“The Effects of Foreign Language Anxiety on EFL Learners” by Rassaei

Research in language learning and acquisition is a significant part of applied linguistics. Foreign language anxiety is among the most popular subjects of study in this field since it affects language learners’ attitudes and progress. A study by Rassaei (2015) focused on the impact of oral corrective feedback on L2 students with varying degrees of foreign language anxiety. The present review will discuss the research, its methods and findings to determine its value to the study of foreign language anxiety.

Research Problem

The research problem investigated in the study is foreign language anxiety among L2 learners and the potential impact of oral feedback on it. Based on other sources on the topic, it is evident that this research problem is relevant to applied linguistics. Additionally, the study fits into other research on the topic and addresses the gap in scholarly evidence regarding possible solutions to foreign language anxiety.

First of all, the relevance of the research problem is based on the impact of foreign language anxiety on L2 learners. Foreign language anxiety is defined as “an intense feeling of tension, apprehension, and even fear when learners think of a foreign language” (Rassaei, 2015, p. 100). The concept was first brought to the attention of researchers in the 1980s, and the most detailed definition of it was provided by Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986), who argued that foreign language anxiety should be viewed as “a distinctive complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviours related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (p. 128). This definition suggests that foreign language anxiety is almost universal in L2 settings.

Foreign language anxiety presents challenges both for students and teachers, making it a pressing problem in applied linguistics. Studies indicate that there is a strong correlation between students’ foreign language anxiety and their performance in terms of language acquisition. According to Zhang (2019), there is a negative correlation between anxiety and performance, particularly with regard to listening and speaking anxiety. Due to the widespread nature of foreign language anxiety, this impacts how L2 learners perform globally and affects education practice.

Research in foreign language anxiety is essential to understanding this phenomenon and improving education practice to relieve its impact. Still, the primary focus of past research in foreign language anxiety was on the predictors and causes of students’ anxiety in L2 classrooms (MacIntyre, 2017). For example, Effiong (2016) found that foreign language anxiety levels correlate with teacher factors, such as age, friendliness and tone of voice, as well as peer familiarity and the classroom environment.

Other researchers considered student factors that could contribute to anxiety. For instance, Jin and Dewaele (2018) discovered that positive orientation was a predictor of foreign language anxiety, whereas Dewaele et al. (2017) confirmed the impact of learners’ attitudes on their anxiety level. While this research is essential for studying the phenomenon and advancing the field in terms of scholarly evidence, it is of little use to educators working in L2 settings.

Hence, there is a pressing need for studies on interventions that could reduce foreign language anxiety. In this way, the study by Rassaei (2015) contributes to the field by examining a potential solution. Focusing on oral corrective feedback as the primary intervention was also justified. Oral corrective feedback is used to encourage learners to restructure their answers, thus promoting better language use in classrooms and helping learners to recognize their mistakes (Chen, 2018; Ellis, 2017).

Research also showed that students with varying levels of foreign language anxiety want to receive corrective feedback and understand their errors better through it (Amalia, 2019; Rassaei, 2014). However, there is a shortage of recent research studies exploring the influence of oral corrective feedback on L2 students’ foreign language anxiety levels. The study addresses this gap by providing evidence concerning the use of this method for reducing foreign language anxiety.

Overall, the research problem that the author focused on is relevant and appropriate in the modern world. Foreign language anxiety is a significant issue in L2 education, as it affects performance outcomes. The fact that the study considered a specific intervention and evaluated its effectiveness is also significant. With the high number of studies on the causes and mediators of FLA, there is a need for research that examines interventions that could be applied by teachers in L2 classrooms. Finally, the choice of oral corrective feedback as the primary intervention is also justified.

Procedures

Description

The research followed a quantitative, experimental design with six experimental groups. The experimental design is a type of quantitative research focused on the relationship between two or more variables (Riazi, 2016). Experiments are highly controlled to ensure that the results are accurate and that the cause and effect relationship is certain and not subject to outside factors (Riazi, 2016). This allows answering the research question posed and prove or disprove any hypotheses.

The procedures of this study followed the experimental design closely. Firstly, the author administered a foreign language anxiety questionnaire to 207 EFL learners in a private teaching institute in Iran, all from the upper-intermediate learning level. Based on the results of the questionnaire, the author excluded participants with medium foreign language anxiety scores, leaving only low-anxiety and high-anxiety EFL learners in the sample.

At the same time, three experienced EFL teachers were approached and offered to participate in the study. The participants were distributed into six groups based on their anxiety level and the intervention, with three groups for each level of anxiety. Thus, students with high foreign language anxiety were randomly assigned to metalinguistic, recast and control groups and the same procedure was conducted for students with low anxiety levels.

