Foreign Language Anxiety
It has long been accepted that anxiety can have a negative effect on SLA and there are various communicative approaches and methods that claim to reduce the affective filter, such as the Natural Approach (Krashen, S. and Terrell, T. 1983, p.59), Total Physical Response (Asher 1977), Community language Learning (Curran 1976) and Suggestopedia (Lazonov, G. 1960s). All of these approaches have foundations in face-to-face learning in classrooms, but could the classroom context itself be fostering foreign language anxiety?
Jannie Roed claims that students exhibit less language learning anxiety in online contexts using text-based SCMC due to a reduced sense of ‘social self awareness’ (2010, p.155). Roed’s findings suggest that this reduction in social anxiety encourages production of the target language in students that would be unlikely to contribute in face-to-face learning environments. (Roed, 2010, p.171). The assumption here is that learners feel more comfortable expressing themselves through synchronous written interaction than they would when speaking in a foreign language class. Results from the foreign language classroom anxiety scale (FLACS) are also indicative of the fact that anxious students refrain from speaking in L2 in classroom environments. (Horwitz, K. 1986, p.129).
At first it may seem that increased written communication would have little effect on spoken fluency but SCMC or online ‘chat’ with apps like WhatsApp blur the line between these two productive skills. Also, online written communication could provide the scaffolding insecure learners need to become more confident in face-to-face interactions. (Roed, J. 2010, p.170).
Pedagogy and Anxiety
However, Roed’s conclusion that the reduced anxiety in online text-based SCMC can aid SLA seems to underestimate the importance of pedagogical choices. According to Wörde’s research, it’s the teacher’s approach in the classroom that is vital to creating a stress free environment. (Wörde, R. 2003, p.7). Wörde gives examples of teachers needing to make the class enjoyable, not putting shy students ‘on the spot’, attitudes to error correction, using games and providing material that is relevant to the students’ lives. (2003, p7,8).
Digital Technology and anxiety
Adding to this, claims that online text-based SCMC reduce language learner anxiety fail to take into consideration a whole host issues related to distance education in general. These include, amongst others, feelings of isolation from your peers and the teacher, absence of immediate feedback and inability to gauge your progress against other students’ work (Hurd, S. 2007, p.495). We also need to consider the anxiety some learners may experience due to negative associations with technology or unfamiliarity.
A time and place for text-based SCMC
Despite these issues, Text-based SCMC does have some other advantages over spoken communication apart from the reduction of social awareness in reducing foreign language anxiety. These include less anxiety over accuracy due to spelling and grammar checkers, and less time pressure to type and reflect. (Yamanda, 2009, p.830). These affordances could even be used in blended learning contexts to encourage shyer learners to express themselves in classroom environments. So, perhaps we need to consider the fact that Text-based SCMC can have considerable advantages for less confident students and not rush straight to the latest video and audio features of digital technologies for the sake of it.
For a more in-depth look at foreign language anxiety please see the video below:
SCMC, synchronous computer mediated communication
SLA, second language acquisition
Horwitz, K. et al (1986) Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety: The Modern Language Journal, 70, 2 pp. 125-132).
Hurd, S.(2007) Anxiety and non-anxiety in a distance language learning environment: The distance factor as a modifying inﬂuence. System, 35, 487-508.
Krashen, S. and Terrell, T. (1983) The Natural Approach, Language acquisition in the classroom, Alemany Press.
Renée von Wörde, (2003) Students’ Perspectives on Foreign Language Anxiety: Virginia Community College System 2003, Inquiry, Volume 8, Number 1.
Yamada.(2009) The role of social presence in learner-centered communicative language learning using synchronous computer-mediated communication: Experimental study. Computers and Education, 52, 820-833.
Second language anxiety film Sarah Ferguson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaL117XpsnI (viewed on 23/11/15)
http://www.blog.ability.edu.au/author/abilityadmin/ (viewed on 23/11/15)
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