Foreign language anxiety

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Foreign language anxiety, also known as xenoglossophobia, is the feeling of unease, worry, nervousness and apprehension experienced in learning or using a second or foreign language. The feelings may stem from any second language context whether it is associated with the productive skills of speaking and writing or the receptive skills of reading and listening.[1]

Research has shown that foreign language anxiety is a significant problem in language classrooms throughout the world especially in terms of its strong relationship to the skill of speaking in a foreign or second language.[2] It is a form of what psychologists describe as a specific anxiety reaction.[2] Some individuals are more predisposed to anxiety than others and may feel anxious in a wide variety of situations. Foreign language anxiety, however, is situation-specific and so it can also affect individuals who are not characteristically anxious in other situations.[2] Its main causes are communication-apprehension, test anxiety, and fear of negative evaluation.[2] There is also a psychological component to foreign language anxiety.[3] Additionally, it has a variety of detrimental effects on foreign language performance, but both the student and the teacher can adopt strategies to minimize the anxiety.[4]

The concept of language anxiety (or stress) has also received a particularly recent social and academic coverage in Catalan language. In this context, it defines the collective, mental restlessness and uncertainty towards the diglossia suffered by their speakers, about the speedy minorization of the language in most of its daily and media usages and, eventually, regarding its future extinction from a glottophagy by the Spanish, French and Italian languages.[5][6][7][8] The unrest and worry come due to the fact that the native (Catalan) speakers foresee a connection of threats and verbal aggressions that may experience only because of using their language in bigger or touristic cities such as Barcelona, València, Eivissa or Perpinyà.[9][10] In contrast to what foreigners may feel abroad with a different language, here the renounces made by the indigenous speakers due to a lack of demolinguistic protection[5][11] has been proposed as the contrary of a language welfare.[12]


Although all aspects of using and learning a foreign language can cause anxiety, both listening and speaking are regularly cited as the most anxiety provoking of foreign language activities.[13][14] Foreign language anxiety is usually studied and seen in a language classroom environment, as this is where many students start learning a new language a fear of embarrassment.

General theories of anxiety can help explain the root of foreign language anxiety. The following theories of anxiety play a role in describing foreign language anxiety:

  • Self-efficacy and appraisal: An anxiety reaction first depends on the individual's appraisal of how threatening a situation is. In the case of a perceived threatening situation, the amount of anxiety then depends on the individual's perception of their self-efficacy, or their confidence in their ability to effectively control the situation. Potential negative events that individuals do not believe they are equipped to handle often lead to anxiety. In terms of foreign language learning, appraisals of foreign language situations are seen as threatening with self-deprecating thoughts about an individual's language ability, which decreases their self-efficacy leading to foreign language anxiety:[15]
  • State, trait, and situational anxiety: Anxiety can be classified into trait anxiety, state anxiety, and the more recent distinction of situation-specific anxiety. Individuals with trait anxiety have chronic, persisting anxiety in all situations, whereas individuals with state anxiety are only anxious in particular situations. When applied to learning a language, this theory results in the additional distinction of situation-specific anxiety, which builds on state anxiety to describe a particular situation that induces anxiety only when specific conditions (e.g. a foreign language) are at play.[15]

An example of when foreign language anxiety may occur would be in a classroom. The causes of foreign language anxiety have been broadly separated into three main components: communication apprehension, test anxiety and fear of negative evaluation.[14] Communication apprehension is the anxiety experienced when speaking or listening to other individuals. Test-anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, that is associated with the fear of doing badly or failing altogether. Fear of negative evaluation is the anxiety associated with the learner's perception of how other onlookers (instructors, classmates or others) may negatively view their language ability. These three factors cause an increase of an individual's anxiety levels as well as a decrease in self-efficacy.[15] In addition, specifically in an ESL classroom, students learning a foreign language out of their country are very vulnerable to high levels of anxiety pertaining to language learning. For they perceive more social distance between themselves and the native individuals of the target language, which as a result may cause them to experience a language shock.[15]

Sparks and Ganschow[16] draw attention to the fact that anxiety could result in or cause poor language learning. If a student is unable to study before a language examination, the student could experience test anxiety. Context anxiety could be viewed as a result.[4] In contrast, anxiety becomes a cause of poor language learning, leading that student to then be unable to adequately learn the target language.[2]

