Willingness to communicate in English among secondary school students in the rural Chinese English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom
Willingness to communicate (WTC), an individual difference (ID) variable, has gained an increasing amount of attention in the area of second language acquisition (SLA). Previous research into WTC has mainly focused on its trait disposition as remaining stable across contexts. Only a few studies have investigated the situational nature of WTC. The present study aimed to fill a gap in the literature that led researchers to call for a verification of self-report data by behavioural studies in the classroom to examine situational WTC. This study also attempted to examine the extent to which rural Chinese secondary students’ self-report WTC corresponds to their actual WTC behaviour, and factors that might influence their WTC in an English as a foreign language (EFL) context. A mixed-method approach design was employed in order to explore the different aspects of the WTC construct. Data were collected through a questionnaire, classroom observations, and interviews. The participants, 124 Chinese rural secondary school students, completed the WTC questionnaire. Classroom observations were carried out with four of these participants in order to understand their behavioural WTC. Follow-up interviews were then conducted with these four participants. Findings from this study revealed that the selected rural Chinese students’ self-report WTC did not necessarily predict their actual WTC behaviour, and thus confirming the dual characteristics of WTC. Trait-like WTC could determine an individual’s general tendency to communicate whereas situational WTC predicted the decision to initiate communication within a particular context. A number of factors that appeared to influence their WTC were identified as: self-confidence, self-perceived proficiency, international posture, identity of interlocutors, and parental influence. The results of this study contribute to the theoretical foundation and methodology of the WTC construct. This study has also provided pedagogical implications for English language teachers. The limitations of this study and suggestions for future research were also identified.