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Language Learning and Perfectionism: Anxious and Non-Anxious Language Learners' Reactions

to Their Own Oral Performance


Author(s): Tammy Gregersen and Elaine K. Horwitz
Source: The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 86, No. 4 (Winter, 2002), pp. 562-570
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the National Federation of Modern Language
Teachers Associations
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1192725
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Language Learning and
Perfectionism: Anxious and
Non-Anxious
Language
Learners'
Reactions to T h eir O w n O ral
Performance
T AMMY GREGERSEN
Universid ad d e Atacama
Copayapu
485
Copiapo
Ch il e
Email :
T gregersen
ed ucatio.ud a.cl
ELAINE K. HO RWIT Z
Foreign Language
Ed ucation
SZB 528
University of
T exasat Austin
Austin,
T X 78712
Email : Horw itz@mail . utexas. ed u
T h isinterview
stud y sough t
to
cl arify
th e
rel ationsh ip
betw een
foreign l anguage anxiety
and
perfectionism.
T h e comments of anxious and non-anxious
l anguage
l earnersw ere aud iore-
cord ed as
th ey
w atch ed th emsel ves interact in a
vid eotaped
oral interview .
By examining
th e
reactions of th e
l anguage
l earnerstoth eir actual oral
performance
and
anal yzing
th e aud io-
tapes
for instances of
perfectionism,
evid ence w as
gath ered suggesting
th at anxious and
non-anxious l earnersd iffer in th eir
personal performance
stand ard s,
procrastination,
fear of
eval uation,
and concern over errors. Because th e resul tsof th is
stud y
ind icated a l ink betw een
l anguage anxiety
and
perfectionism,
th e articl e end sw ith a d iscussion of
proced ures
th at h ave
been used to overcome
perfectionism
and
l anguage
l earners.
LANGUAGE T EACHERS AND RESEARCHERS
h ave been interested in th e
ph enomenon
of for-
eign l anguage anxiety
for a number of
years.
Hor-
w itz, Horw itz,
and
Cope (1986)
argued
th at for-
eign l anguage anxiety
isa
specificsynd rome
th at
may
be rel ated toth ree w el l -know n anxietiesasso-
ciated w ith first
l anguage
use and
everyd ay
l ife.
T h ese are: communication
appreh ension,
fear of
negative
eval uation,
and test
anxiety.
Communica-
tion
appreh ension
refers toan ind ivid ual 's d is-
comfort in
tal king
in front of oth ers. In th e
foreign
l anguage
context, Horw itz, Horw itz,
and
Cope
(1986)
contend ed th at th e mismatch betw een for-
eign l anguage
stud ents' mature
th ough ts
and
th eir immature
foreign
or second
l anguage profi-
ciency
resul tsin sel f-consciousnessand
anxiety
in
some ind ivid ual s. T h e
inabil ity
to
express
onesel f
T h e Mod ern
LanguageJournal
86, iv, (2002)
0026-7902/02/562-570 $1.50/0
?2002 T h e Mod ern
LanguageJournal
th at
may
al so be
h el pful
to anxious
foreign
ful l y
or tound erstand w h at anoth er
person says
can
easil y
l ead tofrustration and
appreh ension
given
th at th e
appreh ensive
communicator is
aw are th at
compl ete
communication isnot
possi-
bl e and
may
be troubl ed
by
th is
prospect.
In th e case of
foreign
or second
l anguage
l earning,
fear of
negative
eval uation is
l ikel y
tobe
manifested in a stud ent's overconcern w ith aca-
d emicand
personal
eval uationsof h isor h er
per-
formance and
competence
in th e
target l anguage
(MacIntyre
&
Gard ner, 1991).
Al th ough
it isaxi-
omaticth at
l anguage l earning
cannot occur w ith -
out
errors,
errorscan be th e source of
anxiety
in
some ind ivid ual sbecause
th ey
d raw attention to
th e
d ifficul ty
of
making positive
social
impres-
sionsw h en
speaking
a new
l anguage (MacIntyre
&
Gard ner, 1989).
Peopl e
w h o are
h igh l y
con-
cerned about th e
impressions
th at oth ersformof
th emtend tobeh ave in
w ays
th at minimize th e
possibil ity
of unfavorabl e eval uations. Like com-
munication-anxious
ind ivid ual s,
peopl e
w h ofear
T ammy Gregersen
and El aine K Horw itz
negative
eval uation
rarel y
initiate conversation
and interact
minimal l y. Language
stud ents w h o
experience
th is
anxiety
tend tosit
passivel y
in th e
cl assroom,
w ith d raw fromactivitiesth at coul d in-
crease th eir
l anguage
skil l s,
and
may
even avoid
cl ass
entirel y (El y,
1986;
Gregersen,
1999/2000;
Horw itz, Horw itz,
&
Cope, 1986).
T h e construct of test
anxiety
al soseems rel e-
vant to a d iscussion of th e anxious
foreign
or
second
l anguage
l earner. Some l earners
may
in-
appropriatel y
view
foreign
or second
l anguage
prod uction
asa test situation rath er th an asan
opportunity
for communication
(Horw itz, 1986).
Al th ough
th e constructsof communication
ap-
preh ension,
fear of
negative
eval uation,
and test
anxiety
h ave
proven
useful in
und erstand ing
th e
nature of
foreign l anguage anxiety, rel ativel y
l ittl e
is know n about th e
rel ationsh ips
betw een and
among foreign l anguage anxiety
and oth er
per-
sonal ity
ch aracteristics.
Und erstand ing
th ese rel a-
tionsh ips
w oul d
h el p
teach ersbetter und erstand
th e
experience
of uncomfortabl e
l anguage
l earn-
ersand
point
tobetter
w ays
to
h el p
th ese stud ents.
T h isarticl e
w il l , th erefore,
examine th e rel ation-
sh ip
betw een
foreign l anguage anxiety
and a
l ogi-
cal l y
rel ated
personal ity
construct,
perfectionism.
