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of Chinese ESL Students
Cynthia White Dept. of Linguistics and SLT, Massey University, New Zealand
BarleyShuk-Yin Mak Language Centre Hong Kong Baptist University
Abstract Anxiety research in language learning has been carried out largely with English-speaking foreign language learners of Indo-European languages, and, more recently, of Japanese. This article reports the findings of a study into the sources of one type of language learning anxiety, known as communication apprehension (CA), among Chinese ESL students in New Zealand secondary schools. The relative importance of a number of sources of CA (educational, social and cultural) is investigated by means of interviews and a ranking exercise. In addition, a questionnaire and classroom observation session explore the sources of CA in relation to certain in-class practices, such as questioning, voluntary speaking and pair work Results indicate that the language distance between Chinese and English contributed strongly to CA among Chinese ESL students. Within the classroom, an emphasis on voluntary speaking, insufficient preparation for speaking and fear of negative evaluation were important sources of CA. The article concludes with a number of suggestions for future avenues of research into CA and language learning anxiety. Introduction In recent years, the number of Chinese-speaking ESL students in New Zealand secondary schools has increased dramatically. This has led to a concern on the part of teachers that among these students, there is a sizable proportion who have limited proficiency in English and who are not accustomed to the norms of a New Zealand classroom (Syme 1995). The predominant participant structures of the classroom require students to take part in class discussions, to debate, to speak voluntarily and to contribute to
While the learning and communicative styles of the Chinese have been discussed in detail in fields such as psychology. Among foreign language students. Horwitz & Cope 1986. and behaviours . Research findings concerning students’ anxiety in relation to speaking in a second language are scarce (Young 1990). arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (Horwitz et al. particularly in relation to Chinesespeaking students. Young (1994) o bserved that Chinese students think that it is rude when others are permitted to call out their answers at will. In these contexts. education and applied linguistics (Anderson 1993. that is a state of being uneasy or apprehensive about what might happen. which uses such techniques as role-play and brainstorming. beliefs. Aida 1994.g. Young 1994). skills in exploratory learning are emphasised and students are expected to develop exploratory learning skills through such means as interaction with peers. Samimy & Tabuse 1992.Jones 1979. Martini. Burnaby & Sun 1989. the effect of an unfamiliar language and learning environment on Chinese learners remains unexplored Sato (1990) in a study of ethnic styles in classroom discourse concluded that Chinese students are more reluctant to speak than their European counterparts and do not want to make mistakes in front of the class. Sources of anxiety about speaking among Chinese students who face the challenge of learning in a second language in ways which are unfamiliar to them are the subject of this article. Such performance anxiety is situation-specific and has been termed "communication apprehension” (CA) by Horwitz et al. Erbaugh (1990) reported that Chinese students in general regard process-oriented teaching. Anxiety. Behnke & King 1992.. Second language learners have the dual task not only of learning the second language but of performing in it. Price 1991). Erbaugh 1990. CA in language learning is characterised by a reluctance to talk or shyness in communicating and is “a distinct complex of self-perception.. Melton 1990. 1986:128). feelings.lessons through the asking and answering of questions. These approaches are alien to many Chinese students who are used to teacher-centred classrooms with a transmission model of learning (Kirkpatrick & Prescott 1995). as a waste of time and so do not want to spend time on speaking tasks. (1986). Chung 1988. Linked with this is the influence of Chinese teaching methods such as memorisation which do not prepare students well for speaking-based tasks which require students to create exchanges appropriate to the context instead of according to a model 82 . Young 1992). has been reported to be common in foreign language classrooms (Horwitz. speaking in class is frequently cited as anxiety-producing (e.
