Developing and Piloting a Q-sample on Chinese Language Learners’ Epistemic Beliefs
Background. Epistemic beliefs refer to a person’s viewpoints about the nature of knowledge and the process of knowing. A number of studies have explored language learners’ subjective views about what knowing and learning a foreign or a second language (L2) means to them personally. For the most part, these studies adopted quantitative research designs and employed self-reported questionnaires with Likert-type scales to collect the data.
Purpose. This pilot study aimed to assess feasibility of adopting Q-methodology (Q) for explorations of language-related epistemic beliefs held by Chinese university students. A detailed account is given of the development of the research instrument (Q-sample); the findings from the Q-sample piloting are reported.
Methods. The newly-developed Q-sample consisting of 45 statements was tested among six students learning the English language in a university in Mainland China. The students were at a different level of the English language proficiency. The 11-point Q-sorting grid had the values ranging from -5 (“Most disagree”) to +5 (“Most agree”). To gain deeper insights into the students’ personal epistemologies, a semi-structured post Q-sorting interview was conducted with each student.
Results. The newly-developed Q-sample was found suitable for exploring language-related epistemic beliefs. Two groups of students sharing similar beliefs were distinguished. Students who clustered together to form Factor 1 held stronger viewpoints concerning certainty of knowledge; these students were at a lower English language proficiency level. The students who conglomerated on Factor 2 were at a higher level of language proficiency and they held stronger opinions relating to the authority and source of knowledge.
Implications. The findings highlighted the relevance and salience of the epistemic beliefs pertaining to the process of acquiring knowledge. Further research with larger numbers of students is required to explore the role of language proficiency in shaping language learners’ personal epistemologies.
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