Close this search box.

English May Discourage Students from Learning a New Language

What are the factors that both motivate and impede us from learning foreign languages? A recent study by Alastair Henry at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden examines Swedish students’ decreased interest and success rate in learning languages besides English.

According to Henry, many students in Sweden prefer to use English on a regular basis, and they often use it as a resource language when learning other languages. Henry’s findings show that this negatively affects students’ motivation to learn other languages, and it can affect their actual abilities to learn foreign languages as well.

The Lack of Motivation

Henry developed a system of questionnaires and interviews for his (successfully defended) thesis to gain insight into the effects of Swedish students using English as a resource language when learning French, Spanish, and German.

Much of his work involved the development of motivational trajectories, gender differences, and whether a lack of motivation was related to processes in which a student’s Spanish-speaking self-concept is compared to another’s English-speaking self-concept.

Henry discovered that while English can be extremely useful in cases where a student either reads, listens to, or writes in a foreign language, many students also become less motivated and make significantly less progress in their studies.

English and Self-Concepts

According to Henry:

Students recognize similar words and phrases in English, and teachers often encourage students to use their English skills when learning French, Spanish, and German. However, using English in this way activates the student’s so-called English-speaking self.

As a result, the student will inevitably compare his or her different language self-concepts – a comparison that most likely will make the student less confident about his or her future skills in the studied language and therefore less motivated in the classroom.

Avoiding the Reliance on English

The interviews that Henry conducted during his study reveal that some Swedish students who successfully learn another language often use strategies to block the negative influence of English. Henry stresses the importance of teachers strengthening their students’ language self-concepts. He suggests that teachers be made aware that using English as a resource may have a negative impact on students’ motivation to learn a third language.

Henry even offers a noteworthy tip: “The language self-concept can be enhanced by using a method common in sports psychology. Coaches often ask their athletes to visualize themselves as successful in the future, and this can be done in the language classroom as well.”

Photograph by sujoykchatterjee

Other Resources

November is Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month has officially been celebrated in the United States each November since 1990. This is recognized on the federal, state, and local levels with special programming and events to highlight and honor the traditions, culture, history, and...

Learn More

5 Fascinating Facts About the Hawaiian Language: A Look into its History and Significance

Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is one of the two official languages of Hawaii. While the language was banned in schools after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1896, there have been revitalization efforts since 1978. Today...

Learn More

What is Heritage Language?

Individuals who speak multiple languages or live in multilingual households may have a “heritage language.” This term describes the language the individual speaks or hears at home, but it is not the dominant language spoken in the community. In the...

Learn More

Contact Us

Get Started Today

Interested in our language services? Complete the form or call us during business hours (9 AM to 6:00 PM ET) at 800.895.8210.

Preparing for your test?

View our test prep materials or FAQ’s for common questions about taking a test.