Decoding French, motivation and learning a foreign language

This was an ESRC funded project: This study examined the relationships between decoding ability (the ability to relate graphemes to phonemes) in French as a foreign language, self-reported use of such decoding, and dimensions of motivation, specifically self-efficacy and attribution, among young-beginner learners in England.

It investigated whether these factors were related to a desire to continue studying the language beyond the compulsory learning age of 14. Previous research has found low levels of motivation for learning the language after only a few years of instruction and a number of authors have called for research to discover why this should be.

With a large stratified sample of participants aged 11–14, decoding ability was elicited via written rhyme and word segmentation tests. Self-efficacy, attribution, perceptions of learning French and use of decoding were elicited via self-reported statements. Findings suggest that, after 3 years of studying French, students were unable to decode accurately even though they claimed to use decoding regularly in a range of language learning tasks. At all stages of learning, students’ ability to decode, together with their belief that they could do it, appeared to contribute to the likelihood of their continuing with French study. They attributed inability to decode not to the teacher or teaching method but to the “strangeness” of French.