Education论文模板 – An Exploration of Speaking Anxiety in English Learning Among EFL Students: A Case Study in a Chinese University

Chapter 1 Introduction  

1.1 Research Background 

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide use English as either their first or second language (Rao, 2019; Statista, 2022). It is becoming more and more common for people to view graduates from countries where languages other than English are their native language as having a competitive advantage if they have a masterful command of the language of English (Rao, 2019).

The significance of the language of English has been widely recognized in many countries, China being one of them (Rao, 2019). As an indication of how seriously the Chinese government takes the need for its populace to have the ability to communicate effectively in English, beginning in 2003, it mandated that all Chinese primary schools teach English to their third-graders. This is an indication of how seriously the Chinese government takes the need for its citizens to be able to communicate in English (Adamson, 2004; MOE, 2004). The introduction of English learning as part of the curriculum in China was one of the strategies used by the Chinese government to improve English proficiency among its students to improve their employability and flexibility in interacting with people from all over the world (Adamson, 2004). As early as 2017, 440 and 650 million people in China are learning English (Edwards, 2017). Although the efforts, not so many Chinese learners of English can speak English fluently (Gao and Huang, 2010; Hu, 2005). One of the issues that are believed to act as a barrier to foreign language learning that has gained the attention of foreign language educators and other stakeholders is anxiety. Therefore, the research intends to focus on speaking anxiety.

1.2 Theoretical Underpinning 

Anxiety is generally among the top challenges in foreign language learning in the established literature (Alqahtani, 2019; Erdiana et al., 2020; Horwitz et al., 1986; Krashen, 1981). Likewise, Horwitz et al. (1986) observe that the new language learning process is undermined by anxiety. Further, Krashen (1981) noted that students who feel anxious during foreign language learning have low acquisition rates of foreign language performance, an observation Maclntyre (1999) has echoed. Moreover, the researchers found that most of their students experience language anxiety which affects their language learning performance and achievement (Ewald, 2007; Gregersen and Horwitz, 2002; Horwitz et al., 1986; Woodrow, 2006).  

Most studies are dedicated to understanding language learning anxiety in the FLA context without exploring anxiety related to a specific skill like speaking. There is even a scarcity of literature on the causes of speaking anxiety, its influence, and solutions. For instance, Erdiana et al. (2020) looked at how many Indonesian students are worried about speaking English but didn’t consider why or how to fix the problem. Alqahtani (2019) did the same thing, utilizing a group of students from the University of Jeddah to study the impacts of language anxiety on foreign-language acquisition, but without delving into the root reasons of such fears.

While it is generally acknowledged that anxiety when studying a foreign language can hinder proficiency, studies focusing specifically on the fear of public speaking among Chinese English language learners remain scarce. From the educator’s viewpoint, most research in China focuses on younger elementary and secondary school students. In addition, most studies (e.g., Huang and Zhang, 2016; Liu and Huang, 2011) adopt quantitative or qualitative studies without taking the two approaches as complementary. There are few mixed-methods studies on speech anxiety among Chinese university students. English speaking anxiety is common among Chinese college students and will be influenced by particular contexts (Zheng and Cheng, 2018). Chinese students lack an authentic (speaking environment) English learning environment, which will be influenced by their family’s economic circumstances, educational level, and the university’s geographic location (Gao and Huang, 2010; Hu, 2005; Zheng and Cheng, 2018). This highlights the need for additional research not only on the impacts of or the degree to which students of a foreign language experience fear but also into the origins of that worry and potential solutions to the problem at hand. This is particularly important from China’s context at this time that the country is promoting the development of English-speaking competence among its students (Adamson, 2004; MOE, 2004). Therefore, the purpose of this research is to investigate what causes students anxiety when it comes to speaking a foreign language and what strategies can assist them overcome that anxiety.

1.3 The objectives and questions of the research 

The study’s primary objective is to learn more about what puts Chinese college students at risk for developing a fear of learning a foreign language, how that anxiety manifests itself in the form of difficulties with giving oral presentations, and what can be done to assist those who struggle with the condition. The following precise goals are intended to be achieved by the research:


  • To investigate why EFL students worry about public speaking.
  • How fear about oral submissions affects how well Chinese students do in English class.
  • Find out how to help Chinese students overcome their fear of oral submissions in English and boost their proficiency in the language.

Research questions

1. Why do Chinese people who are learning English feel so much anxiety when they have to speak in front of a group?

2. How can fear of foreign language speaking affect a student’s overall performance?

3. How can students be assisted in coping with and reducing speaking anxiety? And how do make students enjoy an EFL Classroom?

1.4 Dissertation Structure 

This dissertation contains five sections. Chapter 1 presents and emphasizes the research issue, the study’s goals and objectives, and the research questions that will be answered. The literature review of Chapter 2 examines fear in English Language Learning across EFL Students. The literature discusses how anxiety is characterized, the various types of anxiety, how it shows itself in the context of language acquisition, and how to quantify it. This chapter also includes a critical examination of earlier research and literature discussing the causes, effects, and potential solutions to the problem of anxiety in foreign language learning, emphasizing students’ speaking abilities. Chapter Three discusses the context of this research and a southern Chinese public institution. Chapter 4 then details the approaches taken throughout the research phase, and Chapter 5, which summarizes and examines the study’s findings. The chapter concludes with some concluding comments and recommendations.

