This chapter is divided into four parts. The first part initially discusses the construct of self-efficacy in the social cognitive theory. Then, definitions and properties of self-efficacy, characteristics of high and low self-efficacious individuals, the sources of self-efficacy and the difference between this construct and other similar constructs are discussed. Moreover, the last section of the first part is devoted to the role of self-efficacy in second/foreign language achievement and proficiency in general and in specific skills. The second part is devoted to the definitions of language learning strategies and their classifications. Moreover, the role of language learning strategies in second/foreign language proficiency and achievement and the relationship between language learning strategies and self-efficacy are discussed in this part, too. The third part is devoted to the construct of anxiety in general and foreign language anxiety in particular. In this part, definitions and classifications of anxiety, the role of anxiety in second/foreign language achievement and proficiency and the relationship between foreign language anxiety and self-efficacy are discussed. The last part discusses the concept of listening comprehension and how it is related to the three constructs of self-efficacy, language learning strategies, and foreign language anxiety.
To understand the concept of self-efficacy better, one must consider the theoretical framework of social cognitive theory. Bandura (1986, 1997) considers the social cognitive theory as a theory of human functioning. Based on this theory, human functioning can be explained through the operation of three factors that interact with each other. One factor is what Chomsky refers to as cognition, and Bandura in the social cognitive theory refers to as personal factors. Another factor is what Skinner referred to as environment and the third factor is what Bandura refers to as behavior. Bandura (1986) believed in the concept of “triadic reciprocality” in the social cognitive theory. This refers to the interaction among personal, behavioral and environmental factors. Moreover, an individual’s behavior is determined by the interaction of the above mentioned factors. In this theory, individuals are considered as proactive, self-regulating, self-organizing and self-reflecting rather than reactive ones and controlled by biological or environmental forces.
Based on the social cognitive theory, individuals have a system of self-belief or a self-system that enables them to control their actions, feelings, thoughts, and motivation (Bandura, 1986; Pajares, 1997). This self-system makes it possible for individuals to make choices, choose their courses of actions, self-examine the adequacy of their behavior, interpret the outcomes, develop beliefs about their capabilities, and store this information to be used as a guide for future behavior (Bandura, 1986). Bandura (1997) considered the practice of self-reflection as the most influential mediator of human functioning and among the most arbiters of self-reflection are perceptions of self-efficacy.
Bandura (1986) considers self-efficacy as the main feature in the social cognitive theory. Based on the social cognitive theory, self-efficacy is the primary determinant of an individual’s motivation to act. Bandura (1986) defines self-efficacy as “people’s judgment of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances. It is not concerned with the skills one has but with the judgment of what can one do with whatever skills one possesses” (p. 391).
Besides Bandura, many researchers have provided different definitions of self-efficacy but most of them are based on Bandura’s definition. Delcourt and Kinzie (1993) stated that “self-efficacy reflects an individual’s confidence in his or her ability to perform the behavior required to produce specific outcomes” (p. 36). Huang and Shanmao (1996) defined self-efficacy expectations as “the beliefs about one’s ability to perform a given task or behavior successfully” (p. 3). Schunk (2001) considers self-efficacy as “beliefs about one’s capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at designated levels” (p. 126). Moreover; Baron and Byrne (2004) identified three kinds of self-efficacy: Social self-efficacy, self-regulatory self-efficacy and academic self-efficacy. They considered social self-efficacy as the ability to maintain relationships, engage in social activities, and become assertive. They referred to the self-regulatory self-efficacy as the ability to be curious, think carefully, and avoid high-risk activities. Finally, they considered academic self-efficacy as the ability to take part in learning activities, regulate the learning activities and meet expectations.
