Language learners often consider learning a second language as a difficult task because of a veritable fear of performing unknown grammar, phonology and writing. In other words, language anxiety could be a serious obstacle for learners. Due to the globalization process, there arose an absolute necessity of studying a foreign language because it allows students and people all over the world to communicate and exchange cultural experience.

Reducing ESL Students Speaking Anxiety inside the Classroom

Mutual understanding is impossible when people speak different languages and, therefore, language teachers admit that learning a foreign language is a challenging task that depends on social and cultural background, age, aptitude, motivation, learning styles and personality (Randall, 2007). According to Humphries (2011), “Anxiety is the subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness and worry associated with an arousal of the autonomic nervous system” (p. 66). It has been found to depend on many aspect of learning and can be applied to the second language learning. The feeling of apprehension and tension relates to the second language environments and contexts, including listening, learning and speaking (The Language Learner, n.d.). The problem of language anxiety is serious because it prevents students from acquiring new knowledge and expanding their experience in communication and interaction. Therefore, there should be specific strategies that would help them overcome the fear of interaction.

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Causes of Language Anxiety

Language anxiety was studied by numerous theorists who have been striving to define both its internal and external factors. There are different aspects affecting language anxiety such as gender, cultural affiliation or teaching methods. For example, Hewitt and Stephenson (2011) focus on the assessment of impact of language anxiety encountered by foreign language students on their oral performance. The results of the interview have detected students with anxiety presenting different outcomes and aspects, which have been improved in the course of gradual adjustment.

Apart from cultural affiliations and the types of assignments presented to ESL learners, there are specific personal characteristics, which influence the development of language anxiety. Thus, Dewaele (2013) has focused on the analysis of psychological, emotional and socio-biographical factors to show the link between student’s perception and language anxiety. By dividing students into four groups, the author seeks to explore whether language anxiety is associated with personality features such as neuroticism. Despite previous findings, it has been reported that there is a strong correlation between language anxiety and neuroticism, sharing up to 25% of probability. Additionally, significant correlations were found between psychoticism and extraversion.
Social environment and context also affect students’ feeling of language anxiety. As a result, teachers should reconsider methodological dimensions and teaching techniques that can contribute to the reduction of language learning fears and anxieties. In particular, close attention should be paid to the nature of language interactions and the language itself (Wesely, 2013). There is also a strong connection between language anxiety and emotional intelligence.

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In particular, Chinese students’ emotional intelligence and its relation to English classroom learning anxiety in three universities of China were explored. Several important conclusions have been made. To begin with, over half of Chinese students had a high level of emotional intelligence, and only one third of them faced language anxiety. Second, moderate and strong correlations among students’ emotional intelligence, English achievement, foreign language anxiety and self-rated English proficiency have been detected. Third, language anxiety has had a strong effect on emotional intelligence in forecasting English achievement. Finally, foreign language also significantly influences the relationship between self-rated English proficiency and emotional intelligence.

The nature of language anxiety could be associated with gender and age issues as well. Nahavandi and Jayakaran (2013) have conducted the research on 548 students who study in Jahad-e-Daneshgahi institute. It was aimed at evaluating language anxiety at English classes, communication apprehension and text anxiety. There was also an attempt to understand whether anxiety aspects are distinguished in terms of gender, social backgrounds and proficiency levels. The results have showed that students have differently experienced the higher side of the range. Specifically, it has been reported that communication anxiety has been found to be the major anxiety problem in comparison to other aspects. Furthermore, gender did not have a positive correlation with the feeling of anxiety. At the same time, anxiety has been largely dependent on proficiency level.

Gender distribution in classes could also be a serious aspect affecting language anxiety and second language performance. In the study by Park and French (2013), attention was paid to the analysis of Second Language Classroom Anxiety Scale among 948 university students who study English in Korea. Several conclusions can be drawn from the results of the study. Specifically, it has been reported that females have higher anxiety levels as well as higher grades in comparison to males. Furthermore, gender influence is not specifically associated with the items presented in the scale. The findings, therefore, have been discussed with practical and theoretical implications for a deeper understanding of the nature and causes of anxiety.

When it concerns teaching techniques, students often resort to different forms of learning, which are encouraged by motivation and attitude. However, the latter two are largely affected by language anxiety. In this context, Jain and Sidhu (2013) have introduced their outlook on the correlation between anxiety and motivation among ESL learners. The data was collected with the help of questionnaires and software to define the identified relationship. The findings have shown there is a strong negative correlation between ESL learning and gender, discipline and language proficiency. Additionally, it has been reported that science students have much higher positive attitude to language learning as compared to non-science learning. Interestingly, students with lower proficiency have a stronger relationship in motivation and attitude as compared to high proficiency students.

