Anxiety is one of the most important affective variables in learners‟ achievement in language learning, and it is pervasive as well. Foreign language learning is a hard and time-consuming process. A foreign language is quite different from one‟s native
language in pronunciation, spelling and grammar. It can make students full of anxiety in the process of learning. Too much anxiety can prevent students from learning the foreign language effectively. A certain degree of anxiety can help students concentrate and contribute to their learning. The effects of anxiety can be divided into two facilitating anxiety and the debilitating anxiety. So this thesis aims to study the effects of anxiety on English receptive skills and explore effective ways to overcome anxiety.
Foreign language anxiety (FLA) is most clearly associated with the two aspects of language use (Saito and Howitz;1999). Most discussions of FLA have centered on
the difficulties caused by anxiety with respect to speaking rather than listening;so
there are rare theories about receptive skills like listening and reading anxiety in foreign language. In the 1970s, some researches began to note the affective reactions in human communication. English was considered as a tool for communication rather a language. While analyzing the mainly four aspects in English learning, speaking is the output of communication and reading is the input of communication. So it is one of the important tasks to obtain a good reading capability to learn English. Reading can promote English learners in enlarging vocabulary, enrich the knowledge, broadening the eyesight and improving the ability to use the language. Furthermore, it also provides the learners with the newest information from their work in the future.
As for the aspects of listening and reading, Wheels (1975) described listening and reading anxiety as “receiver‟s apprehension the fear of misinterpreting inadequately processing or not being able to adjust psychologically to messages sent by other” (1975:263). Later, Preiss and Wheeless (1990) assumed that listening
anxiety included three interrelated antecedents: primary anxiety, secondary anxiety and information processing. The primary anxiety relates to situational fear of encountering new information. The secondary anxiety conceptualized as the fear of information processing anxiety. Listeners tend easily to be stressed when complex
information processing is required. As for the information processing view of anxiety, it means that listeners with insufficient schemata or strategic processing knowledge may become anxious out of a fear of misinterpreting or inadequately processing message. The above two explanations derive from the study on first language acquisition. In the case of listening anxiety in the foreign language context;listeners
face the dual tasks of encoding and decoding the coming messages in another language;so the effect of anxiety is more obvious. In sum;foreign language listening
anxiety is the fear of misinterpreting;inadequately processing the messages sent
orally and specifically associated with uniqueness of second language listening process.
II. Literature Review
A. Definition of relevant terms
Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive, produce and use words to understand and communicate. Acquisition is the process of taking in information without making conscious effort, but what we discuss here is Second language acquisition, or SLA. It is the process by which people learn languages in addition to their native tongue(s). Just as second language is the standard term for any language whose acquisition starts after early childhood, including what is chronologically the third or subsequent language, SLA is the acquisition of any second language. The language to be learnt is often referred to as the “target
2. What are receptive skills?
English learning is a process of information processing. Meanwhile the skills we needed are various, such as the productive skills and the receptive skills. What this essay concerned is receptive skills which include two aspects: listening and reading. Listening is an important part in English learning, so is reading.
Listening plays an important in language learning. It is significant to have a better understanding of the listening process and the characteristics of spoken language. Because it will help us understand the difficulties that students experience
in developing listening skills. It will also help us attend a variety of activities in learning listening. Another aspect of receptive skills is reading. All of us began reading in our first language at a very early age and we all have experiences of being influenced by certain authors. The main purpose of reading is to achieve global understanding.
B. Studies abroad
Foreign language educators and scholars have presumed the impacts of anxiety on foreign language learning have existed for many years. According to Horwitz (1986) “Language anxiety is the fear occurring when a learner is expected to perform in the second or foreign language.” Early researches on the roles of anxiety in
foreign language learning can be traced to the 1940s. In these studies the term such as “language anxiety” or “foreign language anxiety” was not yet developed, and anxiety was occasionally mentioned as a by-product of the multifactor study of foreign language learning (Scovel, 1987). Since the 1980s research concerning language anxiety has experienced a break-through which was marked by two papers of Horwitz. From then on, the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety has been adopted by a lot of studies, and studies on language anxiety have developed to a more mature stage In addition, Phillips (1992) shows that the negative influence of anxiety can effect oral expression.