Communication
appreh ension,
fear of
negative
eval uation,
and test
anxiety
evoke an
image
of a
l anguage
l earner w h ois
overl y
concerned w ith th e
"appearance"
of h is or h er communication at-
tempts.
Like anxious
foreign l anguage
l earners,
perfectionists
set
excessivel y h igh
stand ard sfor
performance accompanied by overl y
critical sel f-
eval uations
(Frost, Marten, Lah art,
&
Rosenbl ate,
1990).
With
respect
to
l anguage l earning, perfec-
tionist stud entsw oul d not be satisfied w ith
merel y
communicating
in th eir
target l anguage-th ey
w oul d w ant to
speak fl aw l essl y,
w ith no
grammati-
cal or
pronunciation errors,
and as
easil y
asa na-
tive
speaker.
Rath er th an
d emonstrating
l ess-th an-
perfect l anguage
skil l sand
exposing
th emsel vesto
th e
possibl e negative
reactions of
oth ers,
perfec-
tionist
l anguage
l earnersw oul d
l ikel y prefer
tore-
main
sil ent,
w aiting
until
th ey
w ere certain of h ow
to
express
th eir
th ough ts.
Such
impossibl y h igh
performance
stand ard s create th e id eal cond i-
tionsfor th e
d evel opment
of
l anguage anxiety.
Based on Pach t's
(1984)
conceptual ization,
Broph y (1999)
catal ogued
a number of
symp-
tomsof
perfectionism
in stud entsth at seemtobe
counterprod uctive
to
l earning
of
any
kind and
especial l y
sofor
l anguage l earning:
[1]
performance
stand ard sth atare
impossibl y h igh
and
unnecessaril y rigid ;
563
[2] motivation more fromfear of fail ure th an from
pursuit
of success;
[3]
measurement of one's ow n w orth
entirel y
in
termsof
prod uctivity
and
accompl ish ment;
[4]
al l -or-noth ing
eval uations th at l abel
anyth ing
oth er th an
perfection
as
fail ure;
[5]
d ifficul ty
in
taking
cred itor
pl easure,
even w h en
success is
ach ieved , because such ach ievement is
merel y
w h atis
expected ;
[6]
procrastination
in
getting
started on w ork th at
w il l be
jud ged ;
and
[7]
l ong d el ays
in
compl eting assignments,
or
repeat-
ed l y starting
over on
assignments,
because th e w ork
mustbe
perfect
fromth e
beginning
and continue to
be
perfect
asone
goes al ong. (p. 1)
O th er
symptoms commonl y
observed in
per-
fectionist stud ents incl ud e an
unw il l ingness
to
vol unteer to
respond
to
questions
unl ess
th ey
are
certain of th e correct
answ er,
overl y
emotional
and
"catastroph ic"
reactions to minor
fail ures,
and l ow
prod uctivity
d ue to
procrastination
or
excessive "startovers."
Al th ough perfectionism
is
intuitivel y recog-
nized
by many
teach ers and
h el ping profession-
al s,
psych ol ogists
h ave tend ed to consid er it in
association w ith oth er
psych ol ogical
traits. Pach t
(1984)
argued
th at
perfectionismpl ays
a
promi-
nent rol e in several forms of
psych opath ol ogy,
and several th eoristsbel ieve th at it isa l ess
exag-
gerated
formof
obsessive-compul sive
d isord er
(O CD)
(Mal l inger,
1984;
McFal l &
Wol l ersh eim,
1979; Pittman, 1987a, 1987b; Sal zman, 1968).1
Recentl y,
h ow ever,
several research ers h ave raised
th e
possibil ity
th at
perfectionism,
l ike
anxiety,
can itsel f be an
important
source of
poor
sch ool
performance.
In h is book,
T each ing
Probl emStu-
d ents,
Broph y (1996)
argued :
Perfectionists sh ow
unsatisfactory
ach ievement
pro-
gress
because
th ey
are more concerned about avoid -
ing
mistakesth an about
l earning. T h ey
are inh ibited
about cl assroom
participation
and
counterprod uc-
tivel y compul sive
in th eir w ork h abits.
(p. 112)
Read ers famil iar w ith th e l iterature on
foreign
l anguage anxiety
are
l ikel y
tonotice a number of
paral l el s
fromit to th ese
d escriptions
of
perfec-
tionism. It is
important
tonote th at asfor anxious
l anguage
l earners,
th e successof
perfectionists
is
often
imped ed
because
th ey spend
th eir
energy
avoid ing
mistakesrath er th an
focusing
on l earn-
ing.
Not
onl y
d o
th ey
refrain fromcl assroom
par-
ticipation,
but
th ey
al so
ind ul ge
in
compul sive
beh aviors th at
negativel y
infl uence th eir w ork
h abits
(Broph y, 1999).
Broph y's d escriptions
of
perfectionists
evoke several itemson th e
Foreign
Language
Cl assroom
Anxiety
Scal e
(FLCAS;
Hor-
w itz et
al ., 1986),
an instrument used to
id entify
564
l anguage-anxious
stud ents. Anxious
foreign
l an-
guage
l earners
agree
w ith statements such
as,
"Even if I amw el l
prepared
for
l anguage
cl ass,
I
feel anxious about it." "T h e more I
stud y
for a
l anguage
test,
th e more confused I
get."
"I
get
nervousw h en I d on't und erstand
every
w ord
my
l anguage
teach er
says."
"I
al w ays
feel th at th e
oth er stud ents
speak
th e
foreign l anguage
better
th an I d o."
Conversel y,
anxious
foreign l anguage
stud ents
d isagree
w ith statementssuch
as,
"I d on't
feel
pressure
to
prepare very
w el l for
my l anguage
cl ass." And "I d on't
w orry
about
making
mistakes
in
l anguage cl ass"(Horw itz
et
al .,
pp. 129-130)
Broph y's (1999)
suggestion
th at
perfectionist
stud ents set
overl y h igh performance
stand ard s
th at are
accompanied by
a fear of fail ure is re-
fl ected in
Macl ntyre
and Gard ner's
anxiety
mod el
(1991):
T h us,
foreign l anguage anxiety
isbased on
negative
expectations
th at l ead to
w orry
and
emotional ity.
