Ambivalence About Communicating in a Second Language: A Qualitative Study of French Immersion Students’ Willingness to Communicate



The defining feature of immersion language learning is the omnipresent pressure to communicate in the second language (L2), even as incipient skills are being acquired. This study uses the focused essay technique to investigate ambivalence about communicating among adolescent French immersion students (12–14 years of age). Students described situations in which they were most willing to communicate (241 entries received) and situations in which they were least willing to communicate (179 entries received). Responses reveal complex interrelations among linguistic development, L2 self-development, and the nonlinguistic issues that typically face adolescents. Most frequently, students discussed communication with teachers and friends in a school context, but other entries described situations outside the classroom, with extended family or encounters with media. Perceived competence and error correction were identified as major issues. Students also described feeling excluded or mocked because of their status as immersion students, but at other times they used language to form a secret club to exclude or poke fun at other people. Although we found substantial similarities between situations in which students are most or least willing to communicate, they can be differentiated by subtle changes in context that affect the authenticity of communication and needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.