According to the research abroad, the importance of anxiety in learning language has led to significant discussion on the topic (Horwitz and Young 1991). Anxiety is linked directly to performing in the target language, so it is not a general performance anxiety (Gardner and MacIntyre 1993). Language anxiety ranks high among factors influencing language learning, regardless of whether the setting is informal (learning language “on the stress”) or formal (in the language classroom). “Language anxiety
can start as transitory episodes of fear in a situation in which the students has to perform in the language, at this time, anxiety is a passing state. However, language anxiety does not decrease over time for all the students.” (Rebecal L.)
Some of the domestic scholars hold the view that English teaching has become
increasingly important in schools. It is necessary for English educators to make efforts to work at how to teach child learners the foreign language, especially the effects of anxiety. Based on the theory of facilitating and debilitating anxiety, Yang Jin(2000) used adapted-anxiety scale from Chen‟ s (1997) English-major Learners‟ Oral Anxiety
Test Scale to study the relationship among language anxiety and listening and reading achievements. The results indicated that facilitating anxiety is significantly and positively correlated with listening and reading achievements while debilitating anxiety is negatively correlated with listening and reading achievements. But to the date available, only a few empirical studies have investigated foreign language listening and reading anxiety using specifically designed scale for listening and reading anxiety. Thus, more researches should be done to explore the nature and effect of listening and reading anxiety. Furthermore, it is also significant to find some useful ways to cope with listening anxiety timely.
Generally speaking, language researchers hold different views about the existences or significance of helpful anxiety. Horwitz (1990) thought that anxiety is only helpful for over simple language learning tasks, but not with more complicated learning such as language learning. Young (1992) interviewed some experts about their views on the helpfulness of language anxiety. Rardin responded that a positive aspect of anxiety operates all the time, but we only notice when a native imbalance occurs. Omaggio Hadly suggested that a certain amount of tension might be useful for language learning, but she refused to term this tension „anxiety‟. Likewise, Terrell
preferred to call such tension „attention‟ rather than „anxiety‟. Krashen contended that
there is no helpful aspect to anxiety in language acquisition, which almost by definition requires that anxiety be zero, but that helpful anxiety might exist for language tasks in formal language learning situations. Clearly, the jury is still out concerning the existence of helpful anxiety.
III. General introduction of anxiety
A. Types of anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most affective factors in the learning of English, the main implications are that the students can‟t achieve the goals they have made or come
across some obstacles in their study. It makes them feel depressed in self respect or even produce the emotion of anxiety. Language anxiety is fear or apprehension occurring when a learner is expected to perform in the second or foreign language (Gardner and MacIntyre 1993).
Many learners both home and abroad, such as Scovel, Howitz, Ausubeleta, Wang Yinquan , Wan Yushu and so on ,gave different definitions of anxiety. As a whole, anxiety, as a common psychological phenomenon, usually includes different reflections on three levels. First, on physiological level, anxiety includes tremble, sweat, swirl, hard breathing and so on. Second, on emotional level, tension, discomfort and pressure are subjectively unwell feelings. Third, on cognitive level, the behavior caused by scare, memory weakening and social function decreasing or loss are the reflections of anxiety. And also there are various classifications of anxiety from different views. According to the source of anxiety, anxiety can be divided into personality anxiety, state anxiety and specific condition anxiety. According to the degree of anxiety, it can be divided into low degree, medium degree and high degree anxiety. Macintyre & Gardner (1991) viewed anxiety as general anxiety and communicative anxiety. From the effects of anxiety, Kleinmann (1977) divided into facilitative and debilitative anxiety.
1. Facilitating anxiety
In learning English, anxiety should be the biggest affective factors in emotional obstacle. The extent of the anxiety relates to the experience of the past and the surroundings. Most of the people think that the role that anxiety play on the learning of English is debilitating. So the role of anxiety becomes a controversial topic. Some people say that anxiety is positive; others say that anxiety is negative. And here we discuss the positive effect of anxiety: anxiety can promote the learning of English in leading them to an active way. Facilitating anxiety is a kind of anxiety that does well to the English learners.
For example, student may feel anxiety when the teacher asks a question he didn‟t prepared. But what‟s the role of anxiety play here? It‟s facilitative. Before teacher
asking the question, this question is hard for him to remember and comprehension.
