Native English speakers’ investment in foreign language learning – what role do gender and socioeconomic status play?
Gayton, Angela Mary
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Rhetoric about the ‘crisis’ state of language learning in predominantly Anglophone countries is nothing new, given the widely-held belief about English having ‘global lingua franca’ status. Similarly long-standing are notions of language learning being a particularly gendered or classed activity, specifically, one that is perceived as being appropriate for female, and middle-class, pupils. This thesis explores the extent of the role played by notions of gender and class in the formation of language-learning attitudes among native speakers of the ‘global’ language, through a mixed qualitative methodology. Providing some context to the issue of language-learning attitudes in Scotland is textual analysis of news articles and political party manifestos, to ascertain the nature of media reporting, and claimed political commitment, to foreign language education. Against this background, case studies of four urban secondary schools are built up, using textual analysis of their publicly available promotional literature, classroom observation, and interviews with pupils, classroom teachers and members of senior management. Schools were chosen specifically to represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as both mixed- and single-sex environments, in order to probe the aforementioned stereotyped notions attached to these two variables, as they relate to language-learning attitudes. Influencing the methodological approach is Norton’s (1995; 2000; 2008) ‘investment’ framework, which has pushed conceptualisations of language-learning motivation forward beyond simple dichotomies, such as ‘integrative versus instrumental’. I re-adapt her framework to better suit the specific context of native speakers of the ‘global’ language embarking upon foreign, rather than second, language learning. This study makes a contribution to knowledge in three separate areas of research literature, namely, language-learning attitudes and motivation among speakers of English (which as yet has been little explored, at least in comparison to motivation theories developed specifically for those learning English as an L2); the role of gender in the formation of language-learning attitudes; and the role of socioeconomic status in the same context, and also its influence on attitudes towards education more generally. Among the key findings are the importance of placing an emphasis on enjoyment of language learning for native English speakers, given the general lack of imperative felt by most; gendered notions attached to different areas of the curriculum, including modern foreign languages (for example, language learning is a ‘girlie’ subject), do exist, but are less pervasive than is suggested by much of the previous literature; the role played by socioeconomic status, however, appears much more influential, and teachers’ expectations of pupils in this regard can exercise a significant impact on a child’s language-learning motivation.