Portuguese as a Minority Language: Attitudes of Undergraduate Students Studying Portuguese Literature

By Reis, Sónia Maria Nunes | Multicultural Education, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview
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Portuguese as a Minority Language: Attitudes of Undergraduate Students Studying Portuguese Literature


Reis, Sónia Maria Nunes, Multicultural Education


Language acquisition cannot be separated from the social arena in which it takes place. (Dörnyei, 2009, p. 227)

Introduction

Second language acquisition theorists have yet to conceptualize an understanding of undergraduate students' attitudes and experiences when studying the two different versions of Portuguese language most often encountered in experimental literature, European Portuguese (EP) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP). The differences between EP and BP raise some interesting issues that are well worth considering through undergraduate university students' perceptions and attitudes.

Instructors of undergraduate courses in Portuguese literature suggest that in terms of curriculum design, curriculum delivery, and attitudes of students these differences can be quite extreme, especially when one compares EP and BP with the Spanish language. Students enrolled in undergraduate Portuguese courses are often taking or have taken Spanish language courses, making possible a comparison between both programs and languages. The purpose of this study is to understand the existing discrepancies in the Portuguese language and the resulting attitudes of students when faced with these differences.

Using data collected with L1 English/ L2 Portuguese students at a Canadian university, this article will show how a strong preference for one variety of the Portuguese language exists when studing the arts but how a different preference emerges when analyzing which language variety is considered more standard by the L2 Portuguese learners.

It is important to note that L1 refers to a student's mother tongue and L2 is the second language that a student acquires. Herein all references to L2 are to the Portuguese language course being taught at the university level.

The primary research question for this study was:

* What are the attitudes and course experiences found among L2 Portuguese undergraduate students with respect to EP versus BP?

Background: Foreign Language Acquisition

Gardner and Lambert (1972) suggest that it is around the age of 10 that second language learners are most receptive and display a friendlier attitude towards foreign language acquisition, whereas learning an L2 and the culture associated with that L2 language later in life is more difficult because the L2 learner tends to link cultural and linguistic differences with the norm that the student is used to in his or her own L1. Moreover, it has also been argued in experimental literature that the attitudes, motivation, and classroom experiences of an L2 learner will result in the student's success or failure in a foreign language course. Thus the learner's attitudes cannot be separated from what goes on in the classroom.

Most of the students registered in L2 Portuguese undergraduate university courses in Canada are of Portuguese descent. They are often heritage language speakers who spoke only Portuguese at home with their grandparents and parents until they started school at the age of four. They therefore arrive in undergraduate university courses with preconceived notions of the way the target language is written or spoken-that is either EP or BP-as well as the cultural aspects associated to each of these two varieties of Portuguese.

Most of the students who chose such courses select them as an elective. Some students who enroll want to catch up on the Portuguese language missed over the years while others arrive in a first year Portuguese course for an easy credit. Contrary to what Gardner and Lambert (1972) suggest is the ideal age to start learning a second language, the participants in this study are much older and arrive in L2 Portuguese university courses with stronger attitudes and expectations about which variety of Portuguese they should learn in an undergraduate Portuguese university course. For instance, when referring to EP and BP, some students have argued that one version is a language and the other a dialect.

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