Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Factors Affecting Willingness to Communicate in a Spanish University Context

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Factors Affecting Willingness to Communicate in a Spanish University Context

Article excerpt


Communicative competence in the target language is the final objective of language learning. According to Dömyei (2007:45), the difference between seeking to communicate in the target language and avoiding such communication is because of "psychological, linguistic, and contextual variables." Willingness to communicate (WTC), the construct that was first proposed by McCroskey and Baer (1985), is concerned with these variables. It refers to the tendency of an individual to initiate communication when free to do so.

As the emphasis in L2 teaching and learning has been shifting to communication, studies are needed that approach students' attitudes to communication in a second (L2) language in different contexts. The present study examines the relationships among the variables believed to affect Spanish undergraduates' willingness to communicate in English. The current study is aimed at contributing to the examination and testing of the L2 WTC construct, thus continuing the line of research initiated in the 1990s, in an attempt to enrich the theoretical foundation of this construct in a different country and linguistic environment. Although the concept willingness to communicate could include communication in written forms (MacIntyre et al. 1998), this study focuses exclusively on oral communication or, more specifically, talking in a L2.


WTC originally referred to communication in the first or native language (L1) (McCroskey, 1992). It reflects the stable predisposition to talk in various situations and it is seen essentially as a personality trait (MacIntyre et al., 1998). However, WTC is different when seen in a L2 context. MacIntyre et al. (1998) do not consider WTC in the second language L2 as a simple manifestation of WTC in the first or native language L1 because a much greater range of communicative competence is evident in a L2 than in a L1. In addition, "L2 carries a number of intergroup issues, with social and political implications, that are usually irrelevant to L1 use" (MacIntyre et al., 1998). The issue of whether WTC is a permanent trait or is modified by the situational context has been investigated in various studies (e.g. Cao & Philp, 2006; Kang, 2005; MacIntyre & Legatto, 2011) with mixed results.

MacIntyre et al. (1998) present a heuristic model that shows the range of potential influences on WTC in the L2. The interrelations among the constructs are presented in a pyramid-shaped structure. As these authors explain, the pyramid shape shows the immediacy of some factors and the relatively distal influence of others. The model includes six categories referred to as layers: the first three layers represent situation-specific influences on WTC at a given moment in time; the other three layers represent stable, enduring influences on the process.

The two variables that appear to be key in WTC (which most directly influence WTC) are perceived competence and anxiety. Communicative competence is defined as "adequate ability to pass along or give information; the ability to make known by talking or writing" (McCroskey & McCroskey, 1988: 109). On the other hand, the term perceived communication competence refers to how an individual believes his/her communication competence is, based on self-awareness rather than the actual communication competence (McCroskey & McCroskey, 1988). Baker and MacIntyre (2000) argue that it is not the individual actual skill that counts, rather it is how he/she perceives their communication competence that will determine WTC.

The research of McCroskey and McCroskey (1986) found a strong correlation between perceived communicative competence and WTC. Similarly, a positive relationship between perceived communicative competence and WTC was also found in the study carried out by Matsuoka (2005) with a group of Japanese university students. Cameron (2013) reports on a study in a New Zealand university with participants who were permanent migrants from Iran. …

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