speaking tasks needs handling with care depending on the task and topic.  

3. Focus on communication and fluency before accuracy.

There are many different types of speaking activity. Sometimes we may want learners to practise a specific language form and the focus may be more on the use of language than general fluency and communication. In this case, teachers have to think carefully how to note down aspects of language they wish to give feedback on and when. Interrupting a learner while speaking and providing feedback in front of others can be very damaging to their self-confidence (LINK) and may negatively affect their future willingness to speak. It is less face-threatening to make note of language issues you become aware of as you move around the class and then address them anonymously with the whole class. This allows language issues to be picked up on, but nobody feels especially focused on. 


Ideally, speaking activities are primarily used for boosting learner communication skills and enhancing fluency. The key is to get learners to actively use the language, not worry about accuracy but focus instead on getting their message across to their partner. The more they speak, the better they will become. Work with speaking activities where the focus is on communicating such as in problem-solving tasks, opinion discussions, storytelling, drama activities, interviews, or imagination activities. Crucially, tell learners explicitly that mistakes are unimportant for such tasks; explain you are more interested in them using the language creatively and actively to get their message across than the accuracy of the language they use to do this. Tell them it counts as a success if their partner can understand and respond! 


A low-anxiety speaking task is one where the learner understands the task, feels adequately prepared to complete it (with ideas and language), where they feel comfortable with their speaking partner(s), and where they do not have to worry about mistakes as the focus is on getting their message across. Thinking about the set up of speaking tasks can be critical to their success. These reflective questions may help you think about speaking tasks you work with:  

  1. How prepared in terms of ideas and language do learners need to be in order to work on this task? 
  2. How interesting or motivating is the topic for learners? 
  3. To what extent do learners need to work with a familiar partner(s) for this task/topic in order to feel comfortable, or could it be a task to work on with a less familiar peer from class?  
  4. Is this task designed to focus on communicating an authentic message rather than concentrating on accuracy of language use?  
  5. Are learners aware of the focus on communication and not accuracy?  




Sarah Mercer is Professor of Foreign Language Teaching at the University of Graz, Austria. Her research interests include all aspects of the psychology surrounding the foreign language learning experience. She is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books in this area including, Exploring Psychology for Language Teachers (2015, with Marion Williams and Stephen Ryan), Teacher Wellbeing (2020, with Tammy Gregersen), and Engaging Language Learners in Contemporary Classrooms (2020, with Zoltán Dörnyei). She has published over 150 book chapters and journal articles and has served as Principal Investigator on several funded research projects. In 2018, she was awarded the Robert C. Gardner Award for excellence in second language research by the International Association of Language and Social Psychology (IALSP). Sarah is the auhor of this paper.