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ON SECOND LANGUAGE WRITING ANXIETY: TRIGGERS AND SOLUTIONS
Rana A. Alnufaie and Fabiana F. Stalnaker, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texa


Rana Alnufaie 


Fabiana Stalnaker

Writing is an important skill for language development and is essential to academic success. However, it is considered a difficult skill to master, especially for second language learners because it requires control over various factors such as L2 vocabulary, syntax, spelling, and higher order thinking skills. Those higher cognitive activities are especially essential for enabling learners to decode ideas in comprehensible academic texts. Recent research has shown that learners could be negatively impacted by writing anxiety when they engage in the L2 writing process and this negative impact of L2 writing anxiety (L2WA) can have a long-lasting effect. For example, Daly and Wilson (1983) found that high-anxious learners tend to choose majors, courses, and even careers that do not require much writing. L2WA is the worry or fear feelings that learners experience toward a writing task that could occur throughout the writing process. It is a unique type of anxiety because it is situation-specific and can impact students who are not typically anxious in other situations. This short article intends to present the potential sources of L2WA among adult L2 learners and provide pedagogical strategies that can help our adult learners reduce their L2WA.

Sources of Second Language Writing Anxiety

There are different sources of second language writing anxiety and some of the sources are caused by the differences between learners’ L1 and L2 writing. For example, the transfer of L1 writing into L2 may present various levels of difficulty depending on how similar the L1 to the L2 writing systems. Additionally, learners who come from monolingual backgrounds are more likely to feel anxious compared to those who come from bilingual or multicultural backgrounds or those who have been exposed to writing activities in more than one language. Kara (2013) found that students who had not developed writing abilities and were not used to writing and expressing themselves in writing in their L1 were more anxious to organize their ideas and enjoy writing in L2. For those reasons, it is crucial to include literacy and writing tasks that build on students’ prior knowledge and experiences. For a positive writing experience, learners should be able to recognize both the similarities and differences between their L1 and L2 and relate text materials to their own knowledge. Studies have indicated that comprehension improves, and anxiety decreases when the language material contains familiar content that allows the writers to make connections to past knowledge.

L2 writers can feel anxious from teachers’ negative evaluation, writing tests, insufficient writing technique, linguistic difficulties, pressure for perfect work, and lack of topical knowledge. That’s to say, their L2WA may not be related to content but instead may be a consequence of the unrealistic requirements or the excessive emphasis on errors in spelling and grammar. This can lead L2 writers to focus more on syntactical, lexical, and grammatical commands over text composition and flow of ideas which will eventually lead to frustrating experiences that result in an increasing number of anxious learners. Lacking the necessary skills such as finding ideas, collecting information, organizing, and combining that information in a coherent text would hinder writing development and become a source of anxiety in the language classroom. It is important to mention that this usually occurs in the teacher-centered model of teaching.

The experience of second language writing anxiety may vary from learner to learner. Because writing in a L2 requires a lot of practice, effort, and confidence, studies have revealed that fear of negative evaluation, fear of writing tests, insufficient writing technique, linguistic difficulty, pressure for perfect work, and lack of topical knowledge were the main sources of writing anxiety experienced by L2 learners. On a positive note, there are several strategies that teachers can incorporate in class to help in reducing L2WA, however, in this review we will present three main themes that were supported by L2 research for reducing L2WA. The three themes are: Helping our students through feedback, helping our students online, and helping students throughout the writing process.

Helping our students through feedback:

Teacher-centered approaches to teaching writing might increase L2 writing anxiety, whereas alternative types of assessment such as peer- or self-assessments can increase students' positive emotions toward L2 writing. Asking learners to provide peer-feedback to one another can help them be engaged in a positive interactional environment in which they collaborate to reach a common goal. This interaction will decrease their L2WA and increase their writing confidence because they will have a chance to see how mistakes are normal part of the learning process and will be more motivated to improve their writing with one another. However, before asking students to provide peer-feedback, it is very important that teacher provide students with training and practice in providing feedback and point out to them the common mistakes that can appear in writing. Also, it could be useful to support peer-feedback with teacher’s feedback which can boost students’ confidence and reduce their L2WA.

