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What the Research Shows about Students’ Attitudes and Language Learning

Research suggests that language learners develop a more positive attitude toward the target language and/or the speakers of that language.

Bamford, K. W., & Mizokawa, D. T. (1989). Cognitive and attitudinal outcomes of an additive-bilingual program. U.S.; Washington:  ED305826

A study compared language skill development and cultural attitudes of second-grade children taught in an additive-bilingual program setting with those of second-grade children from a monolingual classroom setting. Zooming in on the attitude question: The researchers hypothesized that the Spanish-immersion group would be more positive than the control group on the Cross-Cultural Attitude Inventory (CCAI), an instrument that is a measure of attitudes toward Mexican-American culture.The results of the analysis revealed a significant change in attitudes towards Hispanic culture between the fall and spring administrations in favor of the Spanish-immersion group.  In the discussion section, the authors suggest that the results support Gardner’s model of language acquisition which proposes that attitudes towards the target language community may be outcomes of second language learning. 

Peal, E., & Lambert, W. E. (1962). The relation of bilingualism to intelligence. Psychological Monographs, 76(27, Whole No. 546), 23. from PsycINFO database.

This study compares measures of verbal and nonverbal intelligence, as well at student attitudes toward French and English communities.   The sample included monolingual [French only] and bilingual [French-English, with French as the native language] 10-year old children attending 6 Montreal French schools.  They were given two attitude questionnaires, called the “Attitude-to-English” and “Attitude-to-French” scales.   An analysis of a subgroup of the sample, matched on socioeconomic status, shows that the bilingual students scored significantly higher than monolingual students in positive attitudes toward English speakers.   

Riestra, M. A., & Johnson, C. E. (1964). Changes in attitudes of elementary-school pupils toward foreign-speaking pupils resulting from the study of a foreign language. Journal of Experimental Education, 33(1), 65-72. from PsycINFO database.

An experimental group of 63 5th grade pupils who had been learning Spanish and a matched controlled group of pupils who had not been learning Spanish were tested to determine attitudes toward people of other countries. The experimental group had significantly more positive attitudes toward the Spanish-speaking peoples they had studied about than did the group that had not studied Spanish.

Helpful Resources on the topic of attitudes and foreign language learning:

Morgan, C. (1993) ‘Attitude change and foreign language culture learning’ in Language Teaching, 26 (2), pp. 63-75.

D.E. Ingram (to see Ingram’s paper go to http://www.tesolchile.cl/documents/sept2005/DEIngram_fullpaper_Oct2004.htm) refers to Morgan’s article as “one of the most comprehensive reviews of the relations between foreign language learning and attitude change” (p.3 of Ingram’s paper).   Morgan reviews articles from as early as 1932 and makes conclusions regarding the fact that a number of factors were important if positive attitude changes occurred.  Morgan’s piece and Ingram’s piece might be helpful if you would like to look at features in language learning experiences that may be correlated with attitudinal change.

Thanks to Amanda Kibler and Sandy Philipose, Graduate Research Assistants of Guadalupe Valdés for assisting in the compilation of these studies. 

This information is not designed to provide a comprehensive review of the research studies available but has been compiled to highlight the benefits of language learning.