Willingness to communicate

In second language acquisition, willingness to communicate (WTC) refers to the idea that language students (language learners) who are willing to communicate in the second language (L2) actually look for chances to communicate; and furthermore, these learners actually do communicate in the L2. Therefore, "the ultimate goal of the learning process should be to engender in language education students" the willingness to communicate (MacIntyre, Clément, Dörnyei & Noels:1998).

Language programs that do not instill this are therefore failed programs.


Pyramid model

A pyramid model has been established that describes learners' use of the L2. As the learner moves up the pyramid, the learner has more control over the act of communicating in the target language.

The model, with six layers, has a total of twelve constructs. The layers, from top to bottom, are:

  • communication behaviour (I)
  • behavioural intention (II)
  • situated antecedents (III)
  • motivational propensities (IV)
  • affective-cognitive context (V)
  • social and individual context (VI)

Layers VI, V, and IV are considered to be lasting influences. At layers III, II and I, the influences on actual L2 use are at a given time.

The twelve constructs, from top to bottom, are:

  1. use (layer I)
  2. willingness to communicate (II)
  3. desire to communicate with a specific person (III)
  4. state of communicating self-confidence (III)
  5. interpersonal motivation (IV)
  6. intergroup motivation (IV)
  7. self-confidence (IV)
  8. intergroup attitudes (V)
  9. social situation (V)
  10. competence (V)
  11. intergroup climate (VI)
  12. personality (VI)

WTC in Chinese contexts

In their article “A Chinese Conceptualisation of Willingness to Communicate in ESL,” [1] authors Wen and Clement attempt something of a cultural anthropology of Willingness to Communicate in Chinese students. They conclude that the reticence to verbally engage is rooted in “two aspects governing interpersonal relations: an other-directed self and a submissive way of learning.” (p. 19)

The “other-directed self” is based on the idea that Chinese culture, like many other Asian cultures, values the collective over the individual. This value is traced back to the founding values of Chinese culture:

only in the presence of the other, will the self be significant. For Confucius, the self did not exit [sic] as a single entity. It’s existential reality is dialectically related to the family, the community, the nation and the world (Chai & Chai, 1965). Self is relational, and it is defined by the surrounding relations (Gao, 1998). In Chinese culture, the social and moral process of ‘conducting oneself’ is to be aware of one’s relations with others. Chinese people can never separate themselves from obligation to others. (p. 20)

The value placed on relations to others defining the self relates closely to the concept of “face.” Face is lost when one behaves badly in class. This has an inevitable effect on WtC “it seems likely that Chinese students would be even more sensitive to the judgment of the public upon their language behaviors and, therefore, lesses likely to get involved in classroom communication.” Not incidentally, Wen and Clement identify a cultural trait that places value on resisting “outsider culture,” which may result in additional difficulty in adapting to different norms of verbal participation (p. 21-22).

The second major factor detailed in this study is submission in learning:

The tendency of Chinese teachers to play an authoritative role and of Chinese students to submit to authority in the process of learning goes back to Confucianism and the teaching of Confucian Classics. In Imperial China, ‘the whole process of learning and education was oriented to the mechanical memorisation of ideals of antiquity, principally the Four Books and Five Great Classics’ (Pratt, 1992: 302) (p. 22).

To perhaps oversimplify, rigid adherence to infallible ancient teachings was believed to result in virtuous behavior and wisdom. Submission to canonical texts and to the teachers who had mastered them was then valued more than individuals’ participation and questioning.

Submission in learning deeply shapes how Chinese students engage in the American ESL classroom. The teacher is seen as the source of all knowledge, so Chinese students will not value partner and small group work as highly. This also accounts of “the enthusiasm for grammar, the ‘law’ of the English language.” Accuracy is valued much more than fluency. The resulting lack of fluency further diminishes students’ willingness to communicate (p. 23).

