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Drinkwater & Vreken




Mrs. Marlize Drinkwater & Prof Nic Vreken

School of Teacher Education
Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education
Potchefstroom, RSA

1 introduction

A better quality of life and a sound education are inseparable. Education could either refer to informal or incidental education occuring in the child’s home or to more formal education offered by institutions like the school. In both these cases communication is the most powerful "tool" used to educate and to teach. In fact, teaching is regarded as a particular kind of communication which is qualified by its aim of enabling the learner(s) to perform certain learning tasks (Drinkwater, 1997:vi).

This paper deals with a phenomenan called communication apprehension (CA) which is described by McCroskey (1984:13) as "an individual’s level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons". Apart from a severe feeling of discomfort a person with high levels of CA experiences when communicating, certain physiological effects could also be present like rapid beating of the heart, some shakiness, a dry mouth and increased perspiration.

People with high levels of CA would as a result of their fear or anxiety try to avoid communication where possible, like choosing careers where communication plays a minor role, or choose a seat in a classroom or meeting where they would not be very conspicuous. They would try to withdraw from communication by saying absolutely that which is necessary or speak only when called upon. Disruption of communication could even take place by people with high levels of CA, by stuttering when called upon or pretending not to know the answer to a question put to them (Richmond & McCroskey, 1989:6061).

Apart from what has been mentioned above, research indicates that people with high levels of CA generally have lower self-esteem, do not occupy managerial posts, are not very assertive and students’ academical achievements are lower than those with average to low levels of CA (Richmond & McCroskey, 1989:52-59).

At this stage it should be clear the CA does influence the quality of life of individuals and has a detrimental effect on especially interpersonal relationships of which the relationship between educator and educand is certainly one of the most important.

2 what exactly is CA?

As mentioned earlier, CA is a feeling of discomfort experienced by individuals when communicating with others.

According to Richmond and McCroskey (1989:49-51) four categories of CA could be distinguished:

On one side of a continuum there is traitlike CA "a relatively enduring personlality-type orientation towards a given mode of communication across a wide variety of contexts" (McCroskey, 1984:16). Traitlike CA could be changed when treated, but shows resistance towards change. Context-based CA is an anxiety experienced by people in a certain context (like a fear for public speaking) - "... a relatively enduring personality-type orientation towards communication in a given context" (McCroskey, 1984:16). The third category is audience-based CA which is situation-spesific and usually not the same from one person to another. Fear is experienced when communicating with a spesific individual or group of individuals across time. Examples might be the talking of an employee to the boss or students to teachers. Audience-based CA is a relatively enduring orientation towards communication with a given person or group of people" (McCroskey, 1984:17). On the far side of the continuum situational CA is found and is experienced only with a given individual or group in a single situation. An example here could be a student who is suspected of cheating in a test and called by the teacher. Such a student could experience CA in that specific situation - "a trasitory orientation towards communication with a given person or group of people (McCroskey, 1984:17).

Before discussing some of the results obtained through our research at the Faculty, let’s briefly discuss possible causes of CA.

3 causes of CA

According to Daly (1986:24-25) there could be four possible causes of CA, being:

a genetic one
the critical role of reinforcement
inadequate skill development and
the absence of adequate communication models.

Let me explain:


Social biologists have determined that infants already differ with regard to their "sociability". This could influence their interaction with their environment and eventually lead to lower or higher levels of CA (McCroskey, 1984:23-24).


Reinforcement could be understood in the strict behaviouristic sense of the word, in other words children who were/are rewarded for communication communicate all the more while children who were/are punished would eventually develop high levels of CA and withdraw from communication.

According to McCroskey (1984:25-30) the situation is more complicated that this. People develop certain expectations with regard to other people and situations. If people in a child’s environment don’t act according to a consistent pattern - in other words the child is sometimes rewarded and other times punished for the same behaviour or this behaviour is even sometimes ignored, the child gets confused. This leads to learned helplessness and negative expectations which are according to McCroskey (1984:29) the foundational components of CA.