Self-efficacy beliefs are not dependent on one’s abilities but instead on what one believes may be accomplished with one’s personal skills. Moreover, Bandura (1997) believed that there is a major difference between possessing skills and being able to use them in different situations. And that is why, different people with similar skills or the same person on different occasions may perform differently. Bandura (1997) mentioned that self-efficacy beliefs are distinguished from the skills one possesses, although they may be influenced by the acquisition of skills. That is why he assumed that self-efficacy beliefs are often better predictors of success than prior accomplishments, skills, or knowledge. For example, in educational settings, students’ self-efficacy mediates between the several determinants of competence (e.g., skills, knowledge, ability, or previous achievements) and their subsequent performances (Bandura, 2006; Schunk & Pajares, 2001).
Bandura (1997) mentioned that optimistic efficacy beliefs maintain and enhance motivation, and boost performance. Optimistic self-efficacy beliefs are instrumental to the successful completion of challenging tasks. These beliefs may increase effort and persistence and promote accomplishment in challenging circumstances. In academic settings, these beliefs seem to be necessary for attempting novel tasks or for learning new materials. He also stated that “innovativeness requires an unshakable sense of efficacy to persist in creative endeavors when they demand prolonged investment of time and effort” (Bandura, 1997, p. 239).
Self-efficacy is not a fixed ability that individuals have or don’t have in their repertoire of behaviors. But it is a “generative capability in which cognitive, social, emotional and behavioral sub-skills must be organized and effectively orchestrated to serve innumerable purposes (Bandura, 1997, p.36). Bandura (1997) believed that the sense of self-efficacy influences individuals’ motivations, the goal they set, the effort they expend to achieve their goals and their willingness to persist in the face of difficulties and failures. For example, in an educational setting, students who have the sense of self-efficacy in their academic skills expect high marks on exams and expect the quality of their work to gain benefits for them.
Another feature of self-efficacy is that it is task and domain specific. In other words, it refers to specific judgment of a specific situation and it is not a context-free disposition. A high sense of efficacy in one domain does not necessarily mean high sense of self-efficacy in another domain. And this is why measures of self-efficacy must determine the domains of action. In educational settings, self-efficacy beliefs are more specific and situational judgments of capabilities (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996; Bong, 2006; Pajares, 1997).
In academic settings, according to Bandura (1986), self-efficacy refers to judgment of confidence to perform academic tasks or succeed in academic activities. Self-efficacy beliefs are also hypothesized to mediate the influence of other determinants of academic outcomes such as skills or past performance on subsequent actions. Efficacy beliefs also act in concert with other common mechanisms of personal agency such as self-concept beliefs, anxiety, and self-regulatory practices in influencing and predicting academic outcomes. Also, Bandura (1997) mentioned that in such settings self-efficacy affects students’ aspirations, their level of interest in academic work and accomplishments and how well they prepare themselves for future careers. He identified two types of efficacy in such settings: One refers to achievement in specific subject area such as language or science and the second refers to self-regulated learning and the extent to which an individual feels successful on tasks that generalize across academic domains.
Bandura (1997) stated that people usually tend to become involved in and perform activities that they judge themselves capable of managing, but they tend to avoid those situations that are threatening and they believe exceed their skills and abilities. In an educational setting, a learner is more likely to exert effort to engage in an assigned learning task when he or she sees him/herself capable of accomplishing it. When facing with difficult situations, those who have a stronger sense of self-efficacy tend to make greater efforts to deal with challenges. But those who have a lower sense of efficacy are likely to avoid engaging in a difficult task or even not try hard enough to accomplish the task. Avoiding difficult tasks leads to lower success and this, in itself, leads to even lower sense of self-efficacy.
Based on the researches done in the area of self-efficacy, there are major differences between those with high and low sense of self-efficacy. High self-efficacious people exert more attention, effort and persistence in the case of difficulties than people with lower sense of self-efficacy. Those with high sense of efficacy work harder than their low self-efficacy peers. When those with low sense of self-efficacy fail, they often put the blame for their failure on everything except their own shortcoming. High self-efficacious people set more challenging goals for themselves than low self-efficacious ones.
