April 4, 2024

Attitudes and Language Learning

by Mateusz Wiącek

Language acquisition is not merely a process of mastering forms and rules; it’s intertwined with social, subjective, and objective dimensions, encompassing the attitudes, habits, and cultural traits of its speakers. From early childhood, individuals internalize the values of their linguistic environment, shaping their perception and identification with authority figures. Exposure to unfamiliar sign systems, as posited by Wilhelm von Humboldt, challenges existing perceptions, fostering independence of thought and clarity of expression.

Influence of Language Community on Perception

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis posits that language community shapes human perception. Consequently, foreign language teaching aims not only to impart linguistic skills but also to broaden students’ cultural awareness and foster understanding of diverse perspectives. By challenging learners’ preconceptions and instilling a sense of Otherness, language education seeks to dismantle prejudices and stereotypes.

Resultative Hypothesis: Success Influencing Attitudes

The resultative hypothesis suggests that language learning success positively influences attitudes towards the language, its speakers, and culture. Early studies in the 1940s and 1950s showed a correlation between progress in language learning and improved attitudes. However, challenges such as dissatisfaction with teaching methods and social environment can hinder attitude development.

Motivational Hypothesis: Attitudes Driving Success

Conversely, the motivational hypothesis posits that attitudes, as stable constructs, influence language learning success. Integrative orientation, characterized by a genuine interest in the target language community, is considered more motivating than instrumental orientation focused on utilitarian goals. However, empirical evidence presents conflicting results, suggesting a complex interplay between attitudes and language learning outcomes.

Holistic Perspective: Integrating Affective and Cognitive Processes

A holistic approach acknowledges the interdependence of affective and cognitive processes in language learning. Attitudes, encompassing affective, cognitive, and conative components, interact dynamically with language acquisition experiences. Learners’ attitudes evolve within a complex interplay of personal values, social influences, and cultural contexts, shaping their language learning journey.

Implications for Language Education

Language educators must recognize the multifaceted nature of attitudes and their influence on language learning. By fostering a supportive learning environment, addressing individual needs, and promoting cultural understanding, educators can enhance students’ motivation and engagement. A holistic approach to language education facilitates not only linguistic competence but also intercultural competence, fostering appreciation for linguistic and cultural diversity.

In summary, attitudes play a pivotal role in language learning, shaping learners’ perceptions, motivations, and ultimately, their success. Embracing a holistic perspective that integrates affective and cognitive dimensions enriches language education, fostering not only linguistic proficiency but also intercultural understanding and empathy.

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