Language Learning Anxiety Has Been Investigated Education Essay

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Several independent studies have been conducted to identify the effect of anxiety on learners' language achievement, the affective factors of anxiety and the potential sources of anxiety within the language learning environment, and some have even gone as far as to offer temporary solutions to mitigate anxiety (Clement et al., 1977; Gardner and Lambert, 1972; Krashen 1985; Oxford, 1996; Horwitz et al., 1986; Horwitz, 2001; Swain & Burnaby, 1976). Overall, past literature on language learning anxiety indicates a negative relationship between anxiety and achievement (Bailey et al., 1998; Bailey et al., 2003; Chastain, 1975; Horwitz et al., 1986; Horwitz, 2001; Lalonde and Gardner 1984; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991a, MacIntyre, 1999; Onwuegbuzie et al., 2000), and performance (Horwitz et al., 1986; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991b, 1991c; Onwuegbuzie et al., 2000).

Present day research and increased interest pertaining to the impact and effect of anxiety upon students' speaking performance within foreign language learning, has now begun to expand into studies undertaken within East Asian countries (Chan & Wu, 2004; Jackson, 2002; Liu & Jackson, 2008; Yan & Horwitz, 2008). East Asian research has indicated that personal and cultural factors, individual differences, social influences, and anxiety appear to be relatively strong predicators of students' unwillingness to communicate in a foreign language (Chan & Wu, 2004; Horwitz, 1999; Jackson, 2002; Liu & Jackson, 2008; Yan & Horwitz, 2008). Overall, language courses appear to be anxiety-provoking experiences for language learners around the world. MacIntyre (1996: 90) states that language learning contexts seem to be susceptible to 'anxiety arousal' and Horwitz (1999) reports that different cultures experience different levels of speaking anxiety within different language learning contexts.

Literature shows that the present day formal Chinese education system was founded within the 1978 Deng Xiaoping governmental reforms (Child, 1994; Hayhoe, 2001; Hu, In Silver et al., n.d), and has been recognised and identified as being both 'extensive and complex' (Hu, In Silver et al., n.d: 5); (see Figure 2.1). Children undertake 9 years of formal compulsory education from the ages of six or seven before undertaking different secondary school entrance examinations (Hu, In Silver et al., n.d: 7; Johnson, 2010). Successful examinees advance to either [']'general', 'specialized', 'vocational' or 'skilled-workers' secondary education' (Hu, In Silver et al., n.d: 7; Johnson, 2010). Overall, 'general' education is perceived by the majority of the Chinese population to be the 'highest form of formal education' with 'vocational', as the 'lowest' (Johnson, 2010). The official vernacular for educational instruction is the national common language; 'P'u-t'ung-hua' (Chao, 1943: 63; MOE, 2001), although 'autonomous regions' prescribe to their own languages[1] (Johnson, 2010).

Students who undertake formal 'vocational' senior secondary education, undergo a similar 3 year 'key core' curricular path to that of 'general' education students'[2]. The 'key core' curriculum subjects are: Chinese, mathematics, foreign language; usually English, and politics (Hu, In Silver et al., n.d: 7; Johnson, 2010). Vocational students third year majoring elective choice, is restricted to alternative non-'general' skill-based electives: electronics; computers; business English; tourism; secretarial management etc (Johnson, 2010). Key core subjects and chosen elective, form the basis of the 'highly competitive' National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) (Hu, In Silver et al., n.d: 7); the 'Goakoa'[3] (Johnson, 2010). The present overall components of the NCEE English paper represent the evaluation of 'students' aptitude for language learning' (Ibid.); (see Figure 2.2).

All Chinese students undergo intensive and extensive NCEE examination preparation. Provincially assigned textbooks and educational newspapers with concentration upon English grammar rule learning, constitutes learning time constraints for both students and Chinese English teachers within the 3 year preparation process (Johnson, 2010). Time constraints within a predominantly 'structure-based environment' (Lightbrown & Spada, 2006: 109) advocates the predominant use of Grammar-Translation methodology, and exceedingly limited usage of Audio-Lingual methodology within the teacher-fronted Chinese ELT classroom. Students language learning 'habitus' formed via 'traditional' teaching methods within English 'language use, skills, and orientations: attitudes, dispositions, and schemes of perception' in relation to family and community expectations, constitutes negative student beliefs and feelings toward language learning (Lin In Cadlin & Mercer, 2001: 282):

You know why I don't pay attention in English lessons? You really want to know? Okay, here's the reason: NO INTEREST! It's so boring and difficult and I can never master it. But the society wants you to learn English! If you're no good in English, you're no good in finding a job! (Ibid.).

