The article breaks down five factors contributing to the speaking-in-class anxiety of Chinese ESL, first-year university students of Hong Kong.
The research was done to 313 randomly selected participants. The five factors that were analyzed were the following: Speech anxiety and fear of negative evaluation; uncomfortableness when speaking with native speakers; negative attitudes towards the English classroom; negative self-evaluation; and fear of failing the class/consequences of personal failure.
The research was carried out in three phases: The pilot, the quantitative phase (questionnaires) and the qualitative phase (semi-structured interviews, discussion, and participant observation).
Studies from the 1960s’ (e.g. Carroll et al., 1962; MacIntyre and Gardner, 1989, 1991; Pimsleur et al., 1962) have shown that language anxiety is directly connected with factors in the sense of self-rated proficiency, actual proficiency, or both with the second language.
The factor one that was examined with fifteen items with examples such as “‘I never feel quite sure of myself when I am speaking in my English class (item 1)’ and ‘It embarrasses me to volunteer answers in my English class (item 13)’” (B. Mak, pg. 206).
Factor one proved to be the number one factor that shows the high levels of anxiety there are for fear of negative evaluation, so this is the most important factor contributing to second language learning speaking-in-class anxiety. Factor one accounts for 20.4% of the variance. “Analysis indicates that speech anxiety and fear of negative evaluation are not wholly independent concepts” (B. Mak, pg. 206).
Another speaking-in-class anxiety-provoking factor is speaking in front of the class in a second/foreign language classroom without preparation. Hong Kong is located in the midst of a “group unity and “save-face” culture, originally identified by Rowe (1974 & 1986), which makes sense that the results indicate that being allowed to use the L1 at times lowers speaking-in-class anxiety, and the students also prefer to have time to respond to questions that demand an oral response in the classroom.
It’s noteworthy to mention in that vein that it was found that “being corrected by peers or teachers when speaking and using those mistakes to elaborate teaching points were anxiety-provoking” (B. Mark, pg. 212).
This research did not consider factors from the perspective of a different context such as private tutorials, self-access learning, and discussion outside of class. One of the problems of the context of this research is that there was an “input-poor environment” where most communication outside the classroom was done in the L1 (Cantonese) which contributes to a major factor to the poor proficiency in the L2.
The good news is that this research was done to first-year university students; moreover, Sila (2010) investigated Turkish adolescent students, and he found that anxiety exists t the beginner level but that, as levels of proficiency increase, anxiety emerges in the productive skills.
It’s interesting because I was watching the video by Dr. Frank Tuzi “TM: Teaching By Principle” where he says in minute 16:13 that he corrected a student in front of the whole class, and went ahead and use the mistake of the student to elaborate a teaching point. What Dr. Frank Tuzi did is contradictory with what I learned in Barley’s article, for he states the following “The study found that being corrected by peers or teachers when speaking and using student mistakes to elaborate teaching points were anxiety-provoking” (B. Mark, pg. 212).
I remember taking a summer English writing course in a community college, and the instructor will hand out the graded assignments one by one. He will always make a negative comment on my assignment such as “you are far from being right” while putting the paper in front of my desk with some negative energy involved.
I can see the challenge an instructor may have to teach a student or the challenge a student may have to learn a language that he or she doesn’t appreciate. Dr. Frank shares a principle about “Language ego” where there may be recement and pride involved. There might be some animosity to teach or learn a language to a certain group which can provoke anxiety to speak the language.
I think the language teacher can show safety to the students by creating an environment in the classroom free from language anxiety. Barley Mark makes statements in his article about giving time to the students to respond to questions that require an oral response, and encouraging them “given that the results reveal that affective variables such as anxiety influence learners’ L2 performance the implications are that all language professionals need to respond not only to students’ linguistic but also affective needs, by attempting to provide a secure and comfortable learning atmosphere, free from fear of speaking and conducive to risk-taking in the target language” (B. Mark, pg. 211).