T h isl ead sto
cognitive
interference from
sel f-d eroga-
tory cognition
th at
prod ucesperformance
d eficits.
Poor
performance
and
negative
emotional reactions
reinforce th e
expectations
of
anxiety
and
fail ure,
fur-
th er
anxiety being
a reaction toth is
perceived
th reat.
(p. 110)
Al th ough
th e
preced ing anal ogy
betw een for-
eign l anguage-anxious
and
perfectionist
stud ents
is
appeal ing,
no
stud y
h asexamined th e connec-
tion betw een th ese tw o traits. T h is interview
stud y, th erefore,
sough t
to
cl arify
th e interaction
of
l anguage anxiety
and
perfectionism
in a
group
of
l anguage
l earners.
Specifical l y,
w e
attempted
to
id entify
instances of
perfectionism
in anxious
l anguage
l earners and confirmth at such reac-
tions are l ess
preval ent
in non-anxious l earners.
T h us,
in ord er toexamine th e
rel ationsh ips
be-
tw een
perfectionism
and
l anguage anxiety,
th e
comments of anxious and non-anxious
l anguage
l earners w ere aud iorecord ed as th e stud ents
w atch ed th emsel ves
participate
in a
vid eotaped
oral
interview ,
and th e
aud iotapes
w ere examined
for instancesof
perfectionism. By h aving
th e
par-
ticipants
review th eir
vid eotaped interview s,
th is
stud y
al so examined th e reactions of
l anguage
l earners toth eir actual oral
performance,
a sec-
ond area th at h asnever before been
expl ored .
MET HO DO LO GY
Participants
For th isinterview
stud y,
th e research erssel ected
8 stud entsfroma
l arger group
of 78 stud entsw h o
w ere enrol l ed in
second -year Engl ish l anguage
T h e Mod ern
Language Journal
86
(2002)
cl assesat th e Universid ad d e Atacama in Ch il e and
w h ow ere
participating
in a
quantitative stud y
ex-
pl oring
th e
rel ationsh ips
betw een
perfectionism
and
foreign l anguage anxiety.
T h is
sampl e
con-
sisted of th e 4 most anxiousand th e 4 l east anxious
participants
in th e
l arger stud y accord ing
toth eir
scoreson th e FLCAS. T abl e 1
d ispl ays
th e mean
FLCAS scoresfor th e 78
participants
in th e
quanti-
tative
stud y
and th e scoresfor th e 8 ind ivid ual s
par-
ticipating
in th e
stud y reported
h ere.
T h e 8
participants
w ere
second -year
stud entsin
th e
Engl ish
Ed ucation
program
at th e Universi-
d ad d e Atacama.
T h ey
h ad
compl eted
at l east 6
years
of
second ary Engl ish l anguage
stud ies be-
fore
entering
th e
university
th e
previousyear,
and
th ey
w ere
preparing
tobecome
h igh
sch ool En-
gl ish
teach ers. O f th e 8
participants,
7 w ere fe-
mal e and 1 w asmal e
(h igh -anxious
stud ent No.
3).
T h is
gend er
ratioof 1:8 w asconsistent w ith
th e
general popul ation
of stud entsin th e
Engl ish
Ed ucation
program
at th e Universid ad d e Ata-
cama. In
ad d ition,
7 of th e
participants
w ere of
typical university age
and 1
(l ow -anxiousstud ent
No.
3)
w asa
returning
ad ul t stud ent. After com-
pl eting
th e
FLCAS,
th e 8 stud entsw ere asked to
participate
in th e interview
ph ase
of th e
stud y,
and al l
agreed .
Proced ures
T h e interview
stud y reported
h ere consisted of
tw o
ph ases.
In th e first
ph ase, participants
w ere
vid eotaped
in a one-on-one oral interview d e-
signed
toel icit a
sampl e
of th eir conversational
Engl ish abil ity.
T h e oral
interview s, cond ucted
by
th e first
auth or,
l asted about 5 minutes
d uring
w h ich th e
participants
w ere asked to
respond
in
Engl ish
tocommon conversational
prompts:
T ABLE 1
FLCAS Scores
Mean FLCAS Score
58.28
Stand ard Deviation 14.81
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 1 34
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 2 37
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 3 41
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 4 41
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 1 101
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 2 100
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 3 97
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 4
92
Note. Low scores
represent h igh anxiety; h igh
scores
represent
l ow
anxiety.
T ammy Gregersen
and El aine K Horw itz
1. Wh ere are
you
from?
2. T el l me about
your famil y.
3. How d o
you
cel ebrate
Ind epend ence Day?
4. Wh ere d o
you go
and w h at d o
you
d o on
vacation?
5. How d o
you normal l y spend your
w eekend s?
T h e
vid eotaped
conversationsw ere used in th e
second
part
of th e
stud y
to el icit th e stud ents'
possibl e feel ings
of
perfectionism
and
anxiety
as
w el l as
any
oth er emotional reactions.
(An
effort
w asmad e to
put participants
at ease
d uring
both
ph ases
of th e
stud y.)
For
rating purposes, perfec-
tionismw as
operational ized
ascomments refl ect-
ing h igh personal performance
stand ard s and
procrastination,
fear of
eval uation,
and error-
consciousness. After al l 8 stud entsh ad
compl eted
th e conversation task
(a
period
of about 1
w eek),
th ey
w ere invited toreview th eir vid eosw ith th e
first
auth or,
and
again,
al l
agreed .
In th is
part
of
th e
stud y,
th e
participants
w atch ed th eir vid e-
otaped
interview s and w ere asked torefl ect on
th eir ow n
performances.
T h e stud entsw ere
given
th e
option
of
making
comments w h il e th e vid eo
w as
pl aying,
or of
commenting
at th e end of th e
vid eo, and ,
w ith
onl y
one
exception (l ow -anxious
stud ent No.
