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Foreign Language Anxiety in Professional Contexts

A Short Scale and Evidence of Personality and Gender Differences

Abstract

While increasing globalization of the business world and rising numbers of people working in foreign language contexts are undoubted facts of modern work life, there are surprisingly few studies on individuals’ emotional reactions to working in a foreign language. Facilitating further research, we introduce a short scale for foreign language anxiety that is applicable in business and other professional contexts. Additionally, we investigate its relationship with gender and general personality traits. Our analysis of survey data from 320 adult bilinguals with Dutch as their mother tongue and English as foreign language demonstrates the reliability of the short scale. Furthermore, we find that females experience higher levels of FLA, but that this association is mediated by differences in personality. Our study contributes to the emerging literature on individuals’ (emotional) responses to using foreign languages in business contexts.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Note that some of the ambiguities found in prior research regarding gender differences in FLA might potentially be due to contextual factors of the corresponding studies, such as, in particular, culture and, especially, differences in gender roles across cultures. For example, in some cultures, women may not be seen as equal to men, which might lead them to show a general insecurity about using foreign languages. Also, different cultures may induce to different degrees of reporting differences in FLA between men and women stemming from “differences in the willingness to admit to anxiety” (Arnaiz and Guillén 2012, 18). Due to socialization processes, differences in willingness to admit to anxiety might be related to differences in national culture and to corresponding differences in equality in gender roles. However, potential cultural influences are not the focus of this current study. Therefore, we employ a culturally homogenous sample, which represents a fairly conservative testbed for our research question, given that the Netherlands, where we conducted our study, is a country that is characterized by comparatively equal gender roles (e. g., Roggeband and Verloo 2007; Inglehart, Norris, and Welzel 2002).

  2. The survey was part of a larger experimental project on foreign languages and cooperative behavior conducted under the leadership of the third author in the autumn of 2011.

  3. As FLA is a one-dimensional construct, these five components do not reflect sub-dimensions. Indeed, as we will explain below, our new FLA-FS scale is unidimensional, too. However, for the FLCAS, Horwitz et al. (1986) emphasize that “[t]he items presented are reflective of communication apprehension, test-anxiety, and fear of negative evaluation in the foreign language classroom.” Furthermore, Guntzviller et al. (2011) summarize that the “FLCA scale items address five components of foreign language anxiety in the classroom: (a) degree of anxiety, (b) extent of understanding, (c) fear of making mistakes, (d) feeling of competence, and (e) divergence from general communication apprehension.” We hence follow the lead of these researchers in interpreting the FLCAS as covering five components.

  4. For instance, the FLCAS-item “I get nervous and confused when I am speaking in my language class”, which Guntzviller et al. (2011) adjusted to “I get nervous and confused when I speak in the doctor’s office”, was changed to “I get nervous and confused when I have to speak in English”. Examples of other items are: “I get nervous when I don’t understand every word persons who have power on me say to me in English”, and “I keep thinking that many other people are better in English than I am”.

  5. Our scale does not capture anxiety arousal in informal contexts (e. g., chatting on the internet with a non-native friend), but addresses situations where a person is asked to talk/listen in a foreign language where important issues are at stake.

  6. Interestingly, prior foreign language learning experience with other languages is not necessarily helpful either (e. g., Machida 2001) and a person’s FLA (experienced in various foreign languages) appears to be highly correlated across various languages (e. g., Dewaele 2007).

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the editor of the sbr, Prof. Dr. Alfred Wagenhofer, as well as an anonymous reviewer for their excellent guidance on how to improve the manuscript. All four authors gratefully acknowledge financial support through the Antwerp Centre of Evolutionary Demography (ACED), which is financed by the Odysseus program of the Flemish Science Foundation (FWO). Diemo Urbig additionally gratefully acknowledges financial support through the Jackstädt Center, which is financed by the Dr. Werner Jackstädt-Foundation.

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Correspondence to Katrin Muehlfeld.

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The order of authors is alphabetical and not reflective of authors’ relative contributions.

Appendix

Appendix

Adapted Measure of Foreign Language Anxiety When Using a Foreign Language (FLA-FS) – English Version

To answer the following questions, imagine you are participating in an important meeting/public discussion that takes place in English. To communicate with the rest of the participants, you have to use a foreign language. Now, please evaluate the following items on a scale from 1 = I strongly disagree to 7 = I fully agree:

  1. 1.

    I feel overwhelmed by the number of rules you have to learn to speak English.

  2. 2.

    I can feel my heart pounding when I’m going to be called on in a meeting in English.

  3. 3.

    I am afraid that many people will laugh at me when I speak English.

  4. 4.

    I get nervous and confused when I am speaking English.

  5. 5.

    I get nervous when I don’t understand every word persons who have power on me say to me in English.

  6. 6.

    I get nervous when persons who have power on me ask questions in English which I haven’t prepared in advance.

  7. 7.

    When interacting in English, I can get so nervous I forget things I know.

  8. 8.

    I am afraid that people above me are ready to correct every mistake I make when speaking English.

  9. 9.

    I don’t worry about making mistakes when I interact in English.

  10. 10.

    I keep thinking that many other people are better in English than I am.

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Gargalianou, V., Muehlfeld, K., Urbig, D. et al. Foreign Language Anxiety in Professional Contexts. Schmalenbach Bus Rev 17, 195–223 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41464-016-0007-6

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Keywords

  • International management
  • Foreign language anxiety
  • Gender
  • Personality
  • Survey

JEL Classification

  • M00
  • M16
  • Z190