You are on page 1of 18

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

Introduction
Writing anxiety is one factor of the many individual differences that effect English
language learners (ELLs). Using the Second Language Writing Anxiety Inventory (SLWAI)
developed by Cheng (2004), we examined the writing anxiety of 20 students at INTO CSU.
INTO CSU is an English pathway program offered to international students before they
matriculate into a larger English-speaking university. Our goal was to probe the relationship
between speakers of non-cognate languages of English studying at INTO CSU in terms of
proficiency and L1 (first language) in relation to writing anxiety. Based on this, we developed
three hypotheses:
1] By comparing our data with Chengs data on his SLWAI, we hypothesize that our data
will be different due to different students, sample size, heterogeneous L1s and different
levels of proficiency.
2] Although the Rodriguez and Abreu study suggest similar writing anxiety levels
between cognate languages, we hypothesize that Chinese L1 students will have less
writing anxiety than Arabic L1 students because Chinese English education focuses more
on writing, whereas Arabic education focuses more on listening and speaking (Qin &
Alkahtani, personal communication, 2013).
3] Students in the advanced level of INTO CSU will have more anxiety than intermediate
students because the topics and assignments are more challenging in the advanced
classes.
Literature Review
Due to the need for a more accurate and concise writing anxiety probe, Cheng developed
the SLWAI in 2004 to focus on three dimensions of writing anxiety: cognitive, somatic and

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

behavioral (2004). To test the SLWAI, Cheng probed three EFL groups of Taiwanese students
majoring in English to determine their writing anxiety levels and to test the validity of the
SLWAI. He found that based on the loading factor of each set of questions (or how many
questions received a score of .30 or less, which dimension they belonged to and if each
dimension had a clear score that did not overlap with other dimensions), the SLWAI may help to
identify the specific facet(s)of L2 writing anxiety that hinder writing performance or steer
learners away fromsuccess in L2 writing (Cheng, 2004). In addition, Cheng also conducted a
2002 study wherein he probed 165 English majors in Taiwan. He conducted both this study and
his SLWAI study using a homogenous group of L1 Chinese speakers. By using a homogenous
group, he felt he was able to better examine writing anxiety. For our study we chose to examine a
heterogeneous population because we wanted to compare L1 non-cognate languages with
English and also compare the languages and the levels with each other. Cheng also supports the
translation of a background information questionnaire and SLWAI probes so that participants can
better answer the questions and provide more accurate answers (2002). We chose to translate our
SLWAI probe and background information questionnaire so as to elicit more accurate answers
and hopefully provide a better understanding of the probe for our participants.
Considering the work of Rodriguez and Abreu (2003) in their study of L1 Spanish
speakers studying both L2 French and English, they used the Foreign Language Classroom
Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) to examine L1 Spanish speakers anxiety. Although their results were
not specifically focused on writing anxiety, their study showed that amongst these students
French and English anxieties were similar (Rodriguez & Abreu, 2003). A possible suggestion for
this similarity is that Spanish, English and French are all cognate languages. Another facet of
their research is that the classroom anxieties for English were lower than the classroom anxieties

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

for French; this may be due to the fact that most students had previously studied English before
enrolling in college level English (Rodriguez & Abreu, 2003). Therefore, our second hypothesis
was reflected in these two components of Rodriguez and Abreus (2003) study.
Methods
Participants
Volunteers from two intermediate and two advanced classes participated in this study. We
gathered information from 5 intermediate Chinese and 5 intermediate Arabic L1 speakers and 5
advanced Chinese and 5 advanced Arabic L1 speakers studying English at INTO CSU. Of the
Chinese speakers, 9 were from China and 1 was from Taiwan. Of the Arabic speakers, 3 were
from Libya, 1 from Oman, 3 from Saudi Arabia and 2 from Kuwait. The ages of the participants
ranged from 18 to 36 years old. All participants had studied English in a second language
environment (or studied in an English speaking country) from 3 weeks to 5 years. Out of 20
participants, 19 of them have studied English in their home country from 6 months to 20 years.
(One participant was not included in this data because they indicated that they had not studied
English at all in their home country of China, which according to Qin is impossible because
English is required for all students in China beginning in middle school (Qin, personal
communication, 2013).
Procedure
To analyze writing anxiety, we used the SLWAI Cheng developed with an addition. We
administered the probe at the beginning of or after the participants INTO CSU classes. Each
participant used 15 minutes or less to complete the probe. Two of our researchers translated the
probe into Chinese and Arabic and participants were encouraged to write in their L1 in response
to the background information questionnaire. The answers were then translated back into English

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers


by the same researchers. After collecting our data, we computed a factor analysis using SPSS.
Although Cheng used a loading factor of .30, we chose to use less than .40 to allow for cleaner
loading on more items. We then compared our results with Chengs SLWAI.
Instrument
We used Chengs SLWAI probe, which consisted of 22 questions. We randomized our
questions from different areas of cognitive, somatic and behavior, just as Cheng did. Although
Cheng used a 5-point Likert scale, we modified our probe to include a 4-point Likert scale
(strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). We did not want to give an impartial option
because we wanted to avoid neutral attitudes. We also added a small survey with four questions:
1) age and nationality 2) how long have you studied English in your home country 3) how long
have you studied English in an English-speaking country and 4) using 2-3 sentences, describe
your experience studying English writing. (Please see Appendix A, B and C for all three
versions of our SLWAI.) Additionally, all negative questions were scored in reverse in the
fashion of Chengs 2002 and 2004 SLWAI studies.
Results
Comparison of Arabic and Chinese Anxieties
According to the data, our research shows that the L1 Arabic group (including advanced
and intermediate level students) had a mean score of 47.2, which is lower than the L1 Chinese

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

group, who had a mean score of 52.0. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Mean score of Chinese and Arabic students. This table compares the overall mean scores of Chinese and
Arabic scores.

There is a 4.8 gap in the means of these two groups, however from the 2-way ANOVA
results, there is no significant difference. So, our results suggest that the Arabic and Chinese
groups have a similar level of writing anxiety. These results are similar to Rodriguez and Abreus
(2003) study which found that, general[ly] English anxiety did not differ statistically from
overall general French anxiety. Because of the lack of significant anxiety difference levels, we

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

feel our data does not support our second hypothesis that suggested that because Chinese
education focuses more on writing L1 Chinese students would experience less writing anxiety
than their L1 Arabic speaking peers. (See Figure 2.)
VARIABLE
L1
Proficiency

df
1
1

F
.343
.001

Figure 2: Results of 2-way ANOVA. This table shows the results from our SLWAI probe.

Some possible explanations for this could include individual and cultural factors not
accounted for in the SLWAI. Some factors Cheng surveyed in his 2002 study included
perceived importance of writing, motivation for learning English, and interest in learning
English (2002). Our study did not probe these issues with our participants, so the data remains
inclusive as to why the L1 Chinese speakers whose foreign language study of English had a
mean of 10.2 years (compared to L1 Arabic speakers whose English foreign language study had
a mean of 4.46 years) would have higher writing anxiety levels.
Comparison of Intermediate and Advanced Levels
Comparing the advanced level means to intermediate means, the intermediate level mean
was 49.7, which is similar to the advanced level mean of 49.5 (See Figure 3). Although we
hypothesized that advanced students would have a higher level of anxiety, our hypothesis was
again disproved. We had made our hypothesis based on Chengs 2002 study where he stated that,
English writing anxiety appear[s] to increase as the [English foreign language] majors in this
study progressed to higher levels at college (p. 653). However, our results clearly show that
even though their anxiety levels are similar, we cannot attribute this to similar ages or similar
learning spans. Therefore, we believe there are outside factors and other individual differences
that can be attributed to this similarity. According to a short interview with an L1 Chinese
speaker who completed the intermediate program at INTO CSU conducted by Qin and an

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

interview with Alkahtani, who completed the advanced levels of INTO CSU, there is an attitude
of indifference towards the INTO CSU program. According to Qin and Alkahtani, many L1
Chinese and L1 Arabic speakers feel that INTO CSU does not help improve their writing (Qin &
Alkahtani, personal communication, 2013). Therefore, we feel if there is an overwhelming
feeling of apathy towards this program, it may explain the relatively low and similar levels of
writing anxiety.

Figure 3: Mean score of advanced and intermediate students. This figure compares advanced and intermediate
students.

Overall Mean Comparisons


Comparing the Arabic advanced level mean to the Chinese advanced level mean, the data
shows that Arabic advanced students had a higher mean of 51.2 and the Chinese advanced
students had a lower mean of 47.8. However, comparing the intermediate level students, the
results indicate that the Chinese intermediate students had a higher mean of 56.2 than the Arabic
intermediate students, who had a mean of 43.2. (See Figure 4 and Table 1.)

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

Figure 4: Mean score divided by L1 and class level. This figure compares the mean scores divided by L1 and level.

Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations on L1 and Proficiency
Advanced Level

Intermediate Level

L1 Total

Mean

SD

Mean

SD

Mean

SD

Arabic

51.2(N=5)

13.5

43.2 (N=5)

6.72

47.2 (N=10)

10.93

Chinese

47.8 (N=5)

4.43

56.2 (N=5)

6.61

52.0 (N=10) 6.91

Level Total

49.5 (N=10)

9.68

49.7 (N=10)

9.30

49.6 (N=20)

9.24

Therefore, the L1 Arabic advanced students had a higher mean than intermediate L1 Arabic
students. Conversely, the L1 Chinese intermediate level students had a higher mean than
advanced ones. Our means show slight variances, however, there is no significant difference
between them. We believe this may be due to the small sample size of each group (5 L1 Arabic
advanced students, 5, L1 Chinese intermediate students, etc.)
SPSS Data Analysis
The three dimensions of cognitive, somatic and behavior that we computed accounted for
57.4% of the common variance, which is higher than the three factors in Chengs study (which

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

were 47% and 48%). Therefore, it may be that our three factors explain more about the writing
anxiety of our participants without considering other possible variants. (See Figure 5.)
Component
1
2
3
4
5
.
.
.

Total
4.842
2.257
1.407
1.188
1.08
.
.
.

% of Variance
32.717
15.249
9.507
8.029
7.486
.
.
.

Cumulative %
32.717
47.966
57.473
65.502
72.989
.
.
.

Figure 5: Total Variance. This figure shows the variance for our components.

Table 2 shows the factor loadings from the rotated pattern matrix for our analysis. While
we retained the three factors in Chengs study, which generally corresponded to the same
dimensions, the results of our study did not show clean correspondence to the three factors. To be
more specific, as shown in Table 2, using a factor loading of less than .40 as the criterion stated
above, 10 of 22 of our items loaded cleanly on the same factor. Items 10, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 20
loaded on the first factor of cognition; items 1, 14, 17 on the second somatic factor; and items 2,
21, 22 on the third factor of behavior. However, items loaded in the same dimension in our
results did not correspond to Chengs dimensions. That is, items 11, 13 and 16 correspond to
Chengs avoidance anxiety, items 13, 19 corresponded to Chengs somatic anxiety, and item 20
corresponded to Chengs cognitive anxiety. However, items 2, 21and 22, which loaded cleanly in
the third factor in our results, did not belong to the same dimension as Chengs. Only three items,
which loaded cleanly on our second factor, belonged to the same dimension as Chengs.

Table 2
Rotated Factor Pattern of the L2 Writing Anxiety Items
Component

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers


1
Item 1

10
3

.565

Item 2

.479

Item 3

.492

.508

Item 4

.629

-.586

Item 5

.493

.544

Item 6

.699

.427

Item 7

.637

Item 8

.638

Item 9

.429

Item 10

.686

Item 11

.671

Item 12

.731

Item 13

.661

Item 14

.570
.451

.432
.408

.569

Item 15

.479

Item 16

.825

Item 17

.571

-.421

-.791

Item 18

.471

Item 19

.522

Item 20

.782

-.424

Item 21

.516

Item 22

-.813

The remaining items, which loaded on two or three different factors, were more difficult
to categorize than those in Chengs because we had only one analysis from one administration of
the SLWAI probe, while Cheng had two analyses from two administrations of the SLWAI probe.
Also, we believe that our items did not load as cleanly as Chengs because we used a smaller
sample size. Cheng (2004) was able to sample 421 English foreign language leaners, whereas our

