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Title: Informal second language learning : the role of engagement, proficiency, attitudes, and motivation
Author: Arndt, Henriette L.
ISNI:       0000 0004 8507 8041
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2019
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The majority of research in second language acquisition has traditionally focused on classroom-based, instructed learning. However, with the spread of new technologies and the concomitant globalisation of popular culture, informal second language practices (ISLPs; e.g. watching films and television, using social media, or playing video games in another language) are increasingly becoming part of the daily lives of many language learners, particularly those who are learning English. Previous studies of Informal Second Language Learning (ISLL) have provided evidence for a positive relationship between such informal language contact and L2 proficiency. However, considerable individual and group differences have also been recorded, which seem to indicate that not all learners participate in and/or can benefit equally from these activities. The present study employed a framework of student engagement (comprising behavioural, cognitive, affective, and linguistic aspects) in an attempt to provide deeper insight into the nature of German secondary school students' informal second language practices. It also explored the relationships between informal language contact and proficiency, motivation, and attitudes towards language learning, as well as their directionality; that is, the extent to which ISLPs promoted language development and changes in motivation, and whether more proficient and motivated students were more likely to engage in informal activities. The project involved mixed research methods with data collected in three phases: In Phase I, the researcher conducted focus group interviews with 47 students, which were subsequently transcribed and analysed via inductive and deductive coding. The qualitative findings then informed the development of an event-contingent diary for recording informal second language practices, including items to measure the different aspects of engagement, and a questionnaire for studying motivation and attitudes specifically in the context of ISLL. At this point, a C-test was also developed as a measure of general language proficiency in this particular learner population. After extensive piloting (Phase II) with a sample of 105 students, the new instruments were used to collect data from 354 further participants at two time points in Phase III. The nature of the students' engagement in informal second language practices and its relationships with motivation, attitudes, and proficiency over time were explored through statistical modelling (Multi-level Structural Equation Modelling and Latent Profile Analysis) and triangulated with the qualitative findings from Phase I. This study provided novel insights into the nature of learners' interactions with informal second language practices. Whereas previous research has primarily focused on the time learners spend on informal practices and the types of activities they choose (behavioural engagement), the current study also considered the role of emotions and attention to meaning and form (affective, cognitive, and linguistic engagement). Furthermore, the study yielded statistical evidence of the significant positive link between engagement in ISLPs and proficiency, which has been widely reported in the ISLL literature. Meanwhile, the findings, have also called into question the directionality of this relationship: The participants' prior proficiency explained a significant proportion of the variance in the overall engagement patterns, as well as some of the individual aspects of engagement (behavioural, cognitive, and linguistic engagement). However, none of the engagement measures significantly predicted changes in general language proficiency over the course of the study. By contrast, there was evidence of a reciprocal relationship between motivation and engagement in informal second language practices. That is, engagement was significantly predicted by learners' attitudes towards informal and formal language learning, their desire to become successful second language users (ideal L2 selves), and their reasons for wanting to learn English (language learning orientations). In turn, some aspects of engagement in ISLPs also predicted changes in students' beliefs about formal language learning, their perceptions of themselves as language users, and the extent to which they wanted to learn the language (as opposed to being obligated to do so). Altogether, this research has made strong theoretical, empirical, and methodological contributions to the emerging field of Informal Second Language Learning, as well as the wider field of Applied Linguistics. The findings are also of practical interest to, for example, teachers and policy makers seeking to gain a better understanding of the factors that determine participation and success in language learning beyond the classroom.
Supervisor: Woore, Robert ; Briggs Baffoe-Djan, Jessica Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Second language acquisition ; Applied linguistics