Chapter 2 Literature Review  

2.1 Anxiety 

Anxiety is a mental state that is best described as a concern, anxiousness, and uneasiness brought on by activating a person’s autonomic nervous system (Spielberger, 1983). The word is used rather frequently in a variety of fields, including psychology and psychiatry, amongst others.

Anxiety’s effects on language and communication have also led to increased research into the topic. However, anxiety has no universally accepted definition for the term, as evidenced by various definitions used to assign meaning to the concept. According to Indiana et al. (2020, p.335), anxiety is “a feeling of getting in a threatening or difficult situation.” Mayangta (2013) views anxiety as a state of anticipating something bad occurring. It can be concluded that anxiety from a language perspective involves the state of being fearful of expressing oneself orally in the presence of others. 

Horwitz (2010) suggested that anxiety is not a single-faceted concept but a multi-faceted one, categorized by researchers and psychologists into different forms of anxiety. Anxiety can be broken down into three main types depending on its origin: situational anxiety, state anxiety, and trait anxiety.

2.1.1 Trait Anxiety 

Numerous studies conducted by a wide range of researchers have identified trait anxiety as one of the primary forms of anxiety (Spielberger, Gorsuch & Lushene, 1970; Woodrow, 2006; Young, 1991). One of the defining characteristics of generalized anxiety disorder is the ability to feel uncomfortable in a range of settings where there is a risk of harm (Spielberger, 1983). The term “trait” refers to a component of a person’s personality that is inherent and unalterable (Woodrow, 2006; Young, 1991). When learning a new language, students who have a high typical anxiety level are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety and terror when doing so (Spielberger, Gorsuch & Lushene, 1970).

2.1.2 State Anxiety

Trait anxiety, as opposed to state anxiety, is characterized by an ongoing inclination to be nervous due to a stable personality trait. State anxiety is primarily concerned with a transitory, unpleasant emotional event. (Spielberger, 1972, cited in Liu & Huang, 2011; Young, 1991). Spielberger (1972, p.489) describes state anxiety as an “emotional reaction or pattern of response” when individuals feel the situation is dangerous or threatening. Young (1991) defines state anxiety as a nervous feeling that can change from time to time depending on the situation that one is presented with. A good example of state anxiety is that a student can experience anxiety just before taking a particular test but fail to experience such anxiety the other time they are presented with a similar test. In other words, researchers agree that state anxiety tends to be a kind of anxiety that can be reduced through specific means.  

2.1.3 Situation-specific Anxiety

Situation-specific anxiety is the third type of anxiety, which manifests as a reaction to a particular constellation of conditions (Maclntyre and Gardner, 1991). This type of anxiety is considered particularly because it occurs invariably within a given situation. Foreign language anxiety is a typical example of situation-specific anxiety because it depends on a specific situation that changes from one time to another and from one situation to another(Horwitz, 2001). MacIntyre and Gardner (1991) also agreed with using this situation-specific perspective to examine foreign language learning anxiety because it helps researchers understand more aspects of the situation.

2.2 Foreign Language Anxiety (FLA)

In the field of studies on second and foreign languages, the acquisition of a language and the experience of anxiety have been connected (Chen and Chang, 2004; Horwitz, 2010). There is a considerable connection between anxious feelings and a person’s level of language competence. Several different schools of thought explore the anxiety associated with language learning. The Affective Filter Hypothesis developed by Krashen was one of the earliest SLA hypotheses utilized extensively in the research on FLA (Spada and Lightbown, 2013). Krashen initially published the Affective Filter Hypothesis in 1981, and its purpose was to look into the connection between emotional components and the acquisition of a second language. Anxiety, drive, and self-confidence are all identified as emotional elements under the idea, which pertains to students of second languages. As suggested by Krashen’s theory, emotional aspects could determine whether or not a person is successful in learning a foreign language. When students speak the foreign language, they may experience concern, anxieties, and a lack of self-confidence, according to a hypothesis that states that emotional filters might be triggered when they are exposed to certain stimuli (Krashen, 1981).

In addition, Krashen (1981) discovered that when affective filters are low, learners are less likely to suffer anxiety. This, in turn, makes it much simpler for students of foreign languages to assimilate the target language. Horwitz et al. (1986), following the approach of Krashen (1981), suggest that anxiety associated with learning a foreign language should be considered separate from generic anxiety.

2.2.1 Definition of FLA 

Foreign language anxiety is a concept that has received significant attention in language studies for decades. However, just like with other types of anxieties, FLA lacks a universally accepted definition as different scholars have used several definitions to define FLA. According to Horwitz et al. (1986, p.128), foreign language anxiety is “a special complex of self-perceptions, attitudes, feelings, and actions linked with classroom language learning arising from the peculiarity of the language learning process.” Moreover, Horwitz (2010) explains foreign language anxiety as situation-specific anxiety, with manifestations identical to anxiety-like stage fright or test anxiety. Maclntyre (1999), on his part, conceptualized FLA describing it as the feeling, emotional reaction, nervousness, stress, or worry that is associated with foreign language learning.

