Wayne Trotman reviews a book outlining the latest research into language anxiety, and its implications for the classroom
New Insights into Language Anxiety: Theory, Research and Educational Implications
Edited by Christina Gkonou, Mark Daubney and Jean-Marc Dewaele
Multilingual Matters 978-1-78309-770-8
Teachers who speak only English are probably unaware of the anxiety and turmoil going on in some of their second language learners’ minds.
The authors’ introduction explains how such language anxiety (LA) shapes the thoughts, feelings and actions of learners (and sometimes teachers) by, for example, diminishing willingness to communicate, sowing seeds of self-doubt, and lowering self-esteem.
As someone who both lives and works in a Turkish speaking environment, and still suffers from LA even after 30 years, I felt like a patient listening to his doctor. I found this title most enlightening, especially in relation to identifying and treating its symptoms.
The first chapter covers theoretical insights and provides an overview of LA research and trends in its development. It points out how, although a little anxiety might push learners to study more, LA is largely debilitating.
On the matter of whether anxiety is a cause or an effect of bad language performance, the research indicates that it is in fact both. LA, it says, is both an internal state and socially constructed.
The book also stresses the need to take into consideration the viewpoints and experiences of those who matter – the anxious learners themselves.
The second part of the book looks at the new research. Firstly, the notion of anxiety and second language self-image is discussed. Erdi Şimşek and Zoltan Dörnyei outline their mixed method study of twenty learners in Turkey who had particularly debilitating anxiety, and who provided insights into what made them nervous.
The book also highlights a study with students from Saudi Arabia and Japan, plus a mixed international group, which explored whether perfectionists are more likely to be anxious foreign language learners. Japanese learners of English in particular are widely regarded as reluctant speakers. Social anxiety and silence in tertiary classrooms is also discussed.
Lots of relevant information for the classroom teacher can be found in the latter half of the book. We learn that it is vital to build ‘safety nets’ such as effective error correction into the classroom situation.
We also learn how anxious language learners can literally change how they think by way of teachers using ideas and strategies from traditional and positive psychology. Links between self-esteem and LA along with further implications for the classroom are also discussed.
I would certainly recommend adding this title to reading lists for courses at all higher levels of teacher development.
I feel participants would be made much more aware of both causes and effects of LA. They would also of course be more knowledgeable in how to deal with such matters in a professional manner.
Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.