That feeling when you start speaking English in a public place


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I would like to raise a commonly ignored issue in Kazakhstani society: foreign language anxiety in public places. If you are proficient enough to have a fluent conversation in English with your mate, you have probably felt those gazes of people in the bus or supermarket. If yes, have you ever thought about the reasons triggering this feeling?

In fact, anxiety refers to the emotional state of nervousness, worry and apprehension related to a stimulation of the autonomic nervous system (Speilberger, 1983, in Horwitz, 2001). This feeling is more known as a negative and destructive sort of emotion. However, in some cases our inner flash of anxiety before the deadline might  somehow help us to write more effectively and creatively. Anyway, it does not have the same trait during the speech.

Studies on language anxiety tend to focus on the educational process rather than everyday live experience (Horwitz, 2001; Portugal, 2007; Elaldı, 2016). Thus, Horwitz et al. (1986) identified three types of foreign language anxiety as following: 1) Communication anxiety (inability of a learner to express mature thoughts and ideas); 2) Fear of negative social perception (seeking for a positive evaluation from others); 3) Test anxiety (fear of academic evaluation). Thus, our case is more likely to be related to the second classification of foreign language anxiety.

Well, being more or less familiarized with the theoretical framework of given phenomena, let us discuss our live experience. Personally, I often feel foreign language anxiety when my friends unexpectedly to me start conversing with me in English especially in the bus. Some people tend to turn around and stare at me which makes me feel uncomfortable and stressed. Even though there is no any criticizm or disapproval towards those who speak foreign language in Kazakhstan, speaking English in public places is not commonly accepted by the majority and still is calls their attention. Frankly speaking, I myself and some of my friends perceive such odd reaction as people’s attitude to foreign language speakers’ attempt to blow their own trumpet, so to speak. Therefore, my feeling of anxiety is more about a possible negative attitude prescribed to me by arbitrary listeners staying next to me. Anyway, this feeling does not overpower my attemts to communicate in English outside the classrom in order to fix my current speaking skill and practise new words and expressions. Moreover, I noticed that this feeling depends on the current emotional state and mood.

Do you always feel comfortable to have a conversation in a foreign language in public places? To what extend do you think this feeling disturb language learners? And how would you suggest to cope with this feeling?



Elaldı, Ş. (2016). Foreign language anxiety of students studying English Language and Literature: A Sample from Turkey. Educational Research and Reviews11(6), 219-228.

Horwitz, E. (2001). Language anxiety and achievement. Annual review of applied linguistics21, 112-126.

Horwitz, E., Horwitz, M., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. Modern Lang. J. 70(2):125-132.

Portugal, M. K. (2007). Language anxiety: Creative or negative force in the language classroom. Humanizing language teaching7, 1-7.


6 thoughts on “That feeling when you start speaking English in a public place

  1. Dear Khakim!
    I feel absolutely comfortable to have a conversation in English language in Astana. Even in public transport speaking English will not attract much attention. Many citizens got used to hear different foreign languages in the capital. On the contrary, there are not many foreigners in my home city Semey. If you start speaking English in bus there, people probably will not stare at you in amazement, but you will feel uncomfortable. You will sense their reaction; foreign language in unusual environment of public transport will attract their attention. Personally, I avoid of speaking English in Semey public transport. I do it because too much attention from strangers can disturb me. In Astana speaking English in any public places was okay so far. About my experience in Korea, I can say that Koreans in city where I studied (Jinju) pay a lot of attention to foreigners in general, even when they don’t speak. When we were speaking Russian, Kazakh or English some people asked us where we are from and what language we speak.
    Thank you for interesting topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Khakim, thank you for the post and some thought-provoking questions. I personally link such kind of anxiety to the same feeling a person might experience when he or she is somehow different from the majority group. Like when you enter a room wearing torn jeans and a T-shirt while everyone in the room is dressed up. It is natural that you draw some attention. To my mind, this is more of a psychological issue rather than educational. I believe that some people might even like this attention instead of feeling uncomfortable. As for those who still feel uncomfortable I would suggest to practice more. The more experience you have doing something you feel anxious about, the less anxious you will become.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your post and a gif, which made me laugh out loud because it is so relatable.
    I also feel uncomfortable and anxious to speak English in public (especially, public transport) not because I am afraid to make a mistake or accent issues but rather as a result of particular language ideologies present in our society. Sometimes I am being judged even for speaking the Russian language instead of Kazakh, so to avoid any conflict I try not to speak any other foreign language.
    Another thing might be connected to the concept of “purity” of language that is omnipresent in Kazakhstani realia. For ex, you speak Kazakh speak it purely. This somehow is reflected in my attitude towards the Russian language as well. Thus, when I speak Russian I try to preserve its purity and use sophisticated language, but due to the presence of English in my everyday life, I cannot avoid code-switching. And even inclusion of a couple of words makes people turn around.
    And it is interesting that this irrational fear and anxiety is only restricted to the public transport and crowded places. So, I would suggest finding another place to practice, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Khakim, thank you for your post and gif. that accurately depicts “that feeling” XD. I think most of the people turn around just because they are curious. Moreover, due to the “English as a language of information and prestige” ideology, some of them may even admire you by thinking that “Well… well-educated generation is growing up”. That is why communicating in English in public places gives me a feeling as if I am showing of which deters me from speaking it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear, Khakim! Thanks for your interesting blog with a far more interesting gif 🙂
    In terms of language anxiety, I think that different things work for different people because their anxieties are caused by different aspects of the language. It is hard to say how you could overcome or deal with yours without knowing what specifically is causing you anxiety. Nevertheless, I do believe that you should be proud of the fact that you have learned another language. Be confident in your own skill. Remind yourself that it is okay to not be perfect. And most of all: use the language whenever you can because the more you use it, the easier it gets.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful post and discussion, Khakim. (5/5) This issue surely applies to all of the foreigners like myself living in Astana, but I had not realized how this feeling extends to those studying English and other foreign languages. Great intellectual approach to a rather personal, highly subjective issue.


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