Helping our students online:

Online feedback (or e-feedback) has shown to be more effective than traditional feedback in lowering students’ L2WA. That’s to say, incorporating online websites and applications that have built-in autocorrect features would allow students to focus on the content while writing without being distracted by spelling and/or grammar, which in turn would lower their L2 writing anxiety. This can also provide students with instant type of feedback because, for example, when they type a misspelled word, the autocorrecting feature will point that out to them and they will be able to edit in no time without feeling frustrated or demotivated. Google docs. is a great online source for collaborative writing and for individual writing which also allows for peer feedback. However, it is very crucial that students are trained on how to use a particular online platform before being asked to produce an L2 writing text. Also, it is important that students have time to practice writing on the online platform without being graded during class writing activities. Teachers can support this process by providing students with personalized encouraging feedback to lower their L2WA, especially when they use a platform for the first time.

Helping our students throughout the writing process:

Researchers have shown that genre-based approaches that are combined by teaching writing as a process can have a positive effect on lowering learners’ L2WA and increasing their self-efficacy. Those types of instructions can increase L2 learners’ genre-awareness and equip them with self-regulatory strategies to use in L2 writing. For example, when teaching students about a specific genre (e.g. argumentative essay), teachers can incorporate concept mapping or brainstorming strategies in the pre-writing stage. Zarei and Feizolahi (2018) found that although both pre-writing strategies reduced students’ L2WA, the concept mapping strategy improved students’ lexical and grammatical accuracy in writing. These strategies along with teachers’ positive feedback are very powerful for empowering students and enhancing the mental imagery of their future selves as successful academic writers. Students who have positive feelings about their writing abilities (e.g. ability to use strategies for planning and composing sentences) are always less anxious and able to develop more accurate, complex, and fluent pieces of writing. This can be achieved by eliminating the time pressure and giving them more time for planning and editing.

Conclusion

Writing is an important skill for language development and is essential to academic success. However, it is considered a difficult skill to master, especially for second language learners. In this study, fear of teachers’ negative feedback, low confidence in writing, the pressure of time, quality of work, and poor linguistic abilities were found to be the main causes of L2 writing anxiety. The factors that contribute to writing anxiety should be addressed using research-based approaches. Otherwise, it may not only impact the language learning process, but it may also affect students’ self-esteem and confidence toward their academic, professional, and personal pursuits. The pedagogical implications of this study indicate that a comfortable language learning environment where students feel less stressed, and more confident must be created in order to alleviate writing anxiety. Teachers can help students’ lower their anxious feelings by eliminating the time pressure through giving them more time for planning before asking them to write. Another way by which teachers can reduce writing anxiety for students is by encouraging them to engage in collaborative work, giving them a chance to provide and receive feedback, and incorporating online sites and applications that provide autocorrect features. Providing students with personalized encouragement feedback is also crucial for lowering their writing anxiety. In conclusion, L2 writing is a cognitive and emotional process that deserves attention from researchers, teachers, and learners. It is crucial to acknowledge the existence of second language writing anxiety, identify its causes and effects, and pay close attention to the teaching strategies that can lead to a more satisfying learning environment and pleasant writing experiences.

References

Daly, J. A., & Wilson, D. A. (1983). Writing apprehension, self-esteem, and personality. Research in the Teaching of English, 17(4), 327-341.

Kara, S. (2013). Writing anxiety: A case study on students’ reasons for anxiety in writing. Anadolu Üniversitesi Eğitim Bilimleri Enstitüsü Dergisi, 3(1), 103-111. https://doi.org/10.18039/AJESI.90236

Zarei, A. A., & Feizollahi, B. (2018). Concept mapping and brainstorming affecting writing anxiety and accuracy. Journal of Modern Research in English Language Studies, 5(1), 117- 144. https://doi.org/10.30479/jmrels.2019.10548.1320


Rana Alnufaie is a Ph.D. student in the Culture, Literacy, and Language program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research interests focus on second language writing, corpus linguistics, and language complexity. She completed an MA in TESL at the University of Texas at San Antonio, USA, and a BA in Applied Linguistics from Umm Alqura University in KSA. She has taught ESL and linguistics courses for undergraduates at various universities in Saudi Arabia.

Fabiana Stalnaker, M.A. is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Culture, Language & Literacy at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She holds a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics & TESOL and has worked as an ESL/EFL teacher in the United States, Brazil and Japan. Fabiana is passionate and committed to language learning and teaching.
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