One of the things that is said to interfere with the learning of foreign languages is anxiety. Teachers teaching foreign languages have, for a long time, understood how this type of anxiety affects learning. Foreign language anxiety is not the same as general anxiety. Various researchers have conducted research to differentiate between the two since there is still limited knowledge about the phenomena. Unfortunately, most of the studies which have been conducted have concentrated on speaking skills since it is seen as the most challenging task. The other four skills have largely been ignored. Studies into the other three skills were only started in the last decade. One very important skills that had been ignored is the reading skill. It has been shown to evoke feelings of anxiety for students learning a foreign language.
Various scholars have struggled to distinguish the different anxieties associated with foreign languages. Saito et al. (1999) were the first researchers who successfully differentiated the reading anxiety from the other anxieties. The researchers were able to identify two specific aspects which caused the reading anxiety. The first one was unfamiliar reading scripts while the other was writing systems. Familiarizing oneself with scripts from a foreign language can greatly help in reducing the anxiety associated with unfamiliar scripts. For instance, Arab- speaking learners experience less reading anxiety when learning English compared to when they have to learn another foreign language such as Chinese, Japanese or Korean. The English language uses more familiar writing scripts compared to the other languages. Learners who try to grasp these other foreign languages apart from English experience difficulties in decoding the scripts which makes it difficult to read the languages.
The other factor which has been shown to cause anxiety is unfamiliar culture. The anxiety which results from unfamiliar culture is different from the one which results from unfamiliar reading scripts. With this type of anxiety, learners can sufficiently decode the words written in a sentence and can therefore derive the meaning of a sentence. However, the learners may struggle to understand complete sentences due to their insufficient knowledge about specific cultures. It is worth noting that many languages are influenced by specific cultures. Therefore, understanding the culture associated with a certain language can help in decoding the language and making meaning of it. Researchers have come up with ingenious ways of measuring the anxiety associated with reading foreign languages. A Likert scale devised by Saito et al. (1999) is used to measure this anxiety. It is made of 20 items and participants can choose to either "strongly agree" or "strongly disagree" amongst other choices.
The reliability and validity of the scale was tested using two methods during the earlier developmental stages. The two methods were the foreign language classroom anxiety scale (FLCAS) and the foreign language reading anxiety scale (FLRAS). The study conducted by Saito et al. (1999) utilized 383 English university students. Of the 383 students, 192 were French students, 114 were Japanese students while 77 students had enrolled for Russian courses. All the students were in the first year of their studies. The studies proved to be internally reliable as the consistency score was.86 on the Cronbach's alpha. The researchers also used a Person Product-Moment correlation coefficient in a bid to validate the foreign language reading anxiety. After completion of the analysis process, the researchers were able to understand how the two scales were related (r =.64, p = .01, n = 383). The studies revealed that those students who suffered from foreign language anxiety also suffered from foreign language reading anxiety. The researchers came up with a correlation coefficient of .64. The figure implied that the two measures shared an estimated 41% of the variance. However, it also implied that 59% of the variance was still not shared. These statistics helped in validating the studies.
The studies provided enough evidence to help distinguish the fact that foreign language reading anxiety was different from foreign language anxiety. Many people had struggled to distinguish between the two. The studies also led the researchers to conclude that foreign language reading anxiety was highly influenced by specific target languages. The levels of anxiety also varied from language to language. The researchers were also able to understand the relationship between specific writing systems and foreign language reading anxiety. The study revealed that those students who had enrolled to learn Japanese as a foreign language suffered the most cases of reading anxiety. They were followed by the ones who had enrolled to learn French as a second language. The ones who had enrolled to learn Russian as a foreign language showed the least cases of reading anxiety among the three.
The research conducted by Saito et al. (1999) was corroborated by other researchers. For instance, Sellers (2000) stated that indeed foreign language reading anxiety varied from case to case. Sellers had conducted her own research where she sought to establish the relationship between language anxiety and reading. However, unlike Saito et al. (1999) her research focused on the Spanish language. She used the same methods used by other authors. For instance, she applied both the FLCAS and FLRAS in testing the reliability of her research. Her study was limited to 89 English university students. Using the two scales, she discovered a 49% variance that was shared which implied that 51% of the variance had not been distributed between the two scales. The results obtained further indicated that foreign language reading anxiety was indeed different from general foreign language anxiety. Another researcher, Kuru-Gonen, also sought to find out whether foreign language reading anxiety was different from general foreign language anxiety. Her research also utilized FLCAS and FLRAS in testing the validity of her research. Her study sample, however, consisted of 50-225 first year students from Turkey who had enrolled for English classes. Unlike the other researchers, she utilized the Pearson Product-Moment correlation coefficient in computing the link between the measures. The researchers found a .45 correlation which implied that a 20% variance was equally distributed between the two measures. It also meant that 80% of the variance had been left unshared.
Another researcher Wu (2011) sought to investigate the link between foreign language anxiety in a general context and foreign language reading anxiety as a specialized skill. Even though the two may be related, they differ in a few concepts. The study utilized 91 Taiwanese students drawn from a Taiwanese university. The students were all enrolled in an English class. The researcher used FLCAS and FLRAS and also the Pearson Product-Moment correlation coefficient to determine the correlation between the two scales. 54% of the variance was not distributed between the two measures and only 46% was shared. The results obtained further helped to corroborate the research conducted by Saito et al., (1999).
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