Annotated Bibliography on Spielmann and Radnofsky’s Learning language under tension

Spielmann, G., & Radnofsky, M. L. (2001). Learning language under tension: New directions from a qualitative study. The Modern Language Journal85(2), 259-278.

Relying on the findings from a 7-weeks intensive beginners’ class in the summer French school of Middlebury college, this article focuses on how tension affects second/foreign language instruction. Spielmann and Radnofsky observed the students, challenging the argument on language anxiety. The authors also questioned the nature of tension in the L2 environment in which these students took French classes for seven weeks. Spielmann and Radnofsky stressed that their research is not concerned with the intersection between tension and achievement but at the quality of learning experience regardless of students’ achievement. However, in their conclusion, they felt that further study should not focus on learners’ success that is not accessed through a test or “the production of discrete linguistic items in a controlled environment” like Middlebury but on the acquisition of the target language (p. 275).

Considering the extensive and close-up observation of the students, the authors found out that the students’ motivation is to become functional as new French speakers and be treated as part of the French community. I see the connection students are trying to make which is what I consider as migrating to a new community; the students are not only acquiring the French language or even seeking to be part of the group of French language speakers. Despite the evidenced struggles of the students, I would argue that the learners are instead seeking to belong to the French community. This idea of “seeking to belong” to the “migrated L2 community” forms part of the idea I am building in my research in which the Spielmann and Radnofsky cited Willet as he argues that language acquisition enables the learner to become part of a sociocultural group (1995, p. 475).

The article provides useful background information on tension and the idea of seeking belonging in the L2 community. Furthermore, the research shares insight into the students’ motivation for the French language. The authors’ findings on language learning and seeking equal treatment by others in the French-speaking community echoes the idea that students migrate to the L2 community in the classroom as they struggle to acquire a second language.



Willett, J. (1995). Becoming first graders in an L2: An ethnography study of L2 socialization. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 473–503.

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