There are two kinds of linguistic anxiety: the one that makes communication more difficult and the one that makes communication more successful (Scovel, 1978). One of the potentially harmful kinds of anxiety is known as “learning anxiety.” In contrast, helpful language anxiety is advantageous to the one who experiences it (Oteir and Al-Otaibi, 2019). A review of previous literature shows that most of these studies have concentrated on debilitating language anxiety that is harmful to learners and affects their performance negatively. Debilitating anxiety negatively impacts the learner’s performance by reducing their class participation and leading to fear, worry, and frustration, affecting their learning ability (Scovel, 1978; Oteir and Al-Otaibi, 2019). On the contrary, facilitating is good for learners because it helps them excel in language learning (Scovel, 1978; Oteir and Al-Otaibi, 2019).

2.2.2 The Three Components of FLA

FLA and three related performance fears have been compared, including ” fear of negative evaluation, test anxiety, and communication apprehension ” (Horwitz et al., 1986). Those three constructs are supported by researchers as the key components of FLA (He, 2017; Horwitz et al., 1986; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). 

Communication anxiety is a common symptom of functional linguistic apraxia (CA). People who expect to have problems relating to others frequently experience social anxiety, which has been classified as shyness (Horwitz et al., 1986). Argaman and Abu-Rabia (2002) discovered that it contributes to people’s foreign language anxiety since situational anxiety is connected with oral expression and interpersonal contact. Interpersonal relationships are more pressured in California than in Florida (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991).

Test anxiety (TA), according to Horwitz et al., is ” kind of stage fright that comes from being afraid to mess up ” (1986, p.127). It is a common term to describe the anxiety many students experience before taking a difficult, high-stakes foreign language exam. Because regular competence evaluations are essential to teaching a foreign language, TA is an essential component of FLA (Horwitz et al. 1986). Oral tests can boost students’ CA and TA, making them a legitimate type of performance evaluation (He, 2017).

Learners are anxious due to their fear of negative evaluation (FNE), which occurs when they expect and receive unfavorable feedback from teachers or peers and avoid being evaluated (Horwitz et al., 1986). Because assessment forms are not confined to tests, FNE can cover more topics than TA (Horwitz et al., 1986). According to He (2017), students who lack confidence in their foreign language skills are more likely to suffer FNE anxiety.

2.2.3 The Theory and Measuring Instrument of FLA

Based on their findings, Horwitz et al. (1986) believe that language fear is not a generalized type of worry but rather an experience particular to learning a foreign language. Because individuality is not valued in FLA, anxiety differs from anxiety in other academic subjects (Horwitz et al., 1986). According to the ideas, even children who excel in areas such as mathematics may struggle to regulate their anxiety when learning a new language. As a result, it’s reasonable that students of foreign languages are frequently anxious: language acquisition is fundamentally different from other courses.

Numerous investigations on the origins and impact of fear of speaking a foreign language on communication learners have been conducted, adding support to Horwitz and colleagues’ theory of foreign language acquisition. Horwitz and colleagues (1986) suggested a theory of second language anxiety. This notion was examined by Maclntyre and Gardner (1991), who discovered that worry over speaking a foreign language was connected to proficiency in that language. Still, there was no correlation between proficiency and general anxiety in speaking a foreign language. Chen and Chang (2004) came to the same conclusion, proving that FLA varies depending on context. This is because the traits that best attest to FLA’s uniqueness were not included in their experiment, resulting in no correlation between FLA and academic learning background. The studies of Maclntyre and Gardner (1991) confirmed that the unique difficulties of learning a second language contribute to the anxiety felt by students of those languages.

Foreign Language Anxiety (FLA) can be quantified using Horwitz et al. foreign language . ‘s Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) (1986). FLCAS, according to MacIntyre and Gardner (1991), provides highly specific instructions to informants. Participants better understand anxiety due to being encouraged to connect their symptoms and underlying reasons (MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991). FLCAS’s internal dependability is noteworthy as a result of this excellent achievement. The alpha value of each item is 93. (Horwitz et al., 1986). These findings indicate that the scale can generate statistically significant item-total corrected scale correlations (Horwitz et al., 1986). The Foreign Language Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) will help determine whether and how much pupils suffer from FLA and how much English-speaking anxiety hinders their ability to learn the language.

2.2.4 Foreign Language Speaking Anxiety (FLSA)

The research is narrowed to explore speaking anxiety, given that it is the most commonly experienced obstacle in foreign language classes. In the second language learning and foreign language learning context, speaking was regarded as the “most threatening aspect of foreign language learning” (Horwitz et al., 1986, p.132). Learners of a second language who are anxious about their abilities typically have the most difficulty with their speech (Horwitz et al., 1986). However, anxiety associated with public speaking can be categorized in various ways. He (2017) defined speaking anxiety as the level of fear or worry an individual feels when engaging in anticipated or real foreign language oral communication with another individual or individuals. According to Kitano (2001), students suffer from anxiety when speaking in public because they lack self-confidence, and they fear being harshly criticized or seen as incompetent. Young (1990) studied the connection between learning a second language and improving one’s public speaking skills. According to the findings of his study, students identified giving presentations as the component of learning a second language that caused them the most anxiety.

In addition, Tsiplakides and Keramida (2009) noted that teachers have a substantial role in reducing learners’ foreign language speaking anxiety by offering positive reinforcement (e.g., positive comments) and fostering a “sense of community” that is tolerant of mistakes. Similar sentiments are shared by Williams and Andrade (2008) when teachers ask learners of foreign language questions in the classroom, and this often makes the learners experience foreign language fear because of not having enough faith in one’s own abilities.

