Theses Doctoral

A Sociocultural Approach to the Study of Motivation and Attitudes towards the Learning of Mandarin Chinese in the U.S.: Secondary School Students' Perceptions

Lin, Yue

This qualitative case study focused on exploring non-Asian students' and their parents' perspectives on the students' Chinese language learning experiences. It aimed to provide a better understanding of what motivates secondary school level students in the U.S. to learn Chinese, as well as their attitudes towards the Chinese language, the Chinese culture, and Chinese speakers. The purpose of the study was to provide comprehensive pictures of what learning the Chinese language might mean to secondary school level students. Ten non-Asian secondary school students who were studying Mandarin Chinese in New York City constituted the target population. The secondary target population was their parents. The data collection methods included interviews, the review of documents, and a focus group. Content analysis was used to analyze the interview transcripts, and the data were collected, interpreted and analyzed by applying a sociocultural constructivist framework and the multiple-leveled Communication Ecological Model. The findings showed that the economic power of China and the national security establishments of the U.S. affect the motivation and attitudes of non-Asian secondary level school students towards learning Mandarin at the macro level. At the meso level, families, schools, teachers, peers, extracurricular Mandarin programs, the presence of local and overseas Chinese speaking communities, and media are found to support students' Mandarin learning. Overall positive attitudes towards the Chinese language, the Chinese culture, and Chinese speakers were reported by students at the micro level. Investing in learning Mandarin with the goal of communicating effectively was mentioned by all students in the present study. Parents also reported positive attitudes towards their children learning Mandarin and held positive beliefs about the necessity of learning about both the Chinese language and its culture. Students and parents all emphasized the utility of Mandarin. In terms of the interaction between the micro level and the meso level, the data showed that in the initial period of Mandarin learning, schools and parents play a significant role, thus overshadowing any student based initiative. A second finding was that across the cases of secondary students, two patterns associated with sustaining their involvement in Mandarin learning were found. I termed the first, the agentic pattern and the second, the traditional institutional pattern. In the agentic pattern, students attend Mandarin classes operated by different educational institutions, but they also exercise agency in non-instructional settings to access additional linguistic and interactional resources. In the traditional institutional pattern, despite access to spontaneous interactional resources, students continue to be mainly active in Mandarin language socialization in instructional settings. The present study indicates that students manage to sustain involvement in Mandarin learning because the possibility of becoming a proficient Mandarin speaker is supported by the multiple communities where they have memberships. It is hoped that through its sociocultural approach this qualitative case study can contribute to the present gap in the L2 motivation and attitudes research and can provide research directions for other less commonly taught languages.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Comparative and International Education
Thesis Advisors
Torres-Guzman, Maria
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 31, 2013