After assignment into groups, each group received three treatment sessions, during which they were given a storytelling task that they had to complete in a small group of three or four students. During the oral presentation of the study, the instructors provided feedback using either recasts or metalinguistic feedback, depending on the specific group. Students from the two control groups did not receive feedback during their presentations. The feedback provided during each session was recorded as the number of corrective feedback moves.

The evaluation consisted of three testing instruments: an error correction test, a writing task and an oral production task. The anxiety was measured pre- and post-test using an anxiety questionnaire adapted from Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986). The results were evaluated using descriptive statistics and ANOVA testing, which are commonly applied in experimental designs (Podesva & Sharma, 2014). The analysis allowed comparing variables before and after the intervention, as well as between different groups.

Evaluation of Relevance and Suitability

First of all, it is essential to note that the selection of a quantitative research design is justified by its relevance to the subject. Quantitative research differs from other methods because it focuses on objective, measurable data (Paltridge & Phakiti, 2015). This means that the data collected and evaluated in quantitative research is not subject to personal views or opinions. In contrast, qualitative research usually focuses on the participants’ attitudes, views, or feelings regarding a certain phenomenon, and mixed-method research can incorporate both types of data in the analysis (Paltridge & Phakiti, 2015).

Quantitative research design is relevant to the chosen research problem because it considers the impact of a particular intervention on foreign language anxiety and performance. The use of quantitative data was crucial to determining the relationship and its strength, thus enabling the researcher to fulfil their goal.

Secondly, the relevance of the specific design selected can also be confirmed. As evident from above, the procedures used by researchers are in accordance with the traditional quasi-experimental design. A quasi-experimental design differs from a true experimental design primarily due to the use of convenience sampling (Podesva & Sharma, 2014). In the present study, convenience sampling was used to recruit participants for the study; however, the assignment into groups was random, which contributes to the quality of design.

The quasi-experimental design is relevant to the research problem since its primary purpose is to identify the relationship between two or more variables (Riazi, 2016). For this reason, the quasi-experimental design is widely used in applied linguistics to evaluate the effectiveness of certain interventions and treatments (Phakiti et al., 2018). Hence, both the quantitative methodology and the quasi-experimental design were relevant to the selected research problem.

Thirdly, the suitability of a methodology is based primarily on whether or not it was the best option for studying the selected problem. In order to evaluate the suitability of the quantitative, quasi-experimental design used in this study, it is essential to understand its strengths and weaknesses in comparison with other methods — namely, a comparison with qualitative and mixed-method research.

On the one hand, the quantitative methodology is better than the qualitative method because it offers a more objective representation and evaluation of data. For this reason, most studies in foreign language anxiety used quantitative methods. For example, Marwan (2018) studied the correlation of foreign language anxiety with student and classroom factors using a quantitative methodology. Similarly, Daud, Daud and Kassim (2016) reviewed the relationship of foreign language anxiety with performance and other variables through a quantitative correlational study. With regard to interventions, Alrabai (2015) followed quantitative data collection and evaluation procedures to determine the effectiveness of anxiety-reducing strategies on foreign language anxiety.

In all of these cases, the quantitative design was essential to identifying correlation and its strength, thus supporting the exploration of research questions. Using a qualitative methodology would not allow determining the effects of interventions or variables on foreign language anxiety and performance with the same degree of certainty (Paltridge & Phakiti, 2015). Since the nature of the present study is similar to these investigations, it can be confirmed that the selected methodology was beneficial.

On the other hand, quantitative research also has some drawbacks. The primary weakness of the quantitative design is that it provides limited opportunities to discover and evaluate the participants’ perceptions. The focus on objective, numerical data restricts the application of certain techniques, such as interviews, which are instrumental in discovering individuals’ feelings and perceptions (Riazi, 2016). The perceptions of participants are important in the selected educational settings. When students have positive attitudes toward a particular intervention tool, they are more likely to accept it and benefit from it. Thus, qualitative data would have helped to gain more insight into the application of corrective feedback.

Mixed-methods research is the methodology that allows using both qualitative and quantitative data to ensure adequate scope and depth of the findings. A study by Dantos, Gorter and Cenoz (2016) studied foreign language anxiety using mixed methods. The researchers note that this method was useful since it allowed collecting both objective and subjective data, thus providing valuable insight into the learners’ experiences. Hence, it is possible that a mixed-method methodology would have been more suitable for the study.

On the whole, the evaluation shows that the study methodology has a number of strengths and weaknesses. The use of quantitative data helped to ensure that the conclusions were based on objective findings rather than on speculations. The application of a quasi-experimental design, in turn, supported the achievement of the study’s goals by allowing a comparison between groups, as well as before and after the intervention.

