Foreign Language Anxiety


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Foreign Language Anxiety

  1. 1. Faisal Khan Ph.D.Scholar The Islamia University of Bahawalpur Cell:0300-7300919 Foreign Language Anxiety: The Presence or Absence of High School Experience Table of Contents Introduction Studies on Foreign Language Anxiety Methodology Participants Data Collection and Alanysis Findings Lillian: A Student Who Studied Japanese in High School The Result of the FLCAS The Presence of High School Experience Foreign Language Anxiety in Japanese Classrooms in College Experience in learning Japanese in high school Teachers and classmates Match of course content and exams Leah: A Student Who Did Not Study Japanese in High School The Result of the FLCAS The Absence of High School Experience Foreign Language Anxiety in Japanese Classrooms in College Getting to know classmates Helpful teachers Well-structured program Discussion and Conclusion References Introduction After teaching Japanese at high school for two years, I became interested in the relationship between foreign language anxiety and the presence or absence of Japanese language learning experiencein high school. Many students I had taught decided to take an introductory Japanese when they entered univers ity. In other words, they became “false beginners” (Lange et al., 1992) who choose to study the same language as they studied in high school from the beginning. 1
  2. 2. In the United States, first-year foreign language (FL) courses in universities include false beginners and “true beginners,” who do not have prior experiences of secondary-level study of the FL they take in college (Lange et al., 1992). From the viewpoints of false beginners like my former students, their previous experiences of learning Japanese seems to be of advantage. My former students enrolled in first-year college Japanese told me that they felt “easy” or “relaxed” in their Japanese classes; they considered to some extent that their Japanese language learning experiences helped themsuccess in class, especially at the beginning of the course. These comments are congruent with previous studies that suggest positive relationship between high school level FL instruction and students’ academic success in early stage of college courses (Lange et al, 1992; Watt, 1997). As I heard my former students talking about positive experiences in their Japanese classes at college, I became interested in how the presence or absence of high school Japanese training would affect first-year college students of Japanese. According to Samimy (1994), when native English speakers learn learning less commonly taught or noncognate languages such as Japanese the differences in writing systems and grammatical structures may negatively influence their affective reactions such as anxiety. If so, it can be assumed that students with previous learning experience may be at a lower level of anxiety than students who just start learning Japanese in university. Taking into account these claims, the present study attempted to investigate English- speaking students’ foreign language anxiety in relation to high school Japanese training. More specifically, I examined how the presence or absence of Japanese learning experience in high school affected students’ foreign language anxie in a college-level introductory ty Japanese course in the United States. In the following sections, I will first present the previous studies on foreign language anxiety, then present two case studies supported by semi-structured interviews. It is hoped that this study will help gain insights into foreign language anxiety from two students’ perspectives: one who had studied Japanese in high school and the other who had started Japanese at college. [Back to Table of Contents] Studies on Foreign Language Anxiety Over the past few decades, anxiety has been noted as an important factor that influences FL learning (Young, 1991). Scovel (1978) defined anxiety as a state of apprehension, a vague, sometimes undefined, fear. In early research, some studies suggested a negative relationship between anxiety and language learning and performance, whereas others could not find such relationship (Aida, 1994; Young, 1991). Horwitz et al. (1986) attributed these inconclusive results to the lack of an adequate instrument to quantify foreign language anxie Then, based on clinical experience with ty. FL students at University of Texas, Horwitz and her colleagues identified three components of anxiety in a FL learning situation and developed the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) to measure levels of anxiety FL learners feel. According to Horwitz et al. (1986), foreign language anxiety consists of 1) communication apprehension, 2) test anxiety , and 3) fear of negative evaluation. Communication apprehension refers to nervousness associated with communicating with people. Test 2
