Revisiting Beliefs about Foreign Language Learning1


  • Benjamin Rifkin

    1. University of Wisconsin-Madison Russian School of Middlebury College
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      Benjamin Rifkin (Ph.D., University of Michigan) is Associate Professor of Slavic Languages at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Director of the Russian School of Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont.

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    1. The author thanks anonymous referees for their suggestions, and Al Cohen and Jim Wollack of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Testing and Evaluation Service for their statistical advice. All errors are the author's responsibility.


Abstract: Research on the beliefs of American university students about foreign language learning has been limited in three ways: First, students surveyed have generally been drawn only from beginning language classes. Second, research in this area has been conducted almost exclusively with students of French, German, and Spanish, the beliefs of learners of other languages —such as Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian — have been largely ignored. Third, published studies have focused on the beliefs of learners at only one institution, rather than at a number of institutions; the results of such studies are, therefore, also likely limited by the local conditions of the given institution. This paper presents an investigation of these three issues. The study is based on a survey of over 1,000 learners of 10 different languages at different levels of instruction in three different institutions. Data collected over a three-year period are analyzed in order to compare the beliefs about language learning reported by learners in the present study with those held by learners in Horwitz's 1988 study, “The Beliefs about Language Learning of Beginning University Students.” Moreover, this paper presents comparisons of the beliefs of learners in their first year of instruction with the beliefs held by learners at other levels, of the beliefs of learners of commonly versus less commonly taught languages, and of the beliefs of learners at a public research institution with the beliefs of learners at small, private liberal arts colleges.