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Perceptions, attitudes and choosing to study foreign languages in England: An experimental intervention

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Publication details

JournalThe Modern Language Journal
DateE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2014
Issue number4
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)902-920
Original languageEnglish


The declining interest in foreign languages in English-speaking countries has been attributed to negative societal attitudes and specific pupil attitudes and perceptions. While various initiatives have aimed to encourage language study, little research has systematically documented the relationship between perceptions, attitudes and actually opting to study a language (henceforth, “uptake”). This article reports on an experiment involving 604 13/14-year-old pupils in 3 secondary schools in England which tested whether perceived relevance of languages can be improved through 2 different interventions (a panel discussion with external speakers versus a lesson with an external tutor) and whether pupil perceptions and attitudes can be linked explicitly to foreign language uptake at an optional level. Findings show that only pupils who participated in the panel discussion subsequently reported more positive attitudes and higher personal relevance of languages, though participating in either intervention may have contributed to higher uptake compared to a non-active control group. Boys appeared to have generally more negative attitudes towards both language learning and advocacy than girls. Declared intentions to study or drop a language did not align with final decisions for one quarter of the pupils. Critically, perceptions of language lessons (French, German or Spanish) and attitudes to languages were reliable predictors of uptake, though the strongest predictor was whether pupils considered languages to be important for themselves. Perceived wider importance of languages was not, in itself, a sufficient incentive.

    Research areas

  • Attitudes, Foreign languages, Enrolement, Motivation, Perceptions, uptake, school, enrolment

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