Looking Beyond Students’ Language Learning and Attitudes Towards Three Languages In Contact


This study aims to examine attitudes towards Romanian, Spanish and English in a group of 124 Romanian native speakers from Romania, aged 15-18 years old, that were exposed to Spanish and English as a foreign language in Secondary Education. It is commonly believe that learning a third language is easier than learning a second and thus, the bilingual learners cognitively benefit from their prior language learning. Drawing upon empirical data gathered from a questionnaire with 52 items, this study advances the idea that are no significant differences between the attitudes towards the three languages: Romanian, Spanish and English. On the other hand, our results suggest that students’ positive attitudes towards English revealed a stronger trilingual identity of the participants of our study. Furthermore, results have also indicated that there are several significant differences in Romanian and Spanish attitudes between the learners (n = 22) who have studied for several years in Western countries or with parents working there, than their peers who have never been in interaction with other cultures.

Keywords: Attitudeslanguage learningRomanian Secondary Educationforeign language


Many studies have demonstrated the important role of attitudes as a key motivational component

in the acquisition of a second or third language. Garrett et al. (2003: 3) define attitude as ‘an evaluative

orientation to a social object of some sort, but that, being a “disposition”, an attitude is at least potentially

an evaluative stance that is sufficiently stable to allow it to be identified and in some sense measured’.

They note that some language attitudes are acquired at an early age and are thus likely to be relatively


In the school setting, especially in multilingual settings, it is important to understand language

attitudes and their relationship to language behaviours, where the language attitudes may be negatively

affected if their first languages are excluded, or marginalised in the school or implicitly by the teacher

(Seligman et al., 1972; Papapavlou & Pavlou, 2007). Gardner (1985) belived that learners cultivating

more open and positive attitudes towards an L2/L3, could learn it if they have sufficient motivation.

It is well know that attitudes are learned through observational learning and instrumental learning

(Garrett, 2010). Learning happens through language socialisation (Duff, 2010), in which children acquire

the communicative competence and all the rules of the new society in order to react to the their social

world. As Luykx, 2005; Baquedano-López & Kattan, 2007 note, children have access to socially valued

linguistic resources shaping language socialisation practices and coconstructing language attitudes.

Understanding the attitudes of learners towards the language and its speakers in the context of

secondary education is important in order to exploit the most important attitudinal factors affecting L2/L3

acquisition. However, there is still little data available regarding the attitudes towards three languages in

contact such Romanian, Spanish and English within the context of Romanian secondary education. This

research presents teenage students’ attitudes towards languages in Romania. In addition, based on the

findings of the study, we believe that schools, universities and other institutions could take advantage of

these attitudes in secondary education.

2. Method and data sample

In this study we have made use of a questionnaire approach to elicit the attitudes of the informants

towards the three languages and tried to gain information about the respondents’ age, sex, grade,

occupation of their parents, languages studied in secondary education, etc. We sampled 124 Romanian

native speakers from a public school in secondary education situated in the northeastern region of

Romania, aged 15-18 years old, that were exposed to Spanish and English as a foreign language in

Secondary Education, 22 subjects of whom have studied for several years in Western countries or have

parents working there.

We used a questionnaire elaborated from the study of Ardeo (2014) which has been implemented

with bilingual speakers from the Basque Country. We elaborated a definitive test adapted to the

sociolinguistic features of Romania students in secondary schools. The questionnaire contains two

blocks; the first one presents information about the students, as we explain above, and the second one

contains 52 items gathering information about languages, identity, attitudes and culture. The

questionnaires were completed in Romanian language in the 2015-2016 academic year and the time

allowed was 30 minutes.

2.1. Statistical analysis

Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to describe the sample characteristics as well as to

test for group and/or attitudes differences. In order to describe the sample, means, standard deviations,

frequencies and graphs were used. To compare groups and/or attitudes in the sample, mean comparison

were used. Specifically, t-tests and repeated measures ANOVA were used. When an ANOVA resulted in

significant results, post-hoc (Sidak correction) pairwise comparisons were used to test for pair mean

differences. All statistical analyses were performed in the SPSS 22 package.

