Listening Comprehension and Anxie...
Listening Comprehension and Anxiety in the Arabic Language Classroom HUSSEIN ELKHAFAIFI University of Washington Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilization 229 Denny Hall Box 353120 University of Washington Seattle, WA 98l95-3120 Email: email@example.com Anxiety plays an important role in foreign language (FL) students��� classroom performance. This study presents the results of the first empirical examination of the effect of general FL learning anxiety on students��� achievement in an Arabic course and of listening anxiety on students��� listening comprehension. The data came from 2 measures of anxiety and a back- ground questionnaire administered to 233 postsecondary students of Arabic as a FL. Anxiety scores were correlated with final grades and listening comprehension scores. The results in- dicated that FL learning anxiety and listening anxiety are separate but related phenomena that both correlate negatively with achievement. The study also revealed significant negative correlations among FL learning anxiety, listening anxiety, and selected demographic variables. These results suggest that reducing student anxiety and providing a less stressful classroom environment might enable teachers and Arabic programs to help students improve both their listening comprehension proficiency as well as their overall course performance. THE ROLE OF ANXIETY AND ITS POTEN- tially detrimental effect on learners in foreign or second language (FL) classes has concerned FL educators for years. Various aspects of FL learning may engender anxiety in students, but the unfa- miliar writing and phonological systems, as well as the foreign cultural context of the less com- monly taught languages (LCTL), such as Arabic, Japanese, or Chinese, appear to produce greater anxiety in learning many LCTLs than the more commonly taught languages. Learning Arabic seems to be very challeng- ing for native speakers of English. The Foreign Service Institute estimates that approximately 1320 hours of instruction in an intensive pro- gram are required for such languages as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to bring students to the same level of proficiency that may be The Modern Language Journal, 89, ii, (2005) 0026-7902/05/206���220 $1.50/0 C 2005 The Modern Language Journal reached after only about 480 hours of instruction in languages like French or Spanish (Omaggio Hadley, 2001). Ryding (1991) noted that many students of Arabic give up after a year or two of study, frustrated at their lack of communica- tive competence even after ���great effort��� (p. 212). Despite this somewhat discouraging observation, new students continue to enroll in beginning Arabic classes at ever-increasing rates. Although modern FL enrollment declined from 16.1 per 100 postsecondary students in 1960 to 8.7 per 100 in 1998 (Welles, 2004), enroll- ment in Arabic courses in U.S. universities has increased significantly in recent years. In 1998, only 5,505 students were studying Arabic at U.S. colleges and universities, yet this number repre- sents a 23.9% increase in the number of students of Arabic from 1995 to 1998. According to a re- cent survey conducted by the Modern Language Association, Arabic experienced a 92.3% increase in enrollment from 1998 to 2002 (Welles, 2004). Furthermore, since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, anecdotal reports from the field indicate
Hussein Elkhafaifi 207 that interest and enrollment in Arabic classes has increased at many U.S. universities (K. Belnap, personal communication, June 10, 2003). The recent surge in enrollment in Arabic classes appears to reflect the desire of many in- dividuals for a greater understanding of the Arab world. Despite this laudable motivation, many stu- dents embark on their study of Arabic with little or no knowledge of the language, even to the extent that they are sometimes surprised to discover that they must master new writing, syntactic, morpho- logical, and phonological systems. Consequently, attrition among students of Arabic tends to be higher than for other FLs (Belnap, 1995). A pedagogical issue unique to Arabic is diglos- sia, the existence of two forms of the language, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and several re- gional vernaculars (colloquial Arabic Ryding, 1991). Most instruction in U.S. Arabic programs targets the acquisition of proficiency in either MSA or one of the dialects. Students who work hard to become proficient in MSA may be discour- aged to find that they still cannot communicate ef- fectively because native speakers of Arabic do not use MSA for interpersonal communication, and students who study a dialect may feel inadequate in more formal situations where colloquial Arabic is inappropriate. All of these students may experi- ence anxiety in classroom listening exercises that feature an unfamiliar form of Arabic. The present study considered how anxiety af- fects listening comprehension and overall class- room performance in Arabic. A precise def- inition of FL anxiety is offered by Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986): ���a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behav- iors related to classroom language learning aris- ing from the uniqueness of the language learning process��� (p. 128). It may arise from self-doubt, frustration, and perceived (or fear of ) failure. When anxiety is associated with learning a FL, it can manifest itself in altered performance, lower test scores, and final grades. If it is severe, it can even lead to a change in the student���s academic or career plans. Horwitz et al. (1986) determined that anxiety plays an important role in determining students��� success or failure in FL classes. Besides making the classroom experience more difficult for stu- dents and instructors alike, FL anxiety can deter students from pursuing academic or professional careers in which FLs are essential for success. FL anxiety is an important element in the overall learning process, particularly in noncog- nate, non-Western languages, such as Arabic. For Arabic to occupy and maintain its place in under- graduate, as well as graduate, university programs and achieve inclusion among the more typical LCTLs such as Chinese and Japanese, it behooves instructors to find means of reducing learner anx- iety in Arabic classes. There are some published studies concerning the issue of listening anxiety in FLs, but none has examined FL learning anxiety or listening anxi- ety in Arabic. The present study aimed to con- tribute to our understanding of FL anxiety, in general, and listening anxiety in Arabic, in par- ticular. This study also explored the relationship between listening anxiety and general FL learn- ing anxiety. Some FL students report FL learn- ing anxiety in general whereas others say they become anxious only when participating in skill- specific activities, for instance, speaking, listening, reading, or