How International Students Using Communication Centers Navigate Locus of Control

This study documents how students learning English as a second language exhibit various levels of internal and external locus of control in their learning process. Focus group interviews were conducted with 21 non-native English speakers from seven nations enrolled in an intensive English language learning program at a mid-size research university in the southeastern United States. All participants engaged regularly in conversational practice at the university’s oral communication center. Participants were asked about the processes they used for learning English and what their sources of motivation were. Thematic content analysis revealed that internal and external locus of control tended to operate synergistically in the process of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture. Motivation to initiate and persist in new language acquisition emerged from a blend of personal agency, inspiration from family and teachers, and social exigencies. The dynamic interplay between internal and external locus of control challenges common portrayals of these dimensions as antagonistic. Learners often range across levels of internal and external orientations, suggesting need to reconsider characterizations of internality primarily as an enhancer and externality primarily as an inhibitor of learning.

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