Students' and Teachers' Beliefs About Language Learning

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<ul><li><p>Students and Teachers Beliefs About Language Learning </p><p>Richard G. Kern University of California, Berkeley </p><p>ABSTRACT This study compares one group o f students beliefs about language learning with those of their teachers and with those o f their peers at another institution. It furthermore exam- ines change in students beliefs in relation to those of their instructors in an effort to develop hy- potheses about the potential influence of teachers beliefs on students beliefs. Beliefs were assessed by means of the Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory, developed by Horwitz (1 985, 1988) . Results were found to be significantly affected by the type of analysis: global analyses of group means and percentages showed overall similarities between teachers and students beliefs as well as between students pre- and posttest responses, while analyses of in- dividuals and course section groups revealed much greater differences. The findings of the study suggest that teachers beliefs are but one o f many factors that affect students beliefs about language learning and that multivariate research designs are needed to explore with greater precision the complex interrelationships between learners and teachers belief systems. </p><p>Popular conceptions of language learning have a profound influence on all aspects of the language teaching profession. Insiders (learners, teachers, teacher-trainers, materials developers, researchers, specialized agencies, consultants) as well as outsiders (learners peers and families, administrators, lawmakers, government officials) all bring their unique sets of beliefs and attitudes to bear in situa- tions and decisions related to language learn- ing and teaching. Learners and teachers belief systems are of course particularly im- portant to our understanding of language learning in institutional settings. The aim of this study is to consider the beliefs of one group of first-year French students and to compare them to those of students at another institution as well as to those of their teachers. The purpose of this comparison is to assess the degree of variation in beliefs about lan- guage learning within and across two institu- tions and to identify potential mismatches in students and teachers views on language learning. </p><p>Richard G. Kern (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley) is Assistant Professor of French a t t h e University of California, Berkeley. </p><p>Background Research on students beliefs has evolved </p><p>out of a more general interest in learner char- acteristics (including factors such as personal- ity, motivation, learning styles, and language aptitude) as they relate to language acquisi- tion. Rather than treating language learners as a monolithic, homogeneous group, scholars in this area of second language research ex- amine differences among learners, hoping ulti- mately to determine what kinds of instruct- ional environments might best suit different types of individuals. Research on learners b e liefs generally seeks to identify learners pre conceived notions about what is involved in learning a foreign language in order to predict expectational conflicts that may contribute to student frustration, anxiety, lack of motiva- tion, and, in some cases, ending of foreign lan- guage study (e.g., Schumann and Schumann 1977; Schumann 1980) .* </p><p>During the late 1970s and early 1980s Yorio (1986) conducted a series of surveys of Inten- sive English students in the University of Torontos Continuing Studies Program. Exam- ining students beliefs about the efficacy of various aspects of language instruction, Yorio reported that while students indicated a </p><p>Foreign Language Annals, 28, No. 1, 1995 </p></li><li><p>FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALSAPRING 1995 </p><p>marked preference for courses stressing com- municative competence, they showed obvi- ous reluctance to abandon very traditional teaching techniques (672). Widdows and Voller (cited in Nunan 1993) found that Japanese university students views o n the content and manner of instruction conflicted with the official university curriculum. Hor- witz, in her 1988 seminal study of Spanish, French, and German students beliefs about language learning, found that many begin- ning level university students held conflicting beliefs that might b e inconsistent with the principles underlying the instructional prac- tices they would likely encounter in the for- eign language classroom. For example, she reported that while a substantial number of students agreed that it was okay to guess if you dont know a word in the foreign lan- guage, over half of the French students be- lieved that mistakes made in the beginning would be difficult to get rid of later on. And even though the majority of students dis- agreed with the statement you shouldnt say anything in the language until you can say it correctly, over half thought it was important to speak with an excellent accent and felt self- conscious speaking the language