Let us look at a practical example of a student making an attempt to deliver a speech in his/her second language. The person may not be very fluent in this spsific language and makes a few mistakes and is consequently laughed at by class mates or even punished (marks subtracted) by the teacher. This negative reinforcement may lead to high levels of CA. If a child is one day rewarded when speaking to his mother, like being encouraged to say more and the next day told to keep quiet, he will get confused and later resort to learned helplessness.

iInadequate skill development

People with high levels of CA tend to avoid communication and communicate all the less with the result that they develop inadequate communication skills. The absence of these skills increases levels of CA again - a vicious circle.

The absence of adequate role models

Children observe the communication behaviour of people in their environment and try to emulate it. If a child has parents and/or teachers with high levels of CA who don’t communicate much he might follow suit.

Obviously one factor alone could not be singled out as that cause of CA of a spesific person, but they are closely related to each other.

4 the influence of ca on the teaching-learning situation

Let us look briefly at the possible affects of CA concerning the pupil/student.

If students with high CA could choose their subjects they would prefer those where communication played a minor role. They also prefer larger classes where the possibilities of communication are minimized. The lecture type of classes are preferred where they could only take notes. High levels of CA would even influence their choice of seating in the classroom. They rather sit along the sides where the probability of the teacher calling on them would be less (McCroskey, 1989:52-54).

Students with high CA tend to have a higher dropout rate than students with low levels of CA (McCroskey, Booth-Butterfield and Payne, 1989:100).

Concerning their academic achievement pupils/students with high levels of CA tend to achieve worse than those with low levels of CA (Bourhis and Allen, 1992:68).

Some possible explanations for the lower academic achievement of the high communication apprehension could be the following:

they prefer not to interact and don’t ask questions even if they don’t understand the work
teachers tend to have negative expectations of students with high levels of CA (McCroskey and Daly, 1976:67) - the Pygmalion effect in the classroom comes into being
students with high levels of CA tend to have lower self-esteems than those with low CA (McCroskey, Daly, Richmond and Falcione, 1977:269). Low self-esteem on its turn influences academic acheivement negatively.

Not only the student, but also the teacher could be influenced by CA. The close relationship between teaching and communication has already been pointed out. Teachers having high levels of CA would experience more difficulty with their teaching than those with low CA.

5 The measurement of CA

The method used mostly to measure CA is by using a questionnaire to be completed by an individual reporting on his own level of CA or lack thereof. McCroskey (1978:192 and further) has developed a questionnaire, the PRCA (Personal Report of Communication Apprehension) which is found a valid and reliable instrument to measure CA and which has been used in studies world wide.

The instrument measures CA in four different contexts:

group discussion
interpersonal conversations and public speaking
public speaking

In the research done at the PU for CHE we use this instrument as a basis but added a fifth context, performance in the classroom.

6. research done at the PU for CHE

Van Staden (1994) has done research on the CA of student teachers at the Mamokgalake Chuence College of Education and obtained the following results concerning CA in the mother tongue and English (second language).

Although the respondents have been taught by medium of English since standard three (fifth school year) they still experience higher levels of CA in the second language than in their mother tongue.

Table 6.1 shows some of the results obtained by Van Staden (1994:61)

  Mother tongue English (second language)


45,7% 46,6%


49,5% 51,7%

Table 6.1 Level of CA experienced by student teachers at Mamokgalake
Chuene College of Education

Drinkwater (1996) conducted a research project and measured the CA levels of student teachers at the Potchefstroom University over a period of five years and found that 15,4% of student teachers experienced high levels of CA. She established though that there is a decrease in the levels of CA after each of the two practical teaching sessions. For detail on this table 6.2 could be studied.



Males Females


49,6% 51,3%


47,2% 45,9%


43,1% 42,8%

Table 6.2 Percentage of CA for periods after practical teaching of HED-students.

