JoLIE 9:3/2016


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Ana Maria Hopârtean

Babeș- Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania






Anxiety is a very common factor that impedes foreign language learning. It affects students of all levels and ages, but mainly adult learners. Speaking tasks are most feared because students feel most exposed and judged while speaking.

This paper argues that using debate in the language classroom helps students benefit most from speaking activities while minimising anxiety. The first claim of the present paper is that adults are a special category of learners because they learn and interact differently. Adults perceive themselves as intelligent, socially skilled individuals, able to adapt to different sociocultural contexts. However, in a foreign language adults tend to feel that their own self image as a competent communicator is challenged due to the complex cognitive operations needed in order to communicate. The second claim of this paper is that adults feel anxiety because their image as competent communicators is undermined when speaking in a foreign language. Anxiety is an affective filter that prevents students from achieving their potential in a foreign language as anxious students are more likely to withdraw from classroom activities. The third claim is that teaching debate can help students overcome their anxiety by making them focus on content rather than on form when doing speaking activities in a foreign language. Academic debate is presented as a complex format which students can use as a tool for authentic speaking activities. Some of the key features of this format is that there are two teams of speakers that argue on a given topic, the speakers have a limited time to prepare and speak, and there is usually a judge who decides which team won the debate.

The ramifications of using this type of speaking activity in the language classroom are numerous, but the main implication that this paper analyses is the extent to which debate helps reduce speaking anxiety in the language learning classroom.


Key words: Language learning; Speaking activity; Adult students; Anxiety; Debate.





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How to cite this article: Hopârtean, A.M. (2016). Speak without fear: using debate as a teaching strategy to minimise adult students’ anxiety in the language classroom. Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education – JoLIE, 9(3), 59-70. DOI:



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