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AULC 2019 Speicher Stollhans: What motivates students to study languages at university in the UK?


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Presented at the annual conference of the Association of University Language Communities (AULC) 2019:

Published in: Education
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AULC 2019 Speicher Stollhans: What motivates students to study languages at university in the UK?

  2. 2. Policy background – Language trends 2018/AULC 2018/UCML 2018 • Languages removed from compulsory curriculum in 2004 • 76% GCSE to 40% in 2011 • Small rise due to EBAC (government ambition to get to 90% by 2025) • LCs don’t seem to follow the trend of falling numbers, so interest in languages at HE level alongside main degree is stable • Question of accessibility
  3. 3. Existing research (selection) • Dörnyei (various) • Krüsemann (2017) on motivations to study German in primary and secondary school • Guardian: Do young people care about learning foreign languages? (2014)
  4. 4. Existing research (selection)
  5. 5. Cohort background Nottingham ■ Language Centre with approx. 1200 students ■ Currently 8 languages studied ■ Up to 6 levels of competence
  6. 6. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 Complete beginner post GCSE post AS/A2 B2/C1 Nottingham Nottingham
  7. 7. Cohort background Lancaster ■ Department of Languages and Cultures ■ Chinese, French, German, Italian, Spanish ■ Majors and minors
  8. 8. Survey details Nottingham: 63 responses Lancaster: 44 responses • 27 different university departments • 49% English as mother tongue Nearly 80% had studied a language at school already • For 62% the language module was not compulsory • 44 different subject combinations • 56% major, 44% minor • 84% had studied a language at school • 58% taking a beginners‘ module
  9. 9. Reasons for choosing LG modules Notts/Lancs ■ enjoyment of the language: over 75% / 91% ■ gain intercultural competence: 39% / 59% ■ try something different: 38% / 24% ■ it complements my degree / other subjects: 32% / 27% ■ enhance my CV: 24% / 36% ■ family ties, study/work abroad: less than 2%
  10. 10. Which skills are important? 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 Speaking the language writing the language understand the written language all of the above Nottingham Lancaster
  11. 11. Transferable skills • It provides you with the ability to think of things in more than one way. • It teaches you the dedication and hard work needed to achieve the best • It has taught me a lot about grammar and how our language influences how we think of things e.g. the masculinity and femininity of nouns • Understanding another language is a good way of understanding another culture, and understanding other cultures is an important part of functioning in society. It is also a way to learn how to commit yourself to something which is enjoyable yet challenging. • It helps me to communicate with others well and it also increase my thinking skill, because I can use different thinking pattern to consider things • Persistence, being able to work things out without necessarily having all the information
  12. 12. What motivates you to learn a LG? • I like reading and watching movies. I think I'll understand the author or the director better in its original language and it's really fulfilling for me to learn a language • I enjoy the challenge of thinking differently about the way I am communicating • Communication between people is probably the most important thing in this world so the more people you can communicate well with the better • Motivation to study a language can be destroyed the moment a person is forced to learn it quickly, or put in uncomfortable situations because of it. For beginners especially, I think having huge oral exams and having to write huge passages for written ones is overwhelming, hence demotivating.
  13. 13. What motivates you to learn a LG? • I enjoyed being able to study a wide variety of things (literature, cinema, history) under the banner of one subject. • My motivation to study a language stemmed from the passion for French that was instilled in me by my teachers from primary school through to sixth form. • I think it’s personal preference if I’m honest. For me, it’s extremely important but that’s because I have an interest in languages and cultures. But I don’t think we should force other people to speak one. • In my opinion the importance of studying a language is highly dependent on which country you are raised in.
  14. 14. What might stop people from taking up LGs? • The stereotype that they are very difficult, and that the only career prospects are translating/teaching • The UK's perception of how ''difficult'' it is to learn a language and the fact that most parents are more bothered about STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, maths) than languages. Also we have a poor language system at primary school level in my opinion which is the best age to start learning, as we absorb information more easily. • They might find it hard to learn or have less ability to put a tongue in a correct way which may cause many troubles in the pronunciation process which might be discouraging and demotivating. • The idea that we shouldn’t learn a foreign language because of the global dominance of English in the operation of society today.
  15. 15. Summary: common themes • Interest/fun/enjoyment vs. usefulness/employability • Language in context, cultural aspects • Time/effort/amount of work • Native-speaker as a model (unattainable) • Political and educational context