  3. 3. anxiety is defined as “a type of performance anxiety stemming from fear of failure” (Horwitz et al., 1986, p. 217). The last element of foreign language anxie fear of ty, negative evaluation, relates to anxiety observed when one expects that others would evaluate him/herself negative ly. The attempts to conceptualize a specific construct of foreign language anxiety have helped reveal the role of anxiety on FL learning. Recently, research studies have provided evidence that foreign language anxiet correlates to FL learning and performance of y students (Aida, 1994; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991; Young, 1986). In a study involving college students of French, German, and Spanish, Young (1986) found negative correlation between levels of anxiety and oral proficiency levels measured by The Oral Proficiency Interview that The American Council of the Teaching of Foreign Languages develo ped. In a Japanese-classroom context, Aida (1994) also found t at more anxious college students h of Japanese received significantly lower final grades than less anxious students. In addition, evidence has been provided that foreign language anxiet negatively affects y risk-taking, one of the important affective variables in FL learning (Saito & Samimy, 1996; Samimy & Tabuse, 1992). In research with college students of Japanese at the beginning level, Samimy and Tabuse (1992) found that the less anx ious students were in their classrooms, the more they were willing to take risks in speaking Japanese. Whereas these studies quantitatively investigated the effects of foreign language anxiety on FL learning, Price (1991) and Young (1990) explored how students perceive foreign language anxiety. Using a questionnaire, Young (1990) studied what kind of classroom activities caused foreign language anxiety in college and high school Spanish classes. Similarly, to examine students’ opinions of foreign language anxiety, Price (1991) interviewed 10 college students of French who experienced higher levels of anxiety. Both studies revealed that anxiety was related not simply to speaking activities, but more specifically to speaking in front of classmatesand teachers. Further, teacher characteristics like friendliness and helpfulness were crucially influenced levels of students’ anxiety in FL classroom. Although recent studies have shed some light on the role of foreign language anxiety, research with students of less commonly taught languages like Japanese is still scare (Saito & Samimy, 1996; Samimy & Tabuse, 1992). In particular, I found no qualitative anxiety study with students of Japanese. Moreover, few researchers pay attention to the relationship between foreign language anxie and students’ previous language learning ty experiences. Foreign language anxiety is a complex phenomenon that pos sibly relates to many factors existing in learning processes (Samimy & Rardin, 1994). This study, thus, focused on the presence or absence of Japanese learning experience in high school as one of those factors and attempted to explore how it affects foreign language anxiety in a college Japanese classroom. [Back to Table of Contents] Methodology This study examined two students’ foreign language anxiety in a college-level introductory course of Japanese in relation to the previous experience in learning Japanese in high 3
  4. 4. school. Research questions addressed are: 1) How did the presence or absence of Japanese learning experience in high school relate to levels of foreign language anxiety in a first semester introductory Japanese class in col ege? and 2) How did the previous Japanese l learning experience influence sources of foreign language anxiety in a first semester introductory Japanese class in college? To investigate these questions, I employed a case-study approach supported by semi- structured interviews (Johnson, 1992; Merriam, 1998) as the main data collection method. This particular approach was selected becauseof the following reasons: While it has become clearer that anxiety plays a crucial role in a FL classroom, studies in this field lack in-depth analyses of foreign language anxiety. Samimy and Rardin (1994) assert that “[t]he nature of affective states is personal, dynamic, and context-bound” (p. 381). Yet, the majority of previous studies employ quantitative research methodology, which stress researchers’ objectivity and detaches them from the participants and the context in which the phenomenon of interest occurs. As a result, previous research reduces dynamic aspects of foreign language anxiety and yields narrow, limited analyses of the phenomenon of interest. Therefore, to explore and better understand the interplay between foreign language anxie ty and FL learning, I undertook a study of foreign language anxiety using a qualitative case- study approach. This approach should allow me to focus on the phenomenon ofinterest and gain deeper insights into the participants’ experiences of foreign language anxiety (Johnson, 1992; Merriam, 1998). [Back to Table of Contents] Participants The participants of this study were two college students of Japanese who are native speakers of English. I selected Lillian because of her Japanese learning experience in high school, and Leah because she had never studied Japanese prior to college (all names were pseudonyms). They were enrolled in a beginning-level course of Japanese in a Midwestern university in the United States. Lillian is an 18-year old freshman who comes from a Midwestern state. She