One Right Way, Intercultural Participation, and Language Learning Anxiety: A Qualitative Analysis of Adult Online Heritage and Nonheritage Language Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This study investigated self-assessed anxious learners who enrolled in online Spanish courses to determine if their anxiety was mediated by the lack of face-to-face (F2F) and other synchronous learning interactions. Participants were enrolled in courses at two postsecondary institutions located in south-central Texas. Narrative analysis was used to interpret the interview data. Findings indicated participants experienced language anxiety because their previous F2F and online learning experiences enforced the concept of language as performance with a focus on correctness and precision. However, intercultural respect and a desire to participate meaningfully with diverse cultural communities became a resource for our participants as they wrestled with language learning anxiety and persisted in their learning endeavors. Implications for designing online language instruction for anxious, self-directed adults are offered.

Key words: adult language learning, heritage and nonheritage language learners, intercultural participation, language learning anxiety, online language learning

Language: relevant to all languages

In today's information and communication age, adults choose to learn or improve their knowledge of languages for a variety of reasons and in a variety of settings. As such, language learning settings are steeped in a multifarious set of influences upon the learners' study and understanding. At the core of acquiring a new language, students learn how to communicate their own personally meaningful and conversationally appropriate messages through new structures and systems of the target language (Horwitz, 1999); indeed, "to study how we learn a new language is to study how the body, mind, and emotions fuse to create self-expression" (Young, 1999, p. 13).

Foreign or second language (L2) learning is often studied within the framework of sociocultural and constructivist learning perspectives (Block, 2003; Lantolf & Pavlenko, 2001). That is, cognition is a process that includes social and cultural activity within the particular educational situation and the learner's individual, interpersonal context (Vygotsky, 1978; Wright, 2000). Learners develop (or fail to develop) and participate (or choose nonparticipation) via interaction with other communication agents. Unfortunately, foreign and L2 learning can leave some individuals feeling anxious, self-conscious, and frustrated (Gregersen & Horwitz, 2002; Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986). This tendency to experience an anxious response during language learning interactions is described as "language learning anxiety" (LLA). Though not correlated to performance anxiety on the whole (Gardner & Maclntyre, 1993; Horwitz et al., 1986), learners may experience LLA due to previous negative experiences with language learning or with individuals from another culture, or for various other sociocultural reasons (Hodne, 1997; Price, 1991; Young, 1991).

In the classroom setting, verbal interaction, face-to-face (F2F) with peers and instructor, is the most anxiety-producing task for students (Young, 1991). As a result, anxious learners are not likely to participate actively in language class. More recently, however, language education across the globe makes use of distance technologies, which does not always include F2F or synchronous interaction. Although a growing body of empirical studies of language e-learning is forming, no research to date has specifically studied LLA in online foreign or L2 learning settings. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to investigate whether LLA is indeed mediated by the online learning venue. By examining how and why some learners experience anxiety while studying a language online, we hoped to gain fresh insight into the LLA phenomenon that has previously been anchored in traditional classroom interactions.

Literature Review and Theoretical Framework

Language is personal and communally situated. …