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UOC PhD student Blanca Cristòfol: "The anxiety of learning a foreign language can lead to students dropping out"

Cristòfol is to represent the UOC in the 'Present your Thesis in Four Minutes' competition

Doctoral student Blanca Cristòfol is to represent the UOC as a finalist in the Present your Thesis in Four Minutes competition being organized by the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation. She graduated in Journalism from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and has master's degree in Teaching Spanish and Catalan as Second Languages from the University of Girona, and is now in the process of studying on the UOC's doctoral programme in Education and ICT (E-learning). Her thesis is titled Foreign Language Anxiety in e-Tandem Learning Contexts: Why and How do Students Feel Nervous? She'll present her research in four minutes at the final to be held on 4 June at Barcelona's Espai Endesa. Here's a link to the video report on the session to whittle down the UOC's candidates.

Why did you choose to do your PhD at the UOC?

I chose the UOC as I was very interested in studying a subject focused on e-learning, which is an area where the UOC is renowned for its great potential. In fact, for this very reason, the UOC was the only university where I applied to do the PhD, because I believe it’s a pioneer in this field.

What is your thesis on?

I focus on studying foreign language anxiety, the anxiety people experience when learning a foreign language. Often this kind of anxiety can lead to students dropping out or having low self-esteem. We want to help students overcome this.

I focus on a tool called Tandem that lets students practise their spoken language skills with native speakers. We want to look at the factors that make the students participating in this type of learning anxious.

Is it common to suffer this kind of anxiety when learning a language?

It’s very common. I think that all of us suffer this kind of anxiety at some point, especially when you have to speak. I experienced it myself, and still do. I think it’s an emotion that needs to be studied because of the effects it can have, as I mentioned before: dropping out, low self-esteem or panicking when talking in public.

You're a finalist in the Present your Thesis in Four Minutes competition. What made you enter?

We spend a lot of effort on our research, but we don't normally get the chance to showcase what we're working on. I thought it sounded really interesting because I could address a wide audience, one that is different from my normal specialized audience. It’s hard to cover everything in four minutes, but I was highly motivated.

The main problem was the time limit, which made all of us taking part pretty nervous. We had to explain a lot of issues, but if you went over the time you'd be eliminated.

What would you recommend to anyone wanting to do a PhD?

I would recommend that they choose a subject that they're really interested in, something they like and are passionate about, because in the end they’ll be thinking about it 24 hours a day for the whole time it takes. It requires some sacrifice but is really rewarding.

Can you recommend anything in particular from your field?

Right now, there's lots of research being conducted on these kinds of emotions, especially at English-speaking institutions. For example, I've been greatly inspired by Peter MacIntyre, Professor of Psychology at Canada's Cape Breton University. He's a pioneer in the study of anxiety using a dynamic methodology known as idiodynamics. MacIntyre and his innovative methodology have acted as a guiding light for me and my thesis.