After the anglicizing by the teacher, he got a better understanding of the question; what‟s more, he will pay attention to the question very often. As a result, the question remains in the mind for a very long time. He can find the memory lasting unbelievable. It is the anxiety that strengthen the memory of the knowledge not only in English but also other objects. The way of facilitating anxiety turns out to be more significant when we come to a very important language point.
2. Proper anxiety
Another kind of anxiety that can produce vigorous effect on the learning of English is proper anxiety. For instance, when an examination comes near, the student may be anxious about it. He can use the proper anxiety to help him remember the words or knowledge he has learnt. What‟s more, he will not oversleep before the examination because of proper anxiety. So it is an active effect that proper anxiety has on learning or the daily life.
3. Debilitating anxiety
Though some language researchers assert that a positive mode of anxiety exists, most language research shows a negative relationship between anxiety and performance. Scholars abroad find that anxiety has positive effects in learning English in some degree, while the negative effects also exist. More and more researches find that language anxiety has direct influence on the learning of English. The negative kind of anxiety is sometimes called „debilitating anxiety‟ because it harms learners‟
performance in many ways, both indirectly through worry and self-doubt and directly by reducing participation and creating overt avoidance of the language. Debilitating anxiety can be related to plummeting motivation, negative attitudes and beliefs, and language performance difficulties. For instance, when parents have high expectations of the students, it will make them feel stressful. Then anxiety may emerge. This kind of debilitating anxiety makes students lose interest in English learning. That‟s why we
need to pay attention to the debilitating anxiety on the learning of English.
4. Excessive anxiety---negative effects
Excessive anxiety differs from debilitating anxiety in the effects on English learning. When the students face a situation which makes them produce excessive
anxiety, they will be conquered by the emotion. Things will get worse if the excessive anxiety lasts for a very longtime, or even affect the future life. Indeed, it makes them feel afraid of learning English.
B. Comparison of the two anxieties—facilitating anxiety and debilitating
1. The similarities of them
Facilitating anxiety and debilitating anxiety are the two main types of anxiety; both of them are anxieties that affect the English learning. Anxiety affects English receptive skills both listening and reading. The relationship between them is that they can reciprocal transform. It is not an absolutely in definitions. The effect between can turn into each other according to the environment. For instance, an examination may produce debilitating anxiety, but the situation changes, his parents award him a present if he gets high score. Thus the similarities of them are clearly to be seen.
2. The differences of them
Facilitating anxiety and debilitating anxiety are two aspects of anxiety; on the contrary, they differ from each other in the effects on English learning. Facilitating anxiety promotes the study of English, while debilitating anxiety impedes the improvement of English learning. Then, the reasons that cause the two aspects are different. For example, a question may cause facilitating anxiety while an important examination may result in debilitating anxiety. What‟s more, the consequences produced by the two anxieties are different. Facilitating anxiety may result in the reading part of English learning while debilitating anxiety may lead to bad results in listening.
IV. Effects of anxiety on English receptive skills
A. Effects of Anxiety on Listening
1. Facilitating effects on listening
The facilitating effects anxieties have on listening are various. Therefore, the effects of facilitating anxiety promote the students‟ listening. First of all, the speaking
speeds and materials they listened. If the speaking speed is slow and the material contains words they all had learnt. They can easily remember the words of the text
and get the main idea of it. Then, foreign language listening anxiety, which is associated with listeners‟ feelings such as easiness, excited, confidence, are quite
possibly the affective factors that most effective during the listening comprehension process. Thus, it has an obvious effect on second or foreign language listening achievements. Third, the less stress from the surrounding occur positive effects. For instance, a listening class is more frequent to produce positive anxiety than an examination.
MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) pointed out that anxiety could be hypothesized to affect three stages of the learning process: input, processing and output. Positive effects emerge in the three stages: students master the main words of the listening material in the process of input, get the main viewpoint in the processing, and retell the content in their own words after listening. Then, what causes foreign language listening anxiety in foreign language learning? There are several potential factors that caused learners‟ anxiety in the foreign language listening. Vogely (1998) has found that characteristics of input, the process of foreign language listening, the instructional and personal factors are the main factors easily bringing about listeners‟ anxiety.
