Young students’ Language Choice in Swedish compulsory school – expectations, learning and assessment

Sammanfattning: The second foreign language, referred to as Modern Languages in the Swedish curriculum, begins no later than year 6 in compulsory school. Swedish students normally make their Language Choice (in Swedish “Språkval”) in year 5 and begin their learning of the chosen language in year 6. Almost nine out of ten students choose a Modern Language (normally French, German or Spanish) but as an alternative to a Modern Language, they can also decide on additional Swedish or English, Swedish as a Second Language, their mother tongue (if other than Swedish) or Sign Language. Spanish is by far the most popular Modern Language and more than half of the students choosing a Modern Language decide on Spanish in year 6. However, the drop-out rates are substantial and in school year 9 the percentage of students learning a Modern Language is around 70%. Consequently, approximately 30% of the students in year 9 have either dropped the language or have not started to learn one in school year 6. Drawing on a socio-cognitivist approach, this thesis investigates the attitudes, perceptions and experiences that young language learners (11 to 12 years old) hold prior to making their choice and during their first year of learning a new language. The students’ perspective is essential, and based on three thematic aspects, namely Wanting to learn, Learning and Having learnt, the study investigates their experiences concerning language learning, teaching and assessment. Three Modern Language classes and their teachers were followed during school year 2019/2020 (one class in each language). A mixed methods approach was used including qualitative methods (classroom observations, interviews and fieldnotes) in conjunction with quantitative methods (three questionnaires). The students’ Language Choice was primarily inspired by their families, by visits to a country where the target language is spoken and by the comfort of having a friend in the Modern Language group. Furthermore, it was found that among the participating young language learners, motivation for learning a Modern Language in year 6 was high prior to their Language Choice (in year 5), as well as during and after their first year of learning. However, a small decrease in motivation was noticeable at the end of the first year. In terms of gender, the analyses generated no conclusive results to indicate that motivation for language learning differed between the girls and boys participating in the study. There seem to be several contextual parameters that are interrelated and influence students’ motivation, such as group dynamics, learning conditions, peers, and parents/legal guardians. Furthermore, results indicate that emotions are closely connected to language learning and that these emotions can be both motivational and demotivational. Other findings show that the majority of the students were content with the teaching practices they encountered in the Modern Language classroom, that many of them had their own strategies for studying and that they believed that they had learnt a lot during their first year of learning the new language. Findings also reveal a certain ambiguity towards language learning. Although many students liked and thought that they would have good use of their Modern Language in the future, some also believed that they would probably manage well without knowing any other foreign languages besides English. Another important finding was that contextual parameters play a significant role in relation to the Language Choice. Organizational and administrational features influenced the teaching and learning practices in the language classroom as well as the teacher’s assessment. The conditions for learning a Modern Language also varied between the three languages, mainly due to the large groups of students learning Spanish. These differences have implications for the students learning and for the teachers’ teaching and assessment and can therefore be considered problematic from a comparability perspective.

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