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Case studies

First case study - Chong

Description of Chong's background

Chong has been living in France for more than seven years and is 32 years old. She graduated in English at a Chinese university through a lifelong learning system and then worked as an English teacher in a senior high school for one year. Chong began studying French while she was preparing for a test to enrol for a Master's degree at a Chinese university, because a foreign language other than English was compulsory for this test. Three months later, she failed the test and decided to continue her studies in France. There, she learned French in a private language school for two years and passed a language test which allowed her to register for a Master's degree in French-English-Chinese translation studies. After graduation, she registered for another Master's degree in management studies. After receiving these two Master's degrees, she registered in the second year of a Master's degree in language teaching, as she had always wished to be a language teacher. The interview took place at that time.

Ideal L2 learner

We asked Chong her criteria for a good language learner. 'I think he must have no problem in speaking, listening, reading and writing. He has no foreign accent when he speaks French; although the French people are tolerant towards foreign accents, the Chinese people mind it very much.'

Chong's answer refers to a good language user rather than to a good language learner. Based on her model of a good language learner, Chong considers herself relatively good: 'better than some Chinese learners but not as good as some European learners'. Her sense of being a better language learner than her compatriots, in line with the theory of selfefficacy, gives her some self-satisfaction.

Viewpoints about French language learning

The status of French is important to Chong because all her actions could be positively or negatively motivated by her representations. She gives two sources for motivation for learning French: 'You must learn French because you need French in order to learn your university courses; you have to force yourself to learn.' First, the need for French in studying university courses forced Chong to learn it, which suggests that she might not find any pleasure in the process. Asked for clarification on this point, Chong qualified her statement: 'I like learning French; it sounds good, even though this language is difficult to learn.' Her appreciation for the sonority of the language seems to make her learning more pleasant.

Then, the importance of French for the interviewee's future career clearly contributes to her motivation to learn the language. Indeed, she states, 'I want to become a French teacher, so French is very important for me. But there are not many jobs in China currently. I don't know now.' French is directly related to Chong's future career, because she plans to become a French teacher. However, this project is influenced by the unfavourable prospect of French teaching in China. In a word, Chong is motivated to learn French, but does not have clear plans for making a career out of it. Needing French for university courses and a future job constitute Chong's principal motivations to learn French. We tried to see if Chong's motivation could be linked to an active and autonomous attitude about learning, asking her about the role of teachers in her learning: 'I think that everyone has her/his own goals. You know what you want; the teacher can't influence your orientation. Although the teacher can't give you what you want, you will be able to learn by yourself. The teacher gives you bricks with which you build your house as you like.'

Chong seems to have an autonomous view of learning, which she demonstrates by pointing out the limitations of teachers' actions and stressing the fact that all learners are different as regards their learning motives. On the learner's responsibility for his/her own learning, she adds, 'As a language learner, you need to rely on yourself, because you receive limited knowledge from the teacher.'

In the next section, we turn to Chong's learning activities, which are in line with her autonomous vision of learning.

Actions in French language learning

Chong's vision of language learning can be summed up in this comment: 'If you want to learn, you can find some extracurricular activities to learn and progress by yourself.' Chong told us that she used several resources to learn French. For example, she watches French television, listens to the French radio, reads French books and newspapers and communicates with French friends. It is clear that Chong uses many different types of learning affordances and many material and human resources in her daily life to learn the target language.

She continues with a realistic diagnosis of her current situation. When asked, 'In what situations do you use French and Chinese?' she replies, 'Half-and-half. I don't have many opportunities to speak French, but I listen to French wherever and very often.' Chong is aware of a certain lack of practice in speaking French, which does not prevent her from practicing listening. To find out a little more about how she practices French speaking, we asked questions about her social network:

I liked staying with the Chinese when I arrived in France, but I don't like it anymore. I came to France in order to learn French; I can't learn French with the Chinese, and I left the Chinese circle. I really think that staying with the Chinese is wasting my time, and now I have some French friends. I prefer to communicate with them now. I think I should grasp more opportunities to learn more.

Chong's negative representations of the Chinese student community in respect to her learning of French made her leave it and search more contact with members of the host society. Once again, this example shows how Chong is trying to find all possible means to learn the target language.

Feelings concerning learning French and life in France

We asked Chong to assess her learning of French and tell us how she feels about her life in France in order to better understand her satisfaction or dissatisfaction concerning her experience studying abroad. To the question, 'Do you think that you are successful or failing at learning French?' Chong's answer was, 'rather successful because I achieved my learning goals.' Her satisfaction about learning French seems to arise from a perception of self-efficacy.

But the satisfaction of language learning could also be related to the way she organised her life in the host country in a way that enabled her to use the target language as often as possible. When asked, 'Do you think that successfully learning French is related to a successful life?' Chong replied, 'Maybe, if you can integrate with the local community, you can learn French more easily. You have more contact with French people, and you progress more quickly.'

According to Chong, integration into the host society makes language learning easier, and successful integration is the source of progress in language learning. As described above, she showed great determination to come into contact with native speakers and make the most of the learning resources in her life. We suppose that integrating French society plays an important part in her satisfaction about learning French. When asked if she intended to stop learning French, or if she had given it up, her answer was 'No, never', which suggests that learning French is still important to her.

Finally, we asked Chong if she was disappointed with the decision to study in France: 'I'm not disappointed, not disappointed; that was a good decision. I've got what I wanted. I'm not disappointed.' This example confirms Chong's satisfaction about learning French and her life in France.

Summary of the first case study - Chong

Chong's self-perception as a good language learner comes from her perception of her capacity to use French in various situations. Her feeling of success may be due to a number of factors - representational and behavioural. First, the need for French for studying university courses and the importance of French in her future career give her strong motivation to learn and master the target language. Second, Chong has an autonomous view to language learning; she thinks that the learner has the leading role in his/her learning, and that the teacher cannot significantly influence the learning process. Third, in an autonomous approach to learning, Chong develops extracurricular activities using material and human resources available in her life to learn French. The perfect fit between what she believes and what she does leads to the feeling of success, which encourages her to go further in learning French.

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