There can be various physical causes of anxiety, such as hormone levels, but the underlying causes of excessive anxiety while learning are fear[17] and a lack of confidence.[citation needed][18]

There is a psychological component to foreign language anxiety as well; language learning is a "profoundly unsettling psychological proposition"[2] as it jeopardizes an individual's self-understanding and perspective.[2] It stems from one's self-perceptions of language ability.[19] Foreign language anxiety is rooted in three psychological challenges:

  • performance difficulty
  • threat to one's image
  • identity conflict

Those psychological states thus have task-performance and identity dimensions. People tend to act or speak in a way that would be judged appropriate to the other people native to the foreign culture, but the behavior that individuals are producing grapples with ingrained values and behaviors. Emotions by the psychological challenges has something to do with attempting to switch codes in an interactive encounter.[3]


The effects of foreign language anxiety are particularly evident in the foreign language classroom, and anxiety is a strong indicator of academic performance. Anxiety is found to have a detrimental effect on students' confidence, self-esteem and level of participation.[14]

Anxious learners suffer detrimental effects during spontaneous speaking activities in performance, affective reactions and their overall attitudes towards learning their target second language.[20] Furthermore, they may lack confidence, be less able to self-edit and identify language errors and more likely to employ avoidance strategies such as skipping class.[21] Anxious students also forget previously learned material, volunteer less and tend to be more passive in classroom activities than their less anxious classmates.[14][22]

The effects of foreign language anxiety also extend outside the second language classroom. A high level of foreign language anxiety may also correspond with communication apprehension, causing individuals to be quieter and less willing to communicate.[23] People who exhibit this kind of communication reticence can also sometimes be perceived as less trustworthy, less competent, less socially and physically attractive, tenser, less composed and less dominant than their less reticent counterparts.

Cross-cultural code-switching[edit]

The effects of these negative emotions may also lead to cross-cultural code-switching, in which bilingual people alter a language to their other language in interactions with other bilinguals to feel more confident with the way they speak .[24] Unlike linguistic code-switching, cross-cultural code-switching is the socio-linguistic phenomenon of changing culturally-ingrained behaviors in a foreign situation.[3] Although cross-cultural code-switching possibly results from both positive and negative emotions, negative emotions are more common and more likely to affect the way a bilingual person speaks. Negative emotions include embarrassment, performance anxiety, guilt, distress and anxiety in general.[3][25] "Molinsky identifies three psychological states that appraise under the influence of emotions while code-switching. These are: "experienced performance difficulty, face threat and identity conflict—all of which mediate the relationship between personal and contextual variables and the negative and positive emotions an individual experiences while code-switching".[26]

There are three types of cross-cultural code-switching:[27]

  • situational code-switching
  • conversational code-switching
  • borrowing

This code-switching could be considered as an unconscious behavior because of its negative and usually threatening situations.[clarification needed] In that sense, although code-switching results from foreign language anxiety, it is more often caused by external circumstances than by internal mental change.[clarification needed][27]


A number of tools have been developed to investigate the level of foreign language anxiety experienced by language learners.

The Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS)[14] is a 33-question, 5-point Likert scale survey, which is widely used in research studies. It investigates participants' communication apprehension, test-anxiety and fear of negative evaluation and focuses on speaking in a classroom context. It has been translated and used in several languages, including Spanish and Chinese.

Following the success of the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety scale, similar instruments have been devised for measuring Foreign Language Reading Anxiety (FLRAS),[28] Foreign Language Listening Anxiety (FLLAS) and Second Language Writing Apprehension (SLWAT).[29]

Reduction and management[edit]

The reduction of foreign language anxiety necessitates the involvement of both the student and the teacher, each of which are able to adopt strategies to mitigate anxiety.[4]

Students play an active role in acknowledging and managing their foreign language anxiety. The first step of recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety is needed in order to communicate their needs with their teacher and more effectively reach a strategy for reducing their anxiety. Specifically recognizing what types of foreign language activities induce their anxiety and what their personal language style is also helps as a first step in controlling the anxiety. From there, the student can seek help and support.[4] Recommended personal strategies for reducing foreign language anxiety include joining language clubs, journal writing, positive self-talk, and in general taking advantage of any opportunities to use the language.[4][19] Support groups can also be a useful tool, as well as other forms of collaboration among peers at a similar level of experience with the language.[4]

