The Inescapable Interplay between Language Learning and Self-Confidence

Can high-quality lesson content reinforce L2 learners’ self-confidence? Can demanding subject matter contribute to learners’ long-term establishing of self-esteem? Solid language foundation is a long-term development and so is the quality of self-belief, at least for a respectable number of second language learners. The two entities are inherently interlaced.

Text by Marina Siskou


Offering challenging educative content can drive to the realization that the learning process is brimming with difficulties, mental toil, misunderstandings -even subversions along the way.

Therefore, learners are to be accordingly armoured in the linguistic (i.e. grammar/ syntactic, phonetic, semantic, pragmatic) and content area.

Interestingly, Leslie (2012) introduces the idea of “ease of use” which an artist should constantly be escaping in order to remain creative.

During the teaching practice, are there times wherein you feel compelled to compromise the linguistic challenges in fear of cracking your students’ confidence and halting their momentum?

In the event of a positive nodding of your head, rest assured, as this is a legitimate and prudent thought for the educator during the decision-making process. This is also substantiated by Tunçel (2015), who informs that “at least, due to low self-confidence, the student will not be able to make a good start in foreign language learning, because low self-confidence affects students’ learning motivation (Bong, 2008; Pajares and Miller 1994). An individual who lacks in self-confidence will most probably have a negative bias towards the course and the classroom […]”.

According to Tunçel, the negative consequences of low self-confidence might culminate in “the foreign language learning abilities of students lacking self-confidence [not being] revealed”.

The most meaningful practice would be to leverage second language content and material towards learners’ confidence-building.

Do you ever strive to adjust and fragment the layout and content of the lesson (maybe resorting to overreliance on external aids, realia and props) instead of genuinely placing trust on the learners’ potential?

What would an earnest decision involve?

Do teachers oftentimes step on eggshells in the face of discouraging the learning endeavor, rather than choosing to familiarize their students with every challenging aspect that the English grammar customarily takes?

Acknowledging the real value of the present difficulty might offer a vent this dilemma.

The learners of today, will eventually (whether as an outcome of a future career path or a life choice) encounter their share of inexplicable linguistic discourse.

What feelings would that future difficulty stir to your past students- who by then would probably be beyond your physical reach?

Would they reflect that “my teacher was proactive enough to ferment me with pretty challenging language content?”

Because the definition of self-confidence does envelop the element of trusting one’s own strengths and abilities to meet the challenging occasion.

Alternatively, the present learners, in a future difficulty would think: “My teacher has never introduced me to this target language perplexity. There seems to be an unrealistic distance between English learnt at school and meaningful English”.

The core meaning of self-confidence explicitly includes the element of difficulty (followed by its successful overcoming).

Difficulty and challenges should come in manageable doses and they are integral part of steadfast confidence-building and language development.

Courtesy, uncompromised acceptance and genuine respect to each learner are qualities to permeate the language setting.  

Those are ingrained alongside the language development through challenges.

Feels of discomfort before the plentitude of intricacies that English language has to present can be addressed; embarrassment might arise, and its recognition and acceptance is best to be transparent and honest. Welcome all negative reactions.

On the flipside of the present challenge, learners should be always reminded that on the other end of the challenge lies personal growth and well-rounded language development.

The mental, cognitive labor that is exercised in order to reach the understanding and knowledge, is complementary to the obtaining of an unflinching sense of confidence. The kind of confidence that derives from the self and the personal achievements, rather than from external, provisional sources: appraisal and teacher validation.

Surprising as it might strike at first, the heart of the matter is that learners welcome challenges and are not discouraged by difficulties. What might act repulsively to them is the sentiments surrounding challenges and difficulties-pessimism, high expectations followed by disappointment, disproportionate teacher-and parents’ reaction to occasional poor or below-the-bar performance.

As Leslie (2012) informs, “our brains respond better in difficulty than we imagine”. In schools, teachers and pupils alike often assume that, if a concept has been easy to learn, the lesson has been successful. But numerous studies have now found that when classroom material is made harder to absorb, pupils retain more of it over the long term, and understand it on a deeper level.

Is there a golden ratio that ensures that challenging content will not damage, but would rather enhance learners’ confidence?

It is suggested that there is no absolutist response to this question-as it is a perpetual balance-retaining tightrope. One strategy is to present the difficulties and resolve them in attainable proportions each time.

Robert Bjork, of the University of California, coined the phrase “desirable difficulties” to describe the counter-intuitive notion that learning should be made harder by, for instance, spacing sessions further apart so that students have to make more effort to recall what they learnt last time.

Psychologists at Princeton found that “students remembered reading material better when it was printed in an ugly font” (Leslie, 2012).

The afore-mentioned psychological conclusion is cited only to highlight the pedagogical significance of a desirable extent of difficulty.

There is an odd satisfaction in fending for oneself and there is a touch of magic in comprehending what originally seemed beyond understanding: a divine feel of epiphany- all learners should be entitled to.



Tunçel, H. (2015). The Relationship Between Self-Confidence and Learning Turkish as a Foreign Language. Academic Journals https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1078234.pdf [accessed: 23-05-2020].

Leslie, I. (2012). The Uses of Difficulty. The Economist, 1843. https://www.1843magazine.com/content/ideas/ian-leslie/uses-difficulty [accessed: 23-05-2020].