Foreign Language Teachers' Perceptions of Students' Academic Skills, Affective Characteristics, and Proficiency: Replication and Follow-Up Studies

By Sparks, Richard L.; Ganschow, Leonore et al. | Foreign Language Annals, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Foreign Language Teachers' Perceptions of Students' Academic Skills, Affective Characteristics, and Proficiency: Replication and Follow-Up Studies


Sparks, Richard L., Ganschow, Leonore, Artzer, Marjorie E., Siebenhar, David, Plageman, Mark, Foreign Language Annals


Abstract:

Two studies explore the relationship between foreign language teachers' perceptions of their students' academic skills and affective characteristics and their native language skills, foreign language aptitude, and oral and written foreign language proficiency. In Study I (replication), students who scored significantly lower on native language and foreign language aptitude measures were perceived by teachers as having weaker academic skills and also less positive attitudes, lower motivation, and higher levels of anxiety about foreign language learning than students who scored higher on these measures. In Study II (follow up), students from Study I and from an earlier study were followed through a second-year foreign language course and divided into high, average, and low groups according to their scores on a proficiency measure. Results showed that low proficiency students were perceived by foreign language teachers as having weaker academic skills and less positive affective characteristics, and also achieved lower course grades than high proficiency students. Findings suggest that foreign language teachers' perceptions of their students' affective characteristics and academic skills are related to the students' levels of native language skill.

Introduction

Foreign language educators have long been concerned about students' affective characteristics (e.g., motivation, attitude, anxiety, personality). Foreign language researchers have speculated that affective variables play a large part in students' success or failure in learning a foreign language, especially in classroom settings. For example, Gardner (1985) suggested that students' motivation for and attitude about learning a foreign language play a large role in language learning. Florwitz and others have speculated that students' levels of anxiety may play a causal role in foreign language learning (e.g., see Horwitz, Horwitz, & Cope, 1986; Horwitz & Young, 1991; Maclntyre & Gardner, 1991; Onwuebuzie, Bailey, & Daley, 1999). Ehrman (1990) hypothesized that personality type (e.g., on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is important for understanding why some students learn a foreign language more easily than others.

In contrast, Sparks and Ganschow (1991, 1995a) have hypothesized that native language learning skills serve as the foundation for foreign language learning; that language aptitude is likely to account for the largest part of the variance in foreign language learning; and that students' affective differences (e.g., strong or weak motivation, positive or negative attitudes, high or low anxiety) are likely to be the result of problems with language learning generally. Sparks, Ganschow, and their colleagues have conducted studies that have provided empirical support for the aforementioned hypotheses. (For a complete description of these studies, see Ganschow & Sparks, 2001; Sparks, 1995; Sparks & Ganschow, 1995a, 1999.) For example, the findings ol a recent study showed that students with higher levels of native language skill achieved higher foreign language grades, had stronger oral and written foreign language proficiency, and had lower levels of anxiety about foreign language learning than students with lower levels of native language skill (Sparks, Ganschow, Artzer, Siebenhar, & Plageman, 1997).

Other researchers have also provided support for the notion that good and poor foreign language learners exhibit language differences. Humes-Bartlo (1989) reported that fast language learners had more highly developed native language skills than slow language learners. Olshtain, Shohamy, Kemp, and Chalow (1990) reported that proficiency in the native language played the most important role in foreign language learning among a group of 11- to 12-year-old Hebrew-speaking students who were studying English. These findings were supported by Kahn-Horwitz, Shimron, and Sparks (2004) in a study with fourth grade Hebrew-speaking children learning English. …

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