Foreign language anxiety

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Foreign language anxiety, or 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]

Foreign language anxiety 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.


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.[1][3] Foreign language anxiety is usually studied and seen in a language classroom situation. It has been argued that language learning is a "profoundly unsettling psychological proposition"[2] as it jeopardizes an individual's self-understanding and perspective.[2] Three theories of anxiety have been developed from internal appraisal, then more situational in learning language and contextual situation[clarification needed]:[4]

  • self-efficacy and appraisal anxiety
  • state, trait, situational anxiety
  • situational anxiety in a classroom situation

Potential negative events that people cannot see or handle with their ability[clarification needed] often leads to anxiety. Also, if individuals are highly anxious, that kind of habitualised reactions[clarification needed] may cause those who have experienced many threatening situations in the past to be more likely perceive future situations as threatening. As well, if their anxiety are traits rather than states, self-efficacy must result from past successes, vicarious experiences and social persuasion.[4]

Self-efficacy is one's own confidence that he or she would be able to handle to achieve intended goals. State, trait, situational anxiety refers to those who have gotten traumatised a lot in the past being more likely to perceive the future situations as treating too. Also, specifically in an ESL classroom, students learning a foreign language out of their country are very vulnerable to high levels of anxiety about language learning, which leads them to being less likely to get encouraged by others because of lacking vicarious experience and social persuasions.[4]

More specifically, foreign language anxiety is seen in a language classroom. As such, the causes of foreign language anxiety have been broadly separated into three main components: communication apprehension, test anxiety and fear of negative evaluation.[3] Communication apprehension is the anxiety experienced in speaking or listening to other individuals. Test-anxiety is a form of performance anxiety 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.

Sparks and Ganschow[5] asked a question, which drew attention to the fact that anxiety could be a cause of poor language learning or a result of poor language learning. If a student is unable to study as required before writing a language examination, the student could experience test anxiety. Context anxiety could be viewed as a result. In contrast, anxiety becomes a cause of poor language learning when it was due to anxiety that student is unable to adequately learn the target language.

There can be various physical causes of anxiety, such as hormone levels, but the underlying causes of excessive anxiety while learning are fear[6] and a lack of confidence. Lack of confidence itself can come from various causes. One reason can be the teaching approach[7] used.

Furthermore, foreign language anxiety roots in three psychological challenges:

  • performance difficulty
  • threat
  • 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 behaviour that individuals are producing grapples with ingrained values and behaviours. Emotions by the psychological challenges has something to do with attempting to switch codes in an interactive encounter.[8]


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.[3]

Anxious learners suffer detrimental effects during spontaneous speaking activities in performance, affective reactions and their overall attitudes towards learning their target second language[9]. 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.[10] Anxious students also forget previously learned material, volunteer answers less frequently and tend to be more passive in classroom activities than their less anxious counterparts.[3][11]

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.[12] 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[clarification needed] through their interactions with other bilinguals. Unlike linguistic code-switching, cross-cultural code-switching is the socio-linguistic phenomenon of changing culturally-ingrained behaviors in a foreign situation.[8] 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.[8][13] "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".[14]

There are three types of cross-cultural code-switching:[15]

  • 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][15]


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)[3] 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),[16] Foreign Language Listening Anxiety (FLLAS) and Second Language Writing Apprehension (SLWAT).[17]

Issues and area of research[edit]

In the 1990s, the challenge was a clear categorisation of grammatical or sociolinguistic constraints on code-switching caused by foreign language anxiety and to determine how bilinguals produce different code-mixed patterns. In fact, previously, most researches focused more upon syntactic aspects on code-switching; in other words, psychological elements were completely ignored.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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 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 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.
  4. ^ a b c 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Riasati, Mohammad Javad (2011). "Language Learning Anxiety from EFL Learners' Perspective" (PDF). Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research. 7 (6): 907–914. ISSN 1990-9233. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  8. ^ a b c 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ " - Cross-cultural Code Switching and Application". (in German). Retrieved 2017-10-26.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ 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.