An Exploratory Investigation of Foreign Language Classroom Speaking Anxiety Amongst Pakistani EFL University Students
Date: 13 August 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Education
Abstract Foreign language anxiety is a phenomenon specific to language learning contexts that can have seriously detrimental consequences on the ability of students to acquire, retain, and speak the language they are learning. To the best of my knowledge, this study is the first to be carried out on foreign language classroom speaking ...
Abstract Foreign language anxiety is a phenomenon specific to language learning contexts that can have seriously detrimental consequences on the ability of students to acquire, retain, and speak the language they are learning. To the best of my knowledge, this study is the first to be carried out on foreign language classroom speaking anxiety (SA) specifically in the Pakistani context. The overall purpose of this study is to investigate the perceptions of Pakistani postgraduate (MA/MSc) non-major EFL (English as a foreign language) students about SA. It attempts to achieve the following four objectives: to explore whether speaking creates more anxiety than reading, writing, and listening; to identify the factors that may contribute to SA; to investigate the type of teacher behaviour and classroom activities that may alleviate SA; and to explore Pakistani EFL university teachers’ perceptions of their students’ SA along with the strategies used by teachers to reduce it. This study has been conducted using an interpretive approach. It employed a mixed-methods approach, combining both quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative (open-ended questions in the questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and semi-structured classroom observations) to collect data from five universities in Pakistan. The questionnaire was completed by 170 Pakistani EFL students. In order to achieve a deep understanding of their SA, semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 20 students. 14 Pakistani EFL teachers were also interviewed and 12 classes taught by three teachers were observed. Quantitative data were analysed to obtain descriptive statistics. Qualitative data were analysed using exploratory content analysis. The study suggests that of the four skills, speaking produces the most anxiety. Findings also highlight a number of sources of SA which have been classified into five main categories: individual learner-related sources, classroom-related sources, linguistic-related sources, teacher-student interaction, and socio-cultural-related sources. The study highlights some possible sources of SA such as: lack of student voice; teacher bias; fear of saying anything socially unacceptable or against religion; cultural alienation; and mixed-gender classrooms, all of which do not appear to have been reported earlier in the field of language anxiety. Moreover, only a few studies have reported socio-cultural factors as contributors to students’ SA; as such, this study reinforces the idea that certain socio-cultural factors may also influence students’ SA. Further, the students suggest that a variety of teacher behaviours could both reduce their SA and encourage their spoken English in class. These include: having a friendly, supportive, and relaxed attitude towards students; providing them with a sociable classroom environment; using positive reinforcement; involving them in the learning process, and correcting their mistakes gently. In addition, the data reveal a number of classroom activities which may reduce SA. These include allowing students: to prepare oral tasks in advance; to work in groups; to use some Urdu when they cannot express themselves in English; voluntary participation in oral tasks, and providing students with adequate wait-time. Finally, the findings indicate that most of the teachers were not fully aware of SA and its potentially debilitating effects on language learning. As a consequence, they did not take students’ SA into account when they were teaching. In addition, a model of identifying factors, initiatives and behaviours required to address the sources of Pakistani EFL learners’ speaking anxiety has been proposed. The theoretical implications of the study are offered. Implications and suggestions for teachers and educational/language policy-makers are discussed. Finally, suggestions for further research are provided.
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