University of Tasmania
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Want, don't, can't : student second language enrolment in Tasmania

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:17 authored by Clayton, SM
Languages education in Australian schools is struggling with declining enrolments in the post-compulsory years, resulting in fewer than one in five year twelve students graduating with a second language (L2). Understanding what motivational factors affect students' elective L2 enrolment is crucial to addressing this decline. The common perception is that the decline is caused by a lack of interest from students, as the majority discontinue their learning once it ceases to be mandatory. This study, grounded in the work of Zolt‚àö¬8n D‚àö‚àÇrnyei in the field of second language motivational research, found that this is a simplistic view and that the reasons for the decline are more complex than can be explained by reference merely to student interest. This project used mixed methods to investigate the reasons why Tasmanian students do or do not choose to enrol in an elective second language at school, and explored the relationship of motivational factors that affect their decisions. A state-wide survey of Year 9 to 12 students was conducted, followed by a series of focus group interviews with students from seven schools. Data analysis revealed that students' L2 enrolment status and informing motivations fell into five broad categories: those who enrolled and continued their L2 studies; those who enrolled but were doubtful of continuing in the future; those who wished to continue their L2 studies but were prevented from enrolling; those who discontinued after some elective language study; and those who did not continue and had no intention of enrolling in an elective L2. The key finding that contradicts the common perception is that a significant number of students are motivated to enrol in an elective L2, but are prevented from doing so by a range of personal and systemic barriers. Indeed, more than half of all students who were not enrolled in an elective L2 cited systemic barriers as reasons for non-enrolment, followed by the need to prioritise career-related or prerequisite subjects. The strongest influential factors for continuation in an elective language subject were an interest and enjoyment of languages and language learning, positive learning experiences, and the desire to travel and communicate. Overall, students who did not continue were influenced by the perception that they could communicate overseas using English, a lack of requirement for future orientations, the inability to fit the subject into their study course, the high workload, and the desired language not being offered. This research found that instead of a motivational dichotomy informed by interest in L2 between continuing and discontinuing students, there is a complex ensemble of factors that affect subject choice and enrolment decisions regarding elective second language learning.


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