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Definition And Types Of Anxiety Literature Review English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5555 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In order to understand the specific type of anxiety that learners experience in a foreign language classroom, it is important to first consider anxiety in general terms.

As a psychological construct, anxiety is described as “a state of apprehension, a vague fear that is only indirectly associated with an object” (Scovel, 1991, cited in Tanveer, 2007, p. 3). Speiberger (1976, cited in Wang, 2005, p. 13) distinguished anxiety from fear by pointing out that although anxiety and fear are both “unpleasant emotional reactions to the stimulus conditions perceived as threatening,” fear is usually derived from a “real, objective danger in the external environment” while the threatening stimulus of anxiety may not be known.

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Spielberger (1983, cited in Wilson, 2006, p. 41) defined anxiety as the “subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the autonomic nervous system.” More specifically, Morris, David, & Hutchings (1981, cited in Wilson, 2006, p. 41) claimed that general anxiety consists of two components: “worry and emotionality.” Worry or “cognitive anxiety” refers to “negative expectations and cognitive concerns about oneself, the situation at hand, and possible consequences,” and emotionality or “somatic anxiety” concerns “one’s perceptions of the physiological-affective elements of the anxiety experience, which are indications of autonomic arousal and unpleasant feeling states, such as nervousness, upset stomach, pounding heart, sweating, and tension” (Morris, David, & Hutchings, 1981, cited in Wilson, 2006, p. 41, & cited in Cubucku, 2007, p. 134).

Trait Anxiety, State Anxiety, and Situation-specific Anxiety

MacIntyre & Gardner (1991, p. 87-92) identified three approaches to the study of anxiety, which are: trait anxiety, state anxiety, and situation-specific anxiety.

Trait anxiety is “an individual’s likelihood of becoming anxious in any situation” (Spielberger, 1983, cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 87). As trait anxiety is a relatively stable personality characteristic, a person who is trait anxious would probably become anxious in many different kinds of situations, “more frequently or more intensely than most people do” (Woodrow, 2006, p. 309). This approach to anxiety research has been criticized in that the interpretation of trait anxiety would be meaningless without being considered “in interaction with situations” because a particular situation may be perceived as anxiety-provoking by some but not by others although those people may have similar trait anxiety scores (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 88).

State anxiety, in contrast to the stable nature of trait anxiety, is momentary and thus not an enduring characteristic of an individual’s personality. It is the apprehension that is experienced at a particular moment in time (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 90). In other words, it is a transient anxiety, an unpleasant emotional temporary state, a response to a particular anxiety-provoking stimulus such as an important test (Spielberger, 1983, cited in Wang, 2005, p.13, and cited in Tanveer, 2007, p. 4). The higher the level of trait anxiety an individual possess, the higher the level of state anxiety he or she may experience in stressful situations (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 90). The state-anxiety approach to anxiety research has been criticized for asking the question “Are you nervous now?” instead of “Did this situation make you nervous?;” in other words, it does not the subjects to ascribe their anxiety experience to any particular source (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 90).

Situation-specific anxiety re¬‚ects a trait anxiety that recurs consistently over time within a given situation (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 87; Spielberger, Anton and Bedell, 1976, cited in Woodrow, 2006, p. 309). Zheng (2008, p. 2) proposed that the three categories of anxiety can be identified on a continuum from stability to transience, with trait anxiety related to a generally stable predisposition to be anxious across situations on one end, state anxiety related to a temporary unpleasant emotional state on the other, and situational-specific anxiety related to the probability of becoming anxious in particular situations in the middle of the continuum. According to MacIntyre and Gardner (1991, p. 90), situation-specific anxiety can be considered as trait anxiety, which is limited to a specific context. This perspective examines anxiety reactions in a “well-defined situation” such as public speaking, during tests, when solving mathematics problems, or in a foreign language class (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991, p. 90).

