Something good? The value of Foreign Language Learning in a STEM context

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Education


Set within the context of a much-reported foreign language crisis, institution-wide language programmes (IWLPs) are thriving in the UK, attracting an increasing number of undergraduates from different disciplines to the study of foreign languages (FLL). This thesis explores the value of FLL and how it is attributed by science and technology (STEM) undergraduates studying languages other than English (LOTEs) within an IWLP in a specialised higher education institution. 
Based on a thematic analysis of undergraduate interviews and using value theory and related concepts from the motivation literature as interpretive tools, this thesis provides a complex and interactional model of FLL value which represents learners’ multi-layered relationship with FLL and the impact of surrounding value discourses. Findings demonstrate how prevalent utilitarian discourses are challenged and reappraised by learners, influenced by the impact of English as Global language for STEM. They also show the importance of considering the academic and the identity dimensions of value as learners highlight the multiple educational and affective benefits gained from their investment in LOTEs. FLL emerges as a means for students to redesign their curriculum and avoid hyper- specialisation, adding a social dimension to their STEM education. The impact of FLL in self-construction, enabling more powerful positions, is also established, however, in a context where undergraduates’ investment in a non-STEM subject is questioned and FLL holds contradictory value, learners also have to find strategies to legitimise their choice and the capital accrued through FLL, and to counteract external pressures to divest. 
This study identifies the need to reappraise extant value discourses and to provide a space in the curriculum for learners to critically engage with their educational choices. It also highlights the tensions which characterise an investment in FLL and in broadening in this context. With its qualitative and sociologically informed focus on IWLP STEM learners, a unique and understudied population, this thesis hopes to provide a new perspective on the experience of learning languages at university in the UK. It also hopes to contribute to the SLA literature by proposing value as analytical tool.
Date of Award1 May 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorSimon Coffey (Supervisor) & Jill Hohenstein (Supervisor)

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