Dissertation Defense of Angela Donate

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The Department of Spanish and Portuguese cordially invites you to the dissertation defense of Angela Donate, M.S. titled Cognitive Task Complexity, Foreign Language Anxiety and Task Performance in L2 Spanish: A TBLT Perspective.

Thesis Advisor: Ronald P. Leow, Ph.D.

Abstract: Although cognitive psychology literature (e.g., Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009) has demonstrated the detrimental effects anxiety has on cognitive processes, this relationship has barely been investigated in the SLA field (e.g., MacIntyre & Gardner, 1994). In addition, the vast majority of SLA and TBLT research examining foreign language anxiety (FLA) have consistently focused on the negative outcomes of FLA, treating it as single powerful force to be simply eliminated, therefore, ignoring its facilitative role (e.g., Scovel, 1978), its dynamicity and fluctuation over time during learners’ task performance (e.g., Baralt & Gurzynski- Weiss, 2011), and its three interconnected facets within the language learner—affective, cognitive, and behavioral (Zeidner & Matthews, 2011).

Employing mixed-methods, this dissertation attempted to offer a more inclusive and complete understanding of the role of language anxiety in L2 oral tasks that vary in the cognitive demands imposed on the learner. Following Sasayama (2016), fifty-one L1 English low proficient learners of Spanish performed two oral narrative tasks manipulated via number of elements. State anxiety was measured at two points during task performance, halfway and immediately after task completion (Baralt & Gurzynski-Weiss, 2011). Subjective learners’ perspectives were elicited in relation to their emotional states during oral task performance. L2 task performance was assessed using complexity, accuracy and fluency (CAF) measures to examine how state anxiety was related to task performance.

Quantitative results revealed levels of perceived state anxiety increased meaningfully with greater cognitive demands. As predicted, learners’ levels of language anxiety fluctuated over time, showing evidence to support the dynamic nature of the construct as an affective factor. Qualitative data showed a cyclical two-way relationship of the three-way interface language state anxiety, cognitive processes and L2 task performance, and further suggests a tendency where the facilitative and detrimental role of language anxiety work simultaneously during task performance. In relation to existing task taxonomies, findings revealed that for low proficient L2 learners, linguistic demands, conceptual information and task mode seem to be assessed as major predictors of state anxiety during task performance. Important pedagogical implications are discussed in relation to the three-way interface Language Anxiety—Cognition—Task Performance in the L2.