ERG SES C 03, Language and Education
In the last few years, we have witnessed a process of internationalisation of education, becoming one of the main objectives of the current society, in which now more than ever, the knowledge of a second language is not a mere alternative, but an essential requirement for a more complete development in many areas of life (ESLC, 2012). This research aims at assessing the teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) both in a national (Spain) and international (Greece) context. It uses the data collected in the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) of 2012to start from, as it reflected the low results of Spanish students in the three areas assessed in comparison with the results obtained by Greek students. Thus, it highlights the need to analyse those variables or factors that influence decisively in the acquisition of English in order to improve the quality of education in this field. This leads us to consider the role played by external or contextual factors and the students’ self-concept in the process of learning English.
Therefore, one of the key variables considered in this research is the students’ socioeconomic and family background, as it plays a significant role on their learning. Some national and international evaluation studies show the relationship between the level of performance achieved by the students and the social, economic and cultural status of their families (Heckman, 2006). In terms of the environmental exposure to English, several researches show that Spanish students barely practice this language outside the classroom (European Commission, 2006; Bonnet, 2003). Due to the expansion of the linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity in Europe, many students are growing up in multilingual and multicultural contexts in which different social groups promote the coexistence of several languages. Inevitably, this intercultural contact may influence the willingness of EFL students to learn about the culture and, consequently, their behaviour will be motivated throughout the learning process. Numerous researches (Agnihotri, 1996; Cummins, 2000; Heugh and Skutnabb-Kangas, 2010; Hornberger, 2003; Pennycook, 1994, 2007) have shown that globally, multilingualism is the norm, not the exception (Joseph and Ramani, 2012). English is used in most of the multilingual contexts. However, for some reason, our society still tends to operate with a monolingual consciousness.
The other key aspect of this research is the role that self-concept plays within the learning process, understood as the subjective conditions about oneself that play a determining role in individuals’ further growth and development (Bandura, 1997; Bong and Shaalvik, 2003). According to authors like Riding and Rayner (2001), when the student recognises their particular achievements and potential for learning, they are more likely to reach their ability level and to confirm social feedback on the basis of which they maintain and enhance their self-concept. Therefore, the causal order of self-concept and academic performance is highly significant and, as Byrne (1996) noted, the motivational characteristics that self-concept has could lead to changes in academic performance, and this is reflected in matters like learning a foreign language.
The doctoral research on which this paper draws, is oriented towards an European/international comparison of the personal, socioeconomic and educational factors influencing the process of teaching and learning English as a foreign language within Secondary students of two European countries: Greece and Spain. Therefore, the basic research objectives are: to understand possible causes why Spain produces poor results in international tests in English as a foreign language; to find out how we can help students to achieve a higher level in English; and to discover the key of the results Greece presents in English tests.
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