Achievement Motivational Characteristics of University Foreign Language Learners: From the Classroom to the Tutoring Table

Article excerpt

Abstract:

What influences who seeks foreign language tutoring? Using expectancy value theory, the present study researches the characteristics of university foreign language students in the language classroom (n = 258) and seeking tutoring (n = 29). Students' performance and mastery goal orientations, achievement task values, self-efficacy for foreign language learning, and academic variables were assessed and compared across groups. Foreign language students seeking tutoring were characterized by higher mastery and performance goal orientations and lower overall grade point averages, than those classroom students not seeking tutoring. Additionally, the generally high scores of all students on the motivational variables suggest that pessimistic views of foreign language students' self-efficacy and motivation may be unwarranted.

Keywords: foreign language tutoring, achievement motivation, university foreign language student characteristics

Language: relevant to all languages

Introduction

Students in many university foreign language courses have access to many resources to help their language learning and acquisition. For instance, students might seek help from peers or the instructor, look for native-speaking conversation partners, find supplemental textbooks, or take advantage of individualized tutoring opportunities. Tutoring, in particular, has a strong track record in improving learning across a number of academic domains (Cohen, Kulik, & Kulik, 1982; Lepper, Aspinwall, Mumme, & Chabay, 1990; Merrill, Reiser, Ranney, & Trafton, 1992). While foreign language tutoring frequently is available in formal programs sponsored by schools and universities, in outside sessions with the teacher or a more proficient student, and through private sector, for-profit agencies, not all students take advantage of this resource. Furthermore, research on foreign language tutoring is scarce; we do not know, for instance, who chooses to attend tutoring sessions and why. To help lay the groundwork for understanding foreign language tutoring, the present study offers baseline data grounded in achievement motivation theory to describe academic and motivational characteristics of university foreign language students, including both those who seek out tutoring and those who do not.

As Oxford and Shearin (1994) point out, understanding student motivation has practical implications for learners and their teachers and tutors:

[M]otivation directly influences how often students use [foreign language] learning strategies, how much students interact with native speakers, how much input they receive in the language being learned (the target language), how well they do on curriculum-related achievement tests, how high their general proficiency level becomes, and how long they persevere and maintain [foreign language] skills after language study is over . . . Therefore, motivation is extremely important for [foreign language] learning, and it is crucial to understand what our students' motivations are. (p. 12)

Awareness of students' motivational profiles may help teachers and tutors provide more appropriate recommendations and interventions to support student foreign language learning. How, then, do foreign language students who seek tutoring compare with those who may also need, but do not seek out, such help? It is tempting to assume that students investing the time and energy to participate in tutoring outside of class are just "more highly motivated" than those who do not. However, motivation does not seem to be a simple, one-sided construct that students "have" or "lack." As researchers such as Dörnyei (2001b) have pointed out, "there has been a considerable diversity of theories and approaches in the study of the motivational determinants of second language acquisition and use" (p. 46). Using well-established motivational constructs which have not yet been applied to the foreign language domain can help extend and deepen our understanding of our students in increasingly sophisticated ways. …