studied Japanese for four years in high school. I taught her in high school for two years from the academic year 1995 to 1997. In my classroom, I got the impression that she was an enthusiastic student who actively participated in activities, showing her favorable attitudes toward learning Japanese. In addition, she had been to Japan once, staying with a Japanese family for about three weeks. Both in high school and college, Lillian studies Japanese and Spanish. The other participant, Leah, is a 20-year old sophomore who comes from the same Midwestern state as Lillian. Leah did not take any foreign language courses in her freshman year; upon becoming a sophomore in Fall 1998, she registered for the first-year Japanese course. In high school, she had studied Spanish for three years. She described herself, academically, a very good student. One of Leah’s Japanese teachers who had taught her in Fall 1998 also stated that she was a good student and her attitude toward the class was positive. 4
  5. 5. [Back to Table of Contents] Data Collection and Analysis This study employed two methods to colect data: the FLCAS (see Appendix A) and semi- l structured interviews. When we met for the interview, I asked the participants to take the FLCAS based on their experiences in the Japanese coursein the last semester (Fall 1998), which was their first time to take Japanese in college. Since the presence or absence of Japanese learning experience in high school is likely to affect students the most during the first semester course in college (Lange et al., 1992; Watt, 1997), I focused on the two participants’ experiences not in the current semester but in the last semester. The reliability of this instrument has been well established in the previous studies (Horwitz, 1986; Horwitz et al., 1986; Aida, 1994). Data was mainly gathered by the semi-structured interviews. First, as a pilot interview, I made a list of tentative questions and asked those questions to another student of Japanese before I actually interviewed two participants. Based on this interview, I elaborated interview questions (see Appendix B). The semi-structured interviews focused on two participants’ high school experience in learning Japanese or other FL, experience in their Japanese course in university with emphasis on anxiety. Each interview took approximately one and half hours, and it was tape-recorded with the participants’ permission and later transcribed for analysis. In addition, I conducted follow-up interviews via e-mail. By this procedure, I could collect and analyzed data concurrently. After I analyzed all data, I conducted member checks to construct trustworthiness of findings. For member checks, I showed each participant my paper that included findings from her data, including quotations, to confirm if I had correctly interpreted the data from the interviews. [Back to Table of Contents] Findings Lillian: A Student Who Studied Japanese in High School The Result of the FLCAS Lillian’s score on the FLCAS was 87. In comparison with the mean reported in Aida (1994) which is 96.7, her score is slightly lower. This result indicates that Lillian was relatively less anxious in her first semester Japanese classes than Aida’s participants. The data from her interview supports this finding; she stated that she had never felt anxiety in her Japanese classes. [Back to Table of Contents] The Presence of High School Experience Her motivation toward studying Japanese in high school was “people-orien ted” (Tanaka, 1997). She made good Japanese friends in grade school and a summer camp and was eager to talk to them. She also hoped to talk to Japanese people at a local Japanese restaurant where her family went. This motivation as well as “more opportunities for a job” led her to take Japanese again in college. 5
  6. 6. Once she began Japanese at high school, she did not think it was difficult. She said, “I thought it would be harder because my sister [who also had studied Japanese in college] quit. I had an image like ‘It’s HARD’… not be able to know anything.” Lillian described her experience in learning Japanese as“making me prepare for college:” I felt like I was advantaged because… I could relax, I didn’t have to learn hiragana…. I had it [Japanese] so long, at least 4 years and I felt comfortable with hiragana…. Since I knew it, [what] some of the particles were…. Since I knew Japanese in high school, now, I was more reviewing, rather than doing all over… like, starting fresh. She said that the first semester Japanese course in the university moved much faster, but what she did was almost everythin she had studied in high school. Thus, even though the g pace was “A LOT [participant emphasis] faster,” materials covered in class were familiar to her, and she felt like she was at an advantage. Lillian also stated that activities she did in the college Japanese class were almost same as those in high school. In other words, she knew what she was expected to do in the Japanese course. The familiarity with materials and activities helped her keep up with the course although the class moved quite fast. Lillian’s final grade in the first semester was A, which seems to have indicated that she was successful