English barrier to new languages

Nieuws | de redactie
10 april 2012 | Swedish research shows that using English as a reference language in class may harm a student’s motivation to study other languages. Instead, teachers should apply a trick put forward by psychologists: visualization to build a language self-concept.

The University of Gothenburg published the following pressstatement on the study conducted by Alastair Henry:

“Fewer and fewer adolescents study foreign languages inEnglish-speaking countries such as the USA and the UK. They simplydo not want to, since as a world language English can be used justabout everywhere. In Sweden, the government has introducedincentives to learn foreign languages in addition to English in theschool system.

Reduces motivation

In his study, Alastair Henry, doctoral student at the Departmentof Education and Special Education at the University of Gothenburgand a lecturer at University West , used questionnaires andinterview material to explore the effect of using English as aresource language when learning French, Spanish and German.

While it is certainly the case that English can be useful when astudent reads, listens to or writes texts in another foreignlanguage, ‘using English as a resource language might in fact beone reason why students are not motivated to learn foreignlanguages and why they feel like they are not getting anywhere withtheir language studies,’ says Henry.

Cognitive activation

‘Students recognise similar words and phrases in English, andteachers often encourage students to use their English skills whenlearning French, Spanish and German. However, using English in thisway activates the student’s so-called English-speaking self,’ saysHenry.

As a result, the student will inevitably compare his or herdifferent language self-concepts – a comparison that most likelywill make the student less confident about his or her future skillsin the studied language and therefore less motivated in theclassroom.

The interviews revealed, however, that successful languagelearners often use strategies to block the negative influence ofEnglish.

‘These students often realise that comparing languageself-concepts causes problems,’ he says.

Henry therefore points to the importance of teachers activelyhelping students develop such strategies. It is also important, hesays, that teachers focus on strengthening their students’ languageself-concepts.

Enhanced language speaking/usingself-concepts

‘The language self-concept can be enhanced by using a methodcommon in sports psychology. Coaches often ask their athletes tovisualise themselves as successful in the future, and this can bedone in the language classroom as well’ says Henry.

According to Henry, it is important that teachers of additionalforeign languages are aware of the fact that the use of English asa resource can be problematic and may have a negative impact onstudents’ motivation to learn a third language.”

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