Academic journal article College Student Journal

Effect of Educational Strategies on Anxiety in the Second Language Classroom: An Exploratory Comparative Study between U.S. and Spanish First-Semester University Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Effect of Educational Strategies on Anxiety in the Second Language Classroom: An Exploratory Comparative Study between U.S. and Spanish First-Semester University Students

Article excerpt

Numerous reports and articles have pointed out the mediocrity of U.S. students' second language skills, implying, for example, that students abroad may perform better because of an established educational framework with an 'early start' and 'well-articulated teaching strategies.' If this were the case, students overseas should demonstrate lower levels of anxiety in the second language classroom than students of similar educational level in the U.S. This exploratory study investigates and compares the perceived second language anxiety in a random setting of first-semester university students, in the U.S. and Spain, as measured by a foreign language anxiety scale. Although the study did not control for factors that may influence language apprehension, the results show that in randomly-selected settings, where an 'early start' and 'a well-articulated teaching framework' were part of the language background of students surveyed in Spain, their perceived levels of anxiety towards the second language (English) were generally higher than those of the students surveyed in the United States (Spanish).

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Introduction

The shortage of language-competent residents in the U.S. was pointed out as early as 1979 by the report of the President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies (1979). As commented by Tucker (1990), the report focused on the exceedingly small number of students who had studied foreign languages and, more important, on the even smaller number that had achieved any degree of demonstrable proficiency in the target second language. Today, the situation has barely changed. Numerous reports and articles have decried the mediocrity of our students' foreign language skills and have called for improved language education. Pufahl, Rhodes & Christian (2001) paraphrase the opinion of Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who stated that "strengthening foreign language instruction in the nation will build a better workforce, ensure national security, and improve other areas of education."

Funded by the Department of Education, Pufahl et al. (2001) from the Center for Applied Linguistics explored language education around the world looking for strategies or policies that could help improve language teaching and learning in the U.S. The study's goal included twenty countries. One of those countries was Spain. The results of the study indicated that two of the most important characteristics that determine the success of foreign language education are 'an early start' and 'a well-articulated framework.' In the case of Spain, the students' introduction to a foreign language begins at eight years of age. The Spanish educational system has in place nationwide compulsory requisites for schools (Pufahl, Rhodes & Christian, 2001). In addition, students must pass a foreign language test for admission to the university (Prueba de selectividad). Thus the study of a foreign language in-the Spanish system is compulsory to all grade-school students from age eight onwards, articulating from grade to grade until the completion of high school and culminating with a test of admission to the university. On the contrary, in the U.S., although foreign language competencies are included in curricula by State Boards, not all school districts require foreign language classes of students, usually for lack of funds. Generally foreign language classes are offered in high school, the starting age is 14 and the courses may not be mandatory. The questions is: in relation to classroom anxiety, does a system that requires second language instruction six years earlier reduce apprehension significantly in students compared to a system that does not?

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this exploratory study is to compare the levels of anxiety of first-semester university language students in the U.S. and Spain as measured by a foreign language anxiety scale. Specifically, using students' levels of anxiety as a determinant, do the second language teaching policies currently in place in the Spanish educational system lead to substantially lower anxiety of first semester university students? …

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