in front of other people. Honvitz pointed out that while certain of these beliefs are consistent with practices associated with communicative teaching methods (for example, students will- ingness to guess), other beliefs (such as the importance of correctness) may affect stu- dents level of comfort with certain commu- nicative techniques and activities currently used in many foreign language classrooms.3 In her 1990 report, Horwitz illustrates the poten- tially anxiety-producing tensions that can arise from such mismatches in students and teachers beliefs about language learning: </p><p>Many teachers using communicative ap- proaches have encountered students who complain if their every mistake is not corrected, or if the teacher requires them to say something they have not practiced. At the same time, students who value the communication of mean- </p><p>ing over grammatical accuracy may bristle when their utterances are cor- rected constantly. This sort of clash of expectations between students and teacher about language learning can lead to a lack of student confidence in and satisfaction with the language class (1 990, 24-25). </p><p>Honvitzs suggestion that students and teachers may view classroom reality quite dif- ferently raises the question: to what degree do foreign language students beliefs about lan- guage learning correspond to those of their teachers? Preservice and inservice foreign lan- guage teachers beliefs and attitudes have been assessed (e.g., Horwitz 1985; Wolf and Riordan 1991), but to my knowledge no stud- ies have directly compared foreign language teachers and students beliefs. A number of studies from ESL and international settings, however, have addressed this issue. Lutz (1990) explored culture-specific expectations about the respective roles of students and teachers in general instruction among Amen- can students, Japanese graduate students, and American faculty at Georgetown Univer- sity. He found that the American students and teachers responses were on the whole quite consonant with o n e another, while mis- matches between the Japanese graduate stu- dents and the American faculty were widespread. McCargar (1993) studied student and teacher role expectations among FSL stu- dents from a wide variety of linguistic back- grounds. He found significant differences in expectations not only across nine student cul- ture groups but also between student groups and American FSL teachers on most expecta- tion categories. Kumaravadivelu (1991) ex- amined differences between teachers intentions and intermediate ESL students in- terpretations of a skill-integrative language task and found ten potential sources of teacher-learner mismatch. Nunan (1993), re- porting the findings of an earlier comparative study of learning preferences of learners and teachers in the Australian Adult Migrant Edu- cation Program, found contrasts in students </p><p>72 </p></li><li><p>FOREZGN LANGUAGE ANNALSSPRING 1995 </p><p>and teachers priority ratings of eight instruc- tional components. Students and teachers dis- agreed most in three areas: error correction (rated very high by students and low by teachers), student selfdiscovery of errors, and pair work (both rated low by students and very high by teachers). </p><p>Considering that ESL students come from a very wide variety of language and cultural backgrounds, and only rarely share a com- mon heritage with their teacher, the above findings are perhaps not surprising. In foreign language classrooms, however, students are commonly from similar backgrounds and often share both native language and culture with their teacher. Lutzs finding that Ameri- can students and faculty gave very similar re- sponses to questions about general instruc- tional issues raises the question of whether American foreign language students and teachers have more in common than d o their ESL counterparts. </p><p>Previous research in students beliefs also raises a question of teacher influence: be- cause students are likely to view their lan- guage teachers as experts in language learning matters, and since teachers presum- ably convey through their classroom practices many of their own assumptions about lan- guage learning, to what degree might teach- ers beliefs influence those of their students? </p><p>The present study examines the relation- ship between students and teachers beliefs about language learning within a foreign lan- guage setting and within a limited context: one language department at one university. Given the particular nature of beliefs about language learning and the myriad factors that can affect students and teachers beliefs, no attempt will be made to generalize the find- ings of this study beyond the local institutional context, although comparison data will be presented that suggest the feasibility of finding general trends across institutions through replicated studies. The questions to b e ad- dressed in this report are the following: </p><p>1) What d o beginning French students at the University of California, Berkeley, believe about language learning? </p><p>2) How d o these students beliefs in 1993 compare to those of the University of Texas students that Honvitz studied in the mid- 1980s? (i.e., what effect might institution and time have on students beliefs?) </p><p>3) How d o the Berkeley students beliefs re- late to their instructors beliefs? 