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Anxiety;Foreign Language Anxiety;Public Speaking Anxiety;Self-Talk


Julie Hakim-Larson



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Public speaking is a commonly required skill within academic and workplace settings, and the ability to confidently and effectively communicate orally in group contexts is highly valued. However, public speaking is uncomfortable for many individuals, often associated with behavioural, cognitive, and physiological manifestations of anxiety. This discomfort may be even greater in individuals who are required to speak in a language in which they do not feel adequately proficient. Given the importance of oral communication skills within academic, workplace, and community settings, it is imperative that individuals are able to effectively regulate this anxiety response. One way in which an individual might regulate is through the use of self-talk (i.e., talking silently to oneself; Bivens & Berk, 1990). The current two-phase study was conducted over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic (2021-2022). The primary purpose was to determine the influence that particular domains of self-talk (i.e., self-criticism, self-reinforcement, self-management, social-assessment; Brinthaupt et al., 2009) have on public speaking anxiety in a diverse group of undergraduate students. A secondary purpose of the current study was to determine the influence of English language proficiency on the use of self-talk, level of public speaking anxiety, and degree of foreign language anxiety. This was achieved, in part, by having participants with varying degrees of English language proficiency give an oral presentation in English in a virtual format. The current study utilized a concurrent design using a parallel approach, wherein quantitative and qualitative data were collected during the same period of time and integrated after data collection. Participants in Phase 1 (N = 365) ranged in age from 18 to 50 years (39 male, 319 female, 3 non-binary individuals). The participants’ self-reported self-critical self-talk and self-reinforcing self-talk predicted all domains of public speaking anxiety (i.e., total, behavioural, cognitive, physiological). Self-reported social-assessing self-talk predicted behavioural and cognitive domains of public speaking anxiety, whereas self-managing self-talk did not predict any domains of public speaking anxiety. Degree of English language proficiency did not predict total public speaking anxiety. Participant gender predicted willingness to participate in Phase 2 of the current study, while other variables of interest (i.e., total public speaking anxiety, English proficiency, previous experience) did not. Participants in Phase 2 (N = 21) ranged in age from 19 to 37 years (1 male, 19 female, 1 non-binary individual); they completed a virtual public speaking task and responded to interview questions. An inductive thematic analysis was conducted on the interview responses, and five themes were identified: 1) Self-Assessment of Task Competence, (2) “I Did Not Like That”: Experience and Drivers of Public Speaking Anxiety, (3) “It Added On The Original Stress”: The Impact of Language Proficiency, (4) “It Was Both Helping and Hindering”: The Role of Self-Talk in Managing and Exacerbating Anxiety, and (5) “Focus On Getting It Done”: Attempts at Problem-Focused Coping. Findings of the current study have a number of clinical and theoretical implications, including supporting the relation between both positive and negative self-talk with managing or exacerbating public speaking anxiety, and highlighting the importance of considering cultural and linguistic diversity when addressing public speaking anxiety.