Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Measuring the Impact of Instruction in Intercultural Communication on Secondary Spanish Learners' Attitudes and Motivation

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Measuring the Impact of Instruction in Intercultural Communication on Secondary Spanish Learners' Attitudes and Motivation

Article excerpt

Abstract: Many scholars have argued that an intercultural approach to foreign language instruction best reflects the inherent interconnectedness of language and culture. However, abundant evidence of the effectiveness of such an approach is lacking, particularly at the secondary level. This two-year curricular experiment, which took place in two public high schools in the United States, investigated the impact of explicit instruction in intercultural communication theories and direct participation in activities designed to promote intercultural competency on the attitudes and motivation of secondary learners of Spanish as a foreign language. Data for both the experimental and control groups showed that students' pretest attitudes toward the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures were generally positive. Comparisons of pre- and posttest scores showed that the treatment group showed a statistically significant increase in positive attitudes, including increases in both integrative and instrumental motivation, as well as more positive attitudes toward both European Spanish speakers and U.S. Hispanics. Results showed that, for one control group, students' attitudes did not change, and attitudes of students in the second control group became less positive over the period under consideration.

Key words: attitudes, high school, implementation and assessment, intercultural awareness and competence, motivation


Researchers have reported conflicting data concerning students' motivation to learn foreign languages and their attitudes toward foreign language study in the United States. On the one hand, Rivers, Robinson, Harwood, and Brecht (2013) reported wide-spread grassroots support for the study of languages other than English: In a 2008 nationwide survey, 80% of adult respondents agreed or strongly agreed "that children in the United States should learn a second language fluently before they finish high school" (p. 333). On the other hand, scholars have also suggested that contextual factors may work to reduce students' motivation to study languages other than English; such factors may include perceived geographical isolation and a sense of cultural and/or linguistic superiority (Acheson, 2004), the global rise of English as a lingua franca (Anderson, 2000; Gass & Selinker, 2001; Mantle-Bromley, 1997), English-only movements (Wiley, 2004), the persistence of language-based discriminatory practices (Lippi-Green, 2012), the widespread acceptability of mock Spanish1 (Hill, 2008), and the sensitive history and politics of immigration in the United States (Fishman, 2004; Lippi-Green, 2012).

While several studies have investigated learners' self-reported attitudes toward languages and language learning at the elementary level (Cort^es, 2002) and at the postsecondary level (Cochran, McCallum, & Bell, 2010; Martin, 2009), few studies have investigated the impact of an intercultural communication (ICC) curriculum on secondary learners' attitudes toward, and motivation for, language study. The study reported here utilized an experimental repeated-measures design to compare the motivation and attitudes toward languages and cultures of two control groups with data obtained from a treatment group for whom the standard Spanish language curriculum was supplemented with activities that addressed the practices, products, and perspectives of culture and that emphasized the development of intercultural competence.

Review of Literature

Researchers in the field of foreign and second language pedagogy have long argued that language and culture are intricately connected (Cl^ement, 1986; Deuroornyei & Cl^ement, 2001; Kramsch, 1991; Lambert, 1991). Scholars such as Kramsch (1993) have suggested that it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the complexities of another culture without understanding its language(s), and that it is equally problematic to try mastering a language abstracted from the culture(s) in which it is used: "Culture in language learning is not an expendable fifth skill. …

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