Knowing another language is essential in this day and age. Aside from staying afloat in a globalized economy and maintaining international relationships, speaking foreign languages comes in handy if you're marrying someone from a different culture, trying to get into a better school, or if you're just wandering around on your vacation.

Education systems worldwide acknowledge this necessity and try to incorporate a second language curriculum as much as possible. The results from an online survey administered by the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing show that 47.38% of Chinese children begin learning English as early as three years old.

In the August 2014 issue of Advances in Language & Literary Studies, Lau Sing Min and Nurhazlini Rahmat investigate how the pressure to learn a second language affects adolescents. These demands to speak a different language can affect students more than we think.


Min and Rahmat selected 93 senior engineering students at the Universiti of Putra Malaysia for the study. Of these prospective engineers, 51.6% were females and 48.4% were males. Min and Rahmat used the Second Language Writing Anxiety Inventory to measure SLWA in the participants. The Inventory consists of three subscales that measure levels of:

  • Somatic Anxiety: Anxiety caused by physical alarms raised by your body.
  • Avoidance Behavior: Preventing anxiety by staying clear of potential triggers.
  • Cognitive Anxiety: Anxiety caused by worrying.

Each subscale is associated with a number of statements, such as “I often feel panic when I write English compositions under time constraint." The students can then choose whether they strongly agree, agree, uncertain, disagree, or strongly disagree. Based on your answers, the Inventory determines the severity of your SLWA.


Engineering students showed high levels of Somatic Anxiety. This goes against past studies done by Y.S. Cheng at National Taiwan Normal University and Hongxia Zhang at Kristianstad University which suggest Cognitive Anxiety as the most significant factor of SLWA.

Min and Rahmat write, “this suggests that there might be a difference in writing anxiety faced by technical and non-technical program based students." Students in technical programs focus on disciplines such as applied physics, mathematics, and engineering. These findings propose that technical students cannot handle pressure and nerves as well as those in other majors.

Pulling from the demographic data, the study found that males and Chinese participants faced higher levels of SLWA. Min and Rahmat attribute this to how females have been observed to have more positive attitudes towards writing. Both researchers agree that further research needs to be done in order to make stronger claims on gender attitudes towards writing and how ethnicity relates to SLWA.

Putting Less Pressure on Students

Min and Rahmat's findings suggest that language requirements in education systems should be changed to alleviate anxiety in students. All program coordinators, not just those involved in engineering, should review how their school's language requirements are affecting students and make the necessary amendments to protect student mental health.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: October 23, 2015


Lau Sing Min, Nurhazlini Rahmat. English Language Writing Anxiety Among Final Year Engineering Undergraduates In University Putra Malaysia. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, August 2014; DOI: 10.7575/aiac.alls.v.5n.4p.102