A Review of Anxiety and Enjoyment Among Young Teenagers Learning English as a Foreign Language Outdoors: A Mixed-Methods Study
Logan Neuman

In an attempt to improve second language acquisition by lowering learners’ anxiety, studies with a variety of interventions have been conducted (Gregersen et al., 2014; Horwitz et al., 1986; Sparks et al., 2018). However, a vast majority of these studies have taken place in a traditional classroom setting. Myhre et al. (2023) were interested in the effects of changing the learning location itself and thus designed a mixed methods study that evaluated enjoyment and anxiety levels while learning a foreign language in the outdoors.

Previous research showed that many factors affect language acquisition, including how old the participant is, their level of education, their level of experience with foreign languages and their perception of how well they are doing (Myhre et al., 2023). These factors affect both the participants’ enjoyment while learning the language as well as their anxiety–both of which have shown an effect on language learning. While it has been found that teachers can certainly promote a positive learning environment for the students, which may increase their enjoyment, it is more difficult to affect students’ anxiety levels as they may be deeply rooted in students’ perception of themselves.

The study conducted by Myhre et al. (2023) took place in an English classroom in Norway with 106 students ranging from 13-14 years of age. The control group received a lesson of “fluency-oriented activities” (p. 830) in their typical classroom setting. The experimental group received the same lesson as much as possible, except that it was located in the outdoors at a nearby park. Additionally, the experimental group participated in a “walk and talk” English activity on their way to the park (Myhre et al., 2023, p. 830).

The quantitative strand of this study included pre-test and post-test questionnaire scores with statements that dealt with enjoyment and anxiety while learning a foreign language. The qualitative strand included semi-structured group interviews before and after the intervention, as well as observations and recordings of students’ speech during the intervention. The interview topics ranged from how important they believed learning English to be, how often they used it, and what emotions they felt when speaking English (Myhre et al., 2023).

Through the quantitative strand of this study, Myhre et al. (2023) did not find that the change in setting greatly affected the students’ anxiety when speaking in a foreign language. However, the qualitative findings showed that the students felt less pressure to perform in front of their classmates due to having more physical space between groups when speaking. They noted that it was helpful that many people were speaking at once rather than in isolation like they had experienced in the classroom. The interviews also revealed that the students enjoyed the experience more in the outdoors because of its less rigid structure; though it is important to note that the observations showed that the control group in the classroom enjoyed a positive learning environment as well. As for the actual amount of English used in the recordings, the students in the experimental group spoke English 86.8% of the time while those in the control group used it 65.6% of the time (p. 836). The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages recommends that the target language is used 90% of the time during the learning experience (ACTFL, n.d.) in order to immerse the students in the language as much as possible. Therefore, the experimental group was much closer to reaching this standard than the control group in the classroom.

If the teacher’s goal is to increase students’ use of the target language, this study shows that taking the class outside could achieve that. Teaching students in nature offers opportunities to authentically describe the world around them in the target language that a static classroom could not provide. If teachers gave students a variety of topics to discuss in nature, they may be more likely to communicate because they will not feel as anxious about knowing a specific set of vocabulary.

In the future, it would be helpful to use a randomized group of language learners in order to further examine the variables of anxiety and enjoyment. For example, these students had been taught by their own teachers before this study, and so their enjoyment and anxiety levels may have been affected by their previous lessons. Additionally, the study noted that some students spoke a different native language than their Norwegian classmates and thus were learning a third language, though they may not have had as much of an educational background in English as the students who spoke Norwegian as their native tongue. Dewaele and Dewaele (2018) noted that this affects students’ willingness to communicate and would be important to consider in conjunction with the conclusions drawn by Myhre et al. (2023).

While this study pertained specifically to second language application, the implications could suggest that a change in environment–specifically from a classroom to the outdoors–could increase students’ enjoyment in the subject and make them feel less anxious about making mistakes in front of their classmates. These are necessary feelings to consider in every subject matter, from history to science and math. Teachers everywhere are trying different methods to help an increasingly anxious student population and simply changing the setting to the outdoors could help many of these students.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (n.d.). Facilitate target language use.https://www.actfl.org/educator-resources/guiding-principles-for-language-learning/facilitate-target-language-use

Dewaele, J.-M., and Dewaele, L. (2018). Learner-internal and learner-external predictors of willingness to communicate in the FL classroom. Journal of the European Second Language Association, 2(1), 24–37. https://doi.org/10.22599/jesla.37

Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70(2), 125–132. https://doi.org/10.2307/327317

Gregersen, T., Meza, M. D., & Macintyre, P. D. (2014). The motion of emotion: Idiodynamic case studies of learners’ foreign language anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 98(2), 574–588. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43649903

Myhre, T.S., Dewaele, J.M., Fiskum, T.A. & Holand, A.M. (2023). Anxiety and enjoyment among young teenagers learning English as a foreign language outdoors: A mixed-methods study. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 17(4), 827-844. https://doi.org/10.1080/17501229.2022.2161550

Sparks, R. L., Luebbers, J., Castañeda, M., & Patton, J. (2018). High school Spanish students and foreign language reading anxiety: Déjà vu all over again all over again. The Modern Language Journal, 102(3), 533–556. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44981084