An examination of perceptions of parental influence on attitudes to language learning
AbstractBackground 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 to bear 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 to provide 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 mixed comprehensive 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 written word 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 used in 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 and status. 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 negative orientations among the English participants.
CitationEducational Research, 48(2): 211-221
PublisherRoutledge (Taylor & Francis)