Research into foreign and second language (L2) learning during the last few decades has generally shifted from pedagogy and learning processes to the perspective of the learner. This thesis represents an initial effort to investigate the general framework of L2 learning by exploring social and cultural influences on students' learning behaviours in Australian and Chinese university students. The major goal of this thesis is to investigate why and how students from different social contexts learn an L2 by comparing the similarities and differences in their language learning strategy use, learning motivation, and teaching method preference.
The argument in this study is that the differences between the Australian and Chinese university students in their L2 learning show that the learning environment in different social contexts is the key variable affecting the students' learning in general, language policy and curriculum affect students' learning strategy use, learning motivation, and teaching method preference in particular. In addition, learners' proficiency levels in the target language are also affected by these sociocultural variables, which in turn influence greatly their learning behaviours, especially their learning strategy choices, and teaching method preferences.
Therefore, in this research the relationship between L2 achievement and prior learning experiences, learning strategies, learning motivation, and teaching method preference is explored. The results indicate that language learning strategies and prior learning experience in the target language are related to L2 achievement in both Australian and Chinese university students. Furthermore, the Australian and Chinese university students were studied at different stages of their L2 learning, with Chinese students having had more exposure to the target language than their Australian counterparts, and with the differences in language policy, curriculum design and classroom teaching, there appeared differences between Australian and Chinese university students in terms of learning strategy use, learning motivation, and teaching method preference.
Compared with Chinese university students, Australian students use more social-oral strategies; they are more integratively motivated, and prefer both traditional and communicative teaching methods. In contrast, Chinese students use more compensation strategies; and they are more instrumentally motivated than the Australian students. Further analysis within each social group show that among Australian students, more proficient learners were distinguished from less proficient learners in terms of compensation strategies and integrative motivation. Less proficient learners use more translation strategies, prefer the traditional teaching method, and they are more instrumentally motivated.
Similarly, within the Chinese group, less proficient learners use more translation strategies and prefer the traditional teaching method, whereas more proficient learners use more social-functional strategies and they are more instrumentally motivated. The general comparison between Australian and Chinese groups, as well as within each group, demonstrates consistency by employing multiple research methods. The findings from this study provide strong empirical grounds for the theoretical and pedagogical implications for future research. While the context of the research presented in this thesis may be specific to the particular learning situations under the different educational systems, the insights gained thereby are relevant to all language practitioners and researchers who seek to explore influences upon L2 learners of different contexts in terms of their learning strategy choice, learning motivation, and teaching method preference.