An examination of perceptions of parental inﬂuence on attitudes to language learning
University of Wolverhampton, UK
Background The assumption that parents have some effect on their children’s attitudes to learning is one that few educationalists would challenge. The ways in which this inﬂuence is brought tobear are a slightly more complex and contentious matter, however. Purpose The paper uses data from a tri-national PhD study on pupil attitudes to examine perceptions of the ways in which parents inﬂuence children’s orientations towards foreign language learning (FLL). The comparative element is useful in providing a contrasting range of settings in which to examine the issue. The paper thus aims toprovide some indication of the similarity and importance of particular inﬂuences by identifying features that seem signiﬁcant, irrespective of setting. Sample A total of 411 learners of French, German and English (as foreign languages), represented in roughly equal numbers from across the ability range, took part in the survey. The pupils, aged 15 – 16, were drawn from two centrally located mixedcomprehensive schools in each country— England, Germany and The Netherlands. The schools were similar in terms of size, social intake and their semi-urban location. Care was taken to ensure as close a gender balance as possible. Design and methods The study was designed as a qualitative survey and involved three data collection instruments. The ﬁrst stage of data was collected using a writtenword association prompt distributed to the whole sample. The second stage involved around half the pupils generating written accounts of their attitudes and the factors they perceived to be inﬂuential. A total of 80 pupils took part in the ﬁnal stage, consisting of 14 focus group interviews. A system of open coding was applied to all the data to support the process of inductive category building usedin their analysis. Results The ﬁndings offer some evidence for an association between parental and pupil attitudes. Parental inﬂuence appears to operate in a number of ways, ranging from the role model potential of positive/ negative behaviours and the communication of educational regrets, to the ways in which parents help to construct their children’s understandings of language importance andstatus. The extent of parental language knowledge appears to be an important additional factor. Conclusions The evidence suggests that the ways in which parents contribute to the construction of their children’s understanding of language utility are particularly important, and that this may be a key factor in the more positive attitudes demonstrated by the German pupils and the more negativeorientations among the English participants. *School of Education, University of Wolverhampton, Gorway Road, Walsall, WSI 3BD, UK. Email: B.Bartram@wlv.ac.uk
ISSN 0013-1881 (print)/ISSN 1469-5847 (online)/06/020211-11 ª 2006 NFER DOI: 10.1080/00131880600732298
212 B. Bartram Keywords: Attitudes; Language learning; Comparative treatment; Parental inﬂuence; Germany; Holland
Introduction: parentsand language learning Attitudes to language learning have long been the subject of a great deal of research interest. Many of the studies carried out in the ﬁeld have examined attitudes from a social-psychological perspective—most notably perhaps by Gardner and Lambert (1972) and Gardner (1985), whose work is still regarded as seminal—examining the nature of and the relationship between a range ofattitudinal constructs and very often their bearing on language proﬁciency. Other studies (e.g. Philips & Filmer-Sankey, 1993; Chambers, 1999; McPake et al., 1999) have approached the issue explicitly from a language education angle, and in the process, explore the multiplicity of interrelated educational, social, historical and linguistic factors that conspire to shape attitudes, in particular...