Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Relationship between Foreign Language Anxiety and Learning Difficulties

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

The Relationship between Foreign Language Anxiety and Learning Difficulties

Article excerpt


This study investigated the possible existence of causal links between anxiety and language learning difficulties by using the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) (Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986) to examine anxiety and the Foreign Language Screening Instrument for Colleges (FLSI-C) (Ganschow & Sparks, 1991) to explore learning difficulty variables. Factor analysis, correlation analysis, and stepwise multiple regression analysis of data provided by 1,187 college students learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in Taiwan indicate that English learning difficulties account for 36.80% of variance in anxiety. The results show that some anxious students have a history of English learning problems, obtain low grades, suffer difficulties with classroom learning, and exhibit poor developmental skills. The findings are used to discuss both theoretical and practical implications for foreign language anxiety.


Before Horwitz et al. (1986) came to propose their theory of foreign language anxiety, the various research findings concerning the negative effects of anxiety on foreign language performance tended to disagree (e.g., Chastain, 1975; Kleinmann, 1977; Scovel, 1978). Horwitz et al. viewed foreign language anxiety as related to communication apprehension, fear of negative evaluation, and test anxiety, and they defined foreign language anxiety as "a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feedings, and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process" (1986, p. 128). This conceptual framework led them to devise the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) to measure the phenomenon. The scale contains 33 items in a 5-point Likert-scale, self-report questionnaire format and has established reliability and validity (see Horwitz, 1986).

MacIntyre and Gardner (1989) carefully evaluated Horwitz et al.'s theory and also interpreted language anxiety in the context of the psychology of social anxieties. They used Tobias's model of the cognitive consequences of anxiety arousal to account for the negative association between anxiety levels and performance in foreign language. They proposed a causal model, stating that "anxiety leads to deficits in learning and performance" (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1989, p. 271). In a later refinement of their search for the origins of language anxiety (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991a), they reviewed the latest research methods and measures and concluded that it is state anxiety, which they defined as a feeling of apprehension resulting from early language practice, that causes the negative experiences that in turn cause situation-specific language anxiety. By a series of experiments, they established that anxiety-arousal interferes with the learner's cognitive ability to take in, process, and produce foreign language (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991b, 1991c, 1994a, 1994b). In this theoretical framework, it is language anxiety that makes anxious students "have a small base of second language knowledge and have more difficulty demonstrating the knowledge that they do process" (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1994a, p. 301).

While certain foreign language educators claim that language anxiety is one of the best predictors of foreign language achievement (Gardner, 1985; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1993), learning disability (LD) specialists, Ganschow and Sparks (1986), drew attention to LD students as examples of learners that suffer basic native language skill deficits. They borrowed the term linguistic coding deficit from the LD literature (Vellutino & Scanlon, 1986, cited in Sparks, Ganschow, & Pohlman, 1989) to explain anecdotal evidence (e.g., gathered by Demuth & Smith, 1987; Dinklage, 1971; Gajar, 1987; Myer & Ganschow, 1988; Myer, Ganschow, Sparks, & Kenneweg, 1989) of severe foreign language learning difficulties encountered by otherwise intelligent LD students who had problems with using language to code information. …

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