in the Japanese course in college. [Back to Table of Contents] Foreign Language Anxiety in Japanese Classrooms in College When asked about anxiety in her college Japanese course, Lillian said that she “never felt anxiety or nervousness in my first semester Japanese class.” Lillian’s lower level of anxiety in her Japanese classes resulted in her willingness to take risks in speaking Japanese. She expressed that she did not hesitated to volunteer when someone was called on and that person didn’t know any answer. She “wasn’t shy in Japanese. Only not in Japanese.” She attributed her less-anxious state in college Japanese classroom to 1) her experience in learning Japanese in high school, 2) teachers and classmates, and 3) match of course content and exams. [Back to Table of Contents] Experience in learning Japanese in high school. In the interview, Lillian said that during her high school Japanese course she had studied bits and pieces of Japanese: At high school, I learned a lot, but here, I… make it stronger. Like… I place dots at high school, and now, I’m trying to connect the dots, makinga… more of a picture out of it in my mind rather than just…. dot here and there. It’s becoming more picture, I can see what’s going on, what’s forming. And I’m trying to make these connections stronger. In other words, Lillian obtained background knowledge of the Japanese language shecould utilize to learn Japanese in her university course. Since she knew basic linguistic features of Japanese, she did not experience foreign language anxiety in her first semester Japanese course in college. 6
  7. 7. Compared to classmates who had not taken Japanese in high school, she said: I felt lucky… because I was taking Japanese…. you know what’s in you… [N]ow, you’re just strengthening it…. And the people who… haven’t had it at all… have to… stay up later studying it…. they just study by themselves without talking to other people. In so saying, Lillian expressed that the knowledge about Japanese she had gained in high school became good resource to learn the language in college. She did not have to worry about learning new materials; rather, she could activate her background knowledge and concentrate on strengthening it when she received college-level Japanese instruction in the first semester: Like, since I knew it, [what] some of the particles were, but at high school, I didn’t know exactly what they were used for, and now I learned it again, it was more like… “Oh, now I understand it.” It was like, “Oh, I think I get it. I think I understand it. Now I think I know how to apply it.” High school experience in learning Japanese seems to have enabled Lillian to build the foundation of Japanese, and it helped her feel less anxious in the first semester Japanese classes. To evidence it, she clearly stated that if she had not taken Japanese before,she would have been overwhelmed and lost due to the fast pace and the amount of materials in the college Japanese course. [Back to Table of Contents] Teachers and classmates. Lillian’s teachers and classmates also helped decrease anxiety in the college Japanese course. Two days a week, she took the lecture class in which the teacher explained grammatical structures both in English and Japanese. Three days a week, then, she took drill session with three different Associate Instructors (AIs), in which oral practice in Japanese was emphasized. When I asked her about her teacher and AIs, she repeatedly said that they were all helpful: The teacher [of the lecture] was really nice. If we made mistakes, she was like, “At least, you tried”…. Teachers [the teacher and AIs] encouraged us to try…. If you made mistakes, they understood, and they helped you and so it was like… “Well, you need to fix that. And we help you to do it.”…. They were not just… so critical. They didn’t look for mistakes, bad qualities. Moreover, Lillian expressed good relationships with her classmates, particularly in drill session. Comparing to her Spanish class, she stated, “I think a lot of people who take Japanese… were pretty nice people…. They are more friendly…. Japanese, some reason, brings nicer people. More, actually, more individual unique kind of people.” “Helpful,” “nice,” and “friendly” were adjectives Lillian used to describe her teachers and classmates. Those positive characteristics of her teachers and peers contributed to a good atmosphere of her Japanese class. Lillian described the atmosphere in class as “more relaxed, not stressed. Everyone just seemed… relaxed.” In addition, the size of Japanese 7