People with high sense of self-efficacy outperform those with low sense of self-efficacy and they employ more strategies to accomplish their goals (Bandura & Locke, 2003; Latham, 2004; Locke & Latham, 1990). Pajares (2006) reported that students with high sense of self-efficacy, regardless of previous successes or abilities, persist in the face of adversity. Moreover, these students are more optimistic and have lower stress levels and achieve more. Pajares and Schunk (2001) stated that the higher the sense of efficacy, the more energy and effort are used to keep trying tasks or situations that may be more difficult and challenging in nature. They believed that in educational settings, a self-efficacious student takes academic risks, sets goals for him/herself, compares him/herself to other peers, maintains routines, and keeps track of what works well and what doesn’t regarding academic and social progress. A self-efficacious person may not have the highest grades in the class, but he/she believes in his or her own abilities to accomplish tasks, to find the right answer, to meet goals and often to surpass other peers. Schunk (1983) stated that a heightened sense of efficacy sustains task involvement and results in greater achievement and lower perceptions of efficacy lead to less persistence and lower achievement.
Regarding the difference between high and low sense of self-efficacy, Bandura (1997) stated that self-efficacy beliefs influence individuals’ pursued courses of action, effort expended in given endeavors, persistence in the confrontation of obstacles, and resilience to adversity. Self-efficacious individuals will, therefore, approach challenges with the intention and anticipation of mastery, intensifying their efforts and persistence accordingly. These individuals rapidly recover their lowered sense of self-efficacy after enduring failure or difficulty, and attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge. Students with a high level of self-efficacy perceive tough tasks as challenges. They also have higher motivation to conquer the difficulties and more confidence to accomplish demanding tasks. On the contrary, students with low sense of self-efficacy regard things as harder than they really are; they do not perceive their efforts can lead to better results, so they have less motivation to devote time to demanding tasks. He also stated that self-efficacy is a factor that can differentiate successful learners from unsuccessful ones. Eggen and Kauchak (2004) mentioned that students who have high self-efficacy are more willing to accept a challenging task, work harder, have a calmer disposition despite experiencing failure in the beginning, practice effective learning strategies, and generally generate better performance than students who have low self-efficacy, even if they have the same ability and skill.
Finally, Bandura (1997) describes the feature of self-efficacious learners as follow: self-efficacious learners feel confident about solving a problem because they have developed an approach to problem solving that has worked in the past. They attribute their success mainly to their own efforts and strategies, believe that their own abilities will improve as they learn more, and recognize that errors are part of learning. Students with low self-efficacy believe that they have inherent low ability, choose less demanding tasks and do not try hard because they believe that any effort will reveal their own lack of ability (p. 3).
People get their self-efficacy information from four different sources: Mastery experiences, vicarious (observational) experiences, verbal persuasions, and physiological reactions or states (Alderman, 2004; Bandura, 1997; Ormrod, 2003; Pajares, 2003; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002; Zimmerman, 2001).
The first source of self-efficacy is a mastery experience which is, according to Bandura (1997), the most influential source of efficacy information. Mastery experiences are prior performances that may be interpreted positively or negatively. Successful performances strengthen personal efficacy beliefs while failed performances undermine one’s sense of self-efficacy. Successful performances lead to the anticipation of future success. Therefore, the information which is gathered from mastery experiences provides a reliable base from which one can evaluate self-efficacy and predict successful performance of future tasks. According to Palmer (2006), mastery experiences are the most powerful sources of creating a strong sense of efficacy because they provide students authentic evidence that they have the capability to succeed at the task. In educational settings or academic contexts, the previous success of a learner is the most influential source of self-efficacy beliefs.
The second source of information for self-efficacy is vicarious experiences. It refers to the appraisal of one’s own capabilities in relation to the accomplishment of peers. One can manage a task and foster the belief that he/she might possess similar capabilities by observing the success of comparable peers. Also, observation of the failure of a comparable peer can undermine an individual’s perception of the ability to succeed. So, vicarious experience may affect efficacy positively or negatively.
The third source of self-efficacy comes from verbal persuasion. It refers to the people’s judgments of other’s ability to accomplish a given task. Verbal persuasion is a weaker source of efficacy information in comparison to mastery or vicarious experiences. Verbal persuasion can be in the form of performance feedback or encouragement in overcoming obstacles. Positive verbal messages can lead to successful performances in future. On the other hand, negative persuasion can hinder the development of stronger sense of self-efficacy.