two from each senior form (Form 5 . Young 1987. Such open-endedness presents a number of difficulties for students used to more defined classroom tasks.(Anderson 1993). social and cultural) for Chinese learners of English? 2. learning is based on the assumption that talking and verbal display of knowledge are important in developing cognitive skills. aged from 15 to 17 years of age. it is widely held that teachers tend to form positive impressions of students who will contribute in class. Young 1994). In addition. All had been in New Zealand for from three to five years. The students were chosen from the senior part of the school because they had been in New Zealand for a longer period of time than many other Chinese students and it was hoped that they would have gained some perspective on their experiences. were invited to participate in the study. What are the sources of CA in relation to certain in-class practices? The Study The setting for the study was a girls’ high school in New Zealand Sixtyfive Chinese ESL students attended the school and from these six. except for a student from Taiwan who had arrived the previous year. In addition.Form 7).Chung 1988. Another reason for selecting these students was that they 83 . The research questions which are the focus of this study are: 1. and at various levels of the education system marks are awarded for in-class participation The research reported here seeks to investigate sources of CA for Chinese ESL students in such a setting. The requirement to communicate in unfamiliar ways in an unfamiliar language poses extra pressures on these students and could be expected to raise anxiety levels. and how the degree of CA they experience relates to certain in-class practices. requirements on them than the EFL context in which most learnt English previously. The causes and extent of CA among different ethnic groups such as Chinese and Japanese have been recognised as a potentially rich area of research (e. their relative importance. This study addressesthe issue of CA among Chinese ESL students in New Zealand for whom interaction in English is an integral part of classroom norms and of the The ESL context places more language secondary school curriculum.g. What is the relative importance of identified sources of CA (educational.
84 . A new data-gathering technique was devised in the form of a ranking exercise which was considered to be particularly suitable for the subjects in terms of their age and experience. The one student in the sample from Hong Kong migrated to New Zealand because of political uncertainty in her own country as well as to meet parental expectations (related to acquiring a good command of English to help in the family business). The results presented in this paper relate to the findings from the six subjects in the main study. questionnaire. Twelve Chinese ESL adult students from the same school were chosen as subjects for a pilot study because they formed an intact group with the same ethnic background as the subjects in the main study. All spoke Chinese at home apart from the student from Hong Kong who spoke Chinese and English. Mak.’. All data gathering procedures took place in English at the request of students. ’ A copy of the questionnaire and ranking exercise can be obtained by contacting B. Chinese was used to check on understanding of items in the questionnaire and ranking exercise and occasionally during discussions. Aida 1994. None of the subjects had attended international schools before coming to New Zealand Interviews. Price 1991. The three students from the People’s Republic of China reported their parents came to New Zealand for a better life. Samimy and Tabuse 1992. questionnaires and discussion have been commonly used in anxiety research (for example. A classroom observation session was also set up as a relatively unobtrusive means of gathering data on CA.had acquired quite high levels of English proficiency after their time of study in New Zealand It was emphasised that participation in the study was voluntary and formed no part of the tuition or assessmentprogramme. all six agreed to take part in the study. The four data collection techniques of interview. ranking exercise and classroom session are now discussed in turn1. The subjects from the study were ethnically Chinese but from different parts of the Chinese-speaking world They had different motivations for coming to New Zealand The two girls from Taiwan reported that they were sent to New Zealand principally to learn better English. Horwitz et al 1986. Ethical procedures were followed to gain consent from the school and subjects. Young 1990) and form part of the data collection procedures in this study. Throughout the data gathering procedures more technical terms such as CA or social sources of CA were avoided when working with the students.
Items in the ranking exercise were divided into three groups each consisting of eight items. The students had to put (1) next to the statement that they thought was most important in generating CA and (8) for the least important one. then group three in a similar way. 85 .from the literature and from the researcher’s own views about the likely sources of CA. While these three groups of items were presented to the students as discrete tasks. information about sources of CA (educational. The interview was thus quite general in nature and lasted for forty minutes. several items such as attitudes towards voluntary speaking could be classified as belonging to more than one category and were repeated in order to cross-check the reliability of the results. This formed the basis of the discussion with subjects. Educational sources of CA such as classroom practices and the target language were in Group A. A group interview was chosen since it was felt that it would provide a non-threatening environment in which students could meet one another. The aim of the ranking exercise was to get students to identify the relative influence of different sources of CA from their point of view. In preparation for the interview. Statements in the first group were presented to the students and they were asked to rank (from l-8) each group according to their order of importance. cultural and social) was gathered in two ways .Interview An initial interview was used to gauge how readily students would identify with and respond to questions about CA and to gather information on their experiences of CA. Further sources of CA mentioned in the discussion were identified and used to supplement the pool of materials on sources of CA which were then used to construct the following ranking exercise. It was emphasised that subjects could use Chinese and/or English in the interview: the language chosen by each student was English. social sources of CA such as self-esteem formed Group B. exchange experiences and be informed about the study. and cultural sources of CA such as attitudes towards speaking formed group C. They also completed the ranking exercise for group two. The interview was tape-recorded to free the researcher to participate naturally in the discussion and to allow the content to be reviewed in detail. they were told that the researcher was interested in their experiences in New Zealand classrooms and how they felt about participating in their classes.