Facilitating Anxiety and Debilitating Anxiety

Facilitating anxiety improves learning and performance, while debilitating anxiety is associated with poor learning and performance. According to Scovel (1978, cited in Tanveer, 2007, p. 10), anxiety, in its debilitating and facilitating forms, serves “simultaneously to motivate and to warn” the learner. Facilitating anxiety occurs when the difficulty level of the task triggers the proper amount of anxiety (Scovel, 1978, cited in Zheng, 2008, p. 2). In such case, facilitating anxiety “motivates the learner to ‘fight’ the new learning task; it gears the learner emotionally for approach behavior” (Scovel, 1991, cited in Tanveer, 2007, p. 11). However, although a certain level of anxiety may be beneficial, too much anxiety can become debilitating: it motivates the learner to “flee” the new learning task; and stimulates the individual emotionally to adopt avoidance behavior which may lead to avoidance of work and inefficient work performance (Scovel, 1978, cited in Zheng, 2008, p. 2; Scovel, 1991, cited in Tanveer, 2007, p. 11).

Such phenomenon can be best described by the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which suggests a curvilinear association between arousal and performance (Wilson, 2006, p. 45). When represented graphically on an inverted U-shaped curve, the Yerkes-Dodson Law shows that too little arousal produces minimum performance; moderate arousal enhances performance and reaches a peak at the top of the curve; after that, too much arousal will again hinder performance (MacIntyre, 1995, p. 92).

FIGURE 1 (MacIntyre, 1995, p. 92)

Anxiety in Foreign Language Learning

Language learning anxiety has been classified as a situation-speci¬c anxiety, or a trait which recurs consistently over time within the given context of language learning situations, that is, the language classrooms (MacIntyre and Gardner, 1991; Horwitz, 2001).

Horwitz et al. (1986) were the first to treat foreign language anxiety as a separate and distinct phenomenon particular to language learning (Young, 1991, cited in Wang, 2005, p. 16). According to Horwitz et al. (1986, p. 128), foreign language anxiety is “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, feelings, and behaviors related to classroom learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process.”

Other researchers also proposed similar definitions. Oh (1992, cited in Wang, 2005, p. 16) perceived of foreign language anxiety as a situation-specific anxiety students experience in the classroom, which is characterized by “negative self-centered thoughts, feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, and emotional reactions.” In a similar vein, MacIntyre and Gardner (1994, cited in Wang, 2005, p. 16) described foreign language anxiety as the feelings of tension and apprehension, which are particularly associated with activities in a second language learning context.

According to Horwitz (1986, p. 126), anxiety centers on the two basic task requirements of foreign language learning: listening and speaking, and difficulty in speaking in class is probably the most frequently cited concern of the anxious foreign language students. On the other hand, Hilleson (1996, cited in Matsuda & Gobel, 2004, p. 22), in his diary study, identified various types of anxiety related to different skill areas: the participants in his research demonstrated anxiety related to not only speaking and listening but also reading and writing. Although research into foreign language anxiety has been almost entirely associated with the oral aspects of language use, there has been a recent trend to identify the relationship between anxiety and other language proficiencies ((Horwitz, 2001, p. 120; Matsuda & Gobel, 2004, p. 22). According to Tallon (2008, p. 7), while previous studies suggested that foreign language classroom anxiety is a more general type of anxiety about learning a second language with a strong speaking anxiety element, recent research on foreign language anxiety showed the existence of language-skill-specific anxieties: listening, reading, and writing.

The Measurement of Anxiety in Foreign Language Learning

Generally, there are three major ways of measuring anxiety in research, including behavioral observation; physiological assessment such as heart rates or blood pressure tests; and participants’ self-reports of their internal feelings and reactions (Casado & Dereshiwsky, 2001; Daly, 1991; cited in Zheng, 2008, p. 3). According to Zheng (2008, p. 3), participants’ self-reports are by far the most common way of examining the anxiety phenomenon in educational research.

Early Research on Foreign Language Anxiety

As “anxiety is a complex, multi-faceted construct” (Phillips, 1992, p. 14), it is not surprising that early studies of the relationship between anxiety and language learning provided mixed and confusing results. Young’s (1991, p. 438-439) review of sixteen studies that examining how anxiety interferes with language learning and performance showed inconsistent results both within and across studies, and she concluded that “research in the area of anxiety as it relates to second or foreign language learning and performance was scattered and inconclusive.”

