The Learner : Lesson 4
Examples of Learner Beliefs
Many people and even cultures have strong beliefs about language learning. When you hear someone say that children learn languages easily and naturally or that women are better language learners than men, they are expressing common but not necessarily correct beliefs about language learning. It is naive to think that cultural beliefs about the nature of language learning do not influence our students. Language teachers must recognize that students come to class with preconceived notions about the nature of language learning and that many of these preconceptions can be counterproductive to language learning.
What common folk beliefs about language learning have you encountered among your students?
Discussion of common beliefs about language learning.
Significance of Learner Beliefs
Students’ beliefs about language learning may have an impact on their performance in class. For example, if a student believes that she doesn’t have very good aptitude for language learning, she may not make much effort to learn the language. In other words, beliefs can become unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecies. Teachers should pay close attention to students’ beliefs in order to assess whether beliefs might have a negative impact on learning.
Which language learning beliefs might have a negative impact on academic performance?
Results of learner interviews about beliefs.
Unrealistic beliefs about language learning can cause students to become anxious when they think that no one should make a mistake or that anyone should be able to learn a language in under two years. Unrealistic beliefs about the most effective ways to learn a language can cause students to adopt ineffective language learning strategies, for example, deciding to concentrate their efforts on memorizing vocabulary words or translating.
Learner beliefs influence the strategies they use.
In addition to influencing language learning strategies, learner beliefs can also affect overall motivation and anxiety. Imagine that you are a male student and you believe that females are inherently more verbal than males. Wouldn’t that belief have a negative effect on your motivation?
Learner beliefs influence motivation and anxiety.
Responding to Beliefs
If learner beliefs are an integral part of language learning, what stance should teachers adopt vis-a-vis their students’ beliefs? For instance, should teachers attempt to replace their students “erroneous” beliefs with their own, more enlightened set of beliefs?
How teachers should respond to learners beliefs.
Rather than ignoring learner beliefs, teachers should productively respond to beliefs in the following ways:
• Use conversation activities/class discussions to talk about language learning (e.g., a debate whether children are better language learners than adults).
• Make sure your instruction reflects what you tell students about the nature of language learning (e.g., don’t tell students that language learning is much more than grammatical study and then spend all of your class time explaining grammar).
• Help students develop realistic goals for language learning.
• Encourage students to examine their own beliefs about language learning throughout the course they are teaching.
Instructor’s Final Comments
“Like most people who become language teachers, you have a love for your language and the desire to help students experience the joy of learning a new language and culture. In achieving this goal, it is important to remember that language learning is not simply a cognitive endeavor and that your students will have a variety of possibly strong emotions about language learning. They will enter your classroom with different motivations, beliefs about language learning, and anxiety levels. This module has suggested that in order to help language learners be as successful as possible, teachers must help their students feel comfortable using their new language skills, identify and maintain positive learning motivations, and develop realistic beliefs about language learning.
[Module Instructor Dr. Elaine Horwitz]. 2010. [Language Learner]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.