By Mansour Ahmed:
In school, Arabic, namely Arabic grammar, which constitutes a chronic headache for most students of Arabic, was my favorite subject. I especially looked forward to sentence parsing and assigning the proper cases and diacritical marks to lexical items. In grade 7, I started learning English. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it just as much, English grammar in particular. Motivated by some German friends, I once decided to learn German all by myself. In three months, I learned so much. My pronunciation was almost native-like, according to them. A few years ago, I decided to add French to the list. Initially, my knack did not fail me (but it began to falter, see below for whys). Perhaps, this is genetically determined because my kids do outstandingly well in languages (Arabic, English, and French) in school. Hence, it may be possible to say that some people have a knack for languages while others don’t. Besides this special gift for languages, which to date has not been fully accounted for and understood by SLA researchers (to the best of my knowledge), it is argued that how well and how fast a second language can be acquired depends on a number of factors/variables, such as motivation, L2 instruction, and attitudes (among others). I will endeavour to tersely illustrate the role of attitudes in L2 acquisition (NB: the attitudes I am talking about here is slightly different from those in VH chapter).
Undoubtedly, L2ers’ views of the people who speak language X as well as their culture determine or limit their progress in second language competence (Gardner and Lambert, 1972: as cited in Brown 1999). In their socio-psychological theory, Gardner and Lambert underscore the importance of the L2ers’ tendencies and attitudes towards the people who speak the second language. That is, for successful language acquisition to occur, the L2ers must be psychologically prepared to adopt various aspects of behavior which characterize members of another linguistic-cultural groups. It is apparent that there is a significant correlation between L2ers attitudes towards speakers of the target language and success in L2 acquisition; that is, positive attitudes L2 and its speakers speed up the rate of acquisition, while negative attitudes impede acquisition. To illustrate, some newcomers to Quebec take too long to become proficient in French. This could be partly attributed to how much they desire to understand and empathize with the Quebecers. Put differently, if they were to acculturate faster, and subsequently modify their attitudes, their level of motivation would have been significantly higher, and the acquisition of French could have been faster, easier, and more enjoyable.
Another type of attitudes that I want to highlight is the attitudes molded by the instructional setting, namely by teachers’ personalities and pedagogical approaches and the teaching materials. I think this type of attitude formation and its consequences on learning is applicable to all instructional settings, whether linguistic or non-linguistic. L2ers who are satisfied with their teachers are normally more motivated than those who are not. Their attitudes towards learning and the target language change accordingly. As alluded to above, my learning of French was not as gratifying as that of other languages. The primary reason behind this was the way the language was taught—very traditional and lacks the spirit of communicative language teaching. Being a language educator and knowing a great deal about the approaches and techniques that could make learning more fun and create a class atmosphere that is conducive to learning, I attempted to give the teacher(s) some hints on how this part could be taught, but in vain. Eventually, almost everyone in those classes ended up saying ‘I hate learning French.’ I wonder if any of you had a similar experience with respect to learning French here in Montreal. What’s worse, the curriculum was so focused on grammar and lack the most fundamental features of interactive language learning.
I think it is a high time teachers employed better teaching approaches—more communicative, student-centered, and collaborative. Had this to be the case, I think the learners’ attitudes towards L2 learning would change significantly, and subsequently their level of motivation would be boosted considerably.
Brown, D. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman.