The official website of educator Jack C Richards

Psychological Barriers in Speaking English


Submitted by Fatima Zafar, AIOU Islamabad, Pakistan

What are the psychological barriers in speaking English as second language?

Dr. Richards responds:

An internet search should help you answer this question as well as the writings of Zoltán Dörnyei (Zoltán Dörnyei is a Professor of Psycholinguistics at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. He is renowned for his work on motivation in second-language learning and has published numerous books and papers on this topic.)

One important issue relates to affect. Affect refers to a number of emotional factors that may influence language learning and language use. These include basic personality traits, such as shyness, and long-term factors, such as attitudes towards learning, as well as constantly fluctuating states, such as anxiety, boredom, enthusiasm, apathy and so on. Emotions are often a feature of language classes. In some classes, one senses a feeling of positive interest and enthusiasm for learning. In others, there may be negative feelings of disinterest and boredom. And many classroom activities, such as tests, evoke stress and anxiety. Researchers such as Dörnyei are interested in how affective factors influence cognition or learning. And since language learning is primarily a social activity – it involves interaction with others – it is bound to arouse emotions, some of which may be obstacles to successful learning and teaching

Another factor that can affect students’ classroom participation, closely related both to learning styles and affective factors, is their willingness to attempt to use English in the classroom (also referred to as WTC) (MacIntyre, 2007; Peng and Woodrow, 2010). WTC is a factor that has been linked to variables such as personality, self-confidence, attitudes and motivation, and is linked to anxiety, as well as learners’ views of their own communicative competence. However, other situational factors are also involved, such as topic, task, group size and cultural background.