2.2.5 Foreign Language Speaking Anxiety and Its Influence on Students’ Speaking Performance

Several previous studies have highlighted FLA as a phenomenon experienced by many foreign language learners, prompting academics to investigate the impact of FLA on students’ second language performance (Ewald, 2007; Gregersen and Horwitz, 2002; Horwitz et al., 1986). Most people agree that FLA reduces students’ reading, writing, and listening abilities. Horwitz et al. (1986) discovered a negative relationship between FLA and students’ achievement in English language abilities such as speaking, reading, and writing, which Gregersen and Horwitz (1986) agreed with (2002). According to Gregersen and Horwitz (2002), children who experience anxiety in the classroom are less likely to learn a foreign language. Similar findings were found by Ewald (2007), who discovered that anxious students fared worse on language exams and showed less willingness. Notably, students with FLA are more likely to be apprehensive about failing language classes, which could hurt their grades.

Learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) were the focus of Woodrow’s (2006) investigation into the impact of FLA on academic success (EFL). Participants in the study who had experienced FLA in an EFL context reported negative consequences such as a loss of confidence when speaking in front of their peers and an inability to develop meaningful relationships with their native English speaker’s classmates. According to Woodrow (2006), this harmed their English proficiency over time.

Foreign language speaking anxiety also manifests in a language learner’s willingness to communicate in that target language. Recent research demonstrated that while reading did not make a language learner feel anxious, listening and speaking did (Zheng and Cheng, 2018). Reading is a skill that can be practiced independently without the assistance of others. The student’s speaking ability was hindered by the lack of opportunities to practice oral English, which increased their anxiety when speaking the language (Zheng and Cheng, 2018). Overall, empirical research showed that FLSA commonly exists among language learners, influencing the quality of their language performance, adding to their overall anxiety in language learning, and enhancing the difficulty of language learners to develop the competency of speaking in language learning.

2.3 Factors that Associate with FLA 

Researchers have conducted extensive studies on the cause of FLA. The factors associated with FLA are mainly recognized into two categories, including individual learner variables and affective variables. In this section, findings of existing studies on both categories are reviewed, and studies that explore other variables that do not fall into those two categories are also evaluated. 

2.3.1 Individual Learner Variables

Even though FLA is a widespread problem among language learners, past research has found that there are elements that contribute to FLA. According to research, there is a link between age, gender, language ability, and prior language learning experience and the occurrence of foreign language anxiety.

Onwuegbuzie et al. (1999) investigated what causes students to feel anxious in a foreign language class and discovered that it depends on several personal characteristics such as age, prior experience with foreign languages, academic achievement, and expectations for the current language course. Onwuegbuzie et al. (1999) discovered that the likelihood of linguistic anxiety increased with the learner’s age. According to this study, senior individuals are more likely to be afraid of speaking a foreign language.

According to Dewaele et al. (2008), linguistic proficiency strongly predicts anxiety when learning a foreign language. These studies showed a negative relationship between self-perceived competence and CA, FNE, and FLA. It is critical to remember that “language competence” does not refer to language learners’ actual and objective skills but their subjective assessment of their communicative abilities in the target language. According to Dewaele et al. (2008), self-perceived proficiency cannot act as a mediator or agent for actual skill. According to Yahya (2013), students of English as a foreign language (EFL) experience language anxiety due to their impression of inadequacy in the target language, their dread of public speaking, and their dislike of English courses.

2.3.2 Affective Variables 

Commonly used to describe non-cognitive individual differences, affective variables might include personalities, emotions, attitudes, and motivation. In research on foreign language anxieties, introversion, self-esteem, competitiveness, and perfectionism, among other personality factors, are especially relevant to students’ FLA. Students’ foreign language acquisition success is also related to affective variables like attitudes and motivations. 

FLSA is defined as a person’s unwillingness to speak in the target language, according to MacIntyre and Charos (1996). MacIntyre’s route model from 1994 discovered a link between a learner’s introversion, anxiety, and personality and their proclivity to communicate in the target language (MacIntyre, 1994). According to this model, personality traits influence language learners’ willingness to communicate, including introversion, self-esteem, feelings of alienation, and so on. The tendency toward introversion compared to extroversion may not necessarily be a desirable end for language learning, depending on different instructional methods or learning contexts. MacIntyre (1994) pointed out extroversion is the more favorable end for the speaking or oral communication aspect of language learning. 

The vast majority of researchers agree that having low self-esteem and strong academic desire are the fundamental factors that contribute to student anxiety. According to Mahmoodzadeh (2013) and Young (2015), some students suffer from foreign language anxiety (FLA) as a result of a lack of self-proficiency in the target language, anxiety toward English speaking, and low self-esteem (1991). During their investigation of the prevalence of FLA, Liu and Jackson (2008) found that a significant number of students were affected by it. Anxiety over speaking in front of classmates and coworkers and fear of appearing ignorant or being reprimanded by a teacher are all acknowledged as key contributing factors to anxiety related to learning a foreign language. On the other hand, Dewaele et al. (2008) believe that FLA is caused by an excessive amount of confidence on the part of the student in their talents. A student’s level of self-esteem has been shown to affect their performance on the FLA (Gregersen & Horwitz, 2002; Krashen, 1981; Young, 1991). The authors believe that students with a healthy sense of value are less likely to have feelings of worthlessness and worthlessness-related anxiety (FLA). However, they did discover that pupils who lacked healthy self-esteem had a greater propensity to suffer from anxiety when speaking a language other than their native tongue.