Teachers can also adopt strategies and teaching methods that can help prevent foreign language anxiety to their students. Teaching-based strategies for reducing foreign language anxiety involve fostering a comfortable and relaxed classroom environment in which the teacher is supportive and friendly. Focusing on positive reinforcement and normalizing mistakes rather than focusing on the negative errors can help create an ideal classroom environment.[4][19] For instance, teachers can adopt a "modeling approach" in which, instead of explicitly correcting errors in front of everyone in the class, the teacher repeats the utterance back to the student, but with the errors fixed.[4][19] Specific strategies that teachers can use in the classroom include playing language games, conducting grammar language in the native language instead of the target language, leading group activities, and facilitating discussions of anxiety. This would allow students to document and recognize their own anxiety as well as understand that other students may feel the same way. Offering additional help outside of class can also be helpful.[4]

One study recommends teaching songs in the classroom as a specific methodological strategy that can improve academic performance, which in turn decreases the anxiety level of students as they become more comfortable and proficient in the language. The study found that this tool is most beneficial to those with high anxiety.[30]

Issues and area of research[edit]

In the 1990s, the challenge was a clear categorization of grammatical or sociolinguistic constraints on code-switching caused by foreign language anxiety and to determine how bilinguals produce different code-mixed patterns. Previously, most researches focused more upon syntactic aspects on code-switching; in other words, psychological elements were completely ignored.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ MacIntyre, P. D.; Gardner, R. C. (1994). "The subtle effects of language anxiety on cognitive processing in the second language". Language Learning. 44 (2): 283–305. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1994.tb01103.x.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Horwitz, Elaine K.; Horwitz, Michael B.; Cope, Joann (1986-06-01). "Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 70 (2): 125–132. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1986.tb05256.x. ISSN 1540-4781.
  3. ^ a b c d Molinsky, Andrew (1 January 2007). "Cross-Cultural Code-Switching: The Psychological Challenges of Adapting Behavior in Foreign Cultural Interactions". The Academy of Management Review. 32 (2): 622–640. doi:10.2307/20159318. JSTOR 20159318.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Huang, Jinyan (2012). Overcoming Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. New York: Nova Science Publishers. pp. 11–12. ISBN 9781613247754.
  5. ^ a b Larreula, Enric (2014). "Dolor de substitució lingüística". Revista Catalana de Psicoanàlisi. 31 (2): 145–159. ISSN 2604-6911.
  6. ^ Burdeus, Joan (2023-05-05). "L'ansietat lingüística dels barcelonins". (in Catalan). Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  7. ^ Mateu, Ferran Sáez (2021-11-30). "Estrès lingüístic". (in Catalan). Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  8. ^ "Cucurull omple l'FNAC per presentar el seu darrer llibre 'Clava-la'". Culturàlia (in Catalan). 2023-10-15. Retrieved 2023-10-15.
  9. ^ Boix-Fuster, Emili; Vila i Moreno, Francesc Xavier (2018). La promoció de l'ús de la llengua des del sistema educatiu: realitats i possibilitats. Col·lecció Lingüística catalana (in Catalan). Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-84-9168-177-9.
  10. ^ Gubitosi, Patricia; Ramos Pellicia, Michelle F., eds. (2021). Linguistic landscape in the Spanish-speaking world. Issues in Hispanic and Lusophone linguistics. Amsterdam Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 222. ISBN 978-90-272-5981-3.
  11. ^ Damas, Annabel Gràcia i (2020-02-24). "Tot allò que no diuen els qüestionaris sociolingüístics: llengua i emoció, dos tabús a la frontera". Estudis Filològics i de Traducció. 0 (1): 167–186. doi:10.7203/efit.1.16437. ISSN 2695-6780.
  12. ^ Feliu, Francesc; Fullana, Olga, eds. (2019), "Language intricacy", IVITRA Research in Linguistics and Literature, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, p. 357
