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  • Fostering autonomy in intercultural language learning in the foreign

    language classroom: a case study of international students learning

    English at a higher education institution in Ireland

    by Aleksandra Sudhershan, M.A.

    Supervisors: Dr Jenny Bruen and Ms Veronica Crosbie

    School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies

    Dublin City University

    PhD January 2012


    I hereby certify that this material, which I now submit for assessment on the programme

    of study leading to the award of Doctor of Philosophy is entirely my own work, that I

    have exercised reasonable care to ensure that the work is original, and does not to the

    best of my knowledge breach any law of copyright, and has not been taken from the

    work of others save and to the extent that such work has been cited and acknowledged

    within the text of my work.

    Signed: ____________ ID No.: 55137202 Date: ____________

  • To my Dad,

    who would be very proud


    First of all, I would like to sincerely thank my supervisors - Dr Jenny Bruen and

    Veronica Crosbie - for their invaluable guidance, constant encouragement, infinite

    patience and constructive criticism during the course of my research. I truly could not

    have wished for better supervisors and I really appreciate the fact that I could always

    count on their support and understanding.

    Secondly, I am deeply grateful to “Liz” for inviting me into her classroom and to her

    students for welcoming me there. In particular, I would like to thank those students who

    so generously agreed to take part in interviews, focus groups and think-aloud protocol

    sessions. Without them, this thesis would not have been possible.

    Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank my husband, Dan, for his unwavering

    belief in me and for doing everything possible in his might to make the writing of this

    thesis easier. To our two dearest sons, Miron and Eliasz, I can at last say that from now

    on they are going to get my undivided attention. To my mom, I would like to say thank

    you for taking care of the boys so that I could have more time to work on the thesis.

    Without their own personal sacrifices, big and small, I would have never been able to

    complete this task.

    Thank you.






    1.1 Introduction 1

    1.2 Key terms: learner autonomy, intercultural competence and

    autonomy in intercultural language learning 1

    1.3 Context: the internationalisation of higher education and

    international student mobility 3

    1.4 Area of concern: the educational experience of international

    students 5

    1.5 Research questions 7

    1.6 Thesis outline 9

    CHAPTER TWO: Learner autonomy in the foreign language classroom 10

    2.1 Introduction 10

    2.2 Conceptualising learner autonomy 10

    2.2.1 The technical perspective 11

    2.2.2 The psychological perspective 12

    2.2.3 The socio-cultural perspective 15

    2.2.4 The political-critical perspective 16

    2.2.5 Converging the perspectives: a definition of learner

    autonomy 18

    2.3 Developing autonomy in the foreign language classroom 21

    2.3.1 Focus on the process: the key factors 21

    2.3.2 Focus on the learner: international students and the

    acquisition of learner autonomy 25

    2.4 Assessing learner autonomy 29

  • 2.5 Conclusions 32

    CHAPTER THREE: Foreign language learning and intercultural

    competence 34

    3.1 Introduction 34

    3.2 Defining intercultural competence 35

    3.3 Acquiring intercultural competence in the foreign language

    classroom 40

    3.4 Assessing intercultural competence: from objective testing to

    assessment via the European Language Portfolio 44

    3.5 Conceptualising autonomy in intercultural language learning 54

    3.6 Conclusions 57

    CHAPTER FOUR: Research methodology 59

    4.1 Introduction 59

    4.2 The “intellectual puzzle” and the research questions 59

    4.3 Qualitative research methodology: an overview 63

    4.4 The case study approach 65

    4.5 Introduction to the case: LAN01 module 68

    4.5.1 Case selection 68

    4.5.2 Description of the case 69

    4.5.3 The data collection process 71 Interviews 72 Classroom observation 76 Documents 79

    4.6 Data analysis 80

    4.7 Trustworthiness 83

    4.7.1 Internal validity / credibility 84

    4.7.2 Reliability / rigour 87

    4.7.3 External validity / usefulness 88

    4.7.4 Ethics 90

    4.8 Summary 91

  • CHAPTER FIVE: Fostering learner autonomy in a multicultural

    language classroom 93

    5.1 Introduction 93

    5.2. Setting students off on independent learning tracks 95

    5.3 Developing the “learning software” 106

    5.4 Fostering interdependence 116

    5.5 Nurturing global citizens 120

    5.6 Summary 125

    CHAPTER SIX: International students as autonomous intercultural

    speakers 126

    6.1 Introduction 126

    6.2 Helping international students to become “independent explorers of

    cultures” 127

    6.3 Maximising the potential of experiential learning in the language

    classroom: “interculturality in practice” 133

    6.4 Sowing the seeds of intercultural citizenship education 145

    6.5 Conclusions: developing learner autonomy and intercultural competence

    in a multicultural foreign language classroom 147

    CHAPTER SEVEN: Discussion 151

    7.1 Introduction 151

    7.2 Study implications for international and foreign language education 151

    7.3 Fostering autonomy in intercultural language learning in a multicultural

    foreign language classroom: criteria for course development 164

    7.4 Directions for future research 172

    7.5 Summary 175

    CHAPTER EIGHT: Conclusions 176

    8.1 Introduction 176

    8.2 Summary of research findings 177

    8.3 Limitations of the study 180

  • 8.4 Contribution to knowledge 181



    Appendix A Screenshots of the LOLIPOP ELP i

    Appendix B LAN01 module documents vi

    B.1 Module descriptor vi

    B.2 Assessment details viii

    B.3 Course overview x

    Appendix C Documents pertinent to data collection xii

    C.1 Overview of data sources used in the study xii

    C.2 Sample “Reflection on learning” journal entry xv

    C.3 Interview protocol for the first round of focus group interviews xvi

    C.4 Sample focus group interview transcript xix

    C.5 Sample individual interview transcript xli

    Appendix D Documents pertinent to data analysis l

    D.1 Sample screenshots of data analysis in Nvivo8 l

    D.2 Sample coded data (Codename: Being told what to do by the

    teacher) liii

    D.3 Sample coded data (Codename: Self-assessment in uncomfortable) liv

    D.4 Sample coded data (Codename: LAN01’s multiculturalism fosters

    intercultural learning) lvi

    D.5 Sample coded data (Codename: Practising ethical consumerism) lxii

    Appendix E Documents pertinent to research ethics lxiv

    E.1 Informed Consent Form lxiv

    E.2 Plain Language Statement lxv

  • i


    Fostering autonomy in intercultural language learning in the foreign language classroom: a case study of international students learning English at a higher

    education institution in Ireland

    Aleksandra Sudhershan

    This study is concerned with the concept of autonomy in intercultural language learning, understood here as the capacity to take responsibility for one’s own language and intercultural development. It examines how such autonomy can be developed among international students in the foreign language classroom as a means of helping this student group to maximise the potential for language and intercultural development that study abroad offers. To investigate this issue, a qualitative case study was designed which involved 30 international students learning English in a higher education institution in Ireland over a period of one semester. The research drew on a variety of methods, including classroom observations, focus group and individual interviews as well as documents. The data were analysed by means of a computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software called NVivo8. The resul