This study examined willingness to communicate (WTC) of language learners who were studying English as a foreign language in a Chinese college setting by adapting variables from four theoretical sources: McCroskey and Richmond's (1987) WTC construct, Gardner's (2001a) Socio-Educational model, MacIntyre et al.'s (1998) WTC model, and Wen and Clément's (2003) conceptualization of WTC in a Chinese setting.
Three objectives guided this study: (1) to examine the relationships among willingness to communicate, communication apprehension, and self-perceived communication competence in Chinese and English language contexts respectively; (2) to examine the relationships between integrativeness, attitudes toward the learning situation, motivation, and instrumental orientation with WTC in English; (3) to test the proposed relationships among communication variables (i.e., communication apprehension and self-perceived communication competence), affective variables (i.e., integrativeness, attitudes toward the learning situation, motivation, and instrumental orientation), teacher immediacy, and WTC in English.
Two hundred and thirty-five (235) sophomores and juniors majoring in English at a public university in China participated in this study. A quantitative research method using self-report questionnaires was employed to collect data that addressed ten different aspects or variables concerning the participants' communication and affective orientations, as well as the perceived teacher immediacy behaviors. Pearson correlation coefficient, multiple regression, and a path model were utilized as statistical analysis methods in line with each research question.
The results of the study showed that all of the communication variables including willingness to communicate, communication apprehension, and self-perceived communication competence were significantly correlated with each other at the .01 level in both Chinese and English communication settings. Moreover, the correlations between Chinese and English for communication apprehension, self-perceived communication competence, and willingness to communicate were all positive and statistically significant, indicating their trait-like predisposition which remained constant across languages used in communication settings.
All of the four affective variables (i.e., integrativeness, attitudes toward the learning situation, motivation, and instrumental orientation) and the variable of willingness to communicate in English were significantly correlated with each other at the .05 level. However, only attitudes toward the learning situation and motivation contributed significant predicative power to WTC in English.
Communication apprehension and self-perceived communication competence were the only two direct effects on WTC in English. Communication apprehension also had indirect effect on WTC in English through its negative effect on self-perceived communication competence. Teacher immediacy had direct positive effect on communication apprehension and negative effect on self-perceived communication competence. WTC in English was indirectly dependent on teacher immediacy through the mediation of communication apprehension and self-perceived communication competence.
Motivation had direct effect on communication apprehension and self-perceived communication competence. The hypothesized predictive relationships from attitudes toward learning situation, integrativeness, and instrumental orientation to motivation were supported. Motivation could indirectly predict WTC in English through the mediation of communication apprehension and self-perceived communication competence.
The importance of this study lies in its theoretical contributions to the WTC research and the pedagogical implications for second language teaching and learning. Willingness to communicate was examined in China where English was learned as a foreign language. Therefore, the different linguistic and language speaking environments in this study enriched the scholarship of the WTC concept. The variable of teacher immediacy was incorporated into a path model with affective and communication variables for the first time in WTC research, which theoretically extended the conceptualization of WTC construct.
This study has pedagogical implications for English teaching and learning as well. A better understanding of students' willingness to communicate in the target language may help language teachers improve the communicative language teaching approach and curriculum design to provide more communication opportunities for language learners, more importantly, encourage actual engagement into communication behaviors, and finally, facilitate second/foreign language learning and acquisition.