Self-Enhancement versus Self-Derogation Biases in Learning a Foreign Language

By Onweugbuzie, Anthony J.; Bailey, Phillip et al. | Educational Research Quarterly, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Self-Enhancement versus Self-Derogation Biases in Learning a Foreign Language


Onweugbuzie, Anthony J., Bailey, Phillip, Daley, Christine E., Educational Research Quarterly


Two types of biases occur in foreign language learning. The first bias, self-enhancement, refers to students who are unrealistically optimistic about their ability to learn a foreign language. The second bias, self-- derogation, refers to students who have little or no confidence in their performance in foreign language classes. The purpose of this study was to investigate the prevalence of these two biases and to compare students with each bias, as well as those with accurate self-perceptions of their foreign language performance, with respect to anxiety and overall academic achievement. Participants were 213 college students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, enrolled in either Spanish, French, or German classes. Self-enhancement bias (47.4%) was more than three times as prevalent as was self-derogation bias (13.,6%). Students with self derogation bias tended to have statistically significantly higher levels of anxiety about foreign languages, whereas those with self-enhancement bias tended to have lower levels of overall academic achievement. These findings indicate that these two biases may have different antecedents.

Research (e.g., Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, & Daley, 2000) has shown that students' expectations of their performance in a foreign language course is an important predictor of their future achievement. Most recently, Onwuegbuzie, Bailey, and Daley (in press) developed via path analysis an Anxiety-Expectation (AEM) Model, in which expectation plays a central role in predicting foreign language achievement. According to this model, expectation and anxiety mediate the relationships between foreign language achievement and other cognitive, personality, and demographic variables. Onwuegbuzie et al. (in press) concluded that the importance of expectation in the AEM model suggests that social cognition theory (Bandura, 1977, 1986) in general, and self-efficacy theory in particular (Bandura, 1977, 1982, 1986, 1997), is pertinent to the foreign language learning process, since expectation is a manifestation of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy theory predicts that one's belief system influences behavioral choices, effort, persistence, and task success in the acquisition of a foreign language (Onwuegbuzie et al., in press).

The findings of Onwuegbuzie et al. (in press) are supported by Ganschow and Sparks (1991), who reported that students' perceptions of the ease of learning foreign languages are the primary indicators of their propensity to experience foreign language learning difficulties. Moreover, according to Krashen (1980), the low expectations of many foreign language students' make them unreceptive to language input, thereby impeding the learning process.

Horwitz (1990) noted that students enroll in foreign language classes with preconceived beliefs about how to learn a language, coupled with expectations as to their ability to accomplish this task. These beliefs and expectations can affect studen& foreign language achievement. In particular, a self-fulfilling prophecy may prevail, in which students who have low expectations of their foreign language ability exhibit behaviors that may lead to underachievement (Onwuegbuzie et al., in press). Thus, the accuracy of students' expectations may be a key factor in determining foreign language performance, through its effect on the effort expended when students are confronted with a novel and challenging situation (Taylor & Brown, 1988, 1994).

Some researchers have found that most learners have an accurate perception of their language learning ability (Blanche & Merino, 1989). Indeed, Onwuegbuzie et al. (2000) posited that the positive relationship between expectations and foreign language achievement might reflect the fact that students have an accurate perception of their foreign language ability. Blanche and Merino (1989) observed that, when skills to be assessed in foreign language classes are lucid and detailed, "there is consistent overall agreement between self-assessments and ratings based on a variety of external criteria" (p.

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