Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Curriculum and Instruction
AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF Xiang Shen for the Doctor of Philosophy in Education degree with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction, presented on December 12, 2016 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: AN INVESTIGATION OF ENGLISH LEARNERS’ WILLINGNESS TO COMMUNICATE IN A LINGUISTICALLY DIVERSE SETTING CO-MAJOR PROFESSORS: Dr. Grant Miller; Dr. Lavern Byfield Given the demographic shift in higher education in the United States, the student population is growing increasingly diverse. English learners’ (ELs’) willingness to communicate (WTC) is deemed as a key factor predicting their development in both English language and content knowledge (MacIntyre, Baker, Clément, & Donovan, 2003; MacIntyre & Charos, 1996; MacIntyre, Dörnyei, Clément, & Noels, 1998; Skehan, 1989). As a major trajectory of the psychology of second language acquisition, the study of WTC seeks to understand an individual’s volitional desire to talk to people (MacIntyre, 2007). Historically, studies of WTC have revealed that factors influencing WTC fall into two groups, direct and indirect factors (MacIntyre & Charos, 1996; MacIntyre et al., 1998; Kang, 2005). Direct factors include L2 anxiety, perceived L2 competence, and L2 motivation (MacIntyre & Charos, 1996; MacIntyre et al., 1998), which account for L2 speakers’ psychological changes determinant of their L2 WTC. Indirect factors, on the other hand, account for all potential circumstances where L2 speakers are situated (MacIntyre et al., 1998; Kang, 2005). In Kang’s (2005) preliminary model of situational L2 WTC, ELs’ interlocutors, as a major situational factor, impact their WTC due to interlocutors’ diverse backgrounds (Kang, 2005). Although WTC has been intensively studied, historically, with a number of factors identified, there still exists a gap in studies about both direct factors and indirect factors. In addition, findings on varying ELs’ WTC with interlocutors from diverse backgrounds remain inconsistent. The present study is intended to provide an in-depth understanding of ELs’ development of WTC. Taking a complex and dynamic system perspective, the present study employed a mixed-methods approach to specifically investigate ELs’ WTC with three categorizations of interlocutors based on their first languages. Through analysis of twenty-six (26) participants’ responses to a survey instrument and a concurrent interview, it was revealed that ELs’ WTC with native speakers and other international peers without shared native languages are higher than their peers with shared native languages. Three nested models were promoted to account for ELs’ development of WTC from a micro to a macro level. From these models, the development of ELs’ WTC is seen as a process of their selection of interlocutors. During this process, ELs’ perceptions of interlocutors are jointly influenced by their previous experiences and stereotypes of particular types of interlocutors. In particular, communication efficiency (CE) was found to be determinant of ELs’ experience of interaction. In order to reach higher CE, efficient interlocutors should maintain their comprehensibility and adaptability, two capabilities which are based on their L2 proficiency, knowledge of topics, and attitudes. In addition, L2 speakers were found with the ability to maintain their L2 WTC through shifting between integrative and instrumental orientations. Overall, the findings confirmed that ELs’ development of WTC is a complex and dynamic process. In addition, findings also revealed how ELs perceived their varying WTC and impact on their opportunities to learn (Gee, 2008).
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