Does Drama Role Protection Lower L2 Speaking Anxiety? Study Results from EFL Drama Clubs

Foreign-language anxiety (FLA), i.e., a feeling of anxiety or inhibition which students experience while using the L2, is generally argued to represent a crucial factor in L2 oracy. Here, FLA may either support or hinder speaking in L2 students, as learners feel either motivated or inhibited to express themselves in the L2. To lower FLA, research in drama pedagogy, which is concerned with the use of drama activities in L2 instruction, has suggested that students might benefit from ‘role protection’. Here, students who are speaking under the cover of a fictional drama role may feel less anxious, because potential L2 mistakes are not attributed to them as individuals. While this assumption is widely shared in drama pedagogy (e.g., Tselikas, 1999; Even, 2003; Elis, 2015), so far there is no empirical evidence to support this relationship between role protection and FLA. (However, for studies that show that whole drama courses, workshops, etc. decrease pre-to-post-FLA, see Atas, 2015; Galante, 2018).To examine whether role protection is able to lower FLA in students, we conducted a learner study in EFL drama clubs at a comprehensive school in Göttingen (grade 5/6 and grade 7-10). Our results show that the use of role work, during which students actively work on their drama roles, will decrease L2 speaking anxiety. However, mere acting does not lower FLA in students. This finding suggests that role protection in itself, which is also present in acting, might not be sufficient to decrease FLA. Rather, it needs to be combined with highly immersive drama activities, such as role work, in order to achieve its positive effect on L2 speaking anxiety.The above study is part of a larger research project that aims to identify which structural elements of EFL drama courses might influence FLA in students (e.g., acting, role work, feedback, etc.). Earlier findings have shown that teacher feedback on students’ L2 or students’ acting will raise their L2 speaking anxiety, presumably because they become more aware of their linguistic or acting performance(s) (Wirag & Surkamp, submitted).

  • Atas, M. (2015): The Reduction of Speaking Anxiety in EFL Learners through Drama Techniques. In: Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 176, 961-969.
  • Elis, F. (2015): Mit dramapädagogischen Methoden sprachliche und kommunikative Kompetenzen fördern. In: Hallet, W. & Surkamp, C. (eds.), Dramendidaktik und Dramapädagogik im Fremdsprachenunterricht, 89-115. Trier: WVT.
  • Even, S. (2003): Drama Grammatik. München: Iudicium.
  • Galante, A. (2018): Drama for L2 Speaking and Language Anxiety: Evidence from Brazilian EFL Learners. In: RELC Journal 49.3, 273-289.
  • Tselikas, E. (1999): Dramapädagogik im Sprachunterricht. Zürich: Orell Füssli.
  • Wirag, A. & Surkamp, C. (submitted): Boon or Burden? Drama Pedagogy Elements and their Relation to Foreign-Language Anxiety in EFL Drama Clubs. In: Tagungsband Drama in Education Days 2020.

Andreas Wirag is a Postdoc researcher at the TEFL Department at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. He has worked as a teacher at grammar and vocational school for English and Spanish as foreign languages. As one of his research interests, he examines the use of the Arts in L2 teaching and learning with a specific focus on theatre/drama methods.

Prof. Dr. Carola Surkamp is Professor of TEFL at the University of Goettingen. Her main research interests include literature, film and drama methods in the EFL classroom, cultural learning and teacher education. She is the author of various books, edited the encyclopedia Metzler Lexikon Fremdsprachendidaktik (2017) and is co-editor of the journal Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht Englisch.