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Language learning motivation and the discursive representations of German, the Germans, and Germany in UK school settings and the press

Kruesemann, H. (2018) Language learning motivation and the discursive representations of German, the Germans, and Germany in UK school settings and the press. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Language learning in UK secondary schools is in sharp decline. Of the three most commonly taught languages, French, Spanish, and German, German uptake is dropping at the fastest rate. Societal attitudes towards languages and the target language communities of speakers are commonly blamed for the decline, however, few previous studies have investigated this area via empirical evidence. The current study explores the relationship between motivation for German learning in adolescent language learners in England, and the representations of German, the Germans, and Germany in private and public UK discourses. Through a mixed methods, cross-sectional research design, private grassroots discourses in a school setting and public discourses in the national press are examined to gain an insight into how beliefs and attitudes around German are constructed and conceptualised, and results are related to the factors that underlie learner attitudes, motivation for German learning and language uptake decisions. The study’s theoretical framework draws on a range of key concepts from second language (L2)-specific and mainstream psychological motivation theories, such as Gardner’s socio-educational model, as well as on aspects of cognitive-situated and self-based models. Main participants were 506 13 to 16-year-old German learners from a range of four secondary schools at the time they were asked to decide whether to continue or drop German. Further respondents included four German teachers and four head teachers from the participating schools. For the school settings strand, learner data were collected via focus groups and a questionnaire combining items which generated quantitative (such as motivation mean scores) as well as qualitative (such as metaphor) data; teacher and head teacher data were collected via interviews. For the public discourse strand, a specialised corpus of 40,000 UK national newspaper articles around German, the Germans, and Germany was compiled, and explored using discourse analysis techniques. Four research questions investigated the motivational dimensions relating to learners’ choices to continue or discontinue with the study of German, how German is represented in discourses of key players in school settings, how German is represented in newspaper discourses in the press, and the relationship between public and private discourses around German, the Germans, and Germany in the UK. Contrary to what is commonly thought about motivation for language learning, results suggest that adolescent learners in England are motivated to continue German not by instrumental rationales, but rather by their enjoyment of the classroom learning situation, and by a sense of personal relevance. The growing elitification in language learning in the UK manifests in the study’s data, in that a higher socio-economic background is associated with continuing German, more conducive attitudes, a higher sense of personal relevance, and a view of language learning as a worthwhile process which requires effort and persistence. In press discourses, German is mainly represented in terms of politics and war, Germans mainly in terms of war, and Germany mainly in relation to other countries and football. The wider discourses in the press are reproduced in a reciprocal relationship with private discourses in the school setting. The study contributes to knowledge by presenting new insights into the motivation of adolescent German learners in the UK, and by validating elements of pre-existing motivation models, such as self-determination and self-worth theory. Furthermore, through its novel design of bringing together private and public discourse domains, it provides empirical evidence for previously unsubstantiated claims of links between the representation of target language speakers and communities in the mass media, and language learner motivation at English secondary schools.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Graham, S. and Schroeter, M.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:77934
Date on Title Page:2017


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