This study examined the role of willingness to communicate (WTC) in EFL performance in an Arab context. Originally proposed by MacIntyre et al. (1998), WTC is based on Gardner’s (1985) influential socio-educational model of motivation in language learning. WTC is a multi-faceted construct that integrates psychological, linguistic, and communicative variables to describe, explain, and predict students’ communicative behavior in a second language. It has been identified by Dörnyei and colleagues (Dörnyei, Csizér, & Németh, 2006) as an important component of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory, and calls have been made to incorporate the notion in second language pedagogy (Kang, 2005). Much of the original WTC work was carried out in Canada, involving European languages and second language instructional settings. More recent studies have broadened the scope by examining the WTC construct in more culturally diverse EFL settings such as China (Peng, 2007b; Peng & Woodrow, 2010; Wen & Clément, 2003), Japan (Yashima, 2002; Yashima, Zenuk-Nishide, & Shimizu, 2004); Korea (Jung, 2011; Kim, 2004); Turkey (Cetinkaya, 2005), and Iran (Ghonsooly, Khajavy, & Asadpour, 2012). A key element of WTC identified in previous studies is the affective state of the learner, including motivation and self-perceived communication confidence in a second language. These elements have been widely recognized as major impediments to face-to-face communication in English as a foreign language (Ay, 2010; Gan, Humphreys, & Hamp-Lyons, 2004). However, there are also likely to be some important differences for Omani students, particularly related to situational and cultural differences. This study is, to the knowledge of the researcher, the first to provide an Arab conceptualization of willingness to communicate (WTC) and to examine how it manifests in Arab EFL learners in Oman.
The first phase of the study examined learners’ perceptions toward their WTC in English through surveys that assessed variables related to the L2 WTC construct in general, and possible factors (including cultural factors) that influence Arab students’ WTC in English. Participants were First year (116) and Fourth year (88) English major students at a private Omani university. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis was used to examine the survey results. Of interest were relationships between WTC, self-perceived communication competence (SPCC), communication anxiety (CA), frequency of communication (FC), motivation, attitudes toward learning situation, integrativeness, and instrumental motivation.
The second phase of the study examined how learners’ attitudes toward their WTC might change through involvement with synchronous and asynchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) based activities that were specifically designed to address WTC for Arab EFL students. The little research available in this area suggests CMC can facilitate learners’ WTC (Freiermuth & Jarrell, 2006; Kissau, McCullough, & Pyke, 2010; Lloyd, 2012; Reinders & Wattana, 2010). Research in this second phase of the study built on this work. The second phase used a mixed methods design combining quantitative and qualitative data. Twenty-eight undergraduate students completed questionnaire; subsequently, 13 volunteer students were interviewed to extend and elaborate on the quantitative data.
Findings of the first phase showed Omani students had fairly low WTC and SPCC and low CA in English. Their WTC, SPCC, and CA varied based on the type of interlocutor (friend, acquaintance, stranger) and the type of contexts (dyad, small group, large group/ in meeting, public). The students had moderate motivation, positive attitudes toward English learning situations, and positive attitudes toward the L1 community. They also believed that EFL learning was important for getting a good job and for their future careers. Overall, the data revealed that academic year did not have a significant effect on variables related to the L2 WTC construct.
The SEM model proposed in the study indicated that WTC had statistically significant direct paths from SPCC and CA, while motivation had a significant direct path to SPCC. CA had a direct data-driven path to frequency of communication. The path from WTC to FC was significant. Motivation had significant direct paths from integrativeness, attitude toward learning situation, and instrumental motivation. Overall, the proposed model in this study supported MacIntyre et al.’s (1998) model and Gardner’s (2001) socio-educational model.
Quantitative findings of the second phase indicated that overall communication environments (online and face-to-face) affected L2 WTC variables. Qualitative data suggested that most students tended to have less WTC in face-to-face environments than online environments for several reasons, including fear of making mistakes, losing face, and embarrassment.