Learners' perceptions of their successes and failures in foreign language learning
University of Exeter
Language Learning Journal
Research into learners’ attributions for their successes and failures has received considerable attention. However very little has been carried out in the area of learning foreign languages. This study is timely in view of the current interest by the government in promoting foreign languages. The aims of the study were (1) to investigate secondary students’ attributions for their success and failures in learning foreign languages (2) to examine the ways in which these vary according to age, gender, perceived success and specific language studied. The sample consisted of 285 students between the ages of 11 and 16 studying French, German and Spanish in five secondary schools in the UK. A simple open questionnaire was administered by language teachers, consisting of a personal evaluation by students of their perceived level of success as learners of specific foreign languages and their attributions for success and failure in those domains. The resulting responses were analysed by means of a grounded theory approach allowing categories to emerge from the data. The resultant categories were then tabulated according to student age, gender, and language learnt, together with level of perceived success. Over one thousand attributional statements gave rise to 21 attributional categories for doing well and 16 categories for not doing well at language learning. A far wider range of attributions were identified than is generally shown in the research literature, six of which were most commonly called upon as reasons for both success and failure. Clear differences emerged between boys and girls, year groups, perceived success and language studied. These results and, in particular, the lack of clarity in the learners’ comments about strategy use and the lack of focus on metacognitive strategies, have important implications for policy makers and for teachers of foreign languages in UK schools. In addition there are important implications for future research in this area.
This is a postprint of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in the Language Learning Journal © 2004 Copyright Taylor & Francis; Language Learning Journal is available online at http://www.informaworld.com