The teacher has to be aware of the fact that students are individuals and their social background and other social factors influence their language learning. Complex social factors affect the student’s language learning process. Though the teacher may change some of them, attitude and motivation depend on these social factors. The sociolinguistic aspects are crucial to be understood in the classroom.

Age

One of the biggest obstacles to adult language learning is the doubt that adult can ever learn a language. Most of us assume that ’the younger the better’. It is true that children have an advantage in learning a native-like fluency, but adults learn differently from children. And if they are healthy and no chronic diseases affect the adults’ ability then they are able to achieve the full understanding of the language. Classroom behavior: First of all, students are fully aware of the expectations and conform of their own age group and often show great reluctance to act differently. Nowadays in the co-educated classrooms, teenage girls are more likely to participate in a student-teacher situation. English pop-records, songs: good motivation, but out of date course book-stars often bore the teenagers and cause ridiculous situations when beginning a certain unit for the first time.

Sex

According to survey teenage girls show greater understanding and interest in second language learning when it comes to the learning process, whereas boys have a greater range of vocabulary. It is probably because the two genders at this age have different kind of interaction in the subject mentioned above. Other important factor is the role of their own sex in their age range. Class group in early teenage years may have just started to ‘select’ their leaders and sometimes this leader figure is expected not to be the best in school subjects. If these certain individuals can overcome these expectations they can be really motivated and pull other members of the class with them.

Social class

Classification of social class is generally based on the income level, the level of education and the occupation. Older terminologies, such as ‘lower’ or ‘upper’ class are considered to be prejudicial. Some parents who have lower level of education may show little or no support at all when it comes to their children’s (language) learning. Others with the same educational background do oppositely; they give strong support, probably because of the fact that they were not able to achieve their goals.

Ethnic identity

Svanes’ study in 1988 showed that the most successful members were members of a ‘close’ group – European and American. Close groups means the sharing of the same, ‘western’ culture. The second most successful was the group of African and Middle Eastern students who had some kind of contact with the West. The least successful was the ‘distant’ group of Asians. This fact may have changed during the last two decade due to the spreading of the telecommunication, globalization and the powerful effects of the Internet.

Social effects

Language learning can be very stressful and the positive and negative attitudes from the society can be crucial. Where the community has a very negative view of the target language and generally of its speakers learning becomes much more difficult.

In the last few decades almost all Hungarians had been learning Russian for at least eight years, but hardly any of us can speak Russian. It is only now that the negative attitude towards the language (and the Russians) is starting to vanish and the value of the Russian language knowledge is rising.

Other common social factors include the attitude of parents toward language learning, it may depend on the parents’ education.

Another major factor is the nature of group dynamics and the development of leading figures in the classroom.

Early attitudes may give stronger motivation and facility with languages generally, for instance with early exposure to the language.

One of the most important fact a teacher must be aware of: Why their students study the language. It is a very important factor, since their motivation depends on their goals. Some may study out of passion and they are even able to pay for it. Some need it for their occupation and for making a living. When it comes to teenagers and state education the motivation can be less but the challenge for the teacher grows with it.

Sources:

  1. Molnár, K. – Martin, B.: Essentials of Applied Linguistics for English Language Teachers (Lingua Practica Savariensis, 2000)
  2. Mclaughlin, B.: Myths and misconceptions about second language learning: What every teacher needs to unlearn. (University of California, 1992) (2018-11-16)