Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Study of Students' Metacognitive Beliefs about Foreign Language Study and Their Impact on Learning

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

A Study of Students' Metacognitive Beliefs about Foreign Language Study and Their Impact on Learning

Article excerpt


This article reports on an investigation into the language learning beliefs of students of French in England, aged 16 to 18. It focuses on qualitative data from two groups of learners (10 in total). While both groups had broadly similar levels of achievement in French in terms of examination success, they differed greatly in the self-image they had of themselves as language learners, with one group displaying low levels of self-efficacy beliefs regarding the possibility of future success. The implications of such beliefs for students' levels of motivation and persistence are discussed, together with their possible causes. The article concludes by suggesting changes in classroom practice that might help students develop a more positive image of themselves as language learners.

Key words: attributions, learner strategies, metacognitive beliefs, motivation, self-efficacy

Language: French


Numerous studies have sought to uncover what distinguishes more effective learners from less effective ones, from the 1970s and the "Good Language Learner" study by Naiman, Fröhlich, Stern, and Tödesco (1978) onwards. This search has resulted in a continuing interest in two key areas. The first is an interest in learner strategies, in the "specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations" (Oxford, 1990, p. 8). Research over the last 10 to 15 years has increasingly shown that in terms of strategy use, in all language skills, it is the use of metacognitive strategies that characterizes the 'good language learner' (Graham, 1997; Macaro, 2001)-strategies that are "higher order executive skills that may entail planning for, monitoring, or evaluating the success of a learning activity" (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, pp. 44-45).

Furthermore, it has been argued that effective metacognitive strategy use is in its turn dependent on learners' metacognitive knowledge or beliefs (Vandergrift, 2002), what Wenden (2002, p. 46) defined as "what learners know about language learning: the nature of the task, how best to approach it, and personal factors that may inhibit or facilitate the process." The second key area of interest is motivation, with recent research distinguishing between those motivational influences that operate at the choice level (i.e., "how intentions are formed") and those that affect "motivational maintenance" during task completion (i.e., perseverance and staying with the task or activity) once the choice has been made to undertake it (Dörnyei & Ottó, 2004).

This paper reports on a study whose findings suggest that both effective learner strategy use and motivational maintenance are influenced by learners' metacognitive knowledge or beliefs about language learning. Thus an understanding of learners' beliefs about foreign language learning has implications for classroom instruction and interaction with learners.

Review of the Literature


The terms metacognitive knowledge and learner beliefs are often used interchangeably in the literature, as Wenden (1999) observed. The term belief implies a degree of subjectivity, something which is "value-related" (Wenden, 1999, p. 435), while knowledge has more objective connotations. The work of Flavell (1979, 1987) has influenced several studies of language learners' beliefs. He identifies three aspects of metacognitive knowledge: knowledge of person variables, task variables, and strategy variables. The first refers to what learners know about how humans in general learn, and what they know about how they as individuals learn; the second to what learners know about the nature of a task and what demands it might make on them in terms of specific knowledge and skills; and the third to learners' knowledge of different strategies and their appropriate use.

Another interpretation of metacognitive knowledge is offered by Paris and Winograd (1990). …

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