Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire: Language Anxiety in Self-Instruction

Jennifer Bown, Brigham Young University

The proposed paper summarizes findings from a qualitative study of a self-instructional program in Russian, and critically examines current research on language anxiety. It will use research on social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) and mediation in second language learning (Schinke-Lano, 1993) as its theoretical framework.

Research on the topic of language anxiety demonstrates that the environment of the traditional language classroom can be anxiety inducing for many students—in part due to the requirement to perform in front of one’s peers (Littlewood, 1984). Thus, some have hypothesized that learning a language in a self-instructional mode (in isolation from a learning group) may be less anxiety-inducing than classroom language learning (Dickinson, 1987). Data from this study, however, indicate that learning in isolation from a peer group may induce anxiety of a different nature. This anxiety results from the absence of a benchmark by which learners can gauge their progress.

Data for this study consists of interview transcripts and narrative journal entries from twenty-two students studying Russian in a self-instructional program at a large Midwestern university. Data was analyzed using methods prescribed in Grounded Theory approach (Glaser and Strauss, 1967).

This paper will describe the study and findings and will consider the implications of these findings for future research into language anxiety. The presenter will also make recommendations for the organization and administration of self-instructional programs.


Dickinson, L. 1987. Self-instruction in language learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Festinger, L. 1954. “A theory of social comparison processes.” Human Relations 7: 117-140.

Glaser, B. and A. Strauss. 1967. The discovery of grounded theory: strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.

Littlewood, W. 1984. Foreign and second language learning: Language acquisition research and its implications for the classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schinke-Lano, L. 1993. “On the value of a Vygotskian framework for SLA theory and research.” Language Learning 43 (1): 121-129.