According to Horwitz (2010, p. 157), Scovel’s review of the then available literature on anxiety and language learning can be considered a “turning point” in the study of foreign language learning anxiety. Scovel (1978, cited in Horwitz, 2001, p. 113) attributed the truly conflicting set of findings to ambiguity in the conceptualization and measurement of anxiety. He argued that since the early studies employed different anxiety measures such as test anxiety or facilitating-debilitating anxiety, etc, it was understandable that they found different relationships between anxiety and language learning. Some studies found the anticipated negative relationship between anxiety and language achievement, but there were also several studies which found no relationship, and positive relationships between anxiety and second language achievement were also identified. For example, in a research conducted by Chastain in 1975 (cited in Horwitz, 2010, p. 156), the directions of the correlations between anxiety (test anxiety) and language learning (course grades) in three languages (French, German, and Spanish) were not consistent, indicating three levels of correlation: positive, negative, and near zero. Backman (1976, cited in Aida, 1994, p. 156) examined Venezuelan students learning English in the US, whose language progress measured by a placement test, a listening comprehension test, and teachers’ ratings did not show a significant correlation with any of the anxiety measures. Kleinmann (1977, cited in Horwitz, 2010, p. 156) utilized the facilitating-debilitating anxiety framework to study Spanish-speaking and Arabic-speaking ESL students, and found that learners with more facilitating anxiety had a lower tendency toward avoidance behavior in the oral production of linguistically difficult English structures while there was no evidence that debilitating anxiety negatively influenced their oral performance.

Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope’s Construct of Foreign Language Anxiety

It is essential to trace the development and subsequent use of the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (Horwitz et al., 1986), as this instrument has been employed so widely (in its original form, or translated, or adapted) and with such consistent results since it first appeared. As it has been observed to be highly reliable (Horwitz, 1986; Aida, 1994; Rodriguez & Abreu, 2003), I was interested in using it for my research.

3.2.1. Development of the FLCAS

According to Horwitz (1986b, p. 559), research into the relationship between anxiety and language achievement had been held back by the lack of a reliable and valid measure of anxiety specific to language learning. She further stated that although teachers and students generally felt that anxiety is an obstacle to be overcome in learning a second language, the empirical literature at that time failed to adequately define second language anxiety and to demonstrate a clear-cut relationship between anxiety and language achievement or performance. She suggested that one likely explanation for the inconclusive results of previous studies was that existing measures of anxiety did not test an individual’s response to the specific stimulus of language learning. The Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale was developed so as to provide researchers with a standard instrument for such purpose (Horwitz, 1986b, p. 559). This self-report measure was claimed to evaluate the degree of anxiety, as evidenced by “negative performance expectancies and social comparisons, psycho-physiological symptoms, and avoidance behaviors” (Horwitz, 1986b, p. 559). The author stated that the scale’s items were developed from student reports, clinical experience, and a review of related instruments.

3.2.2. Conceptual Foundations of Foreign Language Anxiety

From a theoretical viewpoint, Horwitz et al. (1986, p. 127) argued that foreign language anxiety implies “performance evaluation within an academic and social context.” They therefore identified the three related performance anxieties: communication apprehension test anxiety; and fear of negative evaluation, which are believed to “provide useful conceptual building blocks for a description of foreign language anxiety” (Horwitz, 1986, p. 128). However, Horwitz (1986, p. 128; 2010, p. 158) also emphasized that foreign language anxiety is not a simple combination of these performance anxieties transferred to foreign language learning. Instead, it is perceived as “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors … arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (Horwitz, 1986, p. 128).

Communication apprehension was originally defined by McCroskey (1977, cited in Aida, 1994, p. 156) as “an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons.” According to McCroskey (1984, cited in Wang, 2005, p. 17), the typical behavior patterns of communicatively apprehensive people are communication avoidance, communication withdrawal, and communication disruption. According to Horwitz (1986, p. 127), due to its emphasis on interpersonal interactions, the construct of communication apprehension plays an important role in language learning. Difficulty in speaking in groups (oral communication anxiety) or in front of the class (“stage fright”), or in listening to or learning a spoken message (receiver anxiety) are suggested to be all manifestations of communication apprehension (Horwitz, 1986, p. 127). People whose typical communication apprehension is high tend to encounter even greater difficulty communicating in a foreign language class where they have little control of the communicative situation, there exists a disparity between learners’ mature thoughts and their immature foreign language proficiency, and their performance is constantly monitored (Horwitz, 1986; Horwitz and Gregersen, 2002, p. 562). The inability to express oneself fully or to understand others not only lead to frustration and apprehension in typical apprehensive communicators but also make many otherwise talkative people become silent in a foreign language class (Horwitz, 1986, p. 127).

