Year

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

This thesis is an exploratory study investigating students' engagement with learning a second language (L2) in an Australian context, highlighting their preferences in learning. The student participants were East Asian students studying English as a second language (ESL) in ELICOS centres and Australian university students studying languages other than English (LOTE). Specifically, the study was concerned with identifying and describing L2 learning preferences of the participants, analysing any changes in their learning preferences as they progressed with language learning and examining the influences of the participants' language learning goals and experiences on their responses to language learning.

The theoretical framework for the research is grounded in Sociocultural Theory (SCT), including reference to Activity Theory (AT) which is derived from SCT and assists in explaining students' engagement in L2 learning activities. The study explores the proposition, based on SCT, that individuals make cognitive, conscious choices in accordance with their purposes and needs. These choices may be strongly influenced by the learners' social and cultural backgrounds, including their past and current personal experiences, family and cultural history, and their future possibilities and desires.

Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were employed to provide complementary perspectives on the research questions. First, a quantitative survey involving 393 participants was conducted to obtain questionnaire data from the L2 students. A qualitative study was conducted later, involving interviews with 89 of these East Asian and Australian participants. Interviews were then conducted with twelve L2 teachers. The quantitative data were analysed using the SPSS Program in order to ascertain statistically significant results based on the research questions. The qualitative data were categorised from the transcriptions of audio-taped interviews, then compared with the results from the questionnaire analysis.

The data imply that L2 students are complex yet active social agents who desire to be engaged in a variety of carefully structured interactive classroom activities, within a positive learning environment which involves authentic, real-life tasks and assessment. However, these preferences are not always in line with the actions students perform, but are regulated by the learners‘ multidimensional, wider goals. Such orientation to L2 learning is conditioned by the extent to which individual learners are able or ready to act on their preferences. Tension between preferences due to wider learning goals, situational constraints, multiple social worlds or personal reasons may dictate preferences in the learning process.

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