Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Investigating the Impact of Gender on Foreign Language Learning Anxiety of Iranian Efl Learners

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Investigating the Impact of Gender on Foreign Language Learning Anxiety of Iranian Efl Learners

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Since foreign language learning is a stressful activity (Hewitt & Stefenson, 2011), many researchers have investigated the role of anxiety in learning a foreign language (e.g., Phillips, 1992). Foreign language anxiety has been defined as negative emotional reaction that is caused when using or learning a foreign or a second language (MacIntyre, 1999). Several studies have been carried out on language anxiety. Although few of them have revealed that there is a positive relationship between language anxiety and language achievement (e.g., Liu, 2006; Oxford, 1999), most of them have shown that language anxiety and language achievement are negatively related (e.g. Horwitz, 2001, MacIntyre, 1999, MacIntyre, Noels, Clement, 1997). Put it another way, learners who are more proficient in a foreign language, experience less anxiety in learning it in comparison with other learners who are not that proficient. Foreign language learning anxiety is a great barrier to foreign language achievement (Young, 1991), so the low achievement of learners can be attributed to negative effects of anxiety (Horwitz, 2000, 2001; MacIntyre, 1999, 2002; Tóth, 2007).

1.1 The role of gender

Gender has been considered as a significant factor in SLA. There are some discrepancies between men and women with regard to second language learning which cannot be fully erased through education. According to gender theory proposed by Baumeister and Sommer (1997), gender stereotypes are the expectations which are shared culturally for gender appropriate behaviors. Individuals learn the appropriate behaviors from the culture and the family they grow up with. Therefore, non-physical gender differences are the result of socialization (Eagly, 1987). Also, males and females differ biologically with regard to their learning style and cognitive ability. These differences result from their differences in their brain and their higher-order cortical functions (Keefe, 1982). In terms of lateralization, there are differences between males and females, with males having more left-hemisphere dominance than females (Banich, 1997). Research studies have shown that gender differences affect students' academic interest, needs, and achievements (Halpern, 1986).

Anxiety, as an important affective factor, influences second language learning particularly speaking skill. Males and females have different levels of anxiety and it might delay the development of their speaking ability. Therefore, learners have to make use of some learning strategies to overcome this problem. Oxford (1990) maintains that learning strategies are the specific actions which are taken by the learners to make learning easier, faster, more effective, more enjoyable, and more transferable to new situations (p. 8). Language teachers try to find the main sources of students' language learning anxiety in order that they organize their class in a way which minimizes their students' anxiety. Gender is one of the factors that affect the anxiety in second language learning particularly second language speaking skill.

1.2 Causes of foreign language anxiety

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 (MacIntyre and Gardner, 1994; Horwitz, Horwitz & Hope, 1986).

The causes of foreign language anxiety have been broadly separated into three main components: communication apprehension, test anxiety and fear of negative evaluation. 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. …

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