  8. 8. class helped create a less-anxiety provoking atmosphere. In comparison to her first semester Spanish class, Lillian said, “In the first semester, Japanese class was much smaller. And I liked it better.” [Back to Table of Contents] Match of course content and exams. In the follow-up interview via e-mail, Lillian stated, “I always get nervous before a test because I am [sic] never know if I studied well enough.” She had two types of exams in the first semester: written and oral. The exams increased her anxiety; however, since the content of the exams matched what she had learned in class, her level of anxiety was lowered. As for written exams, she stated, “The whole test was usually gone over in class, like lecture,” implying that the content of written exams were same as that of the course. Oral tests were new to her because she rarely had taken them in high school. When she took the first oral test, she “was a little bit nervous because I had no idea what was gonna happen.” Yet, after she arrived a place where she took the oral test, she found it “not that hard” and felt less anxious since she was required to answer questions depending on what she did in her class. She said, “As long as you study, just a little bit or pay attention in class, it’s not like… they ask you some tricky questions or something… that’s unusual.” Here, it seems clear that the match between materials covered in class and questions asked in the oral tests reduced Lillian’s anxiety. [Back to Table of Contents] Leah: A Student Who Did Not Study Japanese in High School The Result of the FLCAS Leah’s score on the FLCAS was 111, which is slightly higher than the mean reported in Aida (1994). In addition, Leah’s score is higher than that of Lillian. This indicates that Leah experienced a higher level of anxiety in the first semester Japanese course than Lillian did. [Back to Table of Contents] The Absence of High School Experience Leah took Spanish in high school for three years and described what she di as follows: d [In Spanish class,] we did exercises, question and answer. We did worksheets…. Just like translating, sometimes, [like] we do here. No interacting… no pair work. When we did group work, we just spoke English to get an answer… We played some games, like board race[s]… bingo… But it was [a] waste of time. It didn’t help much… We did report sometimes. Leah also said that her high school Spanish course was not a strong program. During the interview, I was under the impression t at her experience of FL study in high school was h not too positive. 8
  9. 9. Leah started studying Japanese when she became a sophomore because she thought that knowledge about Japanese would give her more opportunities for a job in international business in the future. In addition, she has a Japanese sister-in-law and wanted to learn her language. Thus, like Lillian, Leah had both people-oriented motivation and motivation that relates to the future career. Leah said that she was excited when she signed up for Japanese. She knew that she would study Japanese with those who had taken Japanese in high school before, but “I was hoping that a lot of people would be in the same boat as I was, [have] never been taking it before. But I found out a lot of them were taking it before. So, it was easy for them.” In so saying, Leah implied that the absence of prior experience of learning Japanese might makethe college-level Japanese course more difficult for her. Actually, she struggled with learning a new language, Japanese, in the first semester and ended up with B+ as a final grade. [Back to Table of Contents] Foreign Language Anxiety in Japanese Classrooms in College As her score on the FLCAS indicated, Leah felt anxious in her Japanese classes. When asked about images of “anxiety in a foreign language class,” she said, “Nervousness? Like, getting called on… Last semester, I was very insecure about answering…. ’Cause it was a new language…. very, very, nervous.” The source of anxiety was “speaking in Japanese in front of class,” which was also shown on the FLCAS. Two items on the FLCAS that yielded the biggest difference between Lillian and Leah included the expression “being called on.” Many of Leah’s classmates had received Japanese instruction in high school and already knew what was new to Leah regarding the Japanese language. In such a classroom, answering questions in Japanese caused the most anxiety to her: Whenever they called on me and [I] answered the question in Japanese [I felt nervous]. I wasn’t sure about my answer.… If I was wrong, you know, everybody answered,“How can’t she get [the] answer?”…. You know, [I] wonder if everybody asks things because everybody else has taken it before. And they like… boom, boom, boom, you know. They… got a lot, and here I am…” While students with previous Japanese experiencehad knowledge of Japanese, Leah did not have such knowledge on which she could depend when she had to respond to questions. As a result, she was not sure whether she could get correct answers or not, and she became intimidated and anxious. Here, the absence of previous experience in learning Japanese influenced Leah’s anxiety level. Her following comments also indicated it: [If I had taken Japanese in hig school, I think my experience in the first semester h would’ve been] a lot more different. ’Cause…. I would’ve been more comfortable in answering questions…. ’cause I already knew material. If I already knew [the] material, I was [sic]… just confident. Relatively high levels of anxiety also could be seen in her less willingness to volunteer in the Japanese class. Leah stated, “Volunteer… hardly. I was nervous. I didn’t want 9
