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Native English Speakers' Second Language Learning Choices, Motivation, and Persistence During Postsecondary Education


The purpose of this study is to explore the sources of motivation to learn a second language (L2) among first language (L1) speakers of English in the United States. College students are the specific focus, due to the foreign language study requirements that are imposed on so many of them at the secondary and postsecondary school levels. This study was conducted using oral interviews with current college undergraduates who have already fulfilled their colleges' language requirements. These students were asked questions regarding their previous exposure to second languages prior to postsecondary studies, the language choices they made in order to satisfy requirements at their college/university, and their decision to continue or stop studying second languages beyond the number of language courses required by their colleges, as well as the basis for their second language learning decisions.

The goals of this study included determining what factors influence the decisions of L1 English speakers to continue or discontinue studying an L2, as well as why they chose to study the particular languages they did to complete their college's requirement. The data show a preference for studying commonly taught languages in high school, and for choosing to continue studying the language they began studying in high school in college. Also, sources of instrumental motivation comprised the motivation that the majority of the participants had for studying a language. All of the students who showed stronger integrative motivation, however, were far more likely to continue studying beyond their language requirement. There were more non-continuing than continuing students, and the most notable reason for not continuing was the need to complete major/minor and general education requirements. The results suggest that most undergraduate students view their language requirement as an obstacle between themselves and their Bachelor's degrees, rather than as a gateway to extensive L2 studies, and choose the fastest and most convenient method of overcoming that obstacle.

The small scale and scope of this study, a first foray into this topic, invites further research, in order to have greater implications for 1) L2 education at the secondary and postsecondary levels, and 2) how language curricula and requirements can be modified to better serve the needs of L1 English-speaking students.

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