3),
th e interview ees
opted
tocom-
ment after
view ing
th e entire interview .
(We
note
th at several interview ees
groaned
or mad e oth er
noisesw h il e
w atch ing
th e
vid eotape.)
T h is
ph ase
of th e
stud y
w ascond ucted in th e stud ents' native
Spanish .
Wh en th e
vid eotape
end ed ,
th e inter-
view er
prompted
th e stud ents w ith such
ques-
tions as "Wh at d o
you
th ink of
your perfor-
mance?" "Did
you
l ike it?"
T h us,
in ord er toel icit
potential l y perfectionist
and uncomfortabl e reac-
tionsfrom
th em,
th e interview er
gave
th e
partici-
pants
a somew h at eval uative orientation toth eir
performance. Al th ough
some of th e stud ents
565
need ed
prompting
at th e
beginning,
al l of th e
participantsread il y
offered th eir reactionstoth e
tapes.
T h ese sessionsl asted about 10 minutes.
T h e stud ents' reactions toth eir conversations
w ere aud iorecord ed and transcribed . Each tran-
scription
w as th en
anal yzed ind epend entl y by
th ree ratersfl uent in
Spanish
and famil iar w ith
th e l iterature on
perfectionism
w h o
catal ogued
ind ications of
perfectionist
or
nonperfectionist
tend encies asd efined
by Broph y
(1999).
Specifi-
cal l y,
th e ratersw ere asked to l ook for stud ent
commentary
and reactions
refl ecting personal
performance
stand ard s,
procrastination,
emo-
tional
responses
to
eval uation,
and error-con-
sciousness. T h e ratersw ere
requested
to
excerpt
fromth e
compl ete
texts
any quotations
th at
th ey
perceived
as
correspond ing
to
perfectionist
or
nonperfectionist
tend encies. T h e
transcripts
w ere
presented
in rand om
ord er,
soth at th e rat-
ers,
al th ough
aw are th at th isw asan
anxiety stud y,
w oul d be bl ind toth e
anxiety
statusof th e
partici-
pants. O nl y
th ose
quotations
th at
appeared
on
tw oor more raters' l istsare incl ud ed in th e ensu-
ing
d iscussion. T abl e 2
categorizes
and summa-
rizesth e number of
perfectionist
comments id en-
tified for each of th e 8
participants.
As can be
seen in th e
tabl e,
th e number of
perfectionist
comments offered
by
th e more anxious
partici-
pantsranged
from7 to
11,
w h ereasth e l ow -anx-
ious stud entsoffered
onl y
one or tw osuch com-
ments. In
ad d ition,
of th e th ree comment
categories,
it is
interesting
tonote th at th e
l arge
majority
of comments w ere
jud ged
tobe of th e
personal performance
stand ard sand
procrastina-
tion
type.
In ord er to
triangul ate
th ese
resul ts,
th e th ree
ratersw ere al soasked to
put
th e
transcripts
in
rank ord er fromth e most
perfectionist (1)
toth e
l east
perfectionist (8).
T abl e 3
compares
th e
perfec-
T ABLE 2
Frequency
of Perfectionist Comments
Personal
Performance Fear of
Stand ard sand
Negative
Concern
Stud ents Procrastination Eval uation O ver Errors T otal
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 1 5 2 2 9
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 2 2 4 1 7
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 3 6 3 2 11
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 4 7 2 2 11
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 1 0 0 1 1
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 2 0 0 1 1
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 3 2 0 0 2
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 4 1 0 0 1
566
tionismrank ord er w ith th e rank ord er of
anxiety
taken fromth e FLCAS scores. Raters
agreed
on
th e
rankings
92% of th e time.
ST UDENT REACT IO NS T O T HEIR O RAL
PERFO RMANCE
Personal
Performance
Stand ard sand Procrastination
Unusual l y h igh personal
stand ard s and
pro-
crastination are h al l marksof
perfectionism
(Bro-
ph y,
1999).
Perfectionist stud ents often d emon-
strate
l ong d el ays
in
compl eting assignments
or
repeated l y
restart th embecause
th ey
bel ieve th at
th eir w ork must be
perfect
from
beginning
to
end .
T h us,
l ow
prod uctivity
is
strongl y
associated
w ith
perfectionism,
and for th at
reason,
th e tw o
issuesw il l be d iscussed
togeth er
h ere.
T h e anxious stud ents in th is
stud y
offered a
number of comments th at are consistent w ith th e
h igh -stand ard -l ow -prod uctivity
association d e-
scribed
by Broph y. Strikingl y,
unl ike th e l ess-anx-
ious stud ents w h ose comments w il l
fol l ow ,
th e
anxious
participants
in th is
stud y
w ere
cl earl y
re-
l uctant to comment
d irectl y
on th eir oral
per-
formance and instead
quickl y
turned th e d iscus-
sions of th eir
vid eotapes
to more
general
d iscussionsof h ow
th ey
often
put
off
assignments
and oth er
l anguage-rel ated
tasks. For
exampl e,
h igh -anxious
stud ent No. 1
ignored
h er
perfor-
mance on th e
tape
al most
entirel y
and
began
to
d iscussw h en sh e sh oul d take a
particul ar
cl ass,
saying,
"If I amnot
going
tod oit
[th e cl ass] w el l ,
it w oul d be better for me tow ait until next
year
and d oit better."
Later,
w ith reference toa
paper
sh e w asnot satisfied
w ith ,
sh e
commented , "Wh y
sh oul d I turn in
someth ing
bad if I coul d h ave
d one it w el l ? It'sbetter not tod oit th en. I
al w ays
d o
th is,
and th en I
get
frustrated ,
and I end
up
staying
th at
w ay." High -anxious
stud ent No. 4 ex-
T h e Mod ern
Language Journal
86
(2002)
empl ified
h ow
procrastination
and l ow
prod uctiv-
ity
resul t fromunreal istic
personal
stand ard s,
"Because I am
very
sl ow in
d oing th ings,
I
begin
to
get
nervous about
it,
and I start tol ook at al l
th e d etail s. And th en I
begin
tow aste a l ot of
time."