Test-anxiety, or “the tendency to view with alarm the consequences of inadequate performance in an evaluative situation” (Sarason, 1984, cited in Aida, 1994, p. 157), is also relevant to a discussion of foreign language anxiety because performance evaluation is an ongoing feature of most foreign language classes (Horwitz, 1986, p. 127). Some learners may inappropriately view foreign or second language production as a test situation rather than as an opportunity for communication (Horwitz, 1986, cited in Horwitz and Gregersen, 2002, p. 562). According to Horwitz (1986, p. 126), test-anxious students often put unrealistic demands on themselves and feel that anything less than a perfect test performance is a failure. Unfortunately, students who are test-anxious may suffer considerable stress and difficulty in foreign language classrooms since daily evaluation of skills are quite common and frequent in most foreign language classes. Moreover, making mistakes is inevitable in the language learning process, and “even the brightest and most prepared students often make errors” (Horwitz, 1986, p. 128).

Fear of negative evaluation, the third performance anxiety related to foreign language learning, is defined as “apprehension about others’ evaluations, avoidance of evaluative situations, and the expectations that others would evaluate oneself negatively” (Watson and Friend, 1969, cited in Horwitz, 1986, p. 128). Although similar to test anxiety to some extent, fear of negative evaluation is broader in scope in that it applies to any social and/or evaluative situation in which an individual worries about the possibility of being unfavorably evaluated by others (Wilson, 2006, p. 68). Horwitz (1986, p. 128) pointed out what distinguishes foreign language learning from other academic subjects is that language learners are continually evaluated by the teacher and may also feel they are subject to the evaluation of their peers. Unfortunately, learners who are highly concerned about the impressions others are forming of them tend to behave in ways that minimize the possibility of negative evaluations (Horwitz and Gregersen, 2002, p. 562). In foreign language classrooms, students with a fear of negative evaluation tend to “sit passively in the classroom, withdrawing from classroom activities that could otherwise enhance their improvement of the language skills” or even “cutting class to avoid anxiety situations” (Aida, 1994, p. 157).

3.2.3. Reliability and Validity of the FLCAS

Horwitz et al. (1986) developed the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) as a 33-item self-report instrument scored on the basis of a 5-point Likert-type scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Students respond to statements regarding their reactions to foreign/second language classes. Possible scores on the FLCAS range from 33 to 165: the higher the score, the higher the anxiety level.

Items were developed from student reports, interviews with specialists about their clinical experiences with anxious language learners, the author’s teaching experiences, and a review of related measures of anxiety.

According to Horwitz (1986, p. 129), pilot testing of the scale with seventy five introductory Spanish students at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated its reliability and validity. In terms of internal reliability, the FLCAS achieved internal reliability, achieving an alpha coefficient of .93 with all items producing significant corrected item-total scale correlations. Test- retest reliability over eight weeks yielded an r = .83 (p <.001).

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In one sample of 108 introductory students of Spanish, scores ranged from 45 to 147 (M = 94.5, Mdn = 95.0, SD = 21.4). Internal consistency, as measured by Cronbach’s alpha coefficient, was .93, and test-retest reliability over 8 weeks was r = .83, p = .001, n = .78.

Aida (1994) tested Horwitz et al.’s construct of foreign language anxiety by validating an adapted FLCAS for students of Japanese. She aimed to discover the underlying structure of the FLCAS and to examine whether or not the structure reflects the three kinds of anxiety presented earlier. Her study, using ninety-six students of Japanese, yielded internal consistency of .94 (X = 96.7 and SD = 22.1), using Cronbach’s alpha coefficient. The reliability, mean, standard deviation, and range obtained in this study were very similar to those of Horwitz (1986), whose sample was a group of students in introductory Spanish classes.

FIGURE 2 (Aida, 1994, p. 159)

Manifestations of Foreign Language Learning Anxiety

Anxiety, in general, can have physical/physiological, emotional, and behavioral manifestations, and these manifestations can differ with each individual.

According to Oxford (1999, cited in Williams & Andrade, 2009, p. 4, and cited in Yanling & Guizheng, 2006, p. 98):

Physical symptoms can include, for example, rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, dry mouth, and excessive perspiration.

Psychological symptoms can include embarrassment, feelings of helplessness, fear, going blank, inability to concentrate, as well as poor memory recall and retention.