Both the methodology and the specific design selected by the researcher were thus relevant to the problem selected for investigation. The main weakness of the selected methodology is that it did not consider the participants’ perceptions with regard to the intervention, which limited the exploration of the impact of corrective feedback on students’ foreign language anxiety. Additionally, the use of convenience sampling affects the possibility of generalizing the results to other populations. Since the researcher focused on a student population in one selected institution in Iran, it is possible that, for other students, the effects of oral corrective feedback will be different.

Improving the study would require addressing these weaknesses. Modifying the methodology to incorporate qualitative data collection methods, such as interviews, would help to assess the participants’ perceptions of oral corrective feedback. Additionally, the researcher could consider expanding the population to other language institutions and recruiting participants randomly. The first modification would help to ensure a comprehensive investigation of the research problem, whereas the second change would allow for generalization of the results.

Research Findings Examination

Summary of the Findings

The findings of the study offered insight into the effect of different forms of corrective feedback on students’ performance and foreign language anxiety. Firstly, the researcher found that recasts were more effective in improving students’ performance in writing and oral presentation tests than metalinguistic feedback. The effect of metalinguistic feedback on students’ performance in these tests was similar to the impact of regular instruction. Secondly, the results also showed that both recasts and metalinguistic feedback were effective in improving students’ performance in error correction tests. This means that, while both forms of feedback have a positive effect on learners’ performance, the impact of recasts is more profound, and thus, this tool can be used to support learning in L2 settings.

Thirdly, the study considered the effect of different forms of oral feedback on students’ foreign language anxiety. The author focused on the performance of students with various anxiety levels, showing that the most beneficial intervention was less likely to trigger anxiety than other forms of instruction. Rassaei (2015) notes that the positive effects of recasts are likely because they do not involve explicit correction, which reduces students’ anxiety levels. Metalinguistic feedback, on the contrary, can provoke anxiety, which is why it is less effective in groups with high-anxiety students.

Reliability

The reliability of the findings depends on the reliability of individual research instruments used. In this study, all of the instruments applied by the author were tested for reliability. The anxiety questionnaire used in the study was tested using the Cronbach alpha reliability coefficient and received a score of 0.81 (Rassaei, 2015). According to Vaske, Beaman and Sponarski (2017) and to Bonett and Wright (2015), this figure is acceptable for a questionnaire, indicating relatively high reliability. The error correction test had a reliability score of 0.85, whereas the writing test showed a value of 0.88, both of which are good results in terms of reliability.

The final assessment used, which was an oral presentation, was also measured using the Cronbach alpha test, and a score of 0.84 was achieved. Additionally, two of the instruments were evaluated using inter-rater reliability and showed good results of 0.97 (OPT) and 0.96 (WT). Hence, all of the instruments used in the study had high reliability, and thus the results obtained using them were also reliable.

Validity

The author does not mention the procedures used to judge the validity of results. However, Rassaei (2015) notes that the use of three different instruments for evaluation supports the validity of the study. Nevertheless, it is essential to consider the internal and external validity of the study based on the information provided. In terms of internal validity, there is some possibility of bias due to the use of a foreign language anxiety questionnaire, which involves self-reported data.

The use of self-reported data threatens internal validity because the participants’ perceptions may not be entirely reflective of their true feelings, attitudes and perceptions (Phakiti, 2014). Other possible threats to internal validity include bias or incorrect application of measurement instruments. However, there is no evidence of these concerns in the study. This means that the internal validity of the study and its results is generally high.

With regard to external validity, the most important concept is generalization to other populations and contexts. Phakiti (2014) explains that for a study to have external validity, it is essential to be able to generalize it to other settings. The control of external variables and the sample size of the study are thus pivotal to external validity. In the present study, the sample size was relatively small, and the participants were all from one institution.

Additionally, the fact that the study was conducted in Iran implies the possibility of cultural differences influencing the participants’ reactions to oral feedback. In terms of external variable control, the research shows some evidence of control during instruction planning and sampling. For example, all participants were from the same language level, which reduces the possibility of their performance result being influenced by individual differences in language levels. Still, it is not possible to say with certainty whether the same results would have been achieved in a different group of participants or in another location. Hence, the external validity of the study is rather low, and the results cannot be generalized to other population.

Conclusion

On the whole, the selected study considers important aspects of language learning by considering the effect of oral feedback on foreign language performance and anxiety among L2 students. The study addresses a gap in the literature since most other studies on the topic focus on the causes and effects of foreign language anxiety. The methodology used by the researcher is relevant to the research problem studied since it allows investigating the effect of feedback on students’ performance and foreign language anxiety. However, there are some weaknesses of the study that could have been addressed using a mixed-method design. The reliability and internal validity of the results are high, although there are some concerns related to external validity.

Reference List

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