On the basis of the questionnaire results. In the session the researcher carried out classroom observation to assess the degree of CA experienced by the students and followed this by informal discussions with the subjects. Subjects were told that there were no right or wrong answers and that they should choose the closest answer to their experience. however the effect of speaking activities which do not permit preparation in advance had not been explored in previous work.In Part II. such as role-play or pair work. a 25-item questionnaire was developed based on items from the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) of Horwitz et al (1986) and from the questionnaire used by Young (1990). “moderately anxious” and “very anxious”. experienced and highly-regarded in the school. Before the classroom session the researcher worked with the teacher to design a lesson on the topic of genetics which would incorporate the above tasks. Young (1990) and Aida (1994). They were asked to complete the questionnaire at home so they would have as much time as they needed. They were asked to respond to a statement about each task which was closest to how they felt: “very relaxed”. another as “neither relaxed nor anxious" (reading aloud from seat) and a third as “moderately anxious” (answering unprepared questions). and was used to gauge the degree of anxiety students felt while performing the tasks. The teacher who took the class was a senior member of staff. Each item focused on certain in-class speaking activities. In order to observe the degree of CA generated by different classroom speaking activities. “moderately relaxed”. “neither relaxed nor anxious”. three activities were chosen for the classroom session. the researcher observed a science lesson carried out with the six students which required them to participate in a number of speaking activities. The subjects were asked to complete the ranking exercise at home so that they had sufficient time to work on the task For the purposes of comparison with previous studies. one of which was reported as “moderately relaxed” (pair work). social and cultural sources of CA) which were mentioned in Part I according to their overall importance as sources of CA. each subject was asked to rank the three groups (educational. 86 . Pair work and reading aloud had been rated in a similar way in the findings of Horwitz et al (1986).
the greater the weight attached to that reason.00 4. The means and standard deviations for each item were calculated In interpreting the results. The subjects’ responses relating to educational sources of CA are summarised in Table 1: Table 1: Educational Sources of CA Means and Standard Deviations of Ranking Sources of CA MeanRanking SD.00 6. the smaller the mean. of -n Differences in education systems Different teaching .58 1.17 5.17 4.41 1. . giving as many as eight points to the least important reason.00 5.67 4. two for the second most important.50 The two most important educational sources of CA ranked by the subjects were the language distance between Chinese and English and the differences in education systems in New Zealand and the subjects’ home countries.76 2. and so on.qles Voluntary speaking Comprehension of English Language distance between Chinese and English Insufficient preparation time given before speaking Different emphasis on speaking Different speaking practice opportunities 3.67 3. An emphasis on voluntary speaking and different teaching styles were also reported as causesof CA.94 2.37 2.Results The data collected through the ranking exercise was analysed as described by Youngman (1983) in which points were allocated to each rank so that the addition of the scores produces some indication of the overall order.94 1. One point was allocated to the most important reason for anxiety when speaking English.42 2.33 2.
of Ranking 1. In terms of cultural sources of CA. the subjects again ranked voluntary speaking and different teaching styles as the two most important sources of CA (Table 3).63 2.76 2.00 5.00 2.76 88 .67 4.25 2.75 2.00 S.50 3.67 4.86 1. Table 3: Cultural Sources of CA Means and Standard Deviations of Ranking Sources of CA Voluntary speaking Deliberate care given to speech Different teaching style Parental expectations Priority given to education Attitudes towards wait time Differences in culture Attitudes towards speaking Mean Ranking 2.87 0.50 5.45 3.41 1.D.10 2.17 3.50 2. of Ranking Lack of confidence Social pressure Wony about progress Attitudes in making mistakes Different accents Feeling different and uneasy among native English speakers Low self-esteem Attitudes towards public speaking 3.17 1.07 2.50 5.00 5.83 6.33 5.67 5.64 1.Table 2: Social Sources of CA Means and Standard Deviations Sources of CA of Ranking S.67 5.D.87 Lack of confidence was ranked as the most important social source of CA and this was closely followed by the subjects’ attitudes about making mistakes and the fear that their accents were different to those of others (Table 2). Thus different teaching styles emerged twice in the results as both educational and social sources of CA.51 1.00 4.16 1.
