Emotions matter: Feelings at the epicenter of the individual and context

Tammy Gregersen, Peter MacIntyre, Jean-Marc Dewaele, Stephen Ryan, Elaine Horwitz, Sarah Mercer, Rebecca Oxford

Language teachers and researchers are currently undergoing a significant transformation in the way that they regard the role of emotion is language learning.  Whereas only a few years ago it was still relatively rare to encounter discussions of emotion in language learning, the challenges facing us now have shifted to developing accessible and pedagogically viable accounts of how emotions facilitate communicative competence and learning and more complex nuanced theoretical models of the role of languages in these processes.

The first address, Passion of the language learner:  An emotion-based framework for understanding language learner psychology (Rebecca Oxford), explores the concept of passion as an organizational framework for understanding how language learners direct effort over time, and most importantly, one which foregrounds the emotional dimension to language learning. Loosely based on Vallerand’s (2015) Dualistic Model of Passion, the presenter considers how passion connects various aspects of learner psychology, such as emotion, cognition and motivation, in ways that lead to adaptive learning behaviour and general psychological well-being.

The predictive effects of Foreign Language Enjoyment and Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety on FL performance is the second presentation (Jean-Marc Dewaele). It explains that positive psychology has boosted interest in both positive and negative emotions that Foreign Language (FL) learners ex- perience.  Although well-established findings reveal that FL classroom anxiety (FLCA) is a negative predictor of accomplishment in the FL, little is known about the effect of foreign language enjoyment (FLE) on FL performance. This presentation explains through statistical analysis of the independent variables of FLE and FLA predict self-reported FL test results, but that FLCA predicts twice as much variance as FLE. The presentation ends with new, emerging conceptualizations of the roles of positive and negative emotion in FL learning and communication.

The third presentation, Optimizing the Nonverbal Expression of Emotion in Target Language Interactions (Peter MacIntyre and Tammy Gregersen), highlights the pivotal role that nonverbal behavior plays in the expression of emotion in target language interactions and offers specific activities that encourage learners to optimize the bodily, vocalic, and spatial means at their disposal.  In this talk, we consider how language learners can enhance their affective competence by tapping into the power of their kinesic (including gesture, posture, facial expression, and eye behavior), prosodic (e.g., vocal cues) and proxemic (e.g., the use of space) behaviors especially in cross-cultural interactions.

The final presentation, A focus on emotions versus a focus on individual differences: Does the latter foster a deficit view of language learners?  (Elaine Horwitz) examines the individual difference perspective within second language acquisition and speculates on how this kind of thinking contributes to a deficit view of language learners.  It argues that a focus on learners’ authentic emotions fosters more authentic relationships among learners and teachers and cultivates individualized approaches for helping anxious language learners.

The session concludes with comments from our Discussant (Sarah Mercer) who will tie together the threads  within  the  papers  presented. The  discussant  will  draw  on  her  experience  to  enhance  and challenge the interpretations offered in the individual papers raising questions for the future of this area of research in language learning psychology.