  13. ^ MacIntyre, P. D.; Gardner, R. C. (1994). "The subtle effects of language anxiety on cognitive processing in the second language". Language Learning. 44 (2): 283–305. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1994.tb01103.x.
  14. ^ a b c d e Horwirz, E. K.; Horwitz, M. B.; Cope, J. (1986). "Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 70 (ii): 125–132. doi:10.2307/327317. JSTOR 327317.
  15. ^ a b c d Pappamihiel, N. Eleni (1 January 2002). "English as a Second Language Students and English Language Anxiety: Issues in the Mainstream Classroom". Research in the Teaching of English. 36 (3): 327–355. JSTOR 40171530.
  16. ^ Sparks, Richard L.; Ganschow, Leonore (1991). "Foreign Language Learning Differences: Affective or Native Language Aptitude Differences?". The Modern Language Journal. 75 (1): 3–16. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1991.tb01076.x. ISSN 0026-7902.
  17. ^ Shahsavari, Mahmood (2012). "Relationship between anxiety and achievement motivation among male and female students" (PDF). Journal of American Science. 8 (11): 329–332. ISSN 2375-7264. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  18. ^ Heyman, W.B (1990). "The self-perception of a learning disability and its relationship to academic self-concept and self-esteem". Journal of Learning Disabilities. 23 (8): 472–475. doi:10.1177/002221949002300804. PMID 2246598. S2CID 13372653 – via Retrieved from ERIC (EJ420072).
  19. ^ a b c d Young, Dolly Jesusita (1991). "Creating a Low-Anxiety Classroom Environment: What Does Language Anxiety Research Suggest?". The Modern Language Journal. 75 (4): 426–439. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1991.tb05378.x. JSTOR 329492 – via JSTOR.
  20. ^ Phillips, E. M. (1992). "The effects of language anxiety on students' oral test performance and attitudes". The Modern Language Journal. 76 (1): 14–26. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1992.tb02573.x.
  21. ^ Gregerson, T. (2003). "To err is human: A reminder to teachers of language-anxious students". Foreign Language Annals. 36 (1): 25–32. doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.2003.tb01929.x.
  22. ^ Ely, C. M. (1986). "An analysis of discomfort, risk-taking, sociability, and motivation in the L2 classroom". Language Learning. 36: 1–25. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1986.tb00366.x.
  23. ^ Liu, M.; Jackson, J. (2008). "An exploration of Chinese EFL learners' Unwillingness to Communicate and Foreign Language Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 92 (i): 71–86. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.2008.00687.x.
  24. ^ Molinsky, Andrew (2007). "Cross-Cultural Code-Switching: The Psychological Challenges of Adapting Behavior in Foreign Cultural Interactions". The Academy of Management Review. 32 (2): 622–640. doi:10.2307/20159318. JSTOR 20159318.
  25. ^ Molinsky, Andrew (2007-01-01). "Cross-Cultural Code-Switching: The Psychological Challenges of Adapting Behavior in Foreign Cultural Interactions". The Academy of Management Review. 32 (2): 622–640. doi:10.2307/20159318. JSTOR 20159318.
  26. ^ Shambi, Juliet Shali (29 September 2011). - Cross-cultural Code Switching and Application (in German). ISBN 9783842821019. Retrieved 2017-10-26. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  27. ^ a b Titone, Renzo (1994-01-01). "Some Italian Investigations of 'Code Switching' in Diglossic Settings: A Summary Report". La Linguistique. 30 (2): 67–73. JSTOR 30249052.
  28. ^ Saito, Y.; Horwitz, E. K.; Garza, T. J. (1999). "Foreign Language Reading Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 83 (2): 202–218. doi:10.1111/0026-7902.00016.
  29. ^ Cheng, Y. S.; Horwitz, E. K.; Shallert, D. L. (1999). "Language anxiety: Differentiating writing and speaking components". Language Learning. 49 (3): 417–446. doi:10.1111/0023-8333.00095.
  30. ^ Dolean, Dacian Dorin (October 5, 2015). "The Effects of Teaching Songs during Foreign Language Classes on Students' Foreign Language Anxiety". Language Teaching Research. 20 (5): 638–653. doi:10.1177/1362168815606151. S2CID 151928258 – via SAGE Journals.
  31. ^ Myers-Scotton, Carol (1 January 1993). "Common and Uncommon Ground: Social and Structural Factors in Codeswitching". Language in Society. 22 (4): 475–503. doi:10.1017/s0047404500017449. JSTOR 4168471. S2CID 145557110.