English as all know is the international communication language which plays a great role in many important aspects of a society. In Malaysia, English as a second language after Malay language, is not only used in terms of education system, but is extensively used in inter-cultural communication and professions such as law, medicine, engineering and of course business. In this era of increasing globalization, Malaysia will have to face with tighter and rigid competition from other foreign countries. In accordance to that, Malaysian students will have to get themselves ready for the upcoming circumstances especially those involving the usage of English.
Malaysian students have been learning English continuously for at least 11 years starting from primary school till secondary school before enrolling themselves into a third-level education. English has been a compulsory subject for students in Malaysia in which they need to pass in all the major examinations in Malaysia such as UPSR, PMR and SPM.
In higher education, English is used more expressively as entire main and core subjects such as medical, law, algebra and business use English as the principal language. Whether it is a local university or a private one, English has become the main source of commandment other than becoming a subject in the curriculum. To exemplify, universities which use English as the medium of language such as International Islamic Universities Malaysia (IIUM), which has been an English-medium university since it was first established in 1983, require its students to pass a standard level of English before enrolling into the university. The students will be tested again during their orientation week on English language by undergoing an English Placement Test ( EPT). Students who gain level 6 and below will be placed in English classes till they have reached the standard of exemption. These English classes are necessary as all the subjects taught are in English. These efforts show the importance of English in education.
After graduation, students who are proficient in English will have a better future as they will be easily employed by multinational companies. One of the job’s specifications in Malaysia is to have soft skills especially the ability to communicate in good English. Furthermore, job interviews nowadays are also conducted in English. Here it is clear that, in order to have better chances in future, one must have full confidence in using English language.
Nonetheless, English is not the first language for most Malaysian students. Most Malaysian students use their own mother language, for example Malay language, Mandarin and Tamil when communicating with family and friends. This will cause their English language skills to rot if it is continuously being practiced which will later on lead to anxiety in the process of learning English.
After a minimum of 11 years of studying English in both the primary and secondary schools, students in the Centre for Foundation Studies ( CFS), IIUM still have difficulties in using the language effectively. For example, a study by Mohd Hilmi Bin Hamzah ( 2007) in CFS, “in Semester 1, 2006/2007, more than 40% of the students taking first level English obtained grade “D” in their papers, while only 5% of them obtained an “A””. This shows that the students have not yet mastered the language before entering the university. The writer added that despite of having English Intensive Class Programme and extra classes by individual English lecturers, the level of English proficiency remains dissatisfactory. With the increasing usage of English globally, it is really necessary to find out the factors which may hinder English language learning. One of the factors which has not been paid attention to is language learning anxiety.
“Anxiety is a major factor that affects second/foreign language learning” ( Mohammad Javad Riasati, 2011). He also states that levels of anxiety differ from one individual to another but is always present. Most of today’s education and economy uses English as the language of commandment. For that reason, it is really important to find out the factors which affect anxiety and ways to reduce it to increase the performance of an English language learner.
Different students have different proficiency levels in English language skills namely reading, writing, listening and speaking. With that reason, different students will also encounter different levels of anxiety for all those skills. One student may feel more anxious in speaking while the other in writing. As all of these four skills are needed to be mastered in order to be proficient in English, even by losing confidence in only one of it might cause difficulties in carrying out tasks in both education and job.
This study will help both the educators and learners of English language in CFS, IIUM. The teachers will get information about the factors causing anxiety among students. They will also be given information on the rank of students’ anxiety in possessing the 4 language skills namely writing, listening, reading and speaking so that the teachers will consider about which one of these 4 language skills should be given more attention to. Last but not least, the findings of this study will help both the students and teachers to design a suitable strategy on ways to reduce anxiety in order to increase the performance of mastering English language.
This study specifically addresses the following 3 research questions:
1) Which language skill namely writing, listening, speaking and reading creates the highest anxiety level among students in CFS, IIUM?
2) What are the factors that are probable to cause anxiety?
3) What are the ways used by the students to reduce anxiety?
The objectives of this study are as follows:
1) To identify specific language skill in which students in CFS, IIUM feel most anxious.