The last source of self-efficacy information is physiological or emotional states of people such as stress, anxiety, or fatigue in judging their capabilities. Physiological and emotional states can lead both to an expectation for failure or enhancing beliefs for future success. According to Bandura (1997), high emotional arousal can undermine performance and people are more likely to expect success when they are not troubled by aversive arousal than when they are tense and emotionally agitated.
Finally, it should be mentioned that self-efficacy beliefs do not come from a single source of the above mentioned information, but it is through the selection, integration and interpretation of information from these diverse sources that one’s sense of self-efficacy is formed (Bandura, 1997).
There are some constructs such as self-esteem, self-concept, and confidence that have fuzzy boundaries with self-efficacy or seem to constitute a conceptual overlap with it. The common feature of all these constructs is that they all refer to beliefs about perceived ability but what distinguishes self-efficacy from them is the idea that it refers to specific types of performance and explicit desired goals or results (Pajares, 1996).
The main difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy is that self-esteem is a personal trait while self-efficacy is not. Self-esteem is a more emotional response to self while self-efficacy applies to specific fields of human behavior. Self-efficacy is the assessment of one’s capabilities while self-esteem is the assessment of one’s self-worth (Epstein & Morling, 1995; Maddux, 1995). According to Zimmerman and Cleary (2006), self-esteem is an affective reaction indicating how a person feels about him or herself whereas self-efficacy involves cognitive judgments of personal capacity. They stated that self-esteem is not a predictor of academic performance while self-efficacy is.
The main difference between confidence and self-efficacy is that self-efficacy is the belief in one’s power to achieve certain levels of performances while confidence does not involve the person’s power or ability to perform at a certain level (Epstein & Morling, 1995).
According to Pajares and Schunk (2001), an individual’s self-concept involves evaluation of self-worth and it takes the cultural and social values into consideration. Self-concept has an indirect influence on performance while self-efficacy due to its task-specific nature can predict performance more easily than generalized measures of self-esteem, self-concept or anxiety (Zimmerman & Cleary, 2006). Bong and Skaalvik (2003) argued that self-efficacy can be seen as providing a basis for the development of self-concept. Moreover, Pajares (2003) stated that writing self-efficacy is a significant predictor of achievement in writing while writing self-concept beliefs are not.
Based on the properties of self-efficacy mentioned above, it seems that it plays a great role in determining individuals’ behavior in their daily lives and especially in educational and academic settings. In this part the role of self-efficacy in individuals’ achievement and proficiency will be elaborated and some major relevant studies will be reviewed. Some of these studies focus on the predictive power of self-efficacy in individuals’ achievement.
Bandura (1986) assumed self-efficacy to be a much more consistent predictor of behavior than any other closely related variables. He mentioned that “many students have difficulty not because they are incapable of performing successfully, but because they are incapable of believing that they can perform successfully, that they have learned to see themselves as incapable of handling academic skills”(p. 390). Some researchers (e.g., Bandura, 1997; Pajares, 1997; Schunk, 1989; Zimmerman, 1995) assumed that self-efficacy, which is an individual’s judgment about his or her abilities to perform a given task can be a better predictor of success than his/her actual abilities because they considered self-efficacy a critical determinant of behaviors. Some studies that have been done in the educational settings (e.g, Berry, 1987; Schunk, 1989) have shown that when learners have the same skills or they are at the same level of cognitive skill development, their performance can be different depending on their self-efficacy beliefs. That is why, Pajares (1997) stated that people’s prior accomplishments or actual abilities are not always good predictors of their subsequent success because the beliefs they hold about their abilities influence their subsequent behavior.