Influence of Language Anxiety on Students inside the Classroom

It should be admitted that language anxiety is explicitly revealed in the classroom as teachers could define the level of student’s readiness for English language learning. In this respect, MacIntyre and Gregersen (2012) have stated, “in the classroom, anxious learners tend to freeze up in role-play activities, forget previously learned material, are less likely to volunteer answers, and participate less than their non-anxious counterparts” (p. 104). Anxious students sometimes answer by learning more but complete courses with lower levels of achievement. Such a situation is explained by students’ increased level of anxiety and their inability to cope with nervous situations. Furthermore, the feeling of being disregarded for their performance and achievements can be the genuine reason for significant frustration among anxious learners. Anxious students are less enthusiastic about responding and correcting their mistakes and rely heavily on their own emotions. What is more important, they often exercise avoidance behavior, such as procrastinating or skipping classes, which can be associated with a high level of personal standards.

Partidge and Eamoraphan (2015) have also dedicated their studies to the analysis of students’ foreign language anxiety through a cooperative learning in Thailand. The study has been confined to four objectives. First of all, the scholars have sought to discuss the level of reported language anxiety in the classroom. Second, they have compared the difference between the extent of classroom anxiety of the focus group before and after learning by means of cooperative learning approach. The third objective was to perform a comparative analysis of the differences between groups before and after the introduction approach. Fourth, the authors have compared the difference between language classroom anxiety, communication apprehension and negative evaluation before and after the introduction of a learning approach. Additionally, the classroom anxiety is a broader concept that could also include language learning anxiety. There are different factors affecting foreign language acquisition in the classroom. According to Partidge and Eamoraphan (2015), “the affective variable includes the student’s motivation, self-confidence, and their anxiety/ the affective variables are factors that affect learning and can act as a filter which is known as the affective filter” (p. 176).

Strategies for Reducing Speaking Anxiety

Since the nature of language learning anxiety refers to social, psychological and cultural reasons, the methods of reducing the level of anxiety could also be different. As such, Partidge and Eamoraphan (2015) have proposed the method of cooperative learning, an instructional method that allows achieving results in pairs and teams, pledging students to be more enthusiastic, relying on their partners or members of the group. The benefits of this strategy will show how extraverts and introverts could cooperate to deal with the problem of communication. The findings confirm that students did not show significant improvements before and after cooperative learning. However, the study has also supported the idea that language anxiety depends more on personal characteristics rather than on the ability of working in a team. Specifically, the author has argued that “language anxiety [has] to be a stable personality trait which occurs when the student has to use a language they are not proficient in” (Partidge & Eamoraphan, 2015, p. 181). Considering this idea, language anxiety could be regarded as a stable phenomenon and students should work on personal achievement before they enter a specific group.

In case students encounter foreign language anxiety, the teachers should define what types of actions – direct or indirect- should be taken. They should cope with anxiety through the development of a less provoking environment. A range of techniques should be applied to help students to deal with their fears, making the classroom setting is less provoking and reducing the level of foreign language anxiety.

Piazzoli (2011) has put forward an interesting theory regarding the means of reducing language learning anxiety. Specifically, the author integrates a research project that is aimed at analysis of what happens when drama strategies are applied to a higher level of language learning. The author has offered six process drama workshops as a part of the three-year Italian course in Australia. The findings have suggested that authentic contexts and dramatic tensions should be outlined for the participants in the study, which can be engaged into target language production with the interference of spontaneous communication. Additionally, the results have also reported about affective space developed by the process of drama, which was essential in introducing the extent of language anxiety among the participants.

The analysis of these components should be related to the training programs developed for teachers and students. There are different aspects of these methods because they provide a specific theoretical and practical framework through which students could learn more about effective and interesting methods of learning. Prior to understanding the genuine methods of learning, teachers should pay specific attention to the cultural, psychological and emotional background of students. In this context, it is highly important to introduce a specific counseling system to learn more about student’s psychological profile and adjust the corresponding learning techniques. Integrating face-to-face interviews with school counselors will help teachers better understand what type of teaching approaches should be introduced. For instance, in case a student is defined as extravert, it can be possible to engage him/her into the development of collaborative projects in which students can exchange ideas and become less stressed with the classroom environment. When it comes to introvert students, it is possible to develop specific technological tools to help them feel more comfortable (Cassady, 2010). The analysis of these issues could be more appropriate for understanding psychological and emotional dimensions of the learning process. Further, the type of language learned and the national affiliation of students play an important role in the way they perceive second language learning. For instance, foreign students who study English language in the country of this language will definitely feel more anxiety than those who study English language in their native country. This factor should be considered by educators to adjust their teaching theories accordingly.