In the final part of the ranking exercise subjects ranked the educational reasons given in Group A as more important in inducing CA than cultural or social influences. educational or social background). The categories of activities which produced the highest levels of CA involved voluntary speaking. The mean response for each category was then calculated and the results appear in Table 4. A number of general observations were made by the researcher which were explored and confirmed in a discussion with students at the end of the class. and did not appear to find the activity threatening. Thus answering voluntarily and discussing voluntarily were grouped as voluntary speaking. The classroom session allowed the researcher to observe the participation and reaction of subjects in class in relation to three speaking activities: pair work. The twenty-five items relating to speaking activities were transformed into fourteen categories according to the characteristics of the activities or the demands they place on the learner. being singled out with no preparation time. The subject for the class on “dominant and recessivealleles” was chosen because it represents one of the topics of mainstream science classes which all of the students would have encounter at some stage. This indicated that their main concerns arise from the educational environment. Two common factors in these four categories were fear of negative evaluation and being expected to speak in front of the classwithout preparation. some questions in the three groups are interrelated and intersect (for example. role play and teacher-assessmentof speaking. This analysis extends the work of Young (1990) w ho cited activities without grouping them on the basis of common characteristics and demands on the learner. Firstly. It is important to acknowledge that although the kinds of questions in Group A tended to focus on educational context. 89 . reading aloud from their seats and being called upon to answer questions in front of the class. the subjects’ attitudes towards voluntary speaking can be affected by their cultural. subjects engagedwith the pair task. exchanged information freely with one another.
they looked relieved when their turn was over and many were uncomfortable when they encountered difficult words. the subjects resisted speaking in front of the class when asked to explain information in a diagram. The teacher asked each subject some questions on what she had just read and also directed questions to others.23 4. in such a situation. as the teacher observed.22 2.Table 4: Categories of Speaking Activities by Anxiety Level Categoryof Activity Voluntaxy speaking Singled out. 90 . the Chinese students did not take up this option.09 This was in spite of the fact that they found the worksheet on “dominant and recessive alleles” a little difficult. no preparation Role play Being assessedby teacher while speaking Discussion Insufficient wait time Mistakes corrected while speaking Mistakes not corrected while speaking Asking questions in class Singled out with preparation Reading in class Repeating after teacher Sufficient wait time Pair/group work Mean 4. On two occasions.83 3. Throughout the session as a whole.83 3.75 2. students commonly carry out the explanation using drawings on the blackboard However.50 4.28 3.67 3. After the session students confirmed that the activity they felt least comfortable with was answering unprepared questions.00 3. Subjects clearly found the reading aloud task more stressful than the pair work. In fact.18 2. All subjects appeared to find this activity more threatening than the other two. no subjects volunteered to speak or answer.00 4.33 3.59 2.
this time between the education systems in New Zealand and the subjects’ home countries. By contrast. language differences between Chinese and English were the main sources of CA for the Chinese ESL students in this study. the emphasis is on listening. For such students speaking in public as opposed to voluntary speaking was cited as the main source of anxiety. the ranking exercise and the questionnaire. Voluntary speaking refers to situations where there is an expectation that students should participate and should themselves nominate to speak in a discussion or to ask or answer questions. This result differs from the findings of Horwitz et al (1986). memorization and paying close attention to teacher instructions. This is not surprising becauseChinese and English belong to two different language families (Sino-Tibetan and Indo-European) and do not have common features in terms of language structure and use. Young (1990) and Aida (1994) in studies carried out with American high school and university foreign language students. Subjects found it unpleasant and difficult to speak readily in class as reflected in the following remarks about voluntary speaking made in the group interview: “I don’t like to speak in class because I enjoy listening to others’ speaking.Discussion Based on the results from the ranking exercise. This fear was often related in the subjects’ minds to a more general lack of confidence as in the following extract from the group interview: 91 . for Chinese students. More specifically different teaching methods and in-class practices were identified as important in the ranking exercise and questionnaire. The American educational system is reputed to have a strong emphasis on self-expression. These conflicting results point to the fact that findings based on American foreign language students in relation to CA cannot be automatically expected to apply to Chinese ESL students. Fear of negative evaluation was found to be a strong source of CA in the group interview. I think I learn better this way. Why should we talk all the time in order to learn? " The student highlighted that it is important for her to listen in the learning process and linked this to her reluctance to talk. The dissimilarity could be seen to be related to the particular situation of Chinese students. were also reported as contributing factors to CA. and of these voluntary speaking was a particularly prominent source of CA. Further differences.
