Foreign language speaking anxietyBackgroundThe literature on anxietygenerally distinguishes three types of anxiety: trait, situation-specific, andstate anxiety (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1989, 1991; Spielberger, 1966).Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986) defined foreign language anxiety as “adistinct complex set of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviorsrelated to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of thelanguage learning process” (p.128). Some researchers (Horwitz,Horwitz, and Cope, 1986) suggested that foreign languageanxiety should be viewed as a situation-specific anxiety unique to foreignlanguage learning and independent of other types of anxieties.
They alsoidentified three anxieties related to foreign language anxiety – communicationapprehension (McCroskey, 1970), fear of negative evaluation (Watson &Friend, 1969), and test anxiety (Sarason, 1978) – to help language teachers andscholars understand the nature of foreign language anxiety. In addition, theyoffered an instrument, the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS), tomeasure foreign language anxiety.) Students who exhibit communicationapprehension do not feel comfortable communicating in the target language infront of others, due to their limited knowledge of the language, especially inrelation to speaking and listening skills. Students who experience fear ofnegative evaluation do not consider language errors as a natural part of thelearning process, but as a threat to their image, and a source for negativeevaluations either from the teacher or their peers. As a result, they aresilent and withdrawn most of the time, and do not participate in languageactivities (Ely 1986). Students who experience test anxiety consider theforeign language process, and especially oral production, as a test situation,rather than an opportunity for communication and skills improvement.Dörnyei (2005) adds that twoimportant anxiety distinctions are usually made in the literature: beneficial/facilitatingvs. inhibitory/debilitating anxiety.
As the names suggest, beneficialanxiety triggers action and excitement and it facilitates the way for success;however, debilitating one places a barrier in front of a successfulperformance. Scovel (1978) notes that an ordinary individual has bothfacilitating and debilitating anxiety at the same time. Such type of combinedanxiety motivates the individual for any new phenomenon in language learning. Factors associating with foreignlanguage anxiety:Young (1991) stated that languageanxiety involves a complex, multifaceted reality which may affect the learnersin terms of their culture, previous language learning process, learners’characters, and classroom environment. As a matter of fact, Six types ofsources of foreign language classroom anxiety have been identified (Young,1991): personal and interpersonal anxieties, learner beliefs about languagelearning, instructor beliefs about language learning, instructor-learnerinteractions, classroom procedures, and testing. Speaking in foreign language isconsidered to be the most anxiety inducing factor (Zhang & Zhong, 2012,p.30; as cited in Chowdhury).
Factors responsible for foreign language speakinganxiety are as follows:Lack of competence in foreign languagelinguistic items:Fear of being inferior:Fear of performance in test situation:Competitive attitudes in language class:Fear of interaction with proficient speaker:Fear of being prominent:Social factors:Teacher persuaded language anxiety:Role of learners’ background knowledge:Learners’ high ambition:Speaking anxietyAnxiety has a debilitating effecton any kind of learning process including second/foreign language learningwhich is highly affected by various affective variables (Horwitz, Horwitz,& Cope, 1986; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). State anxiety is considered,by many researchers, to be more detrimental to learners than situationalanxiety.Speaking has been generallyrecognized as the most anxiety- provoking skill associated with foreignlanguage learning.
For example, Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986) identifiedcommunication apprehension to be conceptually relevant to foreign languageanxiety. Palacios (1998) found that speaking caused the most anxiety among thelearners. Price (1991) reported that for learners the most anxiety-provokingthing in learning a foreign language is speaking in front of their peers asthey are afraid of making mistakes and being laughed at. Similar results wereobtained by Pertaub, Slater and Carter (2001) stating that anxiety is fosteredwhen speakers have to deliver a speech in the foreign language or talk toforeigners as they experience the fear of being judged or humiliated by others.Tunaboylu (1993) stated that thereare many reasons why students tend to be silent listeners rather than activespeakers in oral English classes. The most important reason is thepsychological pressure of making mistakes in the presence of their classmatesand the second reason is their poor vocabulary.
McCroskey et al., (1999)examined levels of Communication Apprehension (CA) amongJapanese students in native and second language (English). The resultsindicated that Japanese students have high (CA) in both languages.Meihua Liu (2007) reported theresult of a case study on anxiety in oral English classrooms in a Chineseuniversity. The study revealed that anxiety was experienced by a considerablenumber of students when speaking English in class, the students reported to bethe most anxious when singled out to speak English in class or givingpresentations at the front while the least during pair work, and most of thestudents felt helpless about being anxious when speaking English in class.