WTC in Japanese contexts

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan) or MEXT, as Yashima (2002) noted, has, for a number of years, begun to place a greater emphasis on communication in the L2. Prior to this, English education in Japanese classrooms was, and still is for many, considered a knowledge-based subject, like mathematics and sciences. Grammar and vocabulary have been learnt to solve increasingly complex linguistic puzzles — entrance exams — which had significant consequences for the test takers, and because they are still used today, still do.

According to MEXT guidelines, however, the objectives for the study of foreign languages is to develop practical communication abilities, deepen the understanding of foreign cultures and foster positive attitudes toward communicating in an L2. Despite the stated goals and objectives in MEXT's guidelines, Fujita (2002) cautioned, however, that as yet there is no clear “consensus as to the purpose of learning English in Japan” (p. 19).

Yashima asked with whom and for what purposes Japanese will communicate in their L2. "For many learners, English symbolizes the world around Japan, something that connects them to foreign countries and foreigners […], with whom they can communicate by using English" (p. 57). Yashima called this desire by Japanese to learn English to communicate with the world around them international posture: a general attitude towards the international community that "influences motivation [in learning an L2], which, in turn, predicts proficiency and L2 communication confidence" (Yashima, 2002, p. 63).

International posture, along with L2 confidence in communication, was also seen as directly influencing WTC. While proficiency was seen as influencing confidence in L2 communication, the path was not significant. In the Japanese context, this implies that students do have the abilities to perform in the L2, yet lack confidence in communicating in the L2.

Yashima (2002) concluded with a call that "EFL lessons should be designed to enhance students’ interest in different cultures and international affairs and activities, as well as to reduce anxiety and build confidence in communication" (p. 63).

Difference between L1 and L2 WTC

MacIntyre, Clément, Dörnyei & Noels (1998) noted that WTC in first language (L1) does not necessarily transfer to the L2. “It is highly unlikely that WTC in the second language (L2) is a simple manifestation of WTC in the L1” (p. 546).

Hashimoto (2002) investigated affective variables as predictors of use of the L2 in the L2 classroom. In her study of advanced-level (500+ on the TOEFL) Japanese students studying at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, the path between perceived competence and greater frequency of use of the L2 was not significant. She suggested that less able students would be willing to speak in class if they perceived themselves as competent, but more able students would not.

Engendering WTC

There exist a variety of strategies to increase students' willingness to communicate in the classroom:

  • Enable students' interest in foreign affairs and foreign cultures to grow.
  • Remove students' anxiety and build their confidence in using the L2.
  • Build on students' knowledge.
  • Before students are asked to complete tasks in a large-group setting, have them perform the task in pairs.
  • Use authentic materials in the classroom.
  • Use a variety of activities and tasks.

See also


  1. ^ Wen, W. & Clement, R. (2003) “A Chinese Conceptualisation of Willingness to Communicate in ESL.” Language, Culture and Curriculum, 16, 18-38.
  • Fujita, M. (2002). Second Language English Attrition of Japanese Bilingual Children. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Tokyo, Japan.
  • Hashimoto, Y. (2002). Motivation and Willingness to Communicate as Predictors of Reported L2 Use: the Japanese ESL Context. Second Language Studies, 20 (2), Spring 2002, pp. 29-70.
  • MacIntyre, P.D., Clément, R., Dörnyei, Z., & Noels, K.A. (1998). Conceptualizing willingness to communicate in a L2: A situational model of L2 confidence and affiliation. The Modern Language Journal, 82 (4), 545-562.
  • McCroskey, J., Burroughs, N., Daun, A., & Richmond, V. (1990) “Correlates of Quietness: Swedish and American Perspectives.” Communication Quarterly, 38, 127-137.
  • Wen, W. & Clement, R. (2003) “A Chinese Conceptualisation of Willingness to Communicate in ESL.” Language, Culture and Curriculum, 16, 18-38.
  • Yashima, T. (2002). Willingness to Communicate in a Second Language: The Japanese EFL Context. The Modern Language Journal, 86 (1), 54-66.

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