Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Motivating Students' Foreign Language and Culture Acquisition through Web-Based Inquiry

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Motivating Students' Foreign Language and Culture Acquisition through Web-Based Inquiry

Article excerpt

Abstract: According to the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, one of the ultimate goals of studying a foreign language is to better understand different cultures. To this end, we implemented a project in an undergraduate foreign language course that promoted a systematic inquiry-based approach to learning about the Hispanic culture. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether this project would increase students' ability perceptions and values related to the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture. Data from questionnaires and reflection essays demonstrated that students reported higher ability perceptions and values in the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture as a direct result of participating in the project. These findings suggest that this inquiry-based teaching approach is a viable way to incorporate the study of culture into a university foreign language course.

Key words: culture, foreign language instruction, motivation, technology-enhanced language learning, WebQuests

Language: relevant to all languages

Introduction

Foreign language goals and standards have been developed by the National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project (National Standards) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) with the purpose of providing a "broader, more complete rationale for foreign language education" (National Standards, 2006, p. 15). One of these goals is to incorporate the systematized study of culture into foreign language classes, because knowledge of the cultural contexts in which languages are spoken is essential to achieving true mastery of a foreign language (National Standards, 2006, p. 31). Unfortunately, examples of how this can be effectively accomplished in a university-level foreign language course are limited.

To address this need, we designed a Web-based inquiry project and a research study to examine: (1) how the inquiry project would affect students' ability perceptions and values related to the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture, and (2) the appropriateness of a specific WebQuest task design with undergraduate students who have a foreign language proficiency level of novice-low or novice-mid. The inquiry project was implemented in an undergraduate Spanish foreign language course and designed to motivate students to meet the ACTFL Cultures and Comparisons curricular goals through active learning and engagement. We chose to study students' ability perceptions and values because these two factors have been found to directly affect students' motivation and achievement (Eccles, 1992; Eccles et al., 1983; Eccles, Wigfield, & Schiefele, 1998). The ability perceptions we studied were students' beliefs about their Spanish language skills and their Hispanic culture knowledge, whereas the values we examined were students' beliefs as to whether the Spanish language and Hispanic culture were interesting, important, and/or useful.

Foreign Language Standards

Curricular Goals

Learning a foreign language is a complex process that goes beyond acquiring grammar and vocabulary and being able to engage in oral and written communication. The National Standards and ACTFL have provided a framework for foreign language learning through the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (SFLL) that include five different, interconnected foreign language curricular goals: Communication, Cultures, Comparisons, Connections, and Communities (National Standards, 2006). These five goals carry an equal weight regarding their importance and provide a framework for foreign language instruction. The curricular goals portray foreign language learning as a complex process that involves the acquisition of linguistic features, as well as the development of the ability to engage in meaningful interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive communication (Communications); the development of cultural awareness (Cultures); and the development of higher order thinking skills that allow learners to compare and contrast the foreign language and culture to their own (Comparisons), connect what they learn in the foreign language class with other disciplines (Connections), and extend what they learn beyond the classroom into broader contexts (Communities; National Standards, 2006). …

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