2. Debilitating effects on listening
Specifically speaking, the speed, pronunciation, intonation, acoustic conditions and length of a listening text and difficulty level of vocabulary are the text cause of debilitating anxiety to listeners. They hinder listeners‟ input receiving and in taking
too. Listeners cannot make good use of their cognitive competence and comprehension and their attention strays to irrelevant tasks, which induce debilitating anxiety again. Another cause of anxiety is associated with personal characteristics of listeners. Many students are under great pressure when they listen to different listening materials, particularly to those unfamiliar topics without relevant background knowledge. Moreover, some other researches (Zhou, 2003) found that misuses of listening strategies would make listeners anxious too. For example, students who are trying to understand every word of the listening material are easier to become debilitative anxious. This can be explained that listeners cannot use the “selective attention” strategy appropriately. Others do not know how to use
“note-taking” strategy, they want to write everything down but the one-direction
feature of listening make them fail to listen to the later part of the material, thus leading to anxiety. Therefore, it is very necessary and important to do more researches in this aspect. That is, providing listeners with some coping strategies for listening anxiety will be valued.
B. Effects of anxiety on reading
1. Facilitating effects on reading
According to the various materials of reading, the effects of debilitating anxiety can be divided into several levels. The first is the length of the material, the shorter the message is, and the grater effects will produce. Then is the degree the students‟
familiarity to the material. The more they are familiar with the material, the easier to be understood, they may feel more positive on reading. Or the text is closely related to their daily life, the effect will be obviously to be seen. One more factor that makes the facilitating anxiety come into use is the personal characteristics of readers. Some people like reading some science fiction, but others are not. So when students come across an essay about science fiction, the positive effects occur to those who like reading that kind of article.
2. Debilitating effects on reading
As for the debilitating anxiety on reading, the first should come to the gender differences. The students who have more vocabulary suffer less from the debilitating anxiety than those who don‟t have. Because the content of vocabulary is one of the
main factors that influence students‟ reading. The more words they know, the quickly
they get the main idea of the material. Next are the skills the students have on reading. The less familiar with the reading skills, the more they feel the debilitating anxiety. And reading without a purpose is less effective than reading with a purpose. So debilitating anxiety is more frequently happen to the students who read without purpose. What‟s more, the length of the article will produce effects on reading. The longer the essay is, the students feel more negative on reading it. While having an examination, the larger influences will have on the scores. Students will fell anxious if they want to get the highest score in the class. Thus, during the process of
examination, the expectation to get higher score will produce negative effects. C. Effective measures to deal with anxiety
With the development of FLA research, more and more researchers have devoted a lot to the study of coping strategy on anxiety, that is, how to deal with anxiety. The coping strategy study on anxiety is limited. Nagle and Sanders (1986, see Isen, 1999) maintained that failure to understand could be alleviated by providing students with maximum opportunities for successful response to comprehensible input. Also, a low-anxiety environment created by teachers is another efficient coping strategy to high-anxiety students. These coping strategies come from the teachers‟ consideration. Vogely (1998) argued that students themselves could provide some useful coping strategies to solve anxiety problem. This aspect will discuss coping strategy from both teachers and students.
Anxiety caused by listening and reading materials, nervousness in the activities, lack of listening and reading skills, unfamiliarity with background knowledge and poor English proficiency are the major factors caused the learners‟ anxiety. And anxiety is closely related to several learner background factors such as motivation to master receptive skill, interest in listening and reading study, self-rated listening and reading proficiency and self-reported listening and reading anxiety. Different learners have different ways to deal with the strategy. Problem-solving, help-seeking, relaxation and avoidance are the four main coping strategies that students often use. But the students must train themselves to use some listening and reading skills as follows:
First, help students understand that language anxiety episodes can be transient and do not inevitably develop into a lasting problem. Second, boost the self-esteem and self-confidence of students for whom language anxiety has already become a long term trait by providing multiple opportunities for classroom success in the language. Then, reduce the competition present in the classroom. And be very clear about classroom goals and help students develop strategies to meet those goals. Third, give students permission to use the language with less than perfect performance. Fourth, encourage students to relax through music, laughter or games, use fair tests with