Language Learning Outside Classroom

Jamie (Xuan Zhao)

Recently I read about a study about how people learn a second language outside classroom; it is quite inspiring and really made me think about what contributes to our learning outcomes beyond classroom in learning a second language.

The study is entitled “From milk cartons to english roomates: context and agency in L2 learning beyond the classroom” (P. Kalaja et al., 2011), aiming to “examine the relationship between agency and contexts for learning, in the hope to show how the students’ capacity to act was, mediated by the tools and resources of the context” (P. Kalaja et al., 2011). Agency here means the “socioculturally mediated capacity to act”, defined by Ahearn (2001). They gave questionnaires to Finnish college students, whose first language is Finnish, asking about their experience in learning both English and Swedish as their second languages.

The results turned out to be really interesting. The students have all learned English from out-of-classroom contexts, while they didn’t gain a lot in their Swedish (some of them even claimed that they never learn Swedish outside school).

Why is this happening? The authors gave two reasons: “the heteroglossia of language use in society” and “the multivoiced nature of the students’ beliefs” (P. Kalaja et al., 2011). Because English is so widely and commonly used around the world, students have much more opportunities to be exposed to it in out-of-classroom contexts, like movies, music, even restaurant menus, etc. They are more likely to make use of the affordances that are available to them, while in their Swedish learning outside classes, it is not the case. The other reason involves how they position themselves in learning the language. The popularity and usefulness of English make the students aware of the importance of managing it. For example, if they want to seek further education in English speaking countries, or want to get into International companies, learning English is a must. Therefore, the motivation and engagement are certainly increased and boosted.

Then I reflected on my own situation and experience in both learning and seeing people learn a foreign language before. English is so commonly learned in China, as a compulsory subject by the law as well as a stepping-stone to success for Chinese students. However, other than English, we surely are exposed to other languages in China, such as Japanese, Korean (as Asian languages they are also pretty easy to access to), or students learn German, Spanish and French as their second foreign language (for example, for me as an English major, I chose French as my second foreign language). People have different reasons to add on their foreign languages, either because they are really interested (like anime fans learning Japanese, K-pop fans learning Korean), or they want to seek more opportunities with the target languages (like studying in Spain, working in a German company). You see, in this case we seem to have a lot of chances to access to the target languages; in the meantime, we have a lot of motivations to learn them well too. How come English still always stay No.1 well-learned and most familiar foreign language to us?




Aston, G. 1996. “The learner’s contribution to the self-access centre”. In T. Hedge and N. Whitney (eds.), Power, Pedagogy and Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 283–93.

Benson, P. 2011. Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. Second edition. London: Longman.


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