Continual ELT time constraint pressure constitutes a 'hostile' language learning environment pertaining to negative psychological aspects and outcomes for students. Students learn by rote and are expected to answer teacher fired questions 'immediately and correctly' with 'correct' grammar and pronunciation and no thinking time allowance (Johnson, 2010). Incorrect student answers, provokes teacher criticism and reprimanding in front of classroom peers (Ibid). Students' have exceedingly little opportunity to undertake pair or group work as the predominant focus of language learning is upon formation and consolidation of 'correct grammatical structures' (Ibid.). Such 'hostile' language learning conditions 'violates every principle set forth by Kreshen (1989) for establishing a friendly English acquisition environment' (Qiang & Wolff In Cook, 2007: 244).

Overall, it would appear that language learning within the classroom context heeds to macro and micro-level policies, curriculum implementation, and execution of learning and assessment via textbooks and standardised tests. Passe (1996) states that:

Teachers are under enormous pressure to "cover" the curriculum. State mandates, district policies, and especially standardised tests have forced many teachers to rush through the required content, despite substantial evidence that doing so results in a lack of student motivation, interest, and long-term learning. Clearly, there is not enough time in the school day or year to adequately address all the required topics. In the meantime, new content is constantly added while student time in class is steadily being reduced (1996: 68 cited in Dornyei, 2001: 64).

Past research and reviews of the predominantly unbalanced tandem of negative anxiety impact upon learning, achievement and performance within second and foreign language classes, portraits a complex anxiety-provoking phenomenon, which is unequivocally distinguishable within foreign language learning. Young (1991) states that language learning anxiety stems from personal beliefs, interpersonal issues, and instructional practice (1991: 427). Horwitz (1989) states that instructor incognizance of potential conflicts which may arise between individual beliefs and differences within instructional practices may, therefore, 'unwittingly thwart those students who aspire to become genuinely proficient in a foreign language' (1989: 65).

Many students who have experienced learning a foreign language, have expressed how stressful it was to be in the classroom as it provoked anxiety (Horwitz et al., 1986; Price, 1991). Anxious students perceive the language learning environment as an uncomfortable experience, withdraw from voluntary participation, feel social pressure not to make mistakes and are less willing to try uncertain or novel linguistic forms (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991: 112). Students who experience a moderate level of anxiety, may purposefully miss classes, neglect to complete homework, respond in a barely audible whisper, never volunteer, avoid speaking in class, or sit at the back of the classroom to minimise the humiliation or embarrassment of being called upon to speak (Bailey, 1983; Fukai, 2000; Horwitz et al., 1986; Phillips, 1991). Comparably, when language learners experience a sever level of anxiety, it can be severely detrimental and the effect irreversible to them. They may ultimately be terrified of taking a language course, traumatised by unsuccessful performance and achievement, and consequently hate learning the language and choose not to study at all (Price, 1991).

Levels of anxiety experienced by students within classroom discourse (Bailey, 1983; Horwitz et al., 1986; Phillips 1991; Price, 1991) and oral tests (Horwitz et al., 1986) may explain why many people have a 'mental block' against learning a foreign language (Ibid.: 125). Anxious students may block the cognitive activity required for language learning by dividing their attention between the task and their personal feelings towards the task (MacIntyre, 1995: 96) by means of potentially engaging in negative self-talk and 'ruminating over poor performance' (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991a: 297). A potential imbalance between student's cognition and behaviour within task performance and/or oral tests can, therefore, be disadvantageous to anxiety 'susceptible students' (Horwitz et al.,1986: 128). It is, therefore, imperative that instructors take cognizance of the multi-faceted foreign language anxiety phenomenon, and the elements that affect students' oral performance within the aim to help alleviate communication apprehension, feelings of language anxiety and oral test anxiety as 'probably no other field of study implicates self-concept and self-expression to the degree that language study does' (Horwitz et al.,1989: 128).

Language learning anxiety predominantly affects many foreign language learning students due to the underlying 'personally meaningful' communicative usage basis and production of 'appropriate messages through unfamiliar and unmastered phonological, syntactic, semantic and sociolinguistic systems' (Horwitz In Young, 1999: xiii). Therefore, student's potential familiarity of learnt linguistic structures and patterns in order to generalise language for future needs (Brooks, 1960: 49 cited in Stevick, 1990: 20) may not allow for full linguistic engagement within exchanges of personally meaningful messages (Brumfit, 1984: 122 cited in Stevick, 1990: 19). It is, therefore, perhaps understandable why some students within the realms of their usual and culturally traditional language learning procedures and abilities; there of, find learning within 'face threatening environments', using a 'severely restricted language code', and taking tests anxiety-provoking experiences within language classroom contexts (Dornyei, 2001: 91 - 92).