3. Results

Among the 52 indicators of attitudes towards languages, some of them are parallel (symmetrical),

in the sense that they ask for a certain attitude with exactly the same wording but the language changes.

As an example, “How much do you like Romanian?” vs. “How much do you like Spanish?”. These

indicators allowed us to compare differences in attitudes towards these languages. There were important

and statistically significant differences among these indicators. The means and mean comparison for all

these “symmetrical” pairs are presented in table 1 . In general, the students like Romanians and Romanian,

as well as they like programs, films, music and magazines more in Romanian than in Spanish. However,

when it comes to indicators of the importance of Romania vs. Spain and their languages, the differences

always favor Spain.

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

Additionally, there were four indicators that asked about “How much do you think knowing

Romanian/Spanish/English/other languages would help your future career?”, and we also compared their

means with repeated measures ANOVA. ANOVA results found statistically significant differences (F(3,

369)= 25.18, p< .001.) in the four indicators. A post-hoc (Sidak correction) pairwise comparison found

that these differences were due to a statistically different (and higher) mean of English when compared to

all other languages. That is, the students consider that Spanish, Romanian and other languages (with the

exception of English) may help less than English in their careers. The means are presented in Figure 1 .

Figure 1: Means of languages that would help students’ future career
Means of languages that would help students’ future career
See Full Size >

Some of the students had Spanish as a foreign language and some were native speakers. We were

therefore interested to compare the attitudes about languages of these native Spanish speakers to those

that are only learning Spanish as a second language. In order to do so, several t-tests were calculated.

Most of them shown no statistically significant differences, but the t-test that were significant are

presented in Table 2 . A close look at the means shown that native speakers had higher means for all these

indicators, including those referred to Romanian.

Table 2 -
See Full Size >

The differences among those students which parents worked or still work outside Romania and

those who don’t were also explored. Table 3 shows the statistically significant differences among the

means of this two groups as well as mean estimates. There were a total of ten indicators in which both

groups significantly differed. The pattern of differences was clear, the students whose parents work or

worked outside Romania always scored higher in the indicators in which there were differences.

Table 3 -
See Full Size >

4. Discussion and conclusions

We can draw the main conclusions based on our findings. Firstly the most important of the

findings from the study is that the data provide strong empirical research in language attitude towards

three languages in Romania context. As we explained above, the students like Romanians and Romanian,

as well as they like programs, films, music and magazines more in Romanian than in Spanish because

they have access to all this information in Romanian in Romania context and only in formal education

they are in contact with Spanish culture. We have also noticed that Romanian teenage students mostly use

Romanian programs for fun and entertainment and that are not fully informed about the maximum

potential of the Spanish culture, such as how the positive use of these programs can enhance a better

study of language Spanish.

Secondly, the results of this study indicate that Romanian teenage students are open to

demonstrate positive attitudes regarding the benefits effects of learning English, the most important

lingua franca in the globalised world, a language of communication between people. The results have

demonstrated that teenage students are aware of the fact that the use of English language is associated

with positive attitudes as well, and also revealed their clear understanding of the advantages of learning

English. In line with the findings of Ardeo (2014), our results suggest that students’ positive attitudes

towards English revealed a stronger trilingual identity of the participants of our study.

Finally, another important finding is the differences among those students which parents worked

or still work outside Romania and those who don’t. Our participants who lived in other countries,

especially in Spain and whose families had settled down in Spain or elsewhere show more positive

attitudes towards Spain culture and language than the other ones. It is important to note that the presence

of a certain language in the family context, such Spanish or Italian, for these students influences language

attitudes towards those languages. They are motivated by their parents to learn new languages as Gardner

(1985) highlight.

To conclude, this study has introduced an analysis of languages attitudes of Romanian students;

hence, it reflects only their opinions on the matter. If our purpose would be that of finding out what the

effects of language attitudes are on people in general, then a similar research project but employing users

from different spheres of activity should be carried out.


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18 December 2019

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Tomás, J. M., Chireac*, S., & Fernández, I. (2019). Looking Beyond Students’ Language Learning and Attitudes Towards Three Languages In Contact. In E. Soare, & C. Langa (Eds.), Education Facing Contemporary World Issues, vol 23. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 515-521). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.63