In addition, perfectionism was connected with FLA, especially the FNE. To be more specific, Gregersen and Horwitz (2002) found that perfectionism was counterproductive to students’ language learning performance because it leads to unnecessarily rigid and impossibly high-performance standards for language learners, generates fear for negative evaluation or failure rather than generates motivations for the pursuit of success, and tends to generate procrastination and even complete abandonment of learning plans. 

There may be positive or negative attitudes about a language (Youssef, 2012). Yousef (2012) underlined the importance of having the appropriate mindset when attempting to learn a foreign language. Two essential motivators are the desire to study, and the sense of accomplishment one will feel after mastering the language (Gardner, 1985, cited in Zhang, 2001). According to Gardner (2007), motivation can arise from various causes, making students enthusiastic about learning a foreign language. According to Yashima (2002), motivation and self-assurance in learning a foreign language are linked.

Cultural norms and business competition also influence FLA. Young (1991) highlighted six important contributors to foreign language anxiety: worry about others, fear of the language exam, the student’s belief about foreign language learning, classroom procedures, the teacher’s conviction about language education, and teacher-centered tactics.

2.4 Strategies to Solve English-speaking Anxiety and Improve Students’ Enjoyments

Foreign language anxiety has been a concern to linguists and broader stakeholders in the education industry owing to its adverse effects on learners’ performance. Resultantly, various studies have proposed strategies to solve English-speaking anxiety and improve students’ enjoyment of foreign language learning. 

According to the survey results, most students have difficulty expressing themselves when the material is presented in English (Alrabai, 2014; Ansari, 2015; He, 2017). According to He (2017), one way to improve students’ passion and interest in learning a foreign language is to put them directly into acquiring it. Ansari thinks that one strategy for lowering FLA is to engage in role-playing (2015). Ansari (2015) found that students who participated in role-playing activities reported lower anxiety levels when using the target language in real-life scenarios. As a consequence, pupils have less anxiety about receiving a poor grade; consequently, they are more willing to contribute to classroom discussions and speak up in front of their peers. In addition, they achieve a more profound comprehension of the language being taught. Alrabai (2014) observed in his experimental study with Saudi students that classroom activities boost students’ motivation to learn a foreign language, lowering anxiety linked with acquiring a foreign language.

Some researchers cite the role of the teacher in reducing FLA among learners (Ansari, 2015; Ansong et al., 2017; Bandura, 2001; Kitano, 2001). Specifically, studies have identified various ways, such as developing students’ sense of personal efficacy (Bandura, 2001) and encouraging students to seek help and give help (Ansong et al., 2017). Ansari (2015) suggests that to reduce anxiety among learners of a foreign language, teachers must avoid comparing students with each other based on how they speak or forcing them to talk, or humiliating them in front of others, as these are some of the factors that make learners experience FLA, which consequently impact negatively on their performance. Ansari (2015) further suggested that teachers find creative ways to correct learners whenever they make errors in foreign language speaking, as this helps reduce anxiety in speaking a foreign language. In agreeing with Ansari (2015), Kitano (2001) proposed using positive comments when correcting learners to reduce FLA. 

And because the worry of seeming stupid in front of the class and being ridiculed is a major contributor to the development of public speaking anxiety, this worry plays an important role in the construction of this condition (Tsiplakides and Keramida, 2009). It has been discovered that students who are worried about learning a new language can overcome their worries by participating in activities that establish a healthy classroom environment. [Citation needed] (Tsiplakides and Keramida, 2009). Tsiplakides and Keramida (2009) highlight the significance of teachers providing classroom supports to make students feel cared for, accepting of their mistakes, and have a positive relationship with the teacher, as well as organizing a team project for students and providing opportunities for anxious students to participate in speaking activities. Tsiplakides and Keramida (2009) also highlight the significance of teachers organizing a team project for students and providing opportunities for anxious students to participate in speaking activities (Tsiplakides and Keramida, 2009). A similar study was conducted by Nagahashi (2007). It was discovered that FLA could be addressed by creating a structured cooperative learning activity, including fostering a non-threatening learning environment and creating a supportive environment for language skills development. Nagahashi’s (2007) recommendations echo those of Ansari (2015) and Tsiplakides and Keramida (2009). Cooperative learning activities include pair work and group work, where learners are brought together in activities that promote foreign language learning, such as pairing native speakers with foreign language learners. Luo and Xu (2016) proposed boosting learners’ confidence in learning a language, creating a relaxing, harmonious, and natural class atmosphere, and providing a positive evaluation of learners. 

While some researchers focused on in-class intervention strategies to reduce English-speaking anxiety among students, other researchers derived out-of-class intervention strategies to reduce English-speaking anxiety. For example, Rafada and Madini (2017) researched and found that technologies can aid students’ English learning and increase their enjoyment. Nomass (2013) suggested that teachers and students can use technologies like Podcasts in and out of the classroom to improve English-speaking proficiency and reduce anxiety. Rafada and Madini (2017) found that language development and participant coping mechanisms for speaking anxiety were related. Their empirical investigation showed that university students in Saudi used English movies and interactive speaking practice websites to seek enjoyment in English speaking learning and reduce FLSA.

