Students' beliefs about learning English as a foreign language in wartime: the experience of Damascus University from 2017 to 2020

Abdul Hadi, R (2021) Students' beliefs about learning English as a foreign language in wartime: the experience of Damascus University from 2017 to 2020. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

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This research investigates the factors that have affected Damascus University students' attitudes towards learning English as a foreign language and have, as a consequence, led to their poor English exam results during the war in Syria. Given that learners' attitudes towards and progress in language learning are directly associated with their beliefs about language learning, this research argues that learners' beliefs are contextually conditioned and responsive to the surrounding environment and can as a result affect their attitudes towards and success in the target language. To this end, an explanatory sequential mixed-methods methodology combining three approaches within the theoretical framework of Dewey's (1938, 1916) concept of experience was employed using a modified version of Horwitz's (2012) Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory (BALLI 2.0) survey and utilising semi-structured interviews. The research has found that two major sets of factors, namely internal factors, including cognitive and affective constructs associated with the students, and external/objective factors relating to the learning context and the overall environment surrounding the students, have interacted with each other and contributed to creating contradictions in the students' language learning beliefs, which eventually influenced their attitudes and final exam results. The research has also found that some of the students' language learning beliefs were variable, responsive to context, and some others were stable, resisting change. Also, the students' motivation and strategy use were found to be context-driven. Theoretically, this research contributes to the field of language learning beliefs in that it emphasises the role of context in constructing and shaping learners' beliefs and experiences, including the interplay between learners and their context. It is the first study to investigate learners' beliefs about foreign language learning in wartime. It also contributes to the scant studies investigating Arab learners' beliefs about language learning. Methodologically, this research utilises three approaches to investigating language learning beliefs, normative, metacognitive and contextual, and is the first study to use the BALLI in the context of war. Findings from this research provide a basis for future studies, which can help in creating more studentcentred foreign language classes and language programmes that take into account students' beliefs and context and help in adjusting their attitudes to enhance their autonomy, particularly in turbulent contexts. Also, findings from this research can help in designing English language teaching programmes that are not limited to the linguistic content but could prepare the students to engage actively with the world outside their classrooms.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: English as a foreign language (EFL), language learning, learners' beliefs about language learning, student motivation, language learning strategies, mixed-methods research, Dewey's concept of experience, the BALLI, impact of contextual factors, Damascus University, higher education, Syria, war, Arab learners
Divisions: School of Education
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Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2021 15:53
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2023 13:37
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