Language learning beliefs and motivation of Foundation and Intermediate Phase Education students in developing mastery in English
Mhlongo, PraysGod Siphesihle
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Understanding what makes some individuals more successful in learning second languages is imperative if we are to design solutions that can potentially improve the language learning skills of learners who are not doing so well. Consequently, the ongoing debate over the predictors of successful language learning has prompted a number of investigations attempting to address this enquiry. Most noticeably, Language Learning Beliefs (LLBs) and language learning motivation, which are at the center of the current study, have significantly shaped the current views in the field of second language acquisition. Although one cannot overlook the valuable findings on these two language learning aspects over the past decades, the concern is that very few studies have attempted to study the potential interdependence among factors that inform language learning. Furthermore, the findings of previous studies do not consider the variation and role of learners' socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicity. The current study hopes to address this knowledge gap and come up with interventions that can help to improve the performance of learners and students in English. The study first seeks to identify the LLBs and motivation of Foundation and Intermediate Phase Education students before determining which of the two aspects can best predict the performance of students in mastering English. The nature of the study necessitated the adoption of a mixed-methods approach. A survey questionnaire, Beliefs About Language Learning and Motivation Inventory-Modified (BALLMI-M) consisting of open and closed-ended statements was designed to identify students’ views pertaining to LLBs, as well as to investigate their motivation for learning English. Furthermore, students were asked to complete the Test of Academic Literacy (TAL) as a pre- and post-test in order to identify their initial literacy levels, and to measure any improvement of their language ability, subsequent to the language course intervention. All the data collected were then analysed on two different occasions. In the first phase the LLBs and motivation were analysed separately in an attempt to identify the predominant LLBs, as well as to measure the students’ levels of motivation. The outcomes resulting from this analysis revealed the inconsistencies in students’ LLBs. This conflict in students’ LLBs made it impossible to correlate their LLBs with the motivation score. The conclusion, however, was that the anticipated relationship between students’ LLBs and their language learning motivation was insufficient to ensure mastery of English. This inference was based on the observation that a large number of students were highly motivated despite the eclectic nature of their LLBs. The second phase involved correlating dependent and independent variables with the aim of finding the best predictor of students’ achievement in English. Following the meticulous correlation of these variables, the TAL pre-test emerged as the best predictor of academic success, outperforming both the LLBs and language learning motivation which were initially anticipated to predict or determine students’ performance. In conclusion, a few important issues surfaced through the investigation. Of particular relevance are the following: 1) Contrary to the anticipated interrelation between LLBs and motivation, TAL’s strong predictive ability can be ascribed to its reliability to measure language learning ability; 2) that possessing constructive LLBs does not necessarily guarantee mastery of English at a more advanced level; 3) that the need to assimilate and adopt the identity of native speakers of English is not the primary reason for learning English for the majority of students in South Africa; and 4) that the students’ motive for learning English in the South African context is largely extrinsic. As a result of such factors, the current study proposes that language researchers focus on examining the factors that inhibit mastery of English in a multilingual and multicultural context such as ours, as opposed to prioritizing research on strategies to increase the motivation levels of students or aligning the LLBs to those of a teacher or a lecturer, as this has proven to be difficult.
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