Transforming foreign language anxiety into confidence: The Innovative Language Lab

Read this article by Ozgu Ozturk about the ILL model, a teaching approach that aims to help English language learners overcome their anxiety and feel more confident in the classroom.

Three secondary learners working together in a classroom and smiling

The Innovative Language Lab 

Foreign language learning anxiety presents significant challenges for both educators and learners, impacting participation, confidence and the overall learning experience. Conventional language-learning methods often exacerbate this anxiety through teacher-led instruction and rote memorisation (Smith, 2009). Imagine your learners stepping into an English class where making mistakes isn't scary but a stepping stone to learning. That's the power of the Innovative Language Lab (ILL). The ILL represents a novel methodology developed in collaboration with colleagues in Büyükçekmece Atatürk Anatolian High School in Istanbul, Turkey, to address the challenges of traditional language instruction. Originating from the context of our secondary language classes, the ILL was created to provide an immersive and interactive learning environment for learners. Working with diverse groups of learners, we integrated active learning strategies, technology and collaborative activities to enhance language acquisition and foster confidence. 

The power of active learning 

Active learning can offer a different path from traditional teaching methods, empowering learners to take control of their learning journey. Active learning aims to encourage exploration, experimentation and collaboration. Through dynamic activities such as group discussions, problem-solving tasks and hands-on projects, learners not only deepen their understanding of the subject matter but also develop essential skills such as critical thinking, communication and creativity. This approach cultivates a more engaging and enriching learning experience and fosters a sense of confidence and self-efficacy among learners, equipping them with the tools they need to thrive in today's rapidly evolving world. (Dörnyei, 2005; Freeman et al., 2014; Göğüş & Yetke, 2014) 

A new approach 

The ILL is not a typical language class but a dynamic and engaging lab that allows learners to immerse themselves in the language they are learning. It is a flexible learning space and can be easily configured for different learning activities. The ILL represents a paradigm shift in language learning, harnessing the benefits of active learning and leveraging modern technological infrastructure (Saday, 2007). By adopting a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, the ILL minimises operational disruptions and enhances accessibility for both learners and instructors. To optimise student interaction and language practice, the ILL employs team learning, a collaborative active learning strategy that emphasises student interaction and ownership. Learners form their own groups of six, fostering autonomy and engagement. Evidence (Elhawary & Hargreaves, 2023) suggests this approach cultivates a more relaxed learning environment, reduces anxiety and improves language acquisition.  

The research

A preliminary survey, referred to as the perception test, was conducted to gauge learners' initial perceptions and emotional states regarding traditional English instruction. Findings from the survey indicated some factors causing problems that hinder effective English learning.

- Fear of mistakes: most learners are afraid of making mistakes, feeling pressure to speak perfectly. This affects their communication and confidence. 

- Public speaking anxiety: many learners experience significant nervousness when asked to speak in front of the teacher and class, causing them to freeze or stumble. 

- Pronunciation concerns: some learners worry excessively about their accent and pronunciation, fearing they won't be understood or will be judged negatively. 

Key features of the ILL model 

Over the course of six weeks, learners were immersed in a dynamic learning experience within the ILL. The success of the ILL model lies in its facilitation of student-centred active learning strategies. 

  • Empowering learners as drivers of learning: During the initial week of the programme, students delved into the realm of artificial intelligence (AI) through self-directed research and exploration of various AI tools for learning and creative purposes. This approach facilitated independent learning and experimentation, allowing learners to take charge of their educational journey. Consequently, this approach not only alleviated performance pressure but also bolstered motivation levels, fostering a sense of autonomy and curiosity among learners. 
  • Inspiring engagement through play: Through activities like Mystery Skype and Scrabble games, learners discovered the delight of learning through entertaining and stimulating challenges. Mystery Skype is an educational game and teaching tool that allows students to connect with other classrooms around the world via Skype. The objective is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking yes/no questions. It's a fun and interactive way to help students learn about geography and cultures and improve their communication skills. These games encouraged them to adapt their communication styles as they interacted with peers from diverse cultural backgrounds. As a result, learners not only expanded their understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures but also forged new friendships. 
  • Encouraging collaborative learning: During the second week of the programme, learners explored the realm of virtual reality (VR) and the tools associated with it. Through collaborative efforts, they conducted research and engaged in discussions to evaluate VR's potential impact on education. Within the ILL, peer interaction and support played a pivotal role in fostering a supportive learning environment. This collaborative approach encouraged the exchange of ideas and perspectives, enhancing overall comprehension and engagement with the subject matter. 
  • Personalising learning paths: During the 'About me' activity, learners engaged in a game aimed at revising the simple present tense through answering questions related to their personal lives. This approach helped to personalise an otherwise mundane grammar topic, fostering deeper engagement. In the final week of the study, learners were introduced to a variety of language apps. This exposure empowered them to take charge of their learning journey, progressing at their individual pace. Integration of technology facilitated customised learning experiences, effectively catering to diverse needs and bolstering confidence levels. 

Research findings and student testimonials

The research found that the ILL, when combined with active learning strategies, significantly reduced foreign language anxiety and boosted learner confidence. Learners reported enhanced engagement, motivation and proficiency in their language skills through collaborative, technology-enhanced and gamified learning experiences. 

Here are some student testimonials:  

- 'Engaging in games significantly reduced my anxiety and boosted my confidence in learning.' 

- 'Working collaboratively in group activities and speaking exercises not only kept me motivated but also helped me build my confidence in using the language.' 

- 'The mystery Skype sessions were incredibly motivating and helped me overcome my fear of learning new words. It was a fun and engaging way to expand my vocabulary.' 

- 'Competing in reading competitions not only enhanced my vocabulary but also kept me engaged and motivated throughout the learning process.' 

Though the initial findings provide some optimism, it's crucial to conduct more research to fully realise the benefits of the ILL in enhancing language skills and supporting student well-being. In-depth, ongoing studies are vital for understanding the long-term impacts of this approach to language education. Through this transformative process, we can make language learning easier and more empowering and enjoyable for every learner, paving the way for a brighter future in language education. 

For further info: 



Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Lawrence Erlbaum. 

Elhawary, D, & Hargreaves, E. (2023). Why won't they speak English? Guidelines for teachers on using pair work to enhance speaking in the EFL primary classroom. British Council. 

Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H. & Wenderoth, M.P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410–8415. 

Göğüş, A. & Yetke, E. (2014). The impact of active learning on the attitudes of foreign language learners. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4567–4572. 

Saday, B.S. (2007). The effects of active learning on students' cognitive learning outcomes in science. The Journal of Educational Research, 100(6), 347–353. 

Smith, M.K. (2009). Practices and philosophies of student-centred learning: An appraisal and synthesis of the research literature. Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty (RECOUP). 


Ozgu Ozturk has been teaching English as a foreign language for almost 20 years at a high school in Turkey. She is one of the team members of the Education Information Network (EBA), which provides digital materials for remote teaching in Turkey. She creates learning scenarios for EFL teaching on various subjects from STEM or Sustainable Development Goals to cultural heritage or diversity. She also has studies in the EFL field as an action researcher. She writes blog posts for some international ELT magazines and for the TeachingEnglish website by the British Council

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