But some researchers (e.g, Carmichael & Taylor, 2005; Mills, 2004) warned that measuring self-efficacy in educational settings before the target skills are acquired cannot be considered as a good predictor of achievement. For example, in Mills’ (2004) study, self-efficacy was measured at the beginning of a semester when the participants had not acquired the required skills to perform the tasks. So, the result revealed that self-efficacy did not predict the final grade. According to Zimmerman and Kitsantas (2005), self-efficacy can better predict or explain subsequent performance when the students are familiar with the necessary skills to perform the task being measured. Schunk (1999) also warned that high self-efficacy beliefs will not produce competent performance if students lack necessary skills. For example, Chen (2003) found that the impact of students’ self-efficacy beliefs on their math performance was greater when they possessed underlying math skills.
Multon, Brown, and Lent (1991) after doing a meta-analysis of self-efficacy research found a positive and significant relationship between self-efficacy beliefs and academic performance. Moreover, they indicated that self-efficacy was strongly related to student performance in a variety of subject matters. They reported that self-efficacy beliefs accounted for approximately 14% of the variance in students’ academic performance. Graham and Weiner (1996) found that self-efficacy beliefs more consistently predicted academic performance than other motivational constructs.
Recently, several researchers (e.g, Maddux & Gosselin, 2003; Skaalvik & Bong, 2003) have shown that students’ academic self-efficacy is predictive of their study behavior as well as academic outcomes. Self-efficacy has consistently been shown to be positively associated with general academic achievement (e.g., Jackson, 2002; Lane & Lane, 2001) and with performance in several specific domains, including math (Pajares & Miller, 1995), and writing (Pajares, 2003; Pajares, Britner, & Valiante, 2000). Some recent studies have found a consistent link between having a high sense of self-efficacy and achievement and the fact that efficacy beliefs are one of the most important predictors of motivation and performance (Bong, 2002; Pajares, 1996; Robbins, et al., 2004; Schunk & Pajares, 2001). Also, Mills, et al. (2006) found that a stronger sense of self-efficacy leads to higher levels of achievement, greater willingness to face challenges and to exert effort.
Many researchers indicated that self-efficacy has a stronger effect on academic performance than other motivational beliefs and it is found to have critical effects on various types of academic learning (Gibson, Randel, & Earley, 2000; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). Yazici, Seyis, and Altur (2011) found that self-efficacy beliefs are the most powerful predictors of academic achievements. Yang (2004) and Wong (2005) stated that students learning outcome is influenced by their perceived sense of self-efficacy. Moreover, Yang (2004) asserted that students learning attitudes, learning behaviors or even learning performances are affected by their sense of self-efficacy. Wong (2005) has shown that students’ performance can be facilitated by the enhancement of their sense of self-efficacy. Pajares (2002) mentioned that students’ academic self-efficacy influence their academic achievements in several ways. It influences the choices students make and the courses of action they pursue. In situations that students have free choices, they tend to engage in tasks about which they feel confident and avoid those in which they don’t. It also helps to determine how much effort students will expend on an activity, how long they will persevere when facing obstacles and how resilient they will be in the face of adverse situations.
Although considerable research has been done to study self-efficacy in educational and academic settings, most of these studies have been restricted to the domain of mathematical problem solving and languages other than English. For example, (Britner & Pajares, 2001; Pajares & Graham, 1999) found that perceived self-efficacy of the students mediate between their abilities and their academic performance in mathematics and science. Collins (1982) found that across ability levels, students whose self-efficacy is higher are more accurate in their mathematics computation and show greater persistence on difficult items than do students whose self-efficacy beliefs are low. Pajares and Graham (1999) aimed to determine whether mathematic self-efficacy makes an independent contribution to the prediction of mathematic performance when other motivational variables and previous achievements are controlled. They found that mathematic self-efficacy was the only motivational variable to predict mathematic performance. Ayotola and Adedeji (2009) examined the relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics achievement. The result revealed that there was a strong positive relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and achievement in mathematics. The researchers concluded that self-efficacy beliefs are important components of motivation and of academic achievement. Jaafar and Ayub (2010) also found a positive relationship between mathematics self-efficacy and mathematics performance.
