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Speaking anxiety


An obstacle to second language learning?




                 Lejla Basic




                    2011




          Uppsats, kandidatniv, 15 hp

     Engelska med mnesdidaktisk inriktning




           Handledare: Dr. Tore Nilsson
           Examinator: Dr. Alan Shima
Abstract
Language is a system for communication, for that reason it is evident that communication
skills are a big part of learning a language. To practice speaking is therefore a central part of
English lessons in schools today. However, to make students speak the target language is not
always easy and there can be several different reasons why this is the case. The current study
investigates one possible reason, namely speaking anxiety and its influence on second
language acquisition. The study's purpose was to examine how a teacher can encourage
students to communicate orally but also to learn why the phenomenon is not dealt with more
in schools. The study is mainly based on literature but also contains an interview with two
upper secondary teachers. It is found that speaking anxiety inhibits students from speaking
which has a negative effect on their oral skills. The study also shows that speaking anxiety is
not a prioritized problem in schools, a reason can be that speaking anxiety is not seen as a
problem concerning language teaching since it can be considered as a social difficulty.
Nevertheless, since oral proficiency is a big part of the English course in the Swedish upper
secondary school, speaking anxious students have a harder time mastering the goals for
education than other students. In order to encourage speaking in a classroom it is important to
strive for a pleasant atmosphere where every student can feel relaxed and motivated to
communicate orally.
Table of contents



1. Introduction ..................................................................................................... 2


  1.1 Aim .............................................................................................................. 3


  1.2 Method ........................................................................................................ 3


  1.3 Speaking anxiety .......................................................................................... 4


2. Speaking anxiety and SLA ................................................................................ 5

  2.1 The importance of oral communication skills ............................................. 5


  2.2 Speaking activities and successful learning ................................................. 7


  2.3 What causes fear of speaking? ..................................................................... 9


  2.4 Speaking anxious students ......................................................................... 10


  2.5 Interview..................................................................................................... 13


  2.6 Encouraging speaking ................................................................................ 17


3. Discussion and conclusion .............................................................................. 20


References .......................................................................................................... 25




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       1. Introduction


        Education shall be adapted to each pupil's preconditions and needs.

        Account shall also be taken of the varying circumstances, needs and knowledge of
        pupils, as well as the fact that there are a variety of ways of attaining these goals.
        Special attention must be given to those pupils who for different reasons
        experience difficulties in attaining the goals for education. 1

These statements are a part of the Swedish national curriculum for the non-compulsory school
system, which can be found under the title "An equivalent education". English is one of the
core subjects in the Swedish upper secondary school which means that it is obligatory for
every class. Language is a system for communication and therefore goals for the English
courses obviously concern communication skills. Oral communication especially is a big part
of our everyday life and nowadays it is not unusual to hear a person speak several different
languages. However, in most cases we feel most comfortable with speaking our mother
tongue since it is the language we have learned naturally. To speak is therefore natural for
most people and not something we bother to think about. When we speak we also at the same
ask for attention, and share our thoughts and feelings with other people. In other words,
speaking makes us visible and is a big part of our social life. To learn a new language is
therefore a great accomplishment which opens up doors to many new opportunities and
experiences.

Learning a second language however is a bigger challenge than learning the first one which
we barely remember how we learned. Penny Ur argues that the speaking skill is the most
important one since foreign language learners are most of all interested in becoming actual
speakers of a language.2 To practice speaking is a central part of English lessons in schools
today. It is however also in these situations that our students easily become speechless. It is
not a surprising reaction since most of us are used to become less talkative in new situations
where we feel insecure. A similar feeling is produced when we are attending a job interview,
or give a speech in front of a large group of people. We say that we feel nervous, shy, tense or

1
    Lpf 94 p.4, www.skolverket.se
2
    Ur, P. 1996, p.120-121

                                                                                                 2
anxious. These are however feelings that we know vanish with time. If not, it would probably
be a huge obstacle for one's oral communication and one would probably be marked as a shy
and withdrawn person.

In a classroom, there are a lot of different individuals. A language teacher surely hopes that
the majority of them are outgoing and talkative since those are the characteristics of a good
language learner. But what about those quiet students? Do they attain the goals for the English
course and should they receive special attention? We are after all striving after an education of
equal opportunity.

1.1 Aim


The aim of this study is to investigate in what way speaking anxiety can affect second
language acquisition. Secondly, I wish to examine why this phenomenon is not dealt with
more in schools and how a teacher can encourage students to communicate orally.




1.2 Method


This study is mainly based on literature. Since the topic of the study, speaking anxiety, is also
covered by terms such as speaking apprehension, inhibition of speech, and communication
apprehension, I have used different terms when searching for material. I have decided
however to use only the term speaking anxiety in the study.

The second part of my study contains an interview with two upper secondary teachers. The
purpose of the interview was to attain a sample of teachers' view on speaking anxiety and
how they teach students that have this problem. The teachers were interviewed at the same
time. The reason for that was mainly to stimulate a discussion where the teachers could share
their opinions and experiences about the matter.

I have also used information from two internet encyclopedias, mainly a study based on
Japanese students' language anxiety. Furthermore, I have referred to my own teaching
experiences and thoughts, particularly in the discussion part of the essay.


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