I almost didn't get my BS degree because I have never successfully tolerated a foreign language course. My most recent attempt was no exception. I paced about in front of the building trying unsuccessfully to force myself to enter the classroom. Surely this represents a severe defect of my character, but I maintain that an alternate teaching strategy would make success possible for someone like me. An extreme social phobia of this type is rare (<2%). There will never be a house reform because those who gravitate to teaching language are extroverted, and communication is a social activity. so there is little basis for empathy. This is something that I need to figure out, because I learned that the math PhD program requires fourth-semester proficiency. I am sure that the masses love this ubiquitous type of social teaching philosophy, and that the best way to handle statistical anomalies is to tell them to "get over themselves" and "get with the program". This is what I have tried to do, so much against my nature. Language is the only department where this is a problem for me. The format is always the same.

How can someone with a debilitating social phobia get through a foreign language course?

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    It's unclear how a social phobia relates only to the language learning portion of your degree. Language class aren't that different from tutorial type coursework. – RoboKaren Apr 30 '15 at 20:36
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    Language courses are (always) about 10% lecture and 90% group work. I do not know what a TA session is, but if the coursework had a standard lecture format I would probably do well. I am seeking strategies that may be employed by a 100% briggs-myers introvert to successfully navigate through a 4'th semester language requirement. – user32663 Apr 30 '15 at 21:07
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    The problem could be solved by taking a written-only language, such as Latin, Ancient Greek or Sanskrit, which tend to follow more traditional un-social pedagogy. – user6726 Apr 30 '15 at 22:59
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    @reluctantmathematician Where are you getting these numbers? I don't know what country you're talking about, but at least in all of the languages courses I've taken (one of my majors is French and I'm taking Japanese and Russian electively), about 75% of the course is lecture and 25% group work. I live in the United States, attending an average university. I work in our language department, and the vast majority of courses are like this. Moreover, it was even more time spent in lecture when I was studying abroad in France. – Chris Cirefice May 1 '15 at 2:46
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    @reluctantmathematician And to counter "those who gravitate to teaching language are so extroverted that there is not even a basis for empathy", I am an introvert (even according to the B-M test), and I plan to teach English and French in the future. Don't think that I'm not being empathetic - I'm good friends with a girl who recently dropped out of all her French courses due to social anxiety; I understand why this is an issue. I just don't see validity in your claims about foreign language learning and teaching... – Chris Cirefice May 1 '15 at 2:53

... I paced about in front of the building trying unsuccessfully to force myself to enter the classroom. ...

I'll be honest with you. If you cannot get over yourself and force yourself to face your fears, there's little point in getting your degree, since you're extremely unlikely to land a job that requires a degree in which you could function.

If you don't want to quit, my advice is to deliberately seek out social occasions as often as possible. Face your fears and try to desensitise yourself to your phobia. It will be hard, but it's the only way.

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    -1. Facing one's fears, especially alone, is not the only way to combat a phobia. OP might benefit from a professional therapist. – svavil Mar 30 '17 at 8:27

First, social phobia is not a character defect. It is a recognized medical condition. You are not worth less as a human being if you suffer from a phobia.

Next, depending on your school, you may be able to get a medical exemption from certain requirements. You may want to discuss this with your local student services. (By email if meeting people in person is impossible to you.)

However, I would strongly advise against this approach. You will need to interact with people after leaving college, too, so avoiding the problem is not a good strategy in the long run. Instead, I would recommend that you actively work on this issue.

The good news is that social phobia is very amenable to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The accepted form of therapy is a desensitization approach, where you will progressively learn to tolerate being around people.

No, this will not be easy. You will need to work on your disability. You will encounter setbacks. But your student services should again be able to point you towards resources and therapists that can help you. And there is no better time for doing this therapy than now, when you have a more-or-less flexible schedule, and before you hit the job market, where social phobia will be an enormous problem - regardless of which career you want to pursue.

Good luck!

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  • Since it is a disability, I would think that (at least in the US) the school should accept reading/writing proficiency as an alternative, so online courses &c would suffice. – jamesqf May 1 '15 at 5:55
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    @Kimball It'd read like that if it was unprompted or out of the blue, but I think it was in reaction to this comment in the question: "Surely this represents a severe defect of my character..." so there is context to it. – user56reinstatemonica8 May 1 '15 at 18:07
  • @user568458 Ah, thanks, I missed that line in the OP (or had forgotten it) when reading this answer. – Kimball May 2 '15 at 0:36

I am not aware of your location, but I can comment on the position in the UK. If a student (or academic or researcher) declares a disability to their institution then (together with clinicians or other appropriate evidence and an assessment of need) they are required by law (Disability Discrimination in Education) to make provision and adjustments (except for where the adjustment would be unreasonable). Only the courts can rule what is reasonable or not.

However, an individual may choose to keep their condition private, in which case the institution has no obligations until the point of disclosure. Privacy law overrides disability law in such cases.

I have responsibilities for students with alternate needs in my subject area, and this includes students with social phobia conditions. Some as extreme as you describe.

We have, for example, conducted oral examinations and tutorial using skype between two adjacent rooms so that the student does not have to share a space or be overlooked by another person.

It can be done, if there is a will and a motivation to do it on behalf of the institution.

Edit: however I also strongly concur with Stephan's answer. When a student has declared they are offered help and support. In particular CBT and other therapies are very helpful in putting students and staff in better positions for employment and promotion.

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One alternative is to take an online course. There are many MOOCs that offer foreign language courses. You may then try and solve assignments and take exam of the real course to get the credit. Of course this will require some convincing to the authorities that you would like to skip attending because of the phobia. I should add that you may want to consider seeking therapy for your condition. I have heard positive stories of therapies working, even the rare cases as you describe.

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  • Many unis won't happily tranfer credit from a MOOC. But on a very similar note, many unis offer corses via corespondance, which has similar advantage. – Lyndon White May 1 '15 at 9:21