T h us,
not
onl y
d id th ese anxious l earners
report
avoid ance and
procrastination
in th eir l an-
guage l earning,
but
th ey actual l y
seemed toavoid
tal king
about th eir
performance
on th e
tape.
T h e
impossibl y h igh
and
unnecessaril y rigid
performance
stand ard s d escribed
by Broph y
(1999)
are
exempl ified
in th e
fol l ow ing excerpt
from
h igh -anxious
stud ent No. 2 w h o com-
mented
d irectl y
on h er
tape.
(Even th ough
th is
stud ent h ad
h igh l anguage proficiency,
sh e w as
al so
h igh l y
anxious.)
Sh e
compl ained ,
"I h ave
some
probl ems
w ith
verbs,
and I stil l h ave to
improve
some
th ings concerning vocabul ary.
I
bel ieve th at if I w ork h ard er I coul d meet
my
speaking goal s.
But w h at
h appens
isth at I often
forget
w h at some
th ings
mean." Sh e
repeated
several
times,
"I bel ieve th at if I
stud y
a l ittl e more
... I bel ieve th at if I
stud y
a l ittl e more ..."
T h us,
even
th ough
h er
l anguage proficiency
l evel w as
particul arl y h igh
for a
second -year
stud ent and
cl earl y h igh
for th ese 8
participants,
sh e w asnot
personal l y
satisfied w ith h er
performance.
T h e non-anxious
l anguage
stud ents, h ow ever,
w ere
h appy
tod iscussth eir
performances
on th e
vid eotapes
and
read il y
d escribed
personal
stan-
d ard sth at w ere more real isticfor th eir l evel sof
l anguage abil ity.
T h e non-anxious
participants
recognized
th at th eir
l anguage prod uction
w as
imperfect
but d id not d emand th e same l evel of
accuracy
th at th eir
l anguage
anxious counter-
parts
d id . In
fact,
th ey
often seemed
proud
of
th eir
performance
and aw are of th eir ow n re-
l axed state. Low -anxiousstud ent No. 3
(th e
re-
turning
ad ul t
stud ent)
w h ose oral
performance
w as
particul arl y poor
stood out in contrast toth e
T ABLE 3
Rank O rd ersfor
Anxiety
and Perfectionism
Anxiety
Perfectionism
(Based
Stud ent (Based on FLCAS
Scores)
on Mean Rater
Rankings)
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 1 1 1
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 2 2 3
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 3 3 2
High -Anxious
Stud ent No. 4 3 4
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 1 5 5
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 2 6 6
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 3 7 8
Low -AnxiousStud ent No. 4 8 7
T ammy Gregersen
and El aine K Horw itz
h igh -proficiency
but anxious stud ent d escribed
above. T h is non-anxious stud ent
commented , "I
said l ess th an I w oul d h ave l iked to. It
[my
En-
gl ish ]
w as not
very
fl uent
yet,
neverth el ess, I
d id n't feel at al l inh ibited .
Al th ough
I d on't l ike
cameras,
it's fun to see
mysel f
now on vid eo."
Low -anxiousstud ent No. 4
stated ,
"I started
get-
ting
invol ved in th e
topic.
Sure,
I h ad some
gaps
w h en I tried toth ink of th e
righ t
w ord in
Engl ish
and
respond ,
but in th e
end ,
I fel t rel axed ." T h is
sentiment w asal sorefl ected in th e comments of
a th ird non-anxious
stud ent,
"I w anted to
say
more ... It w asl ike I h ad
d ifficul ty
in
find ing
th e
w ord s,
and th is sl ow ed me
d ow n,
but it w asn't
stressful ." It is
interesting
th at th is
participant
recognized
l imitations in h er
l anguage prod uc-
tion but d id not find it stressful w h en sh e h ad
d ifficul ty expressing
h ersel f.
Rath er,
sh e view ed
h er
d ifficul ty
in
find ing
w ord sasan
imped iment
toh er
speed
of
prod uction.
T h ese comments
suggest
th at
al th ough
th e
non-anxious stud ents
recognized
w eaknesses in
th eir
l anguage
skil l s,
th ey
set real istic
personal
stand ard sand seemed
pl eased
w h en
consid ering
th eir ow n
performance
in
Engl ish .
Unl ike th e
anxious
stud ents,
not
onl y
d id
th ey
comment
ch eerful l y
on th eir
performance
but
th ey
d id not
report
eith er
procrastination
or w ork avoid ance.
T h ere w asnot a
singl e
reference toeith er
pro-
crastination or avoid ance of
Engl ish
tasksin th e
transcripts
of th e non-anxious l earners. T h e non-
anxious l earners al soseemed toval ue
being
re-
l axed and
gave
th emsel ves cred it for not
getting
anxious. In
fact,
unl ike th e anxiousstud entsw h o
recognized
th at
becoming
anxious interfered
w ith th eir
performance,
th ese l earnersseemed to
view th eir l ack of
anxiety
asa kind of success.
Fear
of
Eval uation
Consistent w ith
conceptual izations
of both l an-
guage anxiety
and
perfectionism,
th e
h igh -anx-
ious
participants
in th is
stud y
tend ed tofear th e
eval uation of th eir
peers
and th e
subsequent pos-
sibil ity
of
appearing
fool ish . Al l 4
l anguage-anx-
ious interview ees in th is
stud y
commented
nega-
tivel y
about th eir errors and
compared
th emsel ves
negativel y
w ith th eir
peers. High -anx-
iousstud ent No. 3
(th e mal e)
w orried :
I amboth ered a l ittl e
[about
my errors]
because I
get
nervous,
and I th ink th atth e oth er
person
th inksth at
I d on't know h ow to
speak.
It
h appens
a l ot. I
try
to
pronounce
th e best I
can,
and w h en I
try
to
pro-
nounce
better,
my pronunciation gets
w orse,
because
I
get
fl ustered . T h at
is,
I
get
fl ustered because I some-
times
pronounce
w ord s
bad l y.