Apart from external factors and analysis of student’s characteristics, there are also specific teaching methods, such as a psychological approach. In fact, Mahmud and Suryana (2015) have admitted that language learners should be approached individually. There are two basic methods to redeem language learners’ level of fear and language anxiety such as classroom setting and learner centre solution. In a certain context, the best solution to cope with the problem is to implement a holistic approach by evaluating learner’s individual traits and the effectiveness of classroom management. At this point, language teachers should find out more about new teaching materials as well as about the psychological aspects of teaching.

Training programs should both encourage student to be less narrow-focused and be more opened. Specifically, the task of teachers is to ignite student’s motivation and desire to communicate with peers. In case of failure, educators should find out the way to make reluctant students act in the classroom environment and perform different tasks. In the majority of cases, students who participated in the training programs had a better awareness of their problems and were more prone to start regulating their behavior with regard to external demands. Teachers could also engage students’ parents in solving the problem of language anxiety. A holistic approach is the best solution in this case because it embraces new collaborative ideas in which cultural, psychological and educational dimensions are taken into consideration. Teachers should also inform students about the significance and challenges of second language learning to keep them more motivated and enthusiastic. In other words, acknowledgment of the possible difficulties and obstacles can make students be ready for these challenges and will be more predictable in the outcomes of learning. Higher awareness of the difficulties will also make them less stressed when they make certain mistakes. Additionally, the task of the teacher is to pay attention to individual traits that make students unique. Highlighting their achievements and controlling their performance will provide a powerful framework for the development of new methods of learning in case of failure of the previous ones.

The majority of students emphasized the need for independence and intrinsic motivation for external regulation, whereas others were more concerned with the external motivating factors. Teacher’s obligation is to notice these differences in order to timely offer support and help. Further, teachers should also encourage their students to be more self-motivated; they should invent new approaches to make students more enthusiastic about their problems and challenges (Cassady, 2010). What is more important, they should serve both as teachers and counselors, expressing their concern with the emotional and psychological state of students. In fact, self-regulation is one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of foreign language learning because it embraces cognitive dimension and introduces a specific space for analyzing attitudes, emotions, beliefs and motivation for context and cultural communication. It is also a powerful source for personal development and self-determination. There are many other approaches that can enhance students’ awareness and reduce language anxiety. Teaching students to be self-reliant and independent can have a positive influence on language anxiety reduction. Further, enhancing students’ proficiency will also facilitate the reduction of language reduction as well as introduce more motivation and independence to students. Internal factors play a much more significant role in reducing the consequences of language proficiency.

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In fact, the development of learning strategies should also be congruent with the specifics of the training programs accepted in a specific educational establishment. At this point, teachers should make everything possible to inform about the details of the program and provide new schemes for its successful accomplishment. This dimension should also correlate with the student’s readiness to enter a new language environment. Such aspects as gender and age should be taken into consideration since it has been found that females feel greater levels of anxiety as compared to male students (Alrabai, 2014). Besides, they could also introduce a certain level of readiness to accept challenges and changes. In case students are reluctant and unmotivated, the task of the teacher is to notice the way students accept new information and acquire new knowledge. As soon as these challenges are considered with greater detail, teachers can create new theoretical and practical frameworks within which they can improve the quality of education at schools and reduce the level of language anxiety.

In conclusion, the students should realize the significance of learning a foreign language at schools in order to develop and maintain strong motivation to learn English. It is also useful for students to further confirm their awareness of the significance of ESL learning when studying in higher education establishments. Motivation can allow students to establish achievable goals for their foreign language learning. Additionally, students should also enhance their attention, volitional control and motivation. The majority of students who take part in the studies focused on their independence. Therefore, a holistic approach plays an important role since the majority of the studies reviewed above underscored the importance of integrating collaborative teams in the classrooms for reducing language anxieties. In such a way, it is possible to understand how these challenges could be reduced and dealt with. Most of these challenges could be removed with the help of introducing counseling and analysis of these aspects. Higher awareness of the significance of foreign language learning could be estimated by teachers who should constantly control the level of students’ engagement and performance. Lower level of awareness will stipulate students’ anxiety despite the high emotional intelligence level and proficiency.

In general, the development of anxiety reducing strategy should be associated with the expanded notion of language anxiety, which does not often relate to students’ knowledge of the subject but to their ability to communicate, their personal psychological traits and overall social and cultural background. The latter should also be taken into consideration since there could be many national affiliations in these groups. Awareness of personal weak and strong points will help students be more confident in their knowledge and proficiency. The language proficiency level is also essential because it has a direct impact on language anxiety among students. However, sometimes lover level of language proficiency is outweighed by certain psychological and emotional characteristics of students.

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