Research in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) has indicated that both cognitive learner factors and affective learner factors influence the language learning process. Many SLA researchers have emphasised the importance of studies of affective factors, which contribute to language learning as much as cognitive factors (Horwitz et al., 1986; Horwitz, 1987; MacIntyre and Gardner, 1993a; Mihaljević Djigunović, 1998; Dörnyei, 2005; Mihaljević Djigunović, 2007; Dörnyei and Ryan, 2015). Since the 1980s, numerous researchers have studied foreign language anxiety (FLA) as “a distinct complex of self-perceptions, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to classroom language learning arising from the uniqueness of the language learning process” (Horwitz et al., 1986: 128). SLA researchers have been using different measures of language anxiety, but the first specific measure of FLA was the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS) developed by Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986). Since FLCAS almost entirely refers to speaking, a number of SLA researchers have concentrated on identifying more specifically the sources of anxiety and the relationship of anxiety to specific language skills. Saito, Horwitz and Garza (1999) conducted the first study of reading anxiety using the Foreign Language Reading Anxiety Scale (FLRAS). The results showed that foreign language reading anxiety (FLRA) can be distinguished from general foreign language classroom anxiety. It was found that the levels of reading anxiety varied according to the specific target language (Saito et al., 1999). In a number of reading anxiety studies, researchers have differentiated the components of FLRA that suggest that anxiety is a multi-faceted phenomenon (Matsuda and Gobel, 2001; Zoghi, 2012; Ahmad et al., 2013; Al-Shboul et al., 2013; Zoghi and Alivandivafa, 2014). Investigating the relationship between FLRA and reading achievement has increasingly attracted the attention of many SLA researchers. In a number of studies conducted in different socioeducational contexts with different target languages, a negative relationship between FLRA and foreign language reading achievement was found (Sellers, 2000; Brantmeier, 2005; Hayati and Ghassemi, 2008; Zhao, 2009; Rai et al., 2011; Huang, 2012; Jafarigohar and Behrooznia, 2012; Cabansag, 2013; Zhao et al., 2013; Mohammadpur and Ghafournia, 2015). The issue of sources of FLRA has also attracted the attention of many FLRA researchers. The findings of the studies have revealed that there are two main aspects of FLRA: personal factors and text features. The most common sources of FLRA are: concern about making errors, fear of negative evaluation, unknown vocabulary, unknown grammar, unfamiliar script and writing system, unfamiliar topic, and length of reading text (Zhang, 2000; Kuru-Gonen, 2009; Al-Shboul et al., 2013; Marzec-Stawiarska, 2013; Zhao et al., 2013; Hassaskhah and Joghataeian, 2016). As FLA is culturally and socially determined, it may manifest itself in different ways in different cultural and social contexts. In order to conduct studies of FLRA in different cultural and social contexts, SLA researchers have attempted to devise research instruments specifically targeted at the specific population. Since in Croatia not much FLRA research has been done, a reliable and valid research instrument based on the cultural and social determinants needed to be developed. This dissertation aimed to examine the relationship between FLRA of Croatian students learning English and German in the Croatian educational context and their English and German reading achievement. English and German learning motivation as the mediating variable was also analysed.
The research attempted to test the following research hypotheses:
1 FLRA is related to foreign language reading achievement.
2a The structure of FLRA varies according to the target language (English/German).
2b The level of FLRA varies according to the target language (English/German).
3 There is no significant difference in students’ FLRA with reference to gender.
4 There is no significant difference in students’ FLRA with reference to type of school.
5 Motivation is the mediating variable in the relationship between FLRA and reading comprehension.
Data on FLRA were collected by a questionnaire specifically designed for this research, aiming to measure the level of English/German reading anxiety. The participants of this research were 139 fourth grade students from secondary schools in Dubrovnik-Neretva County who learned both English as their first and German as their second foreign language. A comparative study was carried out on the same participants exploring their FLRA with reference to two different languages. The validity and reliability of the new instrument employed in this research were confirmed. Our findings show that both English reading anxiety and German reading anxiety are low. The statistical analysis of participants’ scores in reading comprehension tests and our FLRA questionnaire shows a statistically significant negative correlation between anxiety and reading comprehension. The research findings indicate differences in the structure and the level of reading anxiety in relation to the foreign language being learned. There are three components of English reading anxiety and five components of German reading anxiety. The research findings also show that there is a statistically significant difference between the levels of English and German reading anxiety, the level of German reading anxiety being higher than English. A possible explanation can be that in the Croatian educational context, English and German differ essentially in their status and learning environment. There is no statistically significant difference between the levels of English and German reading anxiety in relation to gender and type of school. Regression analysis reveals that English and German learning motivation is the mediating variable in the relationship between English and German reading anxiety and English and German reading achievement. The results also show that FLRA has a significant role in predicting reading achievement. The questionnaire developed for this research is context specific in the sense that it was developed within a particular socioeducational context. The research instrument constructed for this study could be used to develop future research instruments for other foreign languages in the Croatian socioeducational context or in other cultural contexts. The findings of this research will enable SLA researchers and foreign language teachers to gain an insight into the correlation between FLRA and reading achievement and the role of motivation as the mediating variable. Foreign language teachers can benefit from a better understanding of the complex phenomenon of FLRA and thus help their students overcome anxiety and improve their reading achievement.