I
try
soh ard to
pro-
567
nounce
perfectl y.
For
exampl e,
I h ave a cl assmate
w h ois
very
cal mw h en h e
speaks.
He
gets
mixed
up
sometimes,
but h e
untangl es
h imsel f
quickl y.
But not
me. I
get
mixed
up
and th en I
get
even more mixed
up.
I
get
intoeven
d eeper
troubl e.
In ad d ition to
w orrying
about h ow oth ers
per-
ceive
h im,
th is
participant recognized
th at oth er
l earners
may
al soh ave
d ifficul ty speaking Engl ish
but stil l remain cal m.
High -anxious
stud ent No.
2,
expl aining
th e
anxiety
sh e fel t in
l arge groups,
commented , "I
bel ieve th at
everyone gets
nervous w h en
th ey
h ave toconfront a
group
and
you
h ave tosh ow
w h at
you
know . T h ismakesme nervous. In
real ity,
a
big group
isw h at makesme
real l y
nervous."
Wh ereas al l of th e anxious
participants
com-
mented about
perceived
eval uation
by peers
or
conversational
partners
w h en
speaking Engl ish ,
not a
singl e
non-anxious
participant
d id so. It
appears
th at
perceived
eval uation
by
oth ers isa
feel ing
th at
cl earl y d istinguish es
anxious and
non-anxious
foreign l anguage
l earners,
and th e
possibil ity
of
l ooking
fool ish isan area of
great
concern toth e anxious
l anguage
l earner.
Concern over Errors
T h e
perfectionist tend ency
toavoid and over-
react toerrors
appeared prominentl y
in th e com-
mentsof th e anxious
participants.
T h e 4 anxious
stud ents not
onl y
noticed errors but l amented
th em. Anxious
participants
offered comments
such
as,
"I mad e so
many
mistakes
tal king, gram-
matical l y, everyth ing
... I mad e a l ot of mistakes.
T h ey
make me nervous"
(from
th e mal e
partici-
pant);
"I h ave
probl ems
w ith
verbs,
and I h ave
yet
to
improve my vocabul ary";
and a
simpl e,
"O h ,
I
mad e so
many
mistakes!"
By
contrast,
onl y
2 of th e 4 non-anxious inter-
view eescommented at al l about th eir errors
and ,
in stark contrast toth eir
l anguage-anxious
coun-
terparts,
d id not seemboth ered
by
th em. Low -
anxious stud ent No. 1
commented ,
"I h ad some
grammatical errors,
but smal l ones. I w asfine. I
am
quite
fl uent and
spontaneous.
It w asn't d iffi-
cul t to
expressmysel f."
A second
participant,
l ow -
anxious stud ent No.
2,
offered :
It
[th e interview ]
seems
very good
tome. I w as
very
cal mand d id n't feel
any pressure.
I mad e some mis-
takes,
but not th at
many
. .. th ere w eren't
real l y
too
many.
Wh en
you
are
tal king, you
d on't notice th e
mistakes,
or th e mistake is
immed iatel y
corrected ,
and now I h ave th e
opportunity
to see
mysel f
on
vid eo,
I notice th is.
568
DISCUSSIO N
T h e reactionsof th e stud entstoth eir ow n oral
performance
ind icate th at anxious and non-anx-
ious
foreign l anguage
l earnersd od iffer in terms
of th eir
sel f-reports
of
perfectionist
tend encies.
Specifical l y,
anxious l earners
reported h igh er
stand ard sfor th eir
Engl ish performance,
a
greater
tend ency
tow ard
procrastination, greater w orry
over th e
opinions
of
oth ers,
and a
h igh er
l evel of
concern over th eir errors th an th e non-anxious
l earners. T h ese
find ings
ind icate th at anxiousl an-
guage
l earners and
perfectionists may
h ave a
number of ch aracteristics in common and th at
th ese ch aracteristicsh ave th e
potential
for
making
l anguage l earning unpl easant
asw el l asl esssuc-
cessful for th emth an for oth er stud ents. T h e set-
ting
of stand ard sisa
necessary step
in
accompl ish -
ing l earning goal s;
h ow ever,
th e reactions of th e
anxiousstud entstoth eir oral
performances
d em-
onstrated th at
th ey
w ere never satisfied w ith w h at
th ey accompl ish ed .
T h e non-anxious
stud ents,
even
th ough th ey
al soset
personal
stand ard s,
al -
l ow ed th emsel vestocel ebrate smal l victories.
In one
w ay,
h ow ever,
th e anxiousand non-anx-
ious l earners w ere simil ar. Both sets of stud ents
w ere abl e to
recognize
th eir errors
d uring
th e
oral
interview s,
but th e anxious and non-anxious
stud entsh ad
vastl y
d ifferent emotional
responses
tosimil ar errors.
(T h e
majority
of errorsmad e
by
al l
participants d uring
th e oral interview s w ere
verb tense and
preposition errors.)
T h e anxious
l earners w ere d isturbed
by
th eir
mistakes,
w h ereas th e non-anxious stud ents took th emin
strid e. It
may
be th at anxious and non-anxious
stud ents are
equal l y
aw are of
imperfect perfor-
mance but d iffer in th eir reactions to
imperfec-
tion. It is
interesting
to note th at th e anxious
participants
often attributed th eir errorstoth eir
anxiety,
an excuse never offered
by
th e non-anx-
ious
l earners,
w h o often seemed
pl eased
w ith
th eir ow n l ack of
anxiety.
Consistent w ith th e
find ings
of
MacIntyre, Noel s,
and Cl ement
(1997),
th e anxious l earnersin th is
stud y
tend ed
tooverestimate th e number and seriousness of
th eir errors w h ereas th e non-anxious stud ents
tend ed tow ard und erestimation. In
ad d ition,
th e
anxious l earners
consistentl y
l inked th eir mis-
takestoth e
possibil ity
of
negative
eval uations
by
oth ers.
Cl earl y, perceptions
of eval uation w ere an
important
area of d ifference betw een th e tw o
groups.
