Interaction and Anxiety in the EFL Classroom
Interaction in the foreign language classroom can present learners with socially ambiguous situations, often compelling them to work with unfamiliar classmates. Such an environment may produce unsettling, or even anxiety-provoking experiences. To date, the primary focus of research on anxiety in the EFL context has been on the impact of foreign language anxiety. However, as interaction-centered approaches gain greater prominence, attention should be given to the role that social anxiety plays in student attitudes towards language learning. This study adopted a mixed-methods approach to examine the impact of an interaction-focused, oral communication curriculum on first-year university students’ perceptions of social anxiety. Analysis of pre- and post-test survey data (n = 385) revealed that, contrary to expectations of increased anxiety, learners experienced a significant reduction in feelings of unease over the course of a 15-week term. Qualitative data indicated multiple factors that helped mediate feelings of anxiousness, including affordances provided by the curriculum, improved interpersonal relationships, and transformations in the learners themselves. The results suggest that repeated interaction between learners which is focused on meaningful language use and low-risk self-disclosure can help to build social bonds that ease learners’ feelings of social anxiety.