In the last few decades, considerable effort has been devoted to recognising the role of anxiety in L2 learning. Such studies (Scovel, 1978; Horwitz, 1986; Spolsky, 1989; Phillips, 1992; Maclntyre & Grander, 1994; Baker & Maclntyre, 2000; Cheng, 2004) have provided us with useful information about anxiety that has recently acknowledged one of the main barriers that impedes L2 learning (Brown, 2007; Grander, 2001 cited in Pritchard, 2007). According to Abdul Aziz (2005), it is vital to realize the role of anxiety and its affect on the process of language learning since it “ranks high among factors that can influence language learning, regardless of whether the setting is formal or informal”. So what is meant by ‘anxiety’ and to what refers ‘language anxiety’? What are the reasons that prevent students from participating in language classes and make them resort to silence? What causes their language anxiety? And, from which sources does it stem? Such questions will be answering in this chapter alongside reviewing some previous studies on second/foreign language anxiety.
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2.2. Definition of Anxiety
The term ‘anxiety’ in general, has been defined by Scovel (1978, p.134) as “a state of apprehension, (and) a vague fear”. It is a complicated phenomenon to describe since it arises from various sources. People usually are not able to specify the exact emission of their nervousness and anxiety. However, it is worth mentioning that although there are several studies that have dealt with such an area, Horwitz was the first investigator of foreign language classroom anxiety (Liu, 2006). Horwitz claims that anxiety experienced by L2 learners is unique to the learning process and completely different from other types of anxiety (1986).
‘Language anxiety’ according to Maclntyer and Gardner (1994, p. 284), is a type of anxiety that can be defined as “the feeling of tension and apprehension specifically associated with second language contexts, including listening, speaking and learning”. Anxious students usually show some “signs of panic” such as “panic stare, white face (and) cold trembling hands” (Ganschow & Sparks, 2001, a35). On top of that, Abdul Aziz (2005) adds that those students may suffer from headache, blushing and pounding heart. The anxiety symptoms also could be physiological, for example an upset stomach and numbness, or cognitive symptoms such as preoccupation and worry, or behavioural symptoms such as avoidance (Cheng, 1999).
2.3 The Correlation between Anxiety and L2 Learning
Some research into language anxiety has considered it to be an important variable that causes negative effects on students’ performance in class. They maintain that the higher the level of anxiety, the less the students are willing to communicate (Horwitz, 1986; Maclnttyre & Gardner, 1994; Baker & Maclntyre, 2000). It also points out that anxiety is an aid in raising the affective filter of the learners, resulting in stress, depression or fear and thus “blocks the input from being absorbed and processed” (Richards & Rodgers, 2001; Abdul Aziz, 2005; Harmer, 2009: 58). It has also been noted that such feelings as mentioned above, are mostly centred around listening and speaking tasks “with difficulty in speaking in class being the most common complaint of anxious students” (Horwitz, 1986; Spolsky, 1989). However it is not necessary for anxious students who allege that they have a “mental block” in foreign language classes, to have the same feelings in other situations. The same students might be good learners and strongly motivated in other classes. Where some research has proved that even “highly proficient language learners” experienced different “degrees of anxiety” (Horwitz: 1986, p. 125; Brown, 2007: 163).
On the other hand, there are theorists who argue to the contrary, who say that there is no correlation between anxiety and low achievement. Aida (1994) for example, who studied Japanese learners, has found a negative relationship between the anxiety experienced by the students and their performance. Other researchers asserted that second language performance and anxiety are positively related (e.g., Kleinmann, 1977; Spolsky, 1989), especially facilitative anxiety that is “closely related to competitiveness” which is considered to be key to successful learning (Brown, 2007: 162). However, such “facilitation has only been found when using very simple grammatical structures (and) in all other cases, anxiety has been a debilitating factor in language acquisition” (Duxbury & Tsai, 2010).
With regard to the relationship between anxiety and L2 learning, it is still under debate whether it is the cause or the product of learners’ low performance, or whether it harms or helps their performance. Is it a negative or a positive factor? Can teachers “avoid or ameliorate anxiety in foreign language classes?” (Brown, 2007: 163). To date, the research in this segment has not yielded any consistent findings (Matsuda, 2004). The studies surrounding this phenomenon are still under developed and attempts to better clarify it are still being carried out (Bailey, 2000). From the previous discussion, it can be seen that the correlation between anxiety and performance may not be a simple linear one; some factors (e.g., culture and learners’ proficiency) could also play a part (Na, Z., 2007).
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2.4 What Factors Could Boost Language Anxiety?
Horwitz et al. (1986) has pointed out some related causal factors for second language anxiety which can be summarised by: (1) communication apprehension, which is “a type of shyness characterised by fear or anxiety about communication with people”, (2) fear of negative evaluation and (3) test-anxiety. The example of “I am usually at ease during tests in my class language” (Woodrow, 2006) clarifies test-anxiety.
There are other factors associated with the learners themselves and the environment of their language classes. Such factors are: self perception, learners’ beliefs about language learning, and the instructors’ beliefs about language teaching and classroom procedure (Tanveer, 2007). Other factors include age, gender, motivation and lack of confidence (Horwitz, 1986; Sparks& Ganschow, 1991; Baker & Maclntyre, 2000; Ohata, 2005). All of the things mentioned above, and many other factors contribute to existing L2 anxiety.
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