  10. 10. everybody to look at me…. I like to be right. Be sure… I didn’t volunteer much.” Leah was not afraid of being laughed at by others, but afraid of being negatively evaluated by her teachers and classmates. She said that this kind of nervousness was not so serious, but she certainly felt anxiety because of the situation in which “Other people got [the question] right, and [when she answered wrong, they would think] ‘Why didn’t she know this?’” Additionally, Leah said, “[If I had taken Japanese in high school,] I would’ve raised my hand a lot more…. Answering the first question, asking the first question.” As the course progressed, however, Leah became less anxious in her Japanese classes. In the interview, she gave three reasons that: 1) she got to know more about her classmates, 2) the teachers were helpful, and 3) the course was well structured. [Back to Table of Contents] Getting to know classmates. To Leah, whether she could have a good relationship with her classmates was important to study Japanese comfortably. At first, she felt more nervous in her college Japanese class than her high school Spanish class because she did not know anyone in class. In addition, many of those classmates had studied Japanese in high school and were more familiar with the language than she was. As Leah got to know her classmates well, however, she realized, “Oh, they [those who took Japanese before] are not perfect in Japanese, too,” like her. Further, she found out that they were nice and felt less nervous. She said that those who had previously taken Japanese in high school helped and encouraged her in class. They understood that it was her first year and told her not to compare herself to them, which did “not make me feel bad at all.” When Leah talked about her classmates, she seemed excited and showed favorable attitudes towards them. Such good relationships described, for example, “We joked around, talked to each other inside and outside of [the] classroom,” created good atmosphere in Leah’s Japanese classes: [The atmosphere of the class was] kind of “lay [sic] back” ‘cause everybody could talk with each other. And if you say something wrong, we looked at each other and laughed with each other. Not AT each other, WITH each other [participant emphasis]…. I liked the atmosphere a lot.… [Back to Table of Contents] Helpful teachers. Her teachers’ characteristics also helped makeLeah’s Japanese classes morecomfortable, less anxiety-provoking. She talked about one of her AIs in her drill session whose teaching style lessened her nervousness. In the interview, Leah expressed that she di not want to be “singled out.” It was because d while many of her classmates studied Japanese in high school and could answer correctly, she might not have been able to do so. Being called on made her anxious. One of her AIs, however, successfully reduced her anxiety. Leah said that this AI let her observe others to understand what to do as well as let her try many times in one activity. In addition, this AI 10
  11. 11. often used a chorus in which all students participated in one activity. Leah perceived these teaching techniques helpful to lower her anxiety. Leah was also afraid to make mistakes. Nevertheless, the way that her teachers dealt with mistakes contributed to reduce Leah’s anxiety. For example, students’ mistakes in the lecture were followed by the teacher’s comments such as “Thank you for trying” and “I’m glad you said that.” In drill session, Leah’s AIs often helped her get correct answers by saying “Keep going. You almost have it.” Leah perceived these comments encouraging. The teachers in both lecture and drill session also let students help each other, too: If I couldn’t answer stuff, then, everyone else was asked to help out…. [In lecture, the teacher said,] “Can anybody help?” [In drill session, AIs said] “Ask classmates to help you out.” It’s good because they didn’ make you feel stupid. t Leah described how her teachers corrected mistakes as “If you don’t have it, you can ask classmates. It’s all right because everybody makes mistakes. I understand you’re first year. You can’t be perfect.” She considered favorable such teachers’ attitudes toward students’ mistakes, and gave credit for her teachers’ willingness to help and encourageher, thus making her less anxious in class. [Back to Table of Contents] Well-structured program. Comparing to her high school Spanish program, Leah evaluated highly the structure of the Japanese course in college: Like, the structure [of the Japanese course]… quiz every other day, homework every other day, lesson quiz, exam… It’s good structure as well here…. ‘cause it makes you learn…. makes you do homework… For quizzes, [the course] makes us study. Here, they’re structured very well. The well-organized syllabus of the Japanese course in college seems to have had Leah achieve good study habits. She said that she felt more comfortable as she began to understand how the curriculum worked. This may imply that the Japanese program was so well structured that she knew what she was expected to do throughout the semester, which reduced her anxiety. Furthermore, Leah perceived the combination of lecture and drill session helpful to make her feel more comfortable with studying Japanese: In lecture…. [w]e just learned grammar, basically. In drill… you have to speak…. you do… more interaction…. I think it’s good. If there wasn’t drill at all, it wasn’t gonna help you very much. Because you need [to] have this, because in order to learn… understand a language, you need speak every day. This response indicates that Leah considered oral practice and interaction with others essential for language learning. In high school Spanish class, accordingto her, neither oral 11