T h e anxious
participants
view ed th eir
performance
as
being constantl y
eval uated
by
teach ers and
peers
w h ereas th e non-anxious not
onl y
rel ied on sel f-eval uation but
general l y
eval u-
ated th emsel ves
positivel y.
T h e Mod ern
Language Journal
86
(2002)
In
consid ering
th ese
find ings,
it is
important
to
note th at
anxiety
and
perfectionism
can d omore
th an make
l anguage l earning unpl easant.
T h ese
find ings suggest
one
possibl e
contribution toth e
l ow er
foreign l anguage
ach ievement l evel sfound
for anxious l earners
(Horw itz
et
al .,1986; MacIn-
tyre
&
Gard ner, 1991). Frost, T urcotte, Heim-
berg,
Mattia, Hol t,
and
Hope (1995)
found th at
participants
w h o w ere
h igh l y
concerned about
th eir mistakes
reported
more
negative
affect,
l ow er
sel f-confid ence,
and a
greater feel ing
th at
th ey
sh oul d h ave
performed
better on th e
experi-
mental task
(w h ich
el icited
frequent mistakes)
th an
l ess-perfectionist
stud ents. Wh en
compared
w ith stud ents w h ow ere not asconcerned about
making
mistakes,
th e
perfectionist
stud ents re-
ported greater
d istress
regard ing
th eir mistakes
and rated th eir mistakesasmore
important. T h ey
al sol amented th eir mistakestoa
greater d egree
and
reported greater
concern over th e
negative
reactions of oth ers and a
greater
d esire to
keep
th eir mistakesa secret. Such an
array
of
negative
affective reactions
l ikel y
contributed toth e l ow er
ach ievement l evel sof anxious
l anguage
l earners
reported
in several stud ies.
CO NCLUSIO NS AND LIMIT AT IO NS
T h e resul tsof th is
stud y
ind icate th at
l anguage
anxiety
and
perfectionism
can h ave simil ar mani-
festationsin anxious
l anguage
l earners,
a
find ing
th at
suggests
th at
proced ures
th at h ave been used
to
h el p
ind ivid ual sovercome
perfectionismmay
al sobe useful in
h el ping
anxious
foreign
or sec-
ond
l anguage
l earners. It al so
appears
th at anxi-
ety
and th e actual
l anguage proficiency
l evel s
d emonstrated
by
th e stud ents
d uring
th e inter-
view sw ere not
h igh l y
rel ated in th ese l earners. Al l
of th e
participants
w ere at th e same course
l evel ,
al l h ad been successful
h igh
sch ool
l anguage
l earners,
and al l fel t th at
th ey
h ad th e
potential
tobecome
Engl ish
teach ers.
Yet,
4 of th e
partici-
pants
w ere
h igh l y
anxious,
and 4
reported
l ittl e if
any anxiety.
It
appears,
rath er,
th at anxious and
non-anxiousl earnersd iffer in termsof th eir reac-
tions toth eir
performance. T h us, aw arenessof
th eir l imitations in th e
target l anguage
d oes not
appear
tobe a cause of
anxiety
in al l ind ivid ual s.
Both
groups
of l earners
recognized
th e l imita-
tionsin th eir
l anguage prod uction
but h ad
vastl y
d ifferent
responses
to th ese l imitations.
Final l y,
w e
suggest
th at
h aving
stud ents w atch th eir re-
cord ed oral
performance-sometimes
referred
toasstimul ated recal l -is useful in th e
stud y
of
affective reactions to
l anguage l earning.
Several l imitationstoth is
stud y
must be noted .
T ammy Gregersen
and El aine K
Horw itz
O nl y
a smal l
group
of l earners in a
specific
l an-
guage l earning
context w as
examined ,
w h ich
d oes not make
general izabil ity
of th e
find ings
possibl e.
It is
entirel y possibl e
th at oth er l an-
guage
l earnersin th e same or d ifferent
l earning
situation w oul d h ave d ifferent reactions.
Yet,
th ere w ere
great
simil arities
among
th e l earners
in each
group,
and th e comments
reported
h ere
are famil iar to
experienced l anguage
teach ers.
We must al soconsid er th at
perfectionismpl ays
a
greater
rol e in
anxiety
in stud ents at th is l evel
th an in l essad vanced l earners. In
ad d ition,
per-
fect
l anguage performance may
be of
greater
concern to
peopl e
w h o
pl an
to be
l anguage
teach ers th an tomore
typical l anguage
l earners
(Horw itz, 1996).
T h e
rel ationsh ip
of
perfection-
ismand
l anguage anxiety
sh oul d , th erefore,
be
examined in a
variety
of
l earning groups
at vari-
ous
stages
of
l anguage l earning
w ith various
l earning goal s. Final l y
and most
important,
it
must be noted th at th is
stud y began
w ith th e
premise
th at anxious
l anguage
l earners w oul d
sh ow ind ications of
perfectionism,
and it w as
th erefore
d esigned
to d etect instances of th is
trait. Anxiousand non-anxious
l anguage
l earners
l ikel y
d iffer in
many important w ays
oth er th an
th e ch aracteristicsexamined h ere. Future stud ies
sh oul d ad d ress th e
rel ationsh ip
of
anxiety
w ith
oth er
personal
traitsasw el l asits
rel ationsh ip
to
stud ents' ul timate l evel s of
foreign l anguage
ach ievement.
PEDAGO GICAL IMPLICAT IO NS
Given th at
l anguage anxiety may
stemfrom
perfectionist
tend encies in some
stud ents,
ap-
proach es
used to
h el p perfectionist
l earners
may
al sobenefit anxious
l anguage
l earners. Ramirez
(1999)
argued
th at
perfectionism
isth e resul t of
a set of unreal istic sel f-bel iefs. Most
important,
perfectionists
bel ieve th at some
personal l y-val ued
goal
w il l be ach ieved w h en
th ey
are
perfect.
For
exampl e,
"IfI d o it
perfectl y,
th en ...
[I]
w il l
final l y
be
accepted
...
