My vocabulary was like the Hulk’s

Niala Maharaj discovers foreign language anxiety

‘What’s wrong with you?’ a friend asked as we came out of a bakery.
‘You became another person in there, a shy, timid woman talking very softly so no-one could hear.’
‘I’ve noticed it before. You always do that when you have to speak Dutch.’

Hulk angry!

I hadn’t realized that my personality changed when I was speaking Dutch. I’d always been a confident, educated woman of the world. But, because my area of work was linguistic I was painfully aware that I was making grammatical mistakes in Dutch. My vocabulary was like The Hulk’s – basic, unnuanced, unsophisticated. ‘Hulk angry!’

This was my peculiar neurosis, I thought. Some scaredy-cat personality hid inside of me and sprang out the minute I said ‘Dag’. It drove me to tears sometimes. How could I be so stupid? I, who had three master’s degrees and had been publishing in leading media. The Dutch language had stripped away all my pretensions and exposed me for the bumbling idiot I secretly was.

Then a Dutch acquaintance talked to me about her daughter-in-law, a Hungarian Ph.D candidate. ‘Once she begins to talk Dutch,’ she said, ‘you see her shoulders shrink into a crouch and she becomes another person…’


I googled ‘foreign language anxiety’ and discovered that this was a well-known phenomenon. There was even a name for it: Xenoglossophobia.

‘Perhaps no other field of study poses as much of a threat to self-concept as does language study,’ stated one report in the Journal of Applied Psycholinguistics. Foreign language anxiety blocks the student’s learning skills, so it becomes a vicious cycle of failure, causing the sufferer to avoid speaking. That makes matters even worse!

‘People who exhibit this kind of communication reticence,’ the study states, ‘can also sometimes be perceived as less trustworthy, less competent, less socially and physically attractive, tenser, less composed and less dominant than their less reticent counterparts.’ Try applying for a job with that profile! The vicious cycle spins yet again as social isolation and career failure eat away at your self-confidence. And, according to the report, one of the groups of people most prone to xenoglossophobia is those with high academic achievement!

Relaxed, social, practical

The Flowently method of language learning is deliberately designed to prevent xenoglossophobia. For example: Dutch grammatical jargon is replaced by English terminology. It’s much easier to understand a rule concerning a ‘noun’ than one about a ‘zelfstandig naamwoord’, isn’t it?

The methodology is based on 20 years of experience in teaching Dutch to foreigners. Flowently has broken down the language’s conventions so you learn the language comfortably, naturally and in the way that best suits you. See more here. Do you have any questions about the Flowently way? Send us an e-mail

Written by Niala Maharaj

Published by: Flowently

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