Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

Relating Oral Classroom Anxiety and Unwillingness to Communicate to Linguistic Proficiency

Academic journal article NAWA: Journal of Language and Communication

Relating Oral Classroom Anxiety and Unwillingness to Communicate to Linguistic Proficiency

Article excerpt


Speaking English is very important, but yet remains a challenge to English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. This has been confirmed by previous researchers (Horwitz and Cope, 1986, Phillips, 1992, Scott, 1986). As a result, educators, professionals and other stakeholders have developed interest in helping ESL learners to improve their oral English skill (Phillips, 1992:14). The University of Botswana (UB) ESL learners are not an exception to the speaking challenges facing other ESL learners in other parts of the world. To help them, the UB has a Communication and Study Skills Unit (CSSU) responsible for developing, among other skills, the oral skill both at first year and post year one levels. The CSSU offers two compulsory communication and study skills courses to first year students, one in semester 1 and the other in Semester 2. These courses are tailored to meet the needs of the students in their respective faculties. Among other things, students are expected to participate in oral class presentations which constitute part of their continuous assessment mark (CA).

Despite the measures that have been put in place to help the UB students, experience shows that they still do not orally participate satisfactorily in class, especially at first year. For instance, Akindele and Trennepohl (2008:156) found that Botswana students "become passive and non-responsive when they do not understand what is being taught, and are afraid to ask". They claim that these students "are sometimes shocked and pleasantly surprised when they are forced to participate in class ... and they remain quiet". One then wonders whether these students' lack of participation in class is a result of oral classroom anxiety and/or unwillingness to communicate, and whether this can also be linked with proficiency. It should be noted that most of the students used in this study, except for some of those in the faculty of humanities, are non- English majors. Similarly, Liu (2006) used non-English majors.

As is the case with Liu (2006), Botswana students do not have much access or chance to speak/use English, although increasing importance has been attached to using the language, especially in speaking and writing in the country. Botswana learners have little contact with English or English native speakers. They mostly contact English in school because English is an official language in Botswana, and is also a subject and a language of instruction in the schools. Botswana is a southern African country sharing a border with Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Foreign language anxiety

Foreign language anxiety is a complex, multidimensional phenomenon referring to "the feeling of tension and apprehension specifically associated with second language (L2) contexts, including speaking, listening and learning" (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1994: 284). Anxiety has been found to impede learning to speak another language (Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope, 1986:125). Horwitz et al. (1986:125) define anxiety as "the subjective feeling of tension apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the automatic nervous system." They further indicate that, "just as anxiety prevents some people from performing successfully in science and mathematics, many people find foreign language learning, especially in classroom situations, particularly stressful" (Horwitz et al. 1986:125).

Horwitz et al. (1986) identified three components of FL anxiety: communication apprehension, test anxiety, and fear of negative evaluation. Firstly, they define communication apprehension as "a type of shyness characterised by fear of or anxiety about communicating with people" (p. 127). According to Liu & Jackson (2008:72) "People who typically have trouble speaking in groups are likely to experience even greater difficulty speaking in an FL class where they have little control over the communicative situation and where their performance is constantly monitored". …

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