Behavioral symptoms can include physical actions such as squirming, fidgeting, playing with hair or clothing¼Œ nervously touching objects, stuttering or stammering¼Œ displaying jittery behavior, being unable to reproduce the sounds or intonation of the target language even after repeated practice. More importantly, behavioral symptoms of anxiety can be manifested in negative avoidance behaviors like inappropriate silence, monosyllabic or non-committal responses, lack of eye contact, unwillingness to participate, coming late, arriving unprepared, showing indifference, cutting class, and withdrawal from the course.

Other signs which might reflect language anxiety: overstudying, perfectionism, hostility, excessive competitiveness, as well as excessive self-effacement and self-criticism (e.g. “I am so stupid”).

Causes of Foreign Language Learning Anxiety

Research has indicated a number of ways that learning a foreign language can cause anxiety for language learners. Young (1991, p. 427), in a comprehensive review, summarized the personal factors and instructional factors contributing to language anxiety into six categories: 1) personal and interpersonal anxieties, 2) learner beliefs about language learning, 3) instructor beliefs about language teaching, 4) instructor learner interactions, 5) classroom procedures, and 6) language testing. Generally, the six factors proposed by Young (1991) combine with other factors indicated by other researchers to form three main sources of foreign language anxiety: learner’s characteristics, teacher’s characteristics, and classroom’s characteristics (Tallon, 2009, p. 2).

Personal factors (Learner characteristics)

Personal and interpersonal issues, according to Young (1991, p. 427), are possibly the most commonly cited and discussed sources of language anxiety. Several studies have discovered the link between anxiety and proficiency (Aida, 1994; Gardner, 1985; Gardner et al., 1997, cited in Zhang, 2010, p. 9). There are significant differences between high proficiency and low proficiency students in language anxiety level with the low proficiency students being much more anxious (Young, 1991). In a similar vein, Horwitz (1986) attributed anxiety to learners’ immature communicative ability in the foreign language. On the other hand, several other researchers argued that low self-esteem and competitiveness are the two significant sources of learner anxiety. Bailey (1983, cited in Young, 1991, p. 427) studied the diary entries of 11 students and reported that competitiveness can lead to anxiety when language learners compare themselves to others or to an idealized self-image. Likewise, Price (1991, cited in Young, 1991, p. 427) stated that the majority of her subjects believed their language skills to be weaker than those of the others in class; that they “weren’t doing a good job and that everyone else looked down on them.” As regards to self-esteem, Hembree (1988, cited in Young, 1991, p. 427) implied that students who start out with a self-perceived low ability level in a foreign or second language are most likely to experience language anxiety. Krashen (1981, cited in Ohata, 2005, p. 5) also suggests that anxiety can arise according to one’s degree of self-esteem as those students tend to worry about what their peers or friends think, in fear of their negative responses or evaluation. In addition, Gregersen and Horwitz (2002) examined the relationship between foreign language anxiety and perfectionism, and found some common characteristics between anxious language learners and perfectionists (e.g., higher standards for their English performance, a greater tendency toward procrastination, more worry over the opinions of others, and a higher level of concern over their errors). The authors supposed that such characteristics may make language learning unpleasant and less successful for the perfectionist students than for others. Another personality trait that has a positive correlation with foreign language anxiety is shyness: Chu (2008, cited in Zhang, 2010, p. 11) affirmed that anxiety, willingness to communicate, and shyness function together to create a negative impact on Taiwanese students’ study of English.

Learner beliefs about language learning, if erroneous and unrealistic, are also a major factor contributing to language anxiety (Young, 1991, p. 428). According to Tallon (2008, p. 4) when students’ unrealistic expectations about language learning are not met it can lead to negative feelings about one’s intelligence and abilities. For example, the language learners in Horwitz’s study (1988, cited in Young, 1991, p. 428): 1) expressed great concern over the correctness of their utterances; 2) placed a great deal of stress on speaking with “an excellent accent”; 3) supported the notion that language learning is primarily translating from English and memorizing vocabulary words and grammatical rules; as well as 4) believed that two years is enough time to become fluent in another language; and believed some people were more able to learn a foreign language than others. Such erroneous beliefs may make the students later become disappointed and frustrated. In addition, Horwitz (1989, cited in Tallon, 2008, p. 5) found a link between several language learning beliefs and levels of foreign language anxiety in university Spanish students: the more anxious learners judged language learning to be relatively difficult and themselves to possess relatively low levels of foreign language aptitude. Palacios (1998, cited in Tallon, 2008, p. 5) also found that the following beliefs are associated with learner anxiety: the feeling that mastering a language is an overwhelming task; the feeling that one needs to go through a translation process in order to communicate in the target language; the difficulty of keeping everything in one’s head; and the belief that learning a language is easier at an earlier age. Tallon (2008, p. 5) concluded that all of those faulty beliefs may cause the students to have unrealistic expectations about the language learning process, and thus lead to anxiety.

