Beliefs about Foreign Language Learning among Students Training to Teach English as a Foreign Language

Article excerpt

In disciplines such as cognitive psychology, educational psychology, and social psychology, where human behavior and learning are of a primary concern, beliefs are viewed as an important construct to be investigated in relation to their subsequent impact on people's behavior (Gabillon, 2005). In the context of foreign language learning, research in the last three decades suggests that learner beliefs have the potential to influence both their experiences and actions. Beliefs can influence language learners' motivation to learn, their expectations about learning, their perceptions about what is easy or difficult, and the strategies they choose in learning (Richards & Lockhart, 1994). The importance of

understanding learner beliefs is emphasized by many researchers in the related literature (Atkin, 1996; Breen, 2001; Hayashi, 2009; Mantle-Bromley, 1995; Oxford, 1992; Peacock, 2001; Tanaka & Ellis, 2003). Since Horwitz's pioneering study in 1985, numerous researchers have shown that language learners' beliefs are critical to learning (Bernat & Gvozdenko, 2005; Cotterall, 1998; Ellis, 2008; Kern, 1995; Mercer & Ryan, 2010; Richards, 1998; Wenden, 1987; Yang, 1999). However, there is still a need to investigate the beliefs of trainee English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers.

Beliefs are central to any human behavior and shape the way teachers behave in the classroom. Therefore, real and effective change in teachers' practices can occur only through a change in their beliefs (Kennedy, 1996). According to Richardson (1996), "beliefs function as the focus of change in the process of education" (see Peacock, 2001, p. 181). In keeping with these ideas, in this paper the changes are tracked in the beliefs of the trainee teachers over a four-year teacher education program. It was assumed in this study that the beliefs of the trainee EFL teachers would change during their language learning and methodology courses.

The aims in this study were to seek answers to the following research questions:

* What beliefs do trainee language teachers have about language learning?

* Do these beliefs show any changes over four years studying teacher education?

METHOD

Participants and Program

Participants in this study were 326 trainee teachers (23.3% freshman, 22.4% sophomore, 22.1% junior, and 32.2% senior). They were all enrolled in a four-year education program in English language and teaching methodology at Cukurova University of Adana, Turkey. The main courses include language skills, communication skills, approaches and techniques in language teaching, teaching English to young learners, literature, language acquisition, materials design, use of technology in language teaching, introduction to linguistics, language assessment, translation, educational sciences, and some elective courses.

Data Collection and Analysis

The trainee teachers completed a survey that consisted of 12 statements (see Appendix) representing key beliefs about language learning as defined by Lightbown and Spada (1999). The statements cover the key beliefs about language learning such as the role of imitation, individual variables like intelligence and motivation, error correction, the effect of early language learning, first language interference, and grammatical sequencing in language input. The participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statements on a 5-point Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. Descriptive statistics (mean scores and standard deviations) were computed for the survey data. In order to find out any change in responses across the grades, the results were analyzed using one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA).

RESULTS

Analysis of the data revealed that the participants in the study shared certain beliefs without difference across all years. When the overall responses of all participants were considered as one group, the results showed that these trainee teachers strongly believed in the importance of motivation. …