The Foreign Language Learning Process Education Essay

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The second/foreign language learning process is affected by a number of factors. Among the many variables, "affective side of the learner is probably one of the most important influences on language learning success or failure" (Oxford, 1990, p.140). The affective factors related to second/foreign language learning consist of emotions, self-esteem, empathy, attitude, motivation and anxiety. Above all, second /foreign language classroom anxiety, briefly called anxiety, is one of the most cited determinant factors of the learner's effectiveness in second or foreign language learning. Research has shown that anxiety impedes learner's ability to perform successfully in a foreign language class (Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope, 1986). To be a language teacher, one must know how to reduce learner anxiety to get them more participate in the class. Once learners overcome anxiety, they might actively involve in language learning activities and language teaching and learning would be more effective.

Though there have been an increasing numbers of studies over this psychological phenomenon, most of them centered on its theoretical issues (Scovel, 1978; Bailey, 1983; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, Horwitz et al.,1986, Price, 1991 ). To the best of the author's knowledge, no action research, to date, has been implemented to treat anxiety except for some suggestions in the published papers (Young, 1991).This research aims at treating student anxiety through an action research.


Anxiety has been an interesting theme fascinating not only scholars but also language educators for several decades. There have been many research projects and discussions on this topic over the past years and writers offered different definitions of anxiety, to fit their purposes of their articles or their research projects, it is so difficult to determine which the most precise one of all is.

At its simplest, anxiety is defined in some English dictionaries as a state of uneasiness and eagerness. Academically, Sarason (1998, p.19) defines "anxiety is a basic human emotion that consists of fear and uncertainty". In Scovel's definition (1978, p.34), anxiety is "apprehension, a vague fear that is only indirectly associated with an object".

According to Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986), anxiety can be defined as "a distinctive complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process (p.128).

Holding a similar point of view to Horwitz et al, Gardner and MacIntyre (1995, p.5) claim that anxiety is "a stable personality trait referring to the propensity for an individual to react in a nervous manner when speaking in the second language". In these definitions, it is noticeable that anxiety is the apprehension which is tied to a specific situation.

As to anxiety effects on learner performance in language classes, previous studies yielded conflicting results. On the one hand, anxiety is viewed as a facilitating factor (or often labeled "facilitating anxiety"), which encourages, stimulates learners to perform, conquer or fight the new learning tasks (Alpert and Haber, 1960). On the other hand, debilitating anxiety, which is commonly called "anxiety", is considered to be detrimental to performance. This kind of anxiety is harmful to learners as it motivates them to flee the learning tasks. According to Bailey (1983) and Scovel (1978), when possessing debilitating anxiety, anxious learners might have the avoidance behaviors such as skipping language class or refusing to participate in learning activities and therefore it hinders them from archiving their expected goals. Although previous studies revealed contrary findings of the relationship between anxiety and language performance, most of these reported the negative correlation between learner's anxiety and their language learning (Krashen, 1982; Horwitz et al., 1986; Bailey, 1983; Scovel, 1978; MacIntyre, Noels, & Clement, 1997).

Since anxiety has more bad effects than good effects on the learners, researchers attempted to explore the sources of anxiety and seek for appropriate ways to minimize it. Though current research paints a fairly bleak picture of the sources of anxiety in the foreign language classroom, causes of anxiety, in deed, are many and diverse.

Researchers have identified that some of anxiety sources is related to the learners, some is associated with teachers and some with the instructional practice. Relating to the learners, low self-esteem and competitiveness are claimed to be the two significant sources of learner anxiety. Bailey (1983) found a relationship between foreign language classroom anxiety and competitiveness among students. To answer the question of what factors result in debilitating anxiety, Bailey (1983) states that the competitiveness may lead to the learner anxiety as the learner compare his/herself to others in the same group. If the leaner finds him / herself less proficient than the object of comparison, his/her anxiety will increase. Conversely, if he thinks that the rival is weaker than him/her, his/her anxiety will fall. Price (1991) also reported the same findings. Krashen (1982) thinks that people who have low self -esteem are often concerned about what their fellows think and they, therefore, tend to try to please others. This is what makes a lot of people anxious.

Classroom oral communication including speaking and listening has been cited by a number of researchers as anxiety inducing (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). Horwitz et al. (1986) point out that speaking in the target language seems to be the most threatening aspect of foreign language learning. People those who have shyness or fear of speaking in group or public will have far more difficulties in speaking in a foreign language class where there is little control of the communication situation for them and their oral presentation is monitored or judged. Resulting anxiety will occurs.

Another source of anxiety comes from the learner's fear of making mistakes, fear of negative evaluation from both their peers and teacher (Horwitz et al., 1986; Price, 1991, Young, 1991). Learners know for sure that when they perform a task they are being evaluated by both their own fellows and their instructor and they expect these audiences will evaluate them negatively especially in the case they make mistakes. Upon this circumstance, learner anxiety arises and will become higher if they face a harsh way of correction from the teacher over their mistakes since the instructor's manner of correcting learner's errors has been highlighted by many researchers as being particularly provoking anxiety. Students are so scared of being incorrect, answering incorrectly to the teacher's questions in front of their peers. What they fear is not error correction as they perceive that it is necessary to receive correction, but the high frequency of correction, harsh manner of feedback from their teacher. Students will become very anxious if the teachers criticize or ridicule at their pronunciation or grammatical errors because this would lead to an obvious occasion of student's losing face.

Besides, teacher's role, the atmosphere set up in classroom, classroom procedures causes anxiety in students (Young, 1991). If the teacher is a drill sergeant rather than a facilitator, an authority figure than a helpful person, anxiety will appear.

Furthermore, learner's beliefs about language learning, the level of difficulty of learning task, the non cognate language with strange grammar, structures and vocabulary are the additional sources for anxiety state.

In order to create a low anxiety classroom environment, recently some approaches to foreign language teaching such as community language learning, suggestopedia has been used as a remedy to reduce learner anxiety.