2) To identify the factors which are more probable to cause anxiety.
3) To identify the ways students use to reduce anxiety.
According to Hansen (1977), anxiety is “an experience of general uneasiness, a sense of foreboding, a feeling of tension” (p. 91). Anxiety is a type of psychological phenomena and ranges from mixture of open views of behavioral attribution.
Due to anxiety’s impact on the students’ performance in learning English as a second language, it has been continuously studied by many researchers. Learning a second language will cause awareness among the learners that they are using a language which they have not yet mastered to communicate (Toth, 2011). This phenomenon will lead to many upcoming problems the learners have to face in using English as they have not completely accepted a second language as a part of their lives. This is according to Cohen and Norst ( 1989) “ language and self/identity are so closely bound, if indeed they are not one and the same thing, that a perceived attack on one is an attack on the other” (p. 76). This will somehow lead students of English learners to feel less enjoyable during their class.
Few studies conducted about the factors that affect anxiety are communication apprehension ( McCroskey, 1970), fear of negative evaluation ( Watson & Friend, 1969) and test anxiety ( Sarason, 1978). Communication apprehension for example is the difficulty in understanding teacher’s instructions, negative evaluation for example is the fear of correction and last but not least, example of test anxiety is the fear of failing in the class. According to Young ( n.d.), language anxiety is caused by “ (a) personal and interpersonal Anxiety, (b) learner beliefs about language learning, (c) instructor beliefs about language teaching, (d) instructor-learner interactions, (e) classroom procedures and (f) language testing” ( Mohammad Javad Riasati, 2011, p.908).
The 4 language skills namely writing, speaking, reading and writing plays vital role in helping students to attain proficiency in English Language. A study of anxiety in learning English as a foreign language by Wilson (2006) and Mohd Hilmi Bin Hamzah (2007) have included the findings on language skills. Wilson (2006) states that “…anxiety might exert a deleterious influence on language achievement and equally intuitively, that poor language achievement might arouse even more anxiety” (p. 25). In Wilson’s (2006) research, although a four-skills approach is used (taking in listening, speaking, writing and reading) the oral skill was emphasized. This shows that most students are afraid of speaking English as a second language during class.
In his study, Young (1991) interviewed Krashen who stated that teachers often expect new students to perform beyond their expectations which increases the level of anxiety among students. This will further discourage the students to use English in their lives. “ A students who believes that one must never say anything in English until it can be said correctly will probably avoid speaking most of the time” ( Khairi Izwan Abdullah and Nurul Lina Bt. Abdul Rahman, n.d.). An arouse of language anxiety from different language skills such as writing, listening, reading, speaking and grammar have further been studied by Brantmeier (2005), Hussein Elkafaifi (2005), Greyersen and Horwitz (2002) and Casado (2001). This will lead the learners to perform poorly especially in speaking.
The feeling of anxiety needs to be treated to avoid students that have been affected by this problem to be carried away into some other serious problems. In some studies, it was found that anxiety levels were highest during the early stages of language learning and lessened at an advanced level. This has been concluded by MacIntyre and Gardner (1991, p.111), “an experience and proficiency increase, anxiety declines in a fairly consistent manner”. This means that if students keep on practicing all the language skills of English by reading books, listening to English songs, writing blogs and communicating in English continuously, they will be able to overcome the feelings of anxiety and will perform better.
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the level of English learning Anxiety among the students of Centre for Foundation Studies (CFS), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). A population from CFS, IIUM was chosen to identify the specific language skills in which students in CFS, IIUM feel most anxious, the factors which are more probable to cause anxiety and the ways the students use to reduce anxiety. Data for this research was collected through a set of questionnaire.
This research employed the use of questionnaire research methodology. The instrument used to collect the data was a questionnaire containing nine questions. The questionnaire was passed to thirty students of the CFS, IIUM randomly where its scope of distribution was not limited on a certain course, level of study, age or gender. To ensure that the questions were fully understood by the students, a brief introduction about the topic was provided at the top of each questionnaire.