Language Learning Anxiety
The effect of anxiety on a students’ learning – how are teachers able to help, and what are some suggestions for the classroom.
Anxiety can be defined as a subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the autonomic nervous system (Pappamihiel, 2002). When anxiety is limited to the learning of a language, it falls into a category known as “specific anxiety reactions” (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope, 1986). Language anxiety can be defined as fear or apprehension occurring when a learner is expected to perform in the second or foreign language and is seen as a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process (Gardner and MacIntyre, 1993, Pappamihiel, 2002).
Students, who have a specific learning anxiety relating to learning a language, often have feelings of worry, dread, or feel as if though they have a mental block when it comes to understanding the language. All of these feelings can lead to a student’s avoidance behaviour. They may procrastinate when it comes to homework and assignments, avoid talking and answering questions in class, and may even begin to skip class in order to avoid the feelings of anxiety (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope, 1986).
There are three main components to language anxiety within students, which are apparent through communication apprehension, fear of negative social evaluation, and test anxiety or apprehension over academic evaluation (Sarason, 1984). Difficulty when speaking in class is one of the most cited concerns students have when discussing their anxiety about learning a language (Curran, 1976). Amongst the other top cited difficulties of students are the ability to grasp the content of a specific exercise, problems with tests or exam situations, and having to ‘role-play’ a situation (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope, 1986).
Studies conducted by Steinberg and Horwitz (1986), found that students who are experiencing some form of anxiety within learning a foreign language, would often provide less interpretive and creative responses to questions than those who did not have the same high level of anxiety. The research also concluded that anxiety affects the ability of students within an exam situation. Many students remarked that they knew an answer but simply ‘forgot’ it during the test (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope, 1986).
There are various views on what teachers are able to do to help students with language learning anxiety. Horwitz et al. (1986), claims that teachers generally have two options when dealing with anxious students, to help them learn to cope with what is triggering their anxiety, or to make the content in some way less stressful. They could employ specific techniques such as “relaxation exercises, advice on effective language learning strategies, behavioural contracting and journal keeping” (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope,...