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

11

sample size was only 20. Also, Cheng (2002) sampled a homogeneous population of Taiwanese
students as he posits that previous writing anxiety studies were flawed in their use of
heterogeneous populations. Finally, it is possible that our participants did not respond
consistently in their answers, therefore it is likely that our results are inconclusive due to this.
Conclusion
Our results are inconclusive in terms of the SLWAI probe designed by Cheng. Factors
such as sample size, heterogeneity and time proved to be limitations on our study. Although our
results mirrored Rodriguez and Abreus study, which showed that anxiety levels were not
statistically different, our hypothesis was not supported with significant evidence. Next time, we
suggest using a bigger sample size that is homogenous. We also believe that using participants
that have similar learning backgrounds would be more beneficial. We think in the future, we
would like to probe groups who have more obvious differences between proficiency levels, as
well. We firmly believe that more research needs to be done regarding writing anxiety.

References

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

12

Cheng, Y.S. (2004). A measure of second language writing anxiety: Scale development and
preliminary validation. Journal of Second Language Writing, 13, 313-335.
Cheng, Y.S. (2002). Factors associated with foreign language writing anxiety. Foreign Language
Annals, 35 (5) 647-656.
Rodriguez, M. & Abreu, O. (2003). The stability of general foreign language classroom anxiety
across English and French. The Modern Language Journal, 87 (3) 365-374.

APPENDIX A
SECOND LANGUAGE WRITING ANXIETY INVENTORY (CHENG, 2004)

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

13

Indicate your feelings by checking the appropriate box next to each statement. Please give your
first reaction to each statement. Please mark an answer for EVERY statement.
Strongly
Agree
1. While writing in English, Im not nervous at all. (R)
2. I feel my heart pounding when I write English
composition under time pressure.
3. While writing English compositions, I feel worried
and uneasy if I know they will be evaluated.
4. I often choose to write down my thoughts in
English. (R)
5. I usually do my best to avoid writing English
compositions.
6. My mind often goes blank when I start to work on
an English composition.
7. I dont worry that my English compositions are a lot
worse than others. (R)
8. I tremble or perspire when I write English
compositions under time pressure.
9. If my English composition is to be evaluated, I
would worry about getting a very poor grade.
10. I do my best to avoid situations in which I have to
write in English.
11. My thoughts become jumbled when I write English
compositions under time constraint.
12. Unless I have no choice, I would not use English
to write compositions.
13. I often feel panic when I write English
compositions under time constraint.
14. Im afraid that the other students would deride my
English composition if they read it.
15. I freeze up when unexpectedly asked to write
English compositions.
16. I would do my best to excuse myself if asked to
write English compositions.
17. I dont worry at all about what other people would
think of my English compositions. (R)
18. I usually seek every possible chance to write
English compositions outside of class. (R)
19. I usually feel my whole body rigid and tense when
I write English compositions.
20. Im afraid of my English composition being
chosen as a sample for discussion in class.
21. Im not afraid at all that my English compositions

Agree Disagree Strongly


Disagree

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers


would be rated as very poor. (R)
22. Whenever possible, I would use English to write
compositions. (R)
BACKGROUND INFORMATION QUESTIONNAIRE
Please answer to the following questions in your home country language.
1. How old are you and where are you from?

2. How long have you studied English in your home country?

3. How long have you studied English in an English-speaking country?

4. Using 2-3 sentences, describe your experience studying English writing.

APPENDIX B
1.

14

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers


A B

C D

2.

A B

C D

3.
A B C D
4.

A B

C D

5.

A B

C D

A B

C D

6.
7.

A B

C D

A B

C D

8.
9.
A B C D
10.

A B

C D

11.
A B C D
12.
A B C D
13.

A B C D
14.

A B

C D

A B

C D

15.

16.
A B C D
17.

A B

C D

A B

C D

18.
A B C D
19.
A B C D
20.
A B C D
21.
22.

A B

1.

C D

15

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

2.
3.
4.

16

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

17

APPENDIX C

/
.
::

:
:
:
:

Writing anxiety of Chinese and Arabic speakers

18