[I]
can
final l y stop w orrying
... I w il l
get
w h at I h ave been
w orking
tow ard ... I
can
final l y
rel ax." T h e
fl ip
sid e of th is
sch ema,
al so
subscribed to
by perfectionists,
isth at "If I make a
mistake,"
th ere w il l be a
catastroph ic
outcome
("I
w il l
be h umil iated ... I ama fail ure ... I am
stupid
... I
am
w orth l ess").
(p. 33)
In ord er to overcome th ese
sel f-d efeating
th ough ts,
Ramirez
suggested
th at
peopl e id entify
th e
misconceptions
in such bel iefsand w ork tod e-
vel op
more real istic
expectations.
Perfectionists
must l earn totreat th eir sel f-bel iefsas
h ypoth eses
569
instead of facts. Wh en an ind ivid ual 's
und erl ying
perfectionist
bel iefs are restated as
suggestions,
th e ind ivid ual isoften better abl e toconsid er a cur-
rent situation in
conjunction
w ith oth er
evid ence,
such as
past experiences
and th e
opinions
of oth -
ers,
in ord er to
mod ify questionabl e
bel iefs
(Ramirez, 1999).
Arth ur and
Hayw ard (1997)
be-
l ieve th at
many
stud entsw h omaintain
perfection-
ist stand ard sabout th e
expectations
of oth ersh ave
not
actual l y
d iscussed th ose
expectations
w ith th e
peopl e
invol ved . Stud ents
may
need
h el p
in over-
coming
th eir h esitation tod iscuss
performance
expectations
w ith th e ind ivid ual sw h ose
opinions
th ey
val ue
(famil y,
friend s, etc.).
Language
teach ers
may
th emsel ves h ave
per-
fectionist tend encies and
inad vertentl y
encour-
age
or
d evel op
th ese tend encies in th eir stud ents.
Ind eed ,
Broph y (1999)
found th at
nagging
or
criticizing perfectionist
stud ents or
giving
th em
ad d itional time to
compl ete assignmentsonl y
en-
couraged
more
perfectionism.
He
suggested
in-
stead th at teach ers
try
th e
fol l ow ing:
[1]
buil d ing
a
friend l y, supportive l earning
environ-
ment;
[2]
establ ish ing
th e
expectation
th at mistakesare a
normal
part
of th e
l earning process;
[3]
presenting
th emsel vesas
h el pful
instructorscon-
cerned
primaril y
w ith
promoting
stud ent
l earning,
rath er th an as
auth ority figures
concerned
primaril y
w ith
eval uating
stud ent
performance;
[4]
articul ating expectations
th at stress
l earning
and
improvement
over
perfect performance
of
assign-
ments;
[5]
expl aining
h ow
perfectionism
is
counterprod uc-
tive;
[6]
reassuring perfectionist
stud entsth at
th ey
w il l
get
th e
h el p th ey
need toach ieve
success;
[7]
fol l ow ing th rough
w ith
h el p,
and
communicating
teach er
approval
of stud ents'
progress
and accom-
pl ish ments. (p. 2)
Above
al l ,
it is
important
toremember th at
per-
fectionist stud ents need
h el p. Accord ing
toBro-
ph y (1996),
teach ers
may
tend to
ignore perfec-
tionist stud ents because
th ey
d o
good
w ork and
d onot cause troubl e.
Final l y,
w e offer tw o
suggestions
based on our
find ings
in th is
stud y.
Both th e anxious and th e
non-anxious
participantsrecognized
th e val ue of
remaining
cal mw h il e
participating
in th e oral
interview .
T h us,
w e
suggest
th at al l l earners be
remind ed of th e val ue of
control l ing
th eir emo-
tional state w h en
speaking
th e
target l anguage.
Horw itz
(1990)
recommend ed th at anxious stu-
d ents visual ize th emsel ves
rel axing
w h en
th ey
make mistakesin th e
target l anguage.
T h is
prac-
tice w oul d seemtobe
particul arl y
beneficial for
570
perfectionist
stud ents w h o react so
strongl y
to
mistakes. It al so
appears
th at th e non-anxious stu-
d entsval ue
continuing
total k even if
th ey
make
mistakes. Anxious stud entscoul d be
taugh t
tofo-
cus on
continuing
a conversation
(or
oral d is-
course)
as a
goal
in itsel f w h enever
th ey
make
mistakes.
T h us,
asan antid ote toth eir overcon-
cern w ith
errors,
th ey
sh oul d be tol d th at continu-
ation sh oul d be
given preced ence
over errors.
Ul timatel y, perfectionist
stud ents need toun-
d erstand th at th e cl assroomisnot
merel y
for d em-
onstrating know l ed ge
and
skil l ,
but al sofor
gain-
ing
it,
and th at errorsare a normal and
acceptabl e
part
of
everyone'sl anguage l earning experience.
NO T ES
1 Pittman
(1987b),
for
exampl e, proposes
a
cy-
bernetic mod el of O bsessive
Compul sive
Disor-
d er
util izing
a control
system anal ogy.
It is be-
l ieved th at ind ivid ual s
constantl y compare
a
signal
event
(e.g., beh avior)
w ith a
preset
crite-
rion
(e.g.,
stand ard of
performance).
T h e d iffer-
ence betw een th e
perceptual signal
and th e crite-
rion isreferred toasth e "error
signal ."
A nonzero
error
signal
activates a
systemic response
to
bring
th e
signal
and th e criterion into a match ed
state-in oth er
w ord s,
to make th e beh avior
match th e d esired stand ard . Beh avior th at d oes
not match th e
preset
criterion is
ad justed
and
repeated .
Perfectionist
ind ivid ual s,
accord ing
to
th is
mod el ,
h ave an excess of control and th us
tol erate l ittl e or no mismatch betw een th e
signal
and th e criterion.
T h us,
th eir error
signal s
are
nearl y al w ays
in a nonzero
state,
and th e
perfec-
tionist must
constantl y attempt
to
improve per-
formance in ord er tomatch h is or h er
overl y rigid
stand ard .
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