4) Do students beliefs change over the </p><p>course of one semester of French instruction, or d o they remain stable? And if they do change, d o they change in the direction of their teachers beliefs or not? </p><p>Method </p><p>Subjects Two hundred eightyeight students enrolled </p><p>in first and second semester French in the fall 1993 semester at the University of California, Berkeley, participated in the study. One hun- dred seventy-nine students were enrolled in French 1, and 109 were enrolled in French 2. Based on questionnaire data, 46 percent of the students were male, 54 percent female. Fiftyseven percent were freshman and sopho- mores, 32 percent juniors and seniors, and 11 percent graduate students, faculty or staff. Eighty-nine percent of the students were in the College of Letters and Science, by far the largest college on campus. Forty-two percent of the first semester students were taking French for the first time, but virtually all had prior experience learning at least one foreign language. Those who had taken French be- fore had had between one and four years of French in Junior High and/or High School. Seventy-four percent said they were taking French for personal interest and 21 percent for a language requirement. When asked to rate themselves on their self-perceived success as foreign language students 73 percent rated themselves as either very successful (30 per- cent) or somewhat successful (43 percent), and 27 percent rated themselves below aver- age (20 percent) or very unsuccessful (7 percent). </p><p>Berkeley students are a diverse and tal- ented group. Data on the 1993 freshman class collected by the University of California Office </p><p>73 </p></li><li><p>FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS4PRING 1995 </p><p>of Student Research show that Asians form the single largest ethnic group (40 percent), fol- lowed by Caucasians (30 percent), Hispanics (1 7 percent), African-Americans (6 percent) and American Indians (1.2 percent). Incom- ing students have a median high school grade point average of 4.00, with a mean of 3.83, and graduate in the top 12 percent of their high school class. Their mean SAT scores are 564 (verbal) and 654 (math), and virtually all have previously studied a foreign language. Given this portrait, o n e cannot presume Berkeley students beliefs about language learning to be necessarily representative of those held by students at other institutions. </p><p>The students French teachers also partici- pated in the study. The group of 12 instructors was composed of nine graduate students, two lecturers, and one tenure-track faculty mem- ber. Six were women, and seven were men. Four were native speakers of French. Their amount of teaching experience ranged from one to 15 years, with a n average of slightly more than five years. All rated their own teaching ability as either successful or highly successful. Among the graduate stu- dents, all envisioned a career in teaching, and most expected to teach both language and lit- erature at the university level. </p><p>Instructional Context The goal of the first-year French program </p><p>(French 1 and 2) is to encourage basic com- petence in all areas of language use, with par- ticular emphasis o n the development of speaking and writing. Instruction is con- ducted exclusively in French. Class time is spent on inductive presentations of grammar and vocabulary, oral small-group activities, lis- tening comprehension activities, reading and discussion of short texts, viewing and discus- sion of French videotapes, and written discus- sion via networked computers. Classes meet five hours per week. Outside preparation in- volves one to three hours of daily homework, including oral and written grammar exercises, laboratory assignments, occasional readings, electronic mail correspondence with French </p><p>peers, and regular composition assignments (12 per semester). Half of the course grade is determined by performance on written exams and quizzes, 20 percent is based on oral par- ticipation and oral exams, and the remainder is based on written compositions, exercises, and activities. </p><p>Procedure All students enrolled in French 1 and 2, as </p><p>well as their instructors, were given a ques- tionnaire called The Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory (BALLI). The BALLI was developed by Honvitz (1985, 1988) to assess student opinions on a variety of issues and controversies related to language learning. The BALLI contains 34 items and is designed to survey student beliefs in five areas: the difi- culty of language learning (items 3 ,4 ,6 , 14,24, 28); foreign language aptitude (items 1, 2, 10, 15, 22, 29, 32, 33, 34); the nature of language learning (items 8, 11, 16, 20, 25, 26); strategies of communication and learning (items 7,9, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19,21...</p></li></ul>


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