Foreign language anxiety

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Foreign language anxiety (or xenoglossophobia) is the feeling of unease, worry, nervousness and apprehension experienced when learning or using a second or foreign language. These feelings may stem from any second language context whether 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 specific anxiety reaction. 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 can also affect individuals who are not characteristically anxious in other situations.

Causes of foreign language anxiety[edit]

Although all aspects of using and learning a foreign language can cause anxiety, listening and speaking are regularly cited as the most anxiety provoking of foreign language activities.[1][2]

The causes of foreign language anxiety have been broadly separated into three main components: communication apprehension, test anxiety and fear of negative evaluation.[2] Communication apprehension is the anxiety experienced when speaking to or listening to other individuals. Test-anxiety is a form of performance anxiety associated with the fear of doing badly, or indeed 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[3] asked a question which drew attention to the fact that anxiety could either 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. In this context anxiety could be viewed as a result. In contrast, anxiety becomes a cause of poor language learning when 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 whilst learning are fear[4] and a lack of confidence. Lack of confidence itself can come from various causes. One reason can be the teaching approach[5] used.

Effects of foreign language anxiety[edit]

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.[2]

Anxious learners suffer from mental blocks during spontaneous speaking activities, lack confidence, are less able to self-edit and identify language errors, and are more likely to employ avoidance strategies such as skipping class.[6] 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.[2][7]

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.[8] 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.

Measures of foreign language anxiety[edit]

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)[2] is a 33 question, 5 point Likert scale survey which is widely used in research studies. The measure investigates participants' communication apprehension, test-anxiety and fear of negative evaluation; and focuses on speaking in a classroom context. The instrument 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),[9] Foreign Language Listening Anxiety (FLLAS) and Second Language Writing Apprehension (SLWAT).[10]


  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: 283–305. doi:10.1111/j.1467-1770.1994.tb01103.x. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Horwirz, E. K.; Horwitz, M. B.; Cope, J. (1986). "Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 70 (ii). doi:10.2307/327317. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ Shahsavari, Mahmood (2012). "Relationship between anxiety and achievement motivation among male and female students" (PDF). Journal of American Science. / Marsland Press. 8 (11): 329–332. ISSN 2375-7264. Retrieved 23 January 2017. 
  5. ^ Riasati, Mohammad Javad (2011). "Language Learning Anxiety from EFL Learners' Perspective" (PDF). Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research. IDOSI Publications. 7 (6): 907–914. ISSN 1990-9233. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2017. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Saito, Y.; Horwitz, E. K.; Garza, T. J. (1999). "Foreign Language Reading Anxiety". The Modern Language Journal. 83: 202–218. doi:10.1111/0026-7902.00016. 
  10. ^ Cheng, Y. S.; Horwitz, E. K.; Shallert, D. L. (1999). "Language anxiety: Differentiating writing and speaking components". Language Learning. 49: 417–446. doi:10.1111/0023-8333.00095.