Steinberg and Horwitz 1986. Conclusion Although validating evidence for the theory of Horwitz et al (1986) in relation to foreign language anxiety is accumulating (Aida 1994. voluntary speaking and preparation time. My classmatesoften correct my mistakes when I am speaking in front of the class and that lets me down. language distance is an important element missing from this framework. Another is that for two of the instruments. To a 92 . However. Horwitz et al. social and educational backgrounds of the Chinese ESL students affect the degree of CA they experience. MacIntyre and Gardner 1991a 1991b. the ranking exercise and the questionnaire.” The comment also reveals that differences in ethnicity and accent make the student feel more self-conscious about her performance in front of others. One limitation is the small sample size. such research has been carried out within the Indo-European language family. but a consideration of these issues is beyond the scope of this article. Aida 1994. the responses of subjects were constrained they were asked to choose from a number of options instead of being asked to give their own ideas freely. Samimy and Tabuse 1992) together with the findings of this study suggest that the learning of a non-cognate language gives rise to anxiety on the part of the student. Previous research on second language anxiety has tended to focus on students for whom the language distance between the mother tongue and the target language is not great. Generally.“My colour is different and that makes me stand out in the class. Some Kiwis laugh when I speak so I prefer to be silent. the study has a number of limitations which should be borne in mind in any interpretation of the results. More recent research (for example. It would be useful to use the questionnaire and ranking exercise with larger groups to assessthe generalisability of the findings presented here particularly in relation to language distance. Young 1990). The qualitative approach to investigating CA in this study has provided insights into how aspectsof the cultural. This approach also investigated how the students attempted to cope with CA. (1986) have argued that language learning poses a threat to students’ self-esteem because it deprives them of their normal means of communication. Thus language distance then is an important element in any study of language learning anxiety or CA.
CA should be examined with different ethnic groups and in relation to a variety of in-class practices. 93 . Chinese teachers’ views of western language teaching: context informs paradigms. Is a communicative approach practical for teaching English in China? pros and cons. References Aida. B. In conclusion. Examination of Horwitz. 219-238. (1989). Burnaby. J. In addition.certain extent. Y. & Sun. unfamiliar classroom practices such as voluntary speaking. A further limitation of the study was that it was not possible to observe a classroom session which contained native speakers with the Chinese ESL learners a distinct minority as is usually the case. a number of factors have been found to give rise to CA among Chinese ESL students. TESOL Quarterly. 78(2). The Modem Language Journal. Y. this could affect and limit their expression of ideas. and fear of negative evaluation.23(2). However. interpret and accommodate the behaviour of Chinese ESL learners in both mainstream and language support classes. and then on the basis of their responses to clarify and elaborate on their ideas in discussion. These include the language distance between Chinese and English. (1993). particularly when the mother tongue and the target language are non-cognate languages as is the case with Chinese and English. it was simply not possible in the context of this study. This would have provided a more authentic context in which to observe the relationship between particular speaking activities and CA. System. and Cope’s construct of foreign language anxiety: the case of students of Japanese. However it proved a useful way of encouraging students to respond. Horwitz. (1994). Anderson. Research is required into ways of raising the shills of teachers to understand. Furthermore. 471-480. Further studies of CA in second or foreign language learning should take into account the potential role of language distance. an investigation of the degree of anxiety experienced by ESL learners outside the classroom and in less formal settings may lead to a fuller understanding of this complex construct and broaden the base of CA research. 21(4). 155-168.
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