Languages: Computation or communication? Gender issues in curricular foreign language acquisition

Taylor, Annelies (2010). Languages: Computation or communication? Gender issues in curricular foreign language acquisition. EdD thesis The Open University.



Do boys and girls learn differently? The perception of Modern Foreign Language learning appears to show that there is an increasing gap between the attainment of boys and girls. In this research I have chosen to focus on the secondary school context and particularly on two main questions: Do boys and girls display different aptitudes when learning a Modern Foreign Language? Does a difference in teaching style affect learning in a secondary school context, either when comparing boys and girls, or when comparing the learning of German or French in similar contexts?

The first phase of my research involved conducting aptitude tests, initially using the MLAT-E, as developed by Carroll and Sapon. This test, conducted in English, was originally intended to demonstrate whether learners have an aptitude for learning a Foreign Language, by focussing on phonetic coding, grammar handling, rote memorization, inductive language learning ability. A test written and performed in English may provide some insights into students' aptitude for learning a foreign language, but in order to investigate differences in learning either French or German, I developed further tests, using the same principles, but which were conducted in French and German. In both of these tests there appears to be no significant difference between the performance of boys and girls in the specific context, and no significant difference between the two languages.

It is often assumed that boys learn by breaking tasks down into clear cut rules, and girls learn by following examples. Using a range of inductive and deductive teaching strategies, students were taught how to use the simple future tense in French and German. Students were observed during the teaching phase, both during whole class activities, and in group work situations, and were interviewed after completing their final assessments, to ascertain how they managed the tasks. When comparing students' understanding and application of the simple future tense, I could again, observe no significant difference between boys and girls, or between the learning of German and French.

This research has been conducted among a range of mixed ability classes in KS3 (age 11-14) in a comprehensive school. This action research is significant for teachers of Modern Foreign Languages in the secondary school, as we move forwards from the new KS2 MFL curriculum component. The questions remain, however, as to why there is still such a disparity in the results of boys and girls at GCSE and how teachers can encourage boys in their pursuit of language learning.

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