Dilemma in the EFL Classroom. When Role Playing encounters Speech Anxiety

An Approach on the Chances and Limitations of Role Playing

Term Paper, 2017

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Contextual Analysis
2.1 Definition and decisive characteristics of role plays
2.2 Definition of (speech) anxiety in the EFL classroom
2.3 Speech anxiety and role playing in the EFL classroom

3. Critical Reflection
3.1 Alternatives and adaptation of role plays to speech anxiety

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

With the turn to rather communicative language teaching during the mid-seventies, role playing has found its way in German EFL classrooms (Kurtz 30). Even forty years after its initial arrival, role playing is still one of the most frequently used communicative teaching methods. The method is commonly regarded as decidedly effective, communicative, versatile and close to everyday life situations (Wendlandt 16). Unsurprisingly, role playing has been also establishing itself in the compulsory Brandenburg curriculum framework for decades now (Ministerium für Bildung 12).

However, the apparent opinion of the enormous popularity of role playing is not shared by everybody. Especially for reticent and shy pupils as well as for those who suffer from language and speech anxiety in the EFL classroom, this method states a frequent confrontation with their problems. Since this confrontation can by far not be treated as an individual case, this paper aims to approach on the chances and limitations of role playing in regard to the issue of pupils’ anxiety of speaking. Where in the design of the role play can major issues be found? Are those issues even avoidable? And do comparable alternatives to role playing exist?

In order to provide a proper answer to the raised questions above, the outline of this paper is structured as follows. At first, necessary terminologies need to be defined more closely to ensure the further intelligibility. This part includes a short definition of a role play, its decisive characteristics as well as the explanation of its didactic usage. Furthermore, the terms speech-, speaking- and language anxiety will be examined in the same chapter (2.1 & 2.2). Following this, leading scientific theories around anxiety in the language classroom (2.3), including Horwitz’s components of language anxiety, will serve as a basis to expose the narrow connection between the method’s design and the theories’ perceptions. Against this theoretical background, the third chapter (3.) will focus on the availability of suitable alternatives to role playing and their evaluation. Finally, chapter 4 will conclude and critically reflect on the made perceptions. The personal additional value of this work lays in a more sensitive practice with role plays and in finding improvements within the dealing with speech anxiety of pupils.

2. Contextual Analysis

2.1 Definition and decisive characteristics of role plays

Due to the wide field of the application of role plays and their various targets, there are many different approaches to define them. Even though these definitions often combine similar approaches, there is no absolute definition (Shapiro & Leopold 121). The following definition approach focuses on the communicative and pedagogical aspect.

According to Riedl, role playing is understood as participant-active simulation play showing a simplified extract of a fictive or non-fictive setting, in which the participants are confronted with a certain conflict situation, meant to be solved. Here, the participants are supposed to play a chosen or given character (role) whose attitudes, opinions and feelings have to be adapted (cf. ibid. 104). Additional to this contextual approach, Porter-Ladousse (3) states that “[...] role play activities range from highly-controlled guided conversations at one end of the scale, to improvised drama activities at the other; from simple rehearsed dialogue performance, to highly complex simulated scenarios”. Thus, Porter-Ladousse also refers to the methodical design of role plays. Such as other speaking tasks, role plays may be instructed by the teacher and supported by the prepared material. Conversely, role plays might also be an activity where students rather improvise without any preparation. Furthermore, the complexity of role plays can differ concerning the chosen situation, topic and framework conditions such as the pupils’ language level or motivation to participate (cf. ibid. 3).

The frequent didactic use of role plays in the EFL classroom can be justified in a plenty of methodical and pedagogical advantages. Thus, for example, role plays provide the implementing of different subject-didactic principles in one method. Problem orientation, situative orientation and everyday life relation are the most obvious principles which result from the above-mentioned design of role plays. Additionally, the lesson’s vividness and the pupils’ self-reliance can be strengthened through the conduction of role plays. Derived from the field of behavioural socially-orientated approaches, role plays can also contribute a significant aspect to the development of the pupils’ empathy and training of verbal conflict resolution (cf. Dubs 211).

Due to the above-mentioned pedagogical advantages as well through its highly communicative character, role playing has established as popular means to promote speaking processes in language learning classrooms. In contrast to most language learning tasks in the EFL classroom, the social interactive role playing does not primarily target on the correctness of the promoted speech, but rather on the pupils’ communicative and improvising abilities as well as on their speaking fluency (cf. Littlewood 46 ff.). It means that pupils are put in conditions which require speech that is used to communicate socially more than the language necessitated by teaching syllabuses (cf. Porter-Ladousse 6). Moreover, the design of role plays allows the EFL teacher to adjust the requirements based on the pupils’ language levels and competences. Hence, the requirement difficulty of role plays ranges from a more control - based performing (memorised dialogues, contextualised drills) to a freer or fully creative scope (cued dialogues, improvisation) (cf. Littlewood 50).

In a short summary, it can be registered that the range of role playing in the EFL classroom holds various methodical and didactic advantages which include the promotion of the pupils’ communicative abilities.

2.2 Definition of (speech) anxiety in the EFL classroom

As with defining role playing, also the term anxiety receives different definition approaches depending on the terms coverage. Although the terms speech -, speaking - and language anxiety are often used equivalently in common word usage, there are smaller differentiations with partly different meanings. This chapter will briefly define these terms in order to expose their different meanings.

According to May (in: Lui 34) anxiety is defined as “diffuse apprehension, differing from fear in its vagueness and objectiveness, and as a state that is associated with feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, and threat to the core of essence of personality.” Rachman (in: Lui 34) extends May’s definition and describes anxiety as “an unpleasant emotional reaction to real or imagined dangers that were accompanied by automatic discharge and subjective experiences such as tension, fright or nervousness”. In conclusion, anxiety can be understood as the emotion which arises “when people are not certain of the forthcoming event, when they are aware that their performance will be [negatively] evaluated, when the worry about the consequence of an event, and/or when they feel unpleasant or threatened in a situation. Anxiety is objectless and unpleasant” (Lui 35). Beside this comprising definition by Lui, Sarason and Sarason (in: Lui 35) add major critical attributes of anxiety. According to them, the emotion of anxiety is also marked by self-deprecatory thoughts; the anticipation of failure and a low self-esteem promoting overcautious acting (cf. Lui 35).


Excerpt out of 12 pages


Dilemma in the EFL Classroom. When Role Playing encounters Speech Anxiety
An Approach on the Chances and Limitations of Role Playing
University of Potsdam
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
EFL Classroom, Role play, Simulation, Speech Anxiety, Sprechangst
Quote paper
Sebastian Nickel (Author), 2017, Dilemma in the EFL Classroom. When Role Playing encounters Speech Anxiety, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/444904


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