THE IMPACT OF AGE AND GENDER ON THE LEARNERS’ MOTIVATION AND ATTITUDES TOWARDS FRENCH IN SECONDARY EDUCATION IN FLANDERS

A. Ruyffelaert, P. Hadermann

Ghent University (BELGIUM)
Motivation is one of the most important factors in the acquisition of a foreign language. A desire or a need felt by the learner is necessary to make efforts in order to achieve a certain goal. In the context of foreign language acquisition, the ultimate goal would be the perfect mastery of the target language. Learners who are highly motivated progress faster and reach a higher level of knowledge than the less motivated. A less motivated learner, once the communication needs accomplished, would tend to stop learning the language before he reaches the quasi-native level of mastery.

The aim of our study is to analyze the impact of age and gender on the learners’ motivational attitudes and beliefs towards French in a secondary school in Flanders (Instituut van Gent). Firstly, we verify if the prestige of the French language has decreased in Flanders, as is sometimes claimed, and, if there is decline of the language level, whether it can be linked either to internal factors of the French language or to the lack of motivation. We also analyze why young learners (12-18 years old) would be motivated to learn French and whether opinions towards French differ according to age and gender. In order to investigate these aspects, we created a questionnaire consisting of 50 items covering integrative and instrumental motivation features, which are closely linked to the learners’ beliefs.

Our results show that the observed decline in the prestige of French is mostly related to internal factors and not to motivation: e.g. young learners seem to believe that English is easier to understand than French. As far as motivation is concerned, we see a certain lack of integrative motivation, especially among boys who tend to have a slightly higher instrumental motivation. Secondly, young learners seem more motivated than older ones. These observations can be explained by the beliefs of boys that expanding friendship is less important than finding a good employment. Young learners, on the other hand, are mostly motivated to learn French because it allows them to travel, to expand the boundaries of their social setting and also to increase the chances of finding employment after college.

In conclusion, this study demonstrates first of all, that the decline of knowledge of French seems to be related mainly to internal factors of French and not to the motivation of the learners. In addition, the boys have a higher instrumental motivation in comparison with the girls who are more motivated in an integrative manner. Finally, young learners are a little more motivated than elder ones.