Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Service Learning, Phonemic Perception, and Learner Motivation: A Quantitative Study

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Service Learning, Phonemic Perception, and Learner Motivation: A Quantitative Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: A nine-week empirical study of 25 adults in a second language (L2) Spanish phonetics course explored whether students' participation in service-learning language exchange sessions with native Spanish speakers outside of class influenced learners' (1) motivation for foreign language learning and (2) phonemic perception in Spanish. Divided into service-learning and non-service-learning groups, participants overall showed a significant pre- to post-study improvement in phonemic perception as well as a substantial decrease or increase on four L2 motivational factors. However, no significant differences surfaced between the experimental and the control groups.

Key words: language exchange, motivation, phonemic perception, SLA

Introduction

Service learning, a beneficial form of experiential education that combines meaningful community service with reflection and course instruction, has increased in popularity over the years. In fact, given its potential for students' personal and academic growth (e.g., Scales, Roehlkepartain, Neal, Kielsmeier, & Benson, 2006), a growing number of educational institutions have incorporated service learning and/or civic engagement in their mission statement and have developed programs or institutional entities designed to encourage and support service]learning initiatives (see, for example, Auburn University, University of Minnesota]Duluth, University of Missouri, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, University of Georgia, and the University of Maryland). Since 2002, U.S. News and World Report, well known for its college rankings, has published a list of institutions that serve as outstanding examples of service learning. While it is true, therefore, that service learning enjoys broad support and has been used as an instructional tool in a number of academic fields (e.g., political science, anthropology, sociology, and public relations), relatively little is known about the impact of service learning in foreign language instruction.

Review of the Literature

Service Learning

To better understand the potential benefits of service learning to language learners, it is necessary to review its principal characteristics. Giles, Honnet, and Migliore (1991) defined service learning as both a program type and a philosophy of education. As a program type, service learning includes myriad ways that students can perform meaningful service to their communities and to society while engaging in some form of reflection or study that is related to the service. As a philosophy of education, service learning reflects the belief that education must be linked to social responsibility and that the most effective learning is active and connected to experience in some meaningful way.

While definitions of service learning may vary slightly by discipline, the essential elements are the following: student involvement in a service activity that meets a community need; student reflection, via writing or discussion, designed to link service to the student's academic learning goals; and finally, the mutual benefit experienced by both students and the community members served.

Some studies examining experiential learning in the field of second language acquisition (SLA), and in particular Spanish, have found anecdotal evidence in favor of this pedagogical tool. For example, in a qualitative study, Long (2003) reported her students' success after participation in a service-learning project in forming positive and appreciative attitudes toward speakers of Spanish and their cultures. In Caldwell's (2007) story time project, students planned and participated in story time at a local library, reading to children of the local Hispanic community. Journal entries written by Caldwell's students suggested that they viewed the project as a way for them to use Spanish in a meaningful way, resulting in higher self-confidence regarding their language use and an increased appreciation of the importance of Spanish in that particular community. …

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