Horwitz, et al (1991) stated thata student’s performance in the language classroom is not only graded by theteacher, but commented on by fellow students in the same classroom as well.Students may be sensitive to the evaluations, either real or imagined, of theirpeers. Koch and Terrell (1991) indicated that Learners speaking in front oftheir peers is another source of anxiety in learning a foreign language.MacIntyre & Gardner (1991) stated that fear of negative evaluation wasclosely related to communication apprehension. It’s a significant cause ofcommunication apprehension.
Students with fear of negative evaluation areworried that others might not understand the content they are talking about inthe second language.Price’s study (1991) indicatedthat learners are afraid of making pronunciation errors in classroom. Young(1991) argued that the reason why learners do not participate in the classroomactivities is the fear of committing a verbal error. Koch and Terell (1991)concluded that activities such as giving oral presentations, doing role-playsand defining words are among the most anxiety provoking factors in theclassroom setting.
Jones, (2004) found that the participants frequentlyexpressed that learners feel afraid, and even panic because of the fear ofcommitting mistakes or errors in front of others, or because of “a fear ofappearing awkward, foolish and incompetent in the eyes of learners’ peers orothers”. A study conducted by Liu andJackson (2008) reported that foreign language anxiety has negative impact onthe willingness of students to communicate in classrooms. The two researchstudies showed that factors such as lack of vocabulary, low English proficiencyand memory disassociation lead to anxiety.Cheng et al. (1999) examined therelationship between FL classroom anxiety as well as their association with FLspeaking and writing achievement. The findings suggested that FL classroomanxiety is a more general type of anxiety whereas FL writing anxiety is a morelanguage skill specific one.
Finally, low self-confidence was an influentialfactor in both types of anxiety. In addition, research has also highlightedimpact of speaking anxiety on other domains, including, language achievement,learners’ actual proficiency and performance, gender, prior foreign languageexperience, negative evaluation and self-evaluation.Dalk?l?ç (2001) examined therelationship between the FL anxiety and achievement of Turkish freshmen EFLlearners in their speaking courses. His findings revealed a strong correlationbetween the participating students’ anxiety levels and their success in thecourse. In addition, Ay (2010) stated that students feel more anxious when theyare required to speak without being prepared.Another factor which is closelyrelated to FL anxiety is learners’ actual proficiency and performance. Theresearch findings have shown conflicting results. In the study on therelationship between proficiency level and degree of FL speaking anxiety conductedby Balemir (2009), a moderate level of speaking anxiety among Turkish EFLuniversity students was found.
Gender also seemed to play apivotal role in FL anxiety. The obtained results of the studies conducted byMacIntyre et al. (2002) and Park and French (2013) reported that femalelearners regard FL speaking as more nerve-wrecking than their malecounterparts. Similarly, in Turkey, the findings of Öztürk and Gürnüz’s (2012)study revealed that gender has impact on foreignlanguage speaking anxiety; particularly females are more anxious while speakingin the target language.
In contrast, in a study performed by Kitano (2011) malestudents were more anxious as they perceived themselves less competent.Furthermore, a number of studiesemphasized the relationship between anxiety and prior language learningexperience (Baker & MacIntrye, 2000; Gardner et al., 1979) the findingsrevealed that anxiety level decreases after students spend some time in thetarget language environment.
In other words, students show more confidence andhigher perceived competence after being engaged in immersion programs.Kitano (2001) carried out anotherstudy looking at the two causes of anxiety namely, negative evaluation andself-perceived speaking ability. Data collected from the Japanese universitystudents showed that the stronger the individualstudent’s fear of negative evaluation was, the higher his/her anxiety was andalso the findings reported that the fear of negative evaluation andself-perceived speaking ability did not interact and had no influence on theindividual student’s anxiety level.Fang-Peng and Don (2010)investigated the factors regarding spoken English anxiety among Chinese collegestudents and suggested some recommendations to reduce anxiety in oral production:cultivating the students to be accustomed to listening to English and thinkingin English, asking students to imitate the recordings, promoting student’sself-correction as well as encouraging them to speak English to enhance theirmotivation.Tianjian (2010) also investigatedthe speaking anxiety of Chinese EFL learners as well as the relationships ofspeaking anxiety with other domains, including trait anxiety, unwillingness tocommunicate, language achievement, speaking self-efficacy, language classrisk-taking, and language class sociability. The findings of the studyindicated that over 50% of the students reported undergoing moderate or highlevels of speaking anxiety.
Moreover, this affective problem did not differsignificantly over gender, but differed significantly over proficiency groups.Personality factors were also found to be the primary grounds of speakinganxiety; and mutual impacts occur between language achievement and speakinganxiety.