  12. 12. practice nor interaction in Spanish was provi ed sufficiently for her to learn Spanish as d much as she learned Japanese in college. Her Japanese course gave her not only grammatical information of Japanese but also opportunities to use it in speaking activities in drill sessions. Leah considered this combination helpful to learn Japanese. As a result, it made her feel less anxious as the course went further along. [Back to Table of Contents] Discussion and Conclusion To recapitulate, this study asks two questions: 1) How did the presence or absence of Japanese learning experience in high school relate to levels of foreign language anxiet in a y first semester introductory Japanese class in college? and 2) How did the previous Japanese learning experience influence sources of foreign language anxiety in a first semester introductory Japanese class in college? To address question one, Lillian, a student who had studied Japanese in high school, had little anxiety in her first semester Japanese course in college. Her prior Japanese learning experience served as background knowledge on which she could rely, making her feel secure in the Japanese course in college. Since she had studied Japanese for four years in high school, she could expect what it would be like to learn Japanese. Additionally, activities provided in her Japanese classroom in college were similar to ones she did in high school. Although Lillian was overwhelmed by how fast the college-level Japanese course went, these factors of high school Japanese training reduced Lillian’s anxiety in the college Japanese course. In contrast, the investigation of Leah’s foreign language anxiety experience revealed that her anxiety to some extent related to the absence of previous Japanese training. Leah studied Japanese in a situation where almost all of her classmates had taken it prior to college. As a true beginner, she was intimidated because she did not have knowledge of the Japanese language at all. While she was insecure of correctness of her answers in Japanese, many of her classmates could get answers right. Here, the absence of the prior experience in learning Japanese resulted in a higher level of anxiety Leah felt in her Japanese classroom in college. Moreover, Leah did not have speaking activities in her high school Spanish course as intensively as in her college Japanese course. In other words, she was not familiar with oral practice or interaction with students and teachers in college Japanese classes. In the first semester, she had to participate in activities unfamiliar to her, using a language of which she had a less command than others who had studied Japanese before. This also seems to have made Leah nervous in here college Japanese class. In addition, the two participants’ differences in levels of anxiety also can be seen in risk- taking behaviors in a Japanese class. Lillian felt little anxiety and showed her willingness to take risks in speaking Japanese, while Leah hesitated to volunteer to do so, claiming that she was nervous about speaking. This seems to support Saito and Samimy (1996) and Samimy and Tabuse (1992) who assert a negative correlation between willingness to take risks in a Japanese class and levels of anxiety. 12
  13. 13. To address question two, Lillian’s anxiety, if she felt any, mainly stemmed from exams. Lillian mentioned that she felt anxious before tests because she was not certain whether or not she studied enough. Once she knew that what she needed was to answer questions based on materials covered in class, her anxiety was decreased. This finding supports Young's (1991) claim that the unfamiliarity and ambiguousness of the test tasks and format may produce FL learners’ anxiety. Horwitz et al. (1986) maintains that speaking in a FL is one of the main sources of foreign language anxiety. Nevertheless, Lillian did not experience such anxiety and often volunteered to answer questions in her college Japanese classroom. The first semester course introduced elementary materials like hiragana, katakana, and simple sentence patterns, which Lillian already knew. Since she had knowledge that she could u tilize in oral practice, speaking activities did not make her nervous. This finding suggests that the prior experience in studying Japanese may have gotten rid of a source of foreign language anxiety, resulting in Lillian’s willingness to take risks in speaking Japanese. Leah, on the other hand, had anxiety related to speaking Japanese in front of her classmates and teachers. She clearly stated that she felt nervous whenever she was called on, and the results of the FLCAS evidenced it. Leah marked “agree” on the FLCAS’s items such as “I tremble when I know that I’m going to be called on in my Japanese class” (item 3), while Lillian marked “strongly disagree.” This fear of speaking an unfamiliar language in public is congruent with