New Insights into Language Anxiety
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New Insights into Language Anxiety

Theory, Research and Educational Implications

Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney, Jean-Marc Dewaele, Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney, Jean-Marc Dewaele

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eBook - ePub

New Insights into Language Anxiety

Theory, Research and Educational Implications

Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney, Jean-Marc Dewaele, Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney, Jean-Marc Dewaele

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About This Book

This book provides an overview of current theory, research and practice in the field of language anxiety and brings together a range of perspectives on this psychological construct in a single volume. Chapters in the volume are divided into three sections. Part 1 revisits language anxiety theory, showing that it can be viewed as a complex and dynamic construct and that it is linked to other psychological variables, such as the self and personality. In Part 2, a series of contextualised studies on language anxiety are presented, with a key feature of these studies being the diverse research designs which are applied in different instructional settings across the globe. Part 3 bridges theory and practice by presenting coping strategies and practice activities with a view to informing classroom practice and pedagogical interventions.

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1Introduction
Mark Daubney, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Christina Gkonou
Preliminary Thoughts on Language Anxiety and the Focus of this Anthology
This anthology focuses on the topic of language anxiety (LA), a complex emotion that, for approximately four decades, has consistently attracted the attention of second language acquisition (SLA) researchers, teacher educators and teachers across the globe. In turn, this interest has led to substantial, diverse and exciting contributions to the literature in the field. In their recent publication on learner characteristics, Gregersen and MacIntyre (2014: 3) describe LA as reflecting ‘the worry and negative emotional reaction when learning and using a second language and is especially relevant in a classroom where self-expression takes place’. Within the classroom, it has been found to subtly and pervasively shape the thoughts, feelings and actions of those engaged in the teaching and learning of a foreign or second language (L2). As a rule, LA research has focused on learners, yet teachers have also been shown to be susceptible to the nervous reactions anxiety arouses (Daubney, 2010; Horwitz, 1986). In L2 classrooms across many different settings, research has established that LA is a relatively common but largely unwelcome emotion, due to its potential to impact negatively in a myriad of ways on the language learning experience.
Indeed, contemplating the potential fallout from LA makes for fascinating yet unnerving reading. Among other things, it can impede the learning of the target language and hinder academic success; lead learners to abandon their studies; engender negative attitudes towards the target language and its respective culture(s); diminish the willingness to communicate; create counterproductive tensions among a class of language learners; sow the seeds of self-doubt in the minds of learners regarding their identity, feelings of competence and degree of self-esteem; and have a corrosive influence on the very lifeblood of L2 learning itself – the enthusiasm and motivation necessary to engage and embrace another language other than one’s own.
Such a list helps to explain why LA continues to resonate with researchers and practitioners alike and why the ongoing fascination with this affective variable is both relevant and understandable. It also underpins our desire, as editors of this volume, to bring this collection of chapters to fruition in order to achieve a more up-to-date understanding of this emotion.
It has been nearly 40 years since Scovel’s (1978) review urged greater scientific and methodological rigour upon SLA researchers investigating affective variables. In the ensuing years, much research has been undertaken, and LA is now indisputably part of the SLA landscape. Presently, the influence it is deemed to exert within the complex network of factors impacting on the degree of success of language learning is such that it is rare indeed to encounter publications in SLA focusing on individual differences or affective factors that do not refer to it. In fact, when SLA scholars ponder these characteristics, anxiety is often the first to be discussed (see Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014). Arnold and Brown (1999: 8) believe it to be the most influential affective factor ‘obstructing the learning process’, while in terms of interest generated, Scovel (2001: 127) ranks it as ‘second only to motivation’.
The present volume focuses on some of the most recent developments in LA theory and research as well as the implications these have for classroom practice. Further, it does so in the light of an increasingly influential paradigm shift currently shaping the field of SLA, a dynamic turn, which currently positions research as ‘situated and process-oriented, which means that learners attributes are neither stable nor context-independent, but interact with the context and over time’ (Dewaele, 2012: 43). An important driver of this perspective is dynamic systems theory (DST; de Bot et al., 2007; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron, 2008), also known as complex dynamic systems theory (CDST; MacIntyre et al., 2015), which we will consider further in the following sections.
Why an Anthology about Language Anxiety?
As editors, we are all of the firm conviction that the current climate shaping SLA research is a most propitious one for re-evaluating LA. When positioning the present volume in this landscape, one of the key considerations that has influenced our thinking is that, given the remarkable interest in LA over the last 40 years, accompanied and driven by what MacIntyre (1999: 24) referred to, at the advent of the 21st century, as ‘a virtual explosion’ in research, interestingly, only two bespoke volumes on LA have been published over the same period.
The first was Horwitz and Young’s (1991) landmark collection, which itself included reprints of key papers on the topic. The second was Young’s (1999), which, like the first, brought together theoretical, empirical and practical contributions, and whose subtitle – A Practical Guide to Creating a Low-Anxiety Classroom Atmosphere – gives a clear indication of the overarching goal that preoccupied – and continues to preoccupy – researchers and practitioners when addressing LA. A 17-year hiatus, then, between Young’s and the present volume, would suggest a reassessment, including new insights, is somewhat overdue.
Further, the aforementioned paradigm shift and growing influence of DST, together with the flourishing field of language learning psychology (Gkonou et al., 2016; Mercer et al., 2012; Williams et al., 2015) means the absence of such a volume at this important juncture in SLA research would leave LA somewhat under-represented when considering learner characteristics. This is of particular concern when LA, according to Dörnyei and Ryan (2015: 176), can be regarded ‘as a kind of bellwether of various theoretical and methodological changes occurring in the field of L2 individual differences’.