writing. Although the two types of anx- iety might appear to be independent constructs, it is also possible that they share several com- mon features, including negative affect toward elements of classroom communicative practice. No published studies have investigated the rela- tionship between general FL anxiety and listen- ing anxiety related to Arabic. The present study was the first attempt to fill this gap and to re- veal more about the relationship between the two types of anxiety and achievement in the Arabic classroom. The study also produced information concern- ing the relationships among achievement, anxi- ety, and specific demographic variables: gender, year in school, Arabic course level (first, second, or third year), and course type (elective, required, or major). Furthermore, it examined the impact of gender and course level on listening and FL learning anxiety. It posited that listening anxiety in Arabic is a phenomenon related to, but dis- tinguishable from, general FL learning anxiety, and it further hypothesized that higher anxiety levels result in lower overall course grades in gen- eral, and lower listening comprehension scores in particular. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Scholars have studied anxiety and its effect on FL learning for many years. Curran (1972) devel- oped a language pedagogy method called Com- munity Language Learning (CLL), designed to reduce tension and student anxiety in the class- room. This method, although not universally ac- cepted, called attention to the issue of anxiety and its role in FL learning. Its emphasis on the active engagement of learners and teachers in the process of learning purported to contribute
208 The Modern Language Journal 89 (2005) significantly to the reduction of tension and anx- iety in the classroom (Ryding, 1993). Stevick (1980) described several aspects of FL learner characteristics, including reluctance to take risks and fear of embarrassment in class, and suggested practical ways for instructors to reduce student anxiety and inhibition in class. Beebe (1983), Foss and Reitzel (1988), Krashen (1982), and Scarcella, Anderson, and Krashen (1990), for example, investigated several affective variables, including anxiety, in attempts to shed light on the FL learning process. The phenomenon of FL anxiety assumed increasing importance as re- searchers began to note its potential effect on stu- dent performance and its possible relationship to decreased success and increased attrition in lan- guage classes. Chastain (1975) studied the effect of anxiety on course grades in elementary language courses for three languages and discovered that affective characteristics seem to have as much influence on learning as ability factors. Young (1991) identi- fied several different sources and causes of learner anxiety in the FL classroom and suggested some possible anxiety-reducing strategies. Learner and instructor strategies to improve listening compre- hension and reduce anxiety were also evaluated by Mendelsohn (1995). Bailey (1983) explored the correlation between anxiety and learners��� per- formance and concluded that a high level of anxiety could have adverse effects on student���s FL performance. Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, and Daley (1999) and Vogely (1998) reported similar find- ings. In particular, anxious students may underes- timate their own ability, which, in turn, diminishes their performance in class (MacIntyre, Noels, & Clement, �� 1997). Studies on the effect of anxiety on student performance in language classes have occasion- ally produced conflicting results. For example, on the one hand, Alpert and Haber (1960) de- termined that anxiety could have a beneficial or facilitative effect on student performance. On the other hand, Spielmann and Radnofsky (2001) concluded that anxiety has a detrimental effect on language acquisition. Depending on the individ- ual, anxious FL learners may express their feelings through avoidance behavior, such as skipping lan- guage class, failing to prepare for class, or avoid- ing eye contact with the instructor (Bailey, 1983). Some students become so fearful of speaking in class that they refuse to participate at all (Young, 1991). Oxford (1999) discussed the effect of anx- iety on FL students and on their performance, citing a study (Ganschow, Sparks, Anderson, Javorsky, Skinner, & Patton, 1994) whose authors concluded that poor FL learning skills are the cause of FL language anxiety, not the result. The majority of studies support the view that anx- iety contributes to poor performance, not the reverse. MacIntyre (1995), in a review of language anx- iety research, determined that anxiety does in- deed play a significant role in language learn- ing problems. Other investigators have reinforced a belief long held by FL instructors that anx- iety is a widespread and important factor in language acquisition. Anxiety, motivation, and self-confidence are among the components of Krashen���s (1982) affective filter hypothesis, which posits that learners with low levels of anxiety per- form better than anxious students. Gardner and MacIntyre (1993) believe that if language anx- iety continues to increase rather than to abate over time, it will have a persistent and potentially adverse effect on L2 learners��� acquisition and performance. Horwitz (2001) reviewed a large body of re- search and concluded that there is a clear re- lationship between anxiety and poor language learning. Although some researchers discount the role of anxiety in FL learning, Horwitz (2000, 2001) spoke for many others in reiterating the importance of anxiety as a factor in student performance. Research involving general FL anxiety has tradi- tionally focused on students of English as a second (ESL) or foreign (EFL) language, followed by re- search relating to students of Spanish and French as FLs. More recently, several scholars have inves- tigated the role of anxiety in some LCTLs such as Japanese (Aida, 1994 Kitano, 2001 Matsuda & Gobel, 2001 Saito & Samimy, 1996 Samimy & Tabuse, 1992) and Russian (Ingram, Nord, & Dragy, 1975 O���Toole, 1993). To the best of the au- thor���s knowledge, only two published studies have addressed the phenomenon of anxiety in Arabic. In a small qualitative case study, Suleiman (1991) determined that attitude and affect directly influ- ence the success of an individual���s study of Arabic. Studying Arabic learners��� writing task strategies, Khaldieh (2000) observed that less proficient stu- dents exhibited more anxiety than capable writ- ers. To date, no studies have explored the effect of anxiety on listening comprehension perfor- mance or on general classroom achievement in Arabic. Although general FL anxiety may be present on a consistent basis for many students, other stu- dents report what MacIntyre and Gardner call ���sit- uation specific anxieties��� (1991a, p. 90), or anx- iety related to a particular class activity, such as