Price's (1991) and Young's (1990) claim. Moreover, Leah was afraid to make mistakes in speaking activities in front of false beginners who had more knowledge about Japanese than she did. She said that she would have felt more comfortable in speaking Japanese and volunteering in class if her classmates had not taken Japanese before like herself. This may imply that the absence of high school experience of Japanese language learning influenced a source of foreign language anxiety. The results discussed above suggest that “familiarity” is a key word in foreign language anxiety. Samimy (1994) asserts that a nature of Japanese that it lacks linguistic similarities to English can make English-speaking students nervous about learning Japanese. To such students, high school level Japanese instruction provides the familiarity with the target language. It is also possible that the prior experience also familiarizes students with activities used to study Japanese. If the extent to which students are used to the Japanese language and learning can be an important determinant of a level of foreign language anxiety, college-level instructors of Japanese may need to pay more attention to whether students have taken Japanese in high school. Furthermore, there are some other findings that may suggest useful implications to reduce foreign language anxiety. Interestingly, even though one participant experienced a higher level of anxiety than the other, both of them stressed that similar aspects of their Japanese course helped decrease anxiety. As Price (1991) and Young (1990) claim, characteristics of teachers seem to influence foreign language anxiety. “Helpful,” “encouraging,” “understanding,” and “friendly” emerged from the interviews with Lillian and Leah as essential teachers’ characteristics that reduced their nervousness. This suggests that Japanese teachers need to show willingness to help students and give them encouragement such as “Thank you for trying” 13
  14. 14. and “Keep going, you almost have it.” The students will perceive such teachers’ attitudes positive, resulting in a lower level of foreign language anxiety. Classmates with the same characteristics as the teachersdescribed above also Lillian and Leah feel more comfortable in the Japanese classes. Such positive characteristics of their peers enabled them to build good relationships with their peers, which appear to play an important role to alleviate anxiety. Therefore, the teachers need to make an effort to get the students to know each other, which may create a good atmosphere in a Japanese classroom. Pair or small group activities will give them opportunities to interact more closely with their classmates, enhancing the cohesiveness and understanding among them. This will especially reduce nervousness of true beginners who seem to feel intimidate in comparison to false beginners. Moreover, the well-organized course in terms of exams and structure can decrease foreign language anxiety. Lillian felt less nervous about exams when she found correlatio ns between test content and course materials. As Young (1991) maintains, consistency between what the students learned in class and on what they are tested may decrease foreign language anxiety. Thus, the teachers need to be careful to test the students on materials covered in class. Additionally, Leah’s case indicates that it is also important for the teachers to develop a well-structured syllabus that provides the students with sufficient guidance and a steady “study schedule.” If the students know what they are expected to do in the course, they feel less nervous. The correlation among students’ expectations and curricular realities related to materials and teaching methods also can also reduce foreign language anxiety. This can be achieved by constantly examining students’ needs by a questionnaire and adjusting syllabus to them. Since this study is exploratory and examined only two students of Japanese, the conclusions drawn here may not apply to all students of Japanese. Future research is necessary with various data sources such as classroom observation and interviews with teachers. Finally, it is crucial to conduct a longitudinal study of foreign language anxiety with college students. By looking at changes of levels of anxiety over a period of time, we can gain deeper insights into the effects of prior experience on foreign language anxiet as y well as other important issues such as sources of anxiety. [Back to Table of Contents] References Aida, Y. (1994). Examination of Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope’s construct of foreign language anxiety: The case of students of Japanese. Modern Language Journal, 78, 155- 168. Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz. (1986). Preliminary evidence for the reliability and validity of a foreign language anxiety scale. TESOL Quarterly, 20, 559-562. Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. Modern Language Journal, 70, 125-132. Johnson, D. A. (1992). Approaches to Research in Second Language Learning. New York, NY: Longman. Lange, D., Prior, P., & Sims, W. (1992). Prior instruction, equivalency formulas, and 14
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