So while this anthology comprises contributions on theory, research and practice, and is therefore organised in a similar vein to that of the two aforementioned volumes, we are also keenly aware of the flux and complexity presently characterising the field and the need to consider anxiety within this emerging and increasingly influential paradigm shift, including the attendant calls for researchers to explore different and more dynamic conceptualisations of the affective dimension (see Gregersen et al., this volume; MacIntyre, this volume; Pavlenko, 2013; Şimşek & Dörnyei, this volume). Thus, Dörnyei and Ryan (2015: 180) suggest that future research into LA ‘will need to foreground a more dynamic conception of anxiety, highlighting aspects of change as well as types of adaptations that can lead the behavioural outcomes of anxiety both in the positive and negative direction’. We see the present volume as dovetailing with these recommendations, thereby constituting a current and thought-provoking pool of knowledge and ideas from which both researchers and practitioners can draw for their own present and future projects.
All three editors share a common interest in LA research and the need to bring about a greater and more nuanced understanding of this emotion. We are also equally aware of the applied nature of our field and how this understanding should be factored into further investigation, teacher training and pedagogy, contributing, ultimately, to both effective language learning and teaching characterised by engagement and enjoyment.
Issues of Change and Challenge: Language Anxiety in a Landscape of Increasing Complexity
The aforementioned calls for anxiety to be conceptualised and researched from more dynamic perspectives reflect the underlying changes in the SLA field and the challenges arising from these. Generally speaking, LA has been conceptualised as a single, powerful and negative influence residing within the learner, and therefore a force to be reduced or, better still, eliminated from individuals and the classroom, although some researchers have questioned the wisdom of this view (see Scovel, 2001). Shaped and influenced by cognitive psychology, approaches to LA research have shifted from seeing this emotion as a transference to the L2 domain of other types of anxiety, such as test anxiety or communication apprehension, to the now prevailing notion that it is in fact unique to L2 learning itself, and therefore a situation-specific anxiety (Horwitz et al., 1986; MacIntyre, 1999). Having taken on board Scovel’s recommendations by fine-tuning definitions and developing more sophisticated instruments, LA research has, until very recently, settled into somewhat insistent patterns of investigation, the thrust of which has been to first measure levels of anxiety with self-reports – the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS; Horwitz et al., 1986) being the best known – then to identify causes of the anxiety, followed by the application of strategies to reduce it. Over two decades ago, calls (see Skehan, 1989) were already being made to move away from this somewhat limited methodological, and largely quantitative, research framework. Indeed, the aforementioned shift towards complexity and a move away from seeing learner characteristics as stable aspects of the learner has only served to highlight the need for new and creative approaches to LA research. The challenge, then, is to find new ways of researching anxiety in the changing L2 landscape.
In fact, some of the previous and overriding concerns in research, including the somewhat sterile and circular arguments attempting to ascertain whether LA is a cause or effect of L2 performance, have gradually given way to a greater interest in the broader experience of anxiety as lived by learners (see Horwitz, 2001; King & Smith; MacIntyre; Oxford; Tóth, this volume) as well as its impact on classroom interaction and learning. This represents a recalibrating of perspective, with the focus now squarely on how the learning process as a whole is affected, as opposed to a narrower focus on measurable outcomes. In fact, recent LA research (e.g. Gregersen et al., this volume; MacIntyre & Gregersen, 2012; MacIntyre & Serroul, 2015) has resorted to more innovative methodologies in order to investigate anxiety over varying timescales, thereby reflecting a concern with exploring the fluctuating and dynamic natures of individual differences rather than conceiving and investigating them as stable traits. However, Dewaele and Al-Saraj’s (2015) recent work alerts us to the danger of dismissing the influence of psychological traits on anxiety and, by extension, on other learner characteristics.
Nevertheless, given the growing influence of the view of learner psychology as an interdependent network of aspects shaped by context and time, it is no surprise that anxiety, with its intimate connections to motivation, risk-taking and other affective variables, presents L2 researchers with fascinating challenges.
To start with, LA may be conceptualised as a trait or a situation-specific anxiety, that is, an emotion which is either stable across both time and contexts, or specific to one domain only. Can a learner experience both trait and state anxiety? Can the learner experience both at the same time? Further, are the underlying causes of anxiety to be found in the learner, the teacher or the communicative environment or the subtle interplay of all of these? Yet another conundrum is whether anxiety may be conceived as facilitating, a helpful anxiety leading to greater attention, effort and performance, or debilitating, that is, a downward spiral of negative thoughts and feelings, leading to diminished attention and poorer performance. Presently, researchers (see Horwitz; Rúbio, this volume) largely view LA as a debilitating, unhelpful emotion. Yet recent research (Dewaele & MacIntyre, 2014) has looked at enjoyment and anxiety and how these two emotions interact within learners, highlighting how positive and negative emotions may mutually shape one another. Novel in its approach, such research should see greater caution exercised regarding the somewhat simplistic binary conceptualisations that may unnecessarily constrain our view of learner characteristics and hence our vision for research frameworks.
It is our opinion that the present anthology rises to the challenge of conceptualising, investigating and addressing anxiety from fresh perspectives, through different lenses and in relation to areas that have been little studied, and opens up exciting paths to further explore this multifaceted emotion.
The Organisation of this Anthology
The anthology itself is divided into three sections. Part 1 focuses on theoretical insights, with Chapters 2 and 3 exploring how LA has been theorised and researched up to the present time, thereby providing solid theoretical and conceptual foundations which underpin, inform and interconnect with the subsequent chapters. Further, these first two chapters – written by the prominent LA scholars, Peter MacIntyre and Elaine Ho...

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