The Unbearable Slightness of Being Foreign: How Does Foreign Language Anxiety Affect American Students of Russian Studying Abroad?

Mark Powell, University of Texas, Austin

A 1996 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicated that 1,290 U.S. students went abroad to study in Russia during the 1994-95 academic year. A number of these students were studying abroad for the first time. During the course of their study abroad, students may encounter situations which are new to them. The students previously gained knowledge of the culture and language will help in most of these particular situations; however, the students may come upon situations in which they are not sure what to do. They may realize they do not have sufficient knowledge of either the language or the culture to deal with this particular situation. When students realize they do not have sufficient enough knowledge to deal with these situations, they may experience anxiety to one degree or another.

The Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) was developed by Horwitz (1985) to measure the amount and type of anxiety experienced by foreign language students in a classroom context. Previous research in the area of foreign language anxiety (Aida, 1994; Connolly, 1995; Lee, 1992; Phillips, 1989, 1990) has focused almost exclusively on formal classroom contexts in which students experience anxiety. Study abroad experiences are unique in that they combine both formal and informal learning environments. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of foreign language anxiety in the formal and informal contexts of a study abroad situation in Russia.

The participants in this study are American university students participating in a two-month study abroad program in Russia. The participants were given the FLCAS at the beginning and end of their program to determine if and how their foreign language anxiety level changed during the course of the study abroad experience. The results of the pre- and post-FLCAS will be analyzed in combination with other language learning variables to determine how anxiety varies among the participants.

The results from this research will be helpful to potential study abroad participants, instructors and study abroad program administrators. Workshops and information sessions can be designed to make students aware of anxiety provoking situations and teach them how to deal with them.