In the case of languages other than English, McCollum (2003) found that the German language self-efficacy was a significant predictor of the semester final grade. In a similar study, Mills (2004) investigated the relationship between French self-efficacy in reading and listening and proficiency in reading and listening. The result of the analysis indicated that French reading self-efficacy was a predictor of French reading proficiency but French listening self-efficacy was not a predictor of proficiency in listening. Mills (2004) assumed that the failure of French listening self-efficacy to predict French listening proficiency may have been partly due to the fact that the critical task measure in the study-that is, listening proficiency test-possessed psychometric flaws.
Recently many researchers have investigated the role of self-efficacy in foreign language settings and the role it plays in the achievement and proficiency in foreign languages specially English. Hsieh and Schallert (2008) examined the relationship between self-efficacy and attribution in a foreign language setting. In their study attribution referred to the explanations individuals give for their success or failure in a particular performance. The result indicated that despite failure in performing the given tasks, students reported the same level of self-efficacy as successful students when they attributed their failure to lack of effort. The researchers concluded that even when students reported having low self-efficacy, helping them view success and failure as an outcome that they can control may increase their expectancy for success and lead to successful experiences.
Wang and Wu (2008) adopted the social cognitive model to investigate the role of self-efficacy on behavioral influences such as feedback behaviors and learning strategies and on environmental influences such as achievement. In the case of behavioral influences, the result indicated that self-efficacy was significantly related to students’ elaborated feedback behaviors and use of learning strategies. However, the results indicated that self-efficacy was not related to students’ academic performance. The researchers argued that this may be due to the domain specific nature of self-efficacy. They assumed that students who lack performance information or experience in the academic domain may form inaccurate estimation of self-efficacy and this may have been the reason why self-efficacy did not predict students’ achievement in this study.
With regard to learning English, Huang and Shanmao (1996) found a relationship between self-efficacy of ESL students and their scores on the reading and writing sections of the TOEFL test. In a similar study, Templin (1999) divided the EFL participants into high and low self-efficacy groups and found a significant difference between the English proficiency of the two groups.
Some researchers studied the role of efficacy in specific skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in English. Pajares (2003) in reviewing the predictive power of self-efficacy in writing found that writing self-efficacy makes an independent contribution to the prediction of writing outcomes and plays a meditational role that social cognitive theorists hypothesized. Moreover, he suggested that instruction in self-regulatory strategies such as goal setting, self-recording progress, revision strategies, and self-evaluating progress may increase both self-efficacy and writing skills.
Shang (2010) investigated the impact of EFL self-efficacy in reading and reading proficiency. He found a correlation between EFL learners’ self-efficacy in reading and their reading proficiency. Recently, Sioson (2011) aimed to determine among the subscales of language learning strategies, beliefs about language learning and anxiety which one is the strongest predictor of performance in an academic speaking context. The result of multiple regression analysis revealed that only the motivation and expectation subscale of beliefs about language learning was the significant predictor of speaking performance. Woodrow (2011) indicated that self-efficacy is a powerful predictor of writing performance than anxiety. According to the finding of his study, highly self-efficacious students performed well in their English writing and showed desirable learning attributes such as exerting effort.
Ghonsooly and Elahi (2010) found a positive relationship between the Iranian EFL learners’ self-efficacy in reading comprehension and their reading achievements. The researchers indicated that high self-efficacious learners performed better than low self-efficacious learners in reading achievements. They concluded that EFL learners’ self-efficacy is an important factor in the achievement of high scores in English language skills such as reading comprehension. Rahemi (2010) studied the self-efficacy of Iranian high school students. The result indicated that students majoring in humanities had a very weak English self-efficacy and held certain negative beliefs about their academic ability as EFL learners. Moreover, a strong correlation was found between their English achievement and sense of self-efficacy. Rahimi and Abedini (2009) explored the role of self-efficacy in listening comprehension of Iranian EFL learners and their listening comprehension test performance. According to the results of the study, there was a significant difference between high and low self-efficacious students in terms of listening comprehension. Moreover, self-efficacy in listening was significantly related to listening proficiency.
In another study, Graham (2006) studied the role of efficacy in the development of listening skills and
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