Breakdowns for breakthroughs: using anxiety and embarrassment as insightful points for understanding fieldwork

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In this chapter I make the case for researchers to look at the moments that make them feel anxious about their language in fieldwork (e.g. being inarticulate, uncomfortable or embarrassed). I write this article from the perspective of a researcher who learnt (and is still learning) Hungarian and whose attempts at understanding and speaking Hungarian provide plenty of awkward or embarrassing moments to reflect upon. Such moments highlight my evolving relationships with others and wider aspects of power and hierarchy in the fieldwork setting. This chapter calls for researchers who learn another language for fieldwork to reflect on breakdowns in communication as sites of potential breakthroughs, which can become key to understanding fieldwork. At the same time, I hope this chapter can speak to all researchers, as embarrassing moments and communication breakdowns are certainly not confined to language learners, although perhaps learning another language can crystallise communication breakdowns in more obvious ways.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLearning and Using Languages in Ethnographic Research
EditorsRobert Gibb, Annabel Tremlett, Julien Danero-Iglesias
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherMultilingual Matters
ISBN (Print)9781788925914
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2019

Publication series

NameResearching Multilingually
PublisherMultilingual Matters


  • Language
  • ethnography
  • fieldwork
  • children
  • Communication
  • Roma
  • Gypsy
  • reflexivity
  • rapport


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  • Ethnography 2019

    Annabel Tremlett (Presented paper)

    28 Aug 201930 Aug 2019

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference

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