So far for student teachers. Let us take a look what has been found regarding secondary school pupils. Pretorius (1997) conducted a study in which the CA of pupils in four historically white schools was measured and found that 15,9% of the students experienced high levels of CA, but very important that students who average 0-49% academically had the highest levels of CA (Pretorius, 1997:78).

Malimabe (1997) did research in historically black secondary schools in Qwaqwa and found that students’ levels of CA differ within different language contexts.

See table 6.3 for detail.

Language % CA
Afrikaans (3rd language) 57,23%
English (2nd language) 51,94%
Sesotho (mother tongue) 51,08%

Table 6.3 Percentage of CA for different language contexts (Historically black secondary schools)

The following conclusions could be drawn:

a fair amount of student teachers as well as secondary school teachers experience high levels of CA
practical teaching seems to help decrease the levels of CA of student teachers
secondary school students experiencing the highest levels of CA fare worst academically
levels of CA might differ in different language contexts.

7 some measures to be taken to reduce ca in classrooms

Students should not be punished for communicating in classrooms.
Students, teachers as well as student teachers experiencing high levels of CA should be identified and helped to overcome this.
McCroskey (1977:33) indicates that levels of CA increase if stdents are forced to speak in classrooms - therefore this practice should be avoided.
Let students choose their seats in a classroom so that those with high levels of CA could sit where they feel safe.
Create a warm and supportive classroom climate, where students feel free to speak out and where they are allowed to make mistakes.
In teacher training particular attention should be paid to developing the communication skills of teachers to be, because of the fact that they are going to serve as role models for students.
The value of practical teaching should not be underestimated for it seems that the practical experience student teachers obtain helps to reduce levels of CA.

8 Conclusion

CA is a phenomenan that definitely influences the quality of life of people and in schools we should try to prevent and/or surmount this where possible.


Bourhis, J. and Allen, M. 1992. Meta-analysis of the relationship between communication apprehension and cognitive performance. Communication Education, 41(1):68-72.

Daly, J.A. 1986. Communication apprehension in the college classroom. New Directions for teaching and learning, 26:21-31.

Drinkwater, M. 1997. Die aard en omvang van kommunikasievrees van HOD-studente. Potchefstroom: PU vir CHO. (M. Ed. Dissertation). 92p.

Malimabe, M.M. 1997. Communication Apprehension in Qwaqwa secondary schools. Potchefstroom: PU vir CHO. (M. Ed. Dissertation). 103 p.

McCroskey, J.C. & Daly, J.A. 1976. Teachers’ expectations of the communication apprehensive child in the elementary school. Human communication research, 3(1):67-72.

McCroskey, J.C. 1977. Classroom consequences of communication apprehension. Communication education, 26:27-33, Jan.

McCroskey, J.C. 1984. The communication apprehension perspective. (In Daly J.A., and McCroskey, J.C. (eds.) apprehension. Avoiding communication. Shyness, reticence, and communication apprehension. Beverley Hills: Sage Publications. p. 13-38.))

McCroskey, J.C., Booth-Butterfield, S. and Payne, S.K. 1989. The impact of communication apprehension on college student retention and success. Communication Quarterly, 37(2):100-107, Spring.

McCroskey, J.C., Daly, J.A., Richmond, V.P. and Falcione, R.L. 1977. Studies of the relationship between communication apprehension and self-esteem. Human communication research, 3(3):269-277, Spring.

McCroskey, J.C., Daly, J.A., Richmond, V.P. and Falcione, R.L. 1986. One on one: the foundations of interpersonal communication. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. 294p.

Pretorius, H.A. 1997. Die verband tussen kommunikasievrees van Afrikaanssprekende hoŽrskoolleerlinge en skolastiese prestasie. Potchefstroom: PU vir CHO. (M. Ed. Dissertation) 100 p.

Richmond, V.P. and McCroskey, J.C. Communication apprehension, avoidance and effectiveness. 1989. Scottsdale, AZ: Gorsuch Scarisbrick Publishers. 138 p.



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