Pre-service teaching students’ motivation to learn Afrikaans as L2 in a minority context: A case study

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This paper reports on the findings of a more extensive qualitative PhD case study on Afrikaans second language (L2) speakers’ motivation to learn the language in a pre-service teaching curriculum (Prinsloo 2017). The study is located within the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Durban, South Africa. The research question is: What are pre-service teaching students’ perceptions of their motivation to learn Afrikaans as L2? There is very little research within a South African context on L2 learning motivation, where students have limited exposure to the language outside the classroom. The context of learning Afrikaans as an L2 (at an English-language university) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the province with statistically the smallest number of Afrikaans speakers, is a critical element of the paper. The paper aims to describe pre-service teaching students’ perceptions of their motivation to learn Afrikaans as L2 by using a thematic data analysis method.

Participation in the study was voluntary and sampling purposive. The participants were all non-mother tongue speakers of Afrikaans, mostly African and Indian female students, registered for the Afrikaans Kommunikasie module. At the time of this study, the 16-credit module was offered to students in the School of Education. Students were required to complete a module in a language that was not their mother tongue. Participants completed a questionnaire, followed by one-on-one interviews during which they reflected and elaborated on their responses given in the initial questionnaire.

According to Dörnyei (2008:117), a prominent researcher in language learning motivation, even individuals with the most remarkable abilities cannot accomplish long term goals without sufficient motivation. “Similarly, appropriate curriculum and good teaching are not enough on their own to ensure student achievement – students also need to have a modicum of motivation” (Dörnyei 2008:117). In my case study, I construe language learning motivation as the cognitive and/or emotional need to learn a language for whatever intrinsic or extrinsic reasons, which gives rise to a period where learning occurs to obtain an internally or externally set goal (Williams and Burden 1997:120).

In the early nineties, Dörnyei’s (1994) research on L2 learning motivation revealed that the classroom setting and contextual environment play a more significant role in a person’s motivation to learn an L2 than previously thought. Dörnyei (2001:13) noted that:

so much is going on in a classroom at the same time that no single motivational principle can possibly capture this complexity [...] Therefore, in order to understand why students behave as they do, we need a detailed and most likely eclectic construct that represents multiple perspectives.

Dörnyei’s (1994) layered (micro-perspective) framework on language learning motivation was used during the data analysis phase to draw up and describe students’ main perceptions of their motivation to learn Afrikaans as L2, as it emphasises the context in which L2 learning takes place. The framework refers to motivational components at various levels in the learning environment – the language level, learner level, and learning situation level. I analysed the textual data of the questionnaire and follow-up interview by breaking it up into manageable units to allow me to identify themes. During data analysis, the identified themes were placed into main perception categories by linking it to Dörnyei’s motivational levels, as specified in his framework. While drawing up students’ main perceptions, I also consulted Williams and Burden’s (1997) extended framework for language learning motivation, which provides a detailed summary of motivational components relevant for the teaching and learning of an L2.

The data analysis focused on three aspects: (i) participants’ perceptions of their feelings about Afrikaans, (ii) participants’ perceptions of the learning of Afrikaans as L2 in general, as well as (iii) participants’ perceptions of learning Afrikaans as L2 specifically at university. The study found that participants who were motivated to learn Afrikaans at school are, in the main, also motivated to learn Afrikaans at university. This motivation seems to be more extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation involves intentional behaviour to obtain an external goal or to achieve something practical. These goals include obtaining good marks in Afrikaans, passing the Afrikaans module to get the necessary credits, to meet parents’ or lecturers’ expectations, or to avoid having to learn another language which might seem more difficult. 

The main perceptions, along with Dörnyei’s (1998) various motivational levels, that came to the fore in the analysis of the participants’ perceptions of their motivation to learn Afrikaans as L2 relate to the following:

  • perceptions of students’ own Afrikaans language competency (learner level);
  • feelings about the language (language level);
  • exposure to Afrikaans (language level);
  • previous learning experiences of Afrikaans – at school (learning situation level);
  • perceptions of the Afrikaans classroom environment – at university (learning situation level);
  • perceptions of the Afrikaans educator – at school and university (learning situation level);
  • the difficulty-level of Afrikaans (learning situation level);
  • perceptions of curriculum requirements (learning situation level); and
  • the usefulness of Afrikaans (language level).

With regard to participants’ perceptions of their previous learning experiences of Afrikaans – at school (learning situation level) and their perceptions of the Afrikaans classroom environment – at university (learning situation level), the issue of the amount of exposure to Afrikaans in the Afrikaans classroom frequently came to the fore. It seemed to play a significant role in developing students’ self-confidence in their Afrikaans language competencies, as their exposure to Afrikaans outside the classroom is somewhat limited. Participants’ perceptions revealed that they prefer smaller language classes that would allow greater opportunity to get to know one another, which could lead to their feeling more comfortable speaking Afrikaans in the classroom.

The participants’ perceptions of the Afrikaans classroom environment and previous learning experiences emphasised the educator’s important role in the classroom context. Afrikaans educators must be passionate and motivated to teach the language. These perceptions link with the context in which the study occurred. The Afrikaans Kommunikasie module is taught to potential Afrikaans educators, with some students explicitly identifying themselves as future Afrikaans educators. After completing the Afrikaans Kommunikasie module, students are allowed and may be expected to teach Afrikaans at the primary school level. Therefore, the pre-service teachers have to develop their Afrikaans L2 competencies in the university lecture hall to help prepare them to teach the language as an L2 at school. The implication is that my study’s context is more specific than in a study where the participants are general Afrikaans L2 students in, for example, a BA-degree.

My study recommends that educators (at school and university level) in KZN carefully consider implementing language teaching approaches that will be the most beneficial in a context where students have limited exposure to Afrikaans as L2 outside the classroom. Against this background, I suggest using approaches such as a communicative language teaching approach and a task-based language teaching approach. These approaches include real-life tasks and opportunities to develop communicative competence in the Afrikaans L2 classroom. Implementing this or similar practices could help students to develop their Afrikaans communicative competencies in the classroom more effectively, seeing that their exposure to the language in KZN and at UKZN is limited outside the classroom.

Keywords: Afrikaans as L2; L2 language learning; language learning context; motivation; pre-service teaching curriculum


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