I, the researcher/'Experimental Groups' instructor decided to focus upon the relationship between anxiety associated with oral communication and performance, due to the need to develop students' speaking skills in preparation for their ascension into the workforce. As most people who embark upon a foreign language course predominantly do so to develop their oral skill, anxious students are clearly placed at a disadvantage within the classroom due to the potential 'disparity between the [language learner's] "true" self…and the [his/her] more limited self' as reflected in their linguistic competence (Horwitz et al. 1986: 128). Students truly believe that they are not in control of their own fate in the classroom and intuitively perceive anxiety as a negative influence upon their performance (Horwitz, 2001: 113) and on tests (Phillips, 1991: 2). Students' upheld beliefs and 'preconceived notions' regarding foreign language learning may also be 'counterproductive for language learning' (Horwitz, 1995: 576). This study is, therefore, important with regards to the building of students' basic linguistic competence and confidence via the application and intervention of linguistic tools within the classroom context, the effects of anxiety upon oral performance, and the relational influence of students' beliefs, motivation and attitude towards the classroom, the target language and culture, and language learning in general.

General interest regarding the motivation of language learners has highlighted numerous problematic affective variables which influence the rate and success of foreign or second language learning (Brown, 1994; Dörnyei, 1994; Gardner and Lambert, 1972; Oxford & Shearin, 1994; Young, 1991). Increased interest in the psychological motivation of adult foreign language and second language learners has also highlighted the significant array of problems within language classes around the world, especially in relation to their instructors and learning environment, and the relational anxiety-provoking impact upon student's skill of speaking in a foreign or second language (Scovel, 1978). Influences of affective factors have also become a focus of many studies as, 'what the learner experiences in the language lesson is as important as the teaching method,…or the instructional materials' (Bailey In Phillips, 1991: 1). Instructor incognizance of teaching method and its relative affective relationship to varying degrees of anxiety-provoking experiences for some students within foreign language classes may, therefore, 'unwittingly thwart those students who aspire to become genuinely proficient in a foreign language' (Horwitz, 1989: 65).

Language anxiety may be influenced by 'traditional' or standard teaching methods, styles and techniques used within the classroom. These include seating students in traditional rows, concentration on correct grammar and pronunciation, limited thinking time in relation to processing new information and finding answers to questions, criticism or overcorrection of students communicative attempts, exceedingly little or no time on discussion, and a lack of or non-existent pair or group work (Connell, 2010: 5 &X). Young (1991) proposes that the problem lie not with the student, but with the teaching 'methodology' (1991: 429) and that '[s]tudent language anxiety might be an indication that we [instructors] are doing something fundamentally unnatural in our methodology' (Ibid.). Instructor cognizance of the awareness of the potential relationship between anxiety-provoking classroom experiences which may be potentially initiated and evoked by student attitudes, emotions, beliefs toward language learning, and the influence of the teaching methodology employed is, therefore, imperative.

Brown (1994) states that the goal of education should be 'the facilitation of change and learning', by which, teachers need to 'establish interpersonal relationships' with their students (1994: 86). Humanistic approaches unite 'students and teacher' in order to 'facilitate learning' within a collectively supportive and nurturing climate (Richards & Rodgers, 1982: 116 cited in Stevick, 1990: 27). Humanistic techniques help to develop a greater awareness and understanding of oneself and others, and increase self-esteem and self-confidence by being oneself, accepting oneself and being proud of one's achievements (Mazkovsky, 1978: 2 cited in Richards & Rodgers, 2001: 90). Language learning diaries appear to be an effective method to access students' feelings regarding their language learning (Allwright & Bailey, 1991; Bailey, 1983; Samimy & Rardin, 1994). In an analysis of 'students' self-report papers', Samimy and Rardin (1994) found that the majority of students reported that their learning was facilitated when certain factors were present within the language classroom. These factors include:

A supportive environment.

An instructor who is non-judgmental.

Group support and sense of community.

Activities which the learner can relate to personally and that relate to real life and real life situations.

Cooperative activities that facilitate a sense of community and individual achievement.

(1994: 387).

Application of humanistic techniques may, therefore, help to alleviate language learning anxiety and communicative apprehension as there is 'probably no other field that challenges a student's self-concept in the way that language study does' (Horwitz, 1989: 63). Instructor cognizance of the application of humanistic approaches and techniques in relation to alleviating anxiety levels within balances of affective interaction variables may, therefore, allow for 'those students who aspire to become genuinely proficient in a foreign language' (Horwitz, 1989: 65).

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