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People rely on their lay theories, or mindsets, to make meaning of their experience in intercultural contact. Given that proficiency in the local language is a crucial social marker of immigrants’ integration, we argue that language mindsets (i.e., beliefs about whether language learning ability is fixed or changeable) guide members of the receiving society to make inferences about immigrants’ language ability (e.g., “can immigrants improve their language ability?”). This social inference, in turn, predicts their willingness to interact with immigrants and support immigrants’ language education. In a correlational study (n = 231) and an experimental study (n = 106), we investigated whether and how language mindsets influence participants’ support for immigrants’ intercultural contact. We found that trait and experimentally-induced fixed (vs. growth) mindsets led to negative judgments of immigrants’ potential to develop their skills in the local language, which in turn predicