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Social Psychology and Foreign-Language Teaching


  • Madeline A. Cooke

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      Madeline A. Cooke (Ph.D., Ohio State University), is Assistant Professor, Department of Secondary Education, University of Akron, Akron, Ohio.


ABSTRACT  Social psychologists agree that attitudes can and do change. However, they offer the foreign-language teacher no formula for effecting a prescribed change in student attitudes. Information about how attitudes develop, how they are changed, and their relationships to behavior may help the teacher understand why attitude change is difficult.

No one is born with attitudes. These are learned at home, from peers, and from society. Students usually come into the foreign-language classroom with ethnic attitudes already formed.

Attitudes may change in order to reduce dissonance and tensions or to please one's superiors or friends. If the change is to be permanent, however, the attitude must be internalized into one's value system. Sometimes attitudes change when people are given insights into the ego defense mechanisms which may be the basis of their prejudices. Role playing is a promising means of changing attitudes.

Attitudes are not the sole determiner of behavior, and techniques developed to change how a person talks about his behavior will not necessarily produce changes in it. One should begin attitude-related activities in first-year classes and continue through the advanced levels. Because attitudes have different origins and serve different functions for different people, a variety of approaches seems wise.