Instructional factors

Teacher characteristics

Instructor beliefs about language teaching, which determines instructor-learner interactions, are a further source of language anxiety because the teacher’s assumption on the role of language teachers may not always correspond to the student’s needs or expectations toward the him or her (Ohata, 2005, p. 7). Young (1991, p. 428) listed the following teacher beliefs which have been shown to evoke feelings of anxiety in students: it is necessary for the teacher to be intimidating at times; the instructor is supposed to correct every single mistake made by the students; group or partner work is not appropriate because it can get out of control; the teacher should do most of the talking; and the instructor’s role is that of a drill sergeant. According to Tallon (2008, p. 5), a judgmental teaching attitude (Samimy, 1994) and a harsh manner of teaching (Aida, 1994) are closely linked to student fear in the classroom.

Besides, Palacios (1998, cited in Tallon, 2008, p. 5) found the following characteristics of the teacher to be associated with anxiety: “absence of teacher support, unsympathetic personalities, lack of time for personal attention, favoritism, absence that the class does not provide students with the tools necessary to match up with the teacher’s expectations, and the sense of being judged by the teacher or wanting to impress the teacher.” Moreover, Young (1999, cited in Tallon, 2008, p. 6) stated that using speaking activities that put the learner “on the spot” in front of their classmates without allowing adequate preparation are also sources of anxiety for many students. Additionally, Ando (1999, cited in Tallon, 2008, p. 6) argued that having a native speaker for a teacher can cause anxiety because the teacher may lack the sensitivity of the learning process or the teacher’s English may be hard for students to understand.

Classroom characteristics

Classroom procedures and other classroom’s characteristics are the third major source of foreign language learning anxiety.

Young (1990, cited in Tallon, p. 6) proposed a list of classroom activities which are perceived as anxiety-provoking: (1) spontaneous role play in front of the class; (2) speaking in front of the class; (3) oral presentations or skits in front of the class; (4) presenting a prepared dialogue in front of the class; and (5) writing work on the board. Similarly, Palacios (1998, cited in Tallon, p. 6) found “demands of oral production, feelings of being put on the spot, the pace of the class, and the element of being evaluated (i.e., fear of negative evaluation)” to be anxiety-producing to students.

Notably, Oxford (1999, cited in Tallon, p. 7) emphasized learning and teaching styles as a potential source of language anxiety. If the instructor’s teaching style and a student’s learning style are not compatible, “style wars” can trigger or heighten anxiety levels.

In addition, it is understandable that language testing may lead to foreign language anxiety (Young, 1991, p. 428). For example, difficult tests, especially tests that do not match the teaching in class, as well as unclear or unfamiliar test tasks and formats can all create learner anxiety.

Effects of Foreign Language Learning Anxiety

Foreign Language Learning Anxiety and its Associations with the three stages of the Language Acquisition process (Input, Processing, and Output)

The effects of language anxiety can be explained with reference to the cognitive consequences of anxiety arousal (Eysenck, 1979; Schwazer, 1986; cited in MacIntyre & Gardner, 1994, p. 2). When an individual becomes anxious, negative self-related cognition begins: thoughts of failure (e.g. “I will never be able to finish this”), self-deprecation (“I am just no good at this”), and avoidance (“I wish this was over”) begin to emerge. They consume cognitive resources that might otherwise be applied to the learning task. This then creates even more difficulties in cognitive processing because fewer available resources may lead to failure, which results in more negative cognitions that further consume cognitive resources, and so on. According to MacIntyre (1995, p. 26), anxiety can be problematic for the language learner because language learning itself is a fairly intense cognitive activity that relies on “encoding, storage, and retrieval” processes (MacIntyre, 1995, p. 26), and anxiety interferes with each of these cognitive processes by creating a “divided attention scenario” (Krashe


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