2.5 Empirical Studies on FLA in Chinese University Contexts

It has been discovered that many Chinese college students experience anxiety when learning a new language. In their summer camp investigation, Huang and Zhang (2016) found that many Chinese university students (non-English majors) reported having significant anxieties about learning a foreign language, at least concerning some aspects, before the English summer camp. The more advanced pupils learned more efficient and interesting techniques for reducing or overcoming anxiety. According to their research, an advanced-level peer may take over the turn or assist if a student with low proficiency in English doesn’t know how to articulate an idea or what to say in class. Due to the focus being diverted to someone else, the learner at the lower level wouldn’t experience any embarrassment either. It might be preferable to mix students of various levels in one class because advanced students’ active participation in class might encourage other peers to become more engaged. Anxiety may gradually decrease while involvement levels rise (Huang and Zhang, 2016). 

Along with the desire to study abroad, it appears that anxiety about and during foreign language acquisition is frequent among Chinese college students. Liu and Huang (2011) surveyed 980 undergraduate students from three Chinese institutions using a 76-item questionnaire. Liu and Huang (2011) investigate anxiety about learning a new language, a lack of motivation in studying English, and poor English performance. The respondents showed a modest enthusiasm for learning English, and the study results suggested that they were generally nervous when speaking the language. Furthermore, they discovered a significant association between FLA and students’ English performance and that students who are strongly motivated to learn English have less foreign language anxiety. Anxiety in the foreign language classroom rises when students fear being harshly criticized but falls when students are interested in learning about other cultures, driven by motives other than academics, or offered incentives to do so.

According to a study by Liu and Jackson (2008), the doubt, uneasiness, and hesitation of Chinese EFL students to speak English were directly associated with their exposure to FLA. They discovered, using a 70-item survey of 547 first-year college students who did not major in English, that while students welcomed the opportunity to communicate in class, few were interested in developing their English talents. Over a third of students reported feeling anxious during English lectures because they were afraid of being graded adversely or mocked, which reduced their confidence and made them unwilling to speak up.

2.6 Conclusion

The majority of studies that have been conducted on this topic have found that anxiety related to English speaking is connected to a variety of factors, including individual differences, emotional variables, exam anxiety, fear of adverse judgment by peers or teachers, communication challenges, and classroom jitters. Despite the large amount of research that has been done on FLA, the vast majority of Chinese-context studies have concentrated on teachers at the elementary and secondary school levels. The vast majority of research use either a quantitative or qualitative methodology (see, for example, Huang and Zhang, 2016 or Liu and Huang, 2011), and none of these approaches is regarded as complementary to the other. A lack of studies has been conducted concerning speech anxiety among college students in China. This study investigates why Chinese students learning English fear expressing themselves in the language, how that fear impacts students’ overall performance, and what can be done to assist students in overcoming their anxieties and enhancing their comfort in the classroom.

Chapter 3 Contextual Background of Students in this Case Study

3.1 Higher Education in China and the English Language Program

English was made a compulsory subject in all Chinese Primary Three in 2003 as part of the Chinese government’s effort to improve English proficiency among its people (MOE, 2004). Nowadays, almost all Chinese colleges and universities offer courses in English as a foreign language (MOE, 2004). However, English teaching methods adopted in China have been shown to differ from those adopted in Western countries (Gao and Huang, 2010). Gao and Huang (2010) observed that Chinese teachers primarily adopt the traditional test-oriented teaching method. Traditionally, teaching English in China has been dominated by a teacher-student-centered approach rather than a student-student or student-teacher-centered approach, book-centered grammar translation, which stresses rote memory (Hu, 2005; Gao and Huang, 2010; Lei, 2012). Hu (2005) and Lei (2012) indicate that teaching English in China emphasizes reading, grammar, and vocabulary while ignoring speaking and listening. Chinese students of English as a second language have been criticized by Rao (1996), who suggests that the problem lies with conventional teaching methods.

3.2 The Cultural Factors Affecting Chinese English Learning

The learner’s cultural context is a major determinant in the success of English language instruction in China (Li, 2012). The Chinese Confucian philosophy has influenced Chinese learners in the EFL context (Li, 2012). Specifically, the Chinese Confucian philosophy emphasizes face-saving, which puts pressure on them to focus on passing the English test and proficiency rather than mastering the subject (Li, 2012). There is little speaking in Chinese language classrooms, including EFL classes. Learning is more lecture-based, in which Chinese students expect to learn English passively through reading and to listen instead of engaging in oral communication (Gao et al., 2014). Moreover, in China, due to the influence of Confucian and collectivist culture, emphasis is placed on preserving harmony, which influences their learning of language, where they avoid asking teachers questions to maintain harmony.

3.3 The University in This Study

The selected public university for this study is located in southern China, which is strong in disciplines like economics and business administration. Students from the engineering mechanics department of the university in this study context were invited to participate in the research. Most of the students enrolled in the engineering mechanics department are between 18 and 24 years old. The students attend the college English curriculum, which a faculty of non-native speakers instruct. This university’s teaching model for the college English curriculum is identified as conventional, teacher-cantered classroom instruction. However, the college English curriculum involves English-speaking-based activities, especially oral presentations of reports and in-class discussions. The college English class is often large, with around 60 students attending. No teaching assistants are present in the class or during office hours. The teacher uses technology-aided teaching tools in each class, focusing on Microsoft PowerPoint Slideshow. Each semester, students have 2 out of 54 classes for English movie watching, followed by 15 minutes of movie plot or idea discussions in English each time.

Chapter 4 Research Methodology 

4.1 The Research Approach and Method

This cross-sectional study aimed to investigate the prevalence of public speaking fear among EFL students at a public institution in southern China. A cross-sectional study simultaneously collects data from a large sample of people (Dornyei, 2007). This study chose a cross-sectional design over a longitudinal design because collecting data from 46 people over two months would have been more efficient, and cross-sectional designs are less expensive. A cross-sectional study is the most realistic and relevant alternative due to the quarantine and other measures implemented in China to prevent Covid-19.

The researchers used a single-case study approach to collect the data needed to answer the study’s research question. According to Yin (1994), a case study is an empirical investigation exploring a contemporary phenomenon in a real-world setting utilizing various information sources. It is especially useful when the boundaries between the researched phenomenon and context are unclear. It is possible to do a case study with one or more cases. The single case study was defined by Hamel and Fortin (1992, p.104) as the “necessary intermediary in seeking to appreciate the common nature of individual acts and behaviors,” This was the technique used in this study. Participants in this case study were all from the same public institution in southern China. According to Stoecker (1991), a single case study can help researchers find operating variables that cross-sectional quantitative studies overlook. Using a single case study ensures simplicity and convenience in data gathering because all data is obtained from a single place or source. This has the unintended consequence of shortening the time required to collect data. However, generalizability issues arise when a single case study is used (Willis, 2014). External validity, researcher subjectivity, and a lack of scientific rigor are all difficulties with single case study designs (Willis, 2014).

This study uses qualitative and quantitative approaches to explore the prevalence of public-speaking fear among Chinese EFL students. Both qualitative and quantitative methodologies are used in mixed-methods research (Dornyei, 2007; Brown, 2014). The study avoids the drawbacks of entirely qualitative or quantitative research while capitalizing on their respective merits by employing a mixed-methods strategy (Dornyei, 2007). Furthermore, a mixed technique approach is preferable to a qualitative or quantitative approach since it provides a more full view of students’ public speaking anxiety than either strategy alone (Dornyei, 2007). Furthermore, except for Zheng and Chen (2018), most studies used qualitative or qualitative methodologies, according to the preceding chapter’s literature review. The necessity to address a gap in the available literature detailing the methodologies utilized in previous studies drove the decision to use a mixed-method approach.

4.2 Research

4.2.1 Moral considerations

This research takes moral considerations highly. In preparation for the investigation, the researcher developed and provided the information sheet, consent form for prospective participants, and consent form for the head of the school (see Appendix 1, 2, and 3).

Before recruiting the students to participate in the study, the researcher explained to each participant why the investigation was being conducted and how it was likely to benefit them and the universities in China offering foreign language courses. Among these was letting participants know they could stop participating in the study if they felt uncomfortable(Dörnyei, 2007).

The second ethical consideration involved protecting the privacy of the respondents. Protecting the respondent’s privacy is an essential ethical consideration when conducting a study (Brown, 2014; Dörnyei, 2007). The same applies to the current study, where the researcher ensured that the respondent’s privacy was protected throughout the study (Dörnyei, 2007). This was achieved by ensuring that no respondent was identified by their real names (Dörnyei, 2007). Besides, the respondents’ privacy was protected by refraining from asking them sensitive demographic information, such as their sexuality, age, disability status, and religious affiliations. Further, the researcher ensured that the cultural beliefs and practices of the respondents were respected (Mugenda & Mugenda, 1999). This was achieved by refraining from asking culturally sensitive questions that the respondents might be unaffordable with or which may be provocative to reduce the risk of some respondents abandoning the study midway.

Based on prospective participants’ agreement and signatures on both forms, the University of Nottingham has given the study a greenlight for its conformity with the Code of Research Conduct and Research Ethics (2020), the British Educational Research Association (BERA) guidelines, and the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the University of Nottingham. The formal participants in this study are 46 students of Cohort 2019, Cohort 2020, and Cohort 2021 in the engineering mechanics department of a public university in southern China, randomly selected. No juveniles or person who needs approval or assistance from their legal guardians are involved in this research.

4.2.2 Pilot Study

This research also follows the professional research preparation process suggested by Dörnyei (2007), which involves a pilot study, keeping a research log, and data management. Before launching the research project, the researcher contacted friends in the target university for the pilot study, which tested the research instruments and procedures for good reliability and validity. The questionnaire questions were first piloted. Piloting the questionnaire as the instrument of the study was done using a sample of 4 friends from a public university in China. Piloting the questionnaire was also meant to determine if the questions were correct and whether they suited the Chinese context.

This study used a mixed methodology; therefore, a second pilot was conducted to ensure that the final interview questions were valid and reliable. The interview questions were first piloted with two friends from a public university in China to test if the questions were appropriate and whether the language used was right for the Chinese cultural context and language. The piloting of the interview was also done to test the technology’s dependability because the researcher intended to conduct the interview via Microsoft Teams recordings. The student of EFL who participated in the piloting study was excluded from the main study.

The questionnaire and the interview plans were tested in the pilot study, and the results were used to correct the words and expressions that quickly led to confusion among the participants. 

4.3 Questionnaires

4.3.1 Rationale

The questionnaire was used as a research instrument in the current study to gather data. A questionnaire is an instrument used to collect data from a large population using closed-ended questions (Dörnyei and Csizér, 2012). The questionnaire was chosen as the data collection tool for this inquiry due to its ability to collect data quickly from large groups (Dörnyei, 2007; Brown, 2014). Therefore, it was the most ideal for collecting data from the 46 participants identified from the student population in a public university in China.

4.3.2 Ethical Considerations

The questionnaire was developed with Microsoft Forms and distributed via email to the target participants in the selected university after gaining approval from the university head and the department head. Afterward, the participants received the complete information sheet and consent form. Only the emails sent back by the participants voluntarily with the completed information sheet and consent form are recorded as formal participants in this research. Next, the questionnaire distribution was achieved by sending the questionnaire link to the traditional participants via email, and the students clicked to start the next step of answering the questions. The questionnaire was set up at the end to invite participants interested in being interviewed to leave a WeChat/email contact (voluntarily), and the questionnaire process would be 5-10 minutes.  

4.3.3 Participants

Forty-six participants volunteered for research in this research. The formal participants in this research are 46 students of Cohort 2019, Cohort 2020, and Cohort 2021 in the engineering mechanics department of a public university in southern China, randomly selected. The participants fall into the age range between 18 and 24 years.

4.3.4 Data Instruments

Measurement for speaking anxiety was adapted from Horwitz et al.’s (1986) Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS), which consisted of 33 items. It includes closed-ended questions with a point five Likert scale that ranges from highly agree (strongly agree 5) to disagree strongly (strongly disagree 1). Horwitz et al. (1986) note that there has not been a systematic measurement of language acquisition anxiety, but there should have been one. The present assessments of language anxiety did not assess how learners will react to a particular language learning stimulus. To measure language anxiety, Horwitz and the colleagues suggested FLCAS as a suitable research method:

  • Since the FLCAS was initially developed for measuring foreign language fear and the study was narrowed to speaking anxiety, items for measuring speaking anxiety were adapted to the needs.
  • Based on the literature review and the established factors that influence the FLSA of students, this questionnaire includes items that relate to those influencing factors. 

The research adapted Horwitz et al.’s (1986) Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) to fit the needs. The study adopted ten scales for measuring speaking anxiety, as the ten were most related to speaking anxiety.

In addition, the researcher measured factors influencing speaking anxiety, including personality. Self-esteem, motivation, previous language learning experience, and attitude. All of them were estimated based on a five-point Likert scale (5 strongly disagree; 1 strongly agree). Besides, the researcher measured language performance with statements 30-33. Table 1 presents the measurement scale.

Table 1 Measurement scale

Foreign speaking anxietyItem 1-10Horwitz et al.’s (1986) Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS)
PersonalityItem 11-14Bendig et al., 1962
Self-esteemItem15-17Rubio-Alcalá, 2017
MotivationItem 18-21Liu, M., & Huang, 2011
Previous Language Learning ExperienceItem22-25Çakar, 2009
Attitude  Item26-29Hussain et al., 2011
Performance  Item30-33Demirdaş & Bozdoğan, 2013

4.4 Interviews

4.4.1 Rationale   

A semi-structured interview was utilized to collect qualitative data. In a semi-structured interview, the interviewer asks questions but does not restrict the interviewee to a list of predefined responses (Mugenda & Mugenda, 1999). A semi-structured interview was chosen over a structured interview because it allowed the students to provide comprehensive information about speaking anxiety. This is because a semi-structured interview does not restrict respondents to responding only to the asked questions but can go beyond the question asked to provide a piece of detailed and more information. Because of this, the researcher got a comprehensive grasp of the elements at play thanks to the utilization of semi-structured interviews, effects, and strategies that can be used to help students in the EFL context cope with foreign language anxiety. Researchers believed that semi-structured research was the most effective and profitable way to carry out their work and methodically address the English-speaking learning fear while considering time and space constraints.

4.4.2 Ethical Considerations

The interview process strictly follows the ethical requirement of the university. Twenty and thirty minutes were devoted to each interview, which was held via Microsoft Teams. To ensure accuracy, the records were kept in the form of audible recordings, assuming that all interviewees agreed with the recording and the confidentiality measures.

4.4.3    Participants

A total of five interviewees voluntarily joined the interviews. They signed the agreement during the questionnaire process. Two of them were male, and three of them were female. All the interviewees were aged between 19 to 20 years old.

4.4.4 Data instrument. The semi-structured interview was split into five main questions, and other follow-up questions had queries meant to answer the research problem (see Appendix 5). Sensitive demographical information was not required to adhere to the ethical requirements. Before the interview, the essential checklist was created as it allowed covering comprehensively the areas of speaking anxiety, its influence on academic performance, and strategies to reduce stress. As suggested by Berg (2007), the checklist of the semi-structured interview can help obtain in-depth probing while making sure the interview does not stray away from the research aim and objectives. The interview guide was created by focusing on the speaking anxiety of Chinese university students (see Table). The interview aimed to learn how Chinese students feel about speaking English and how they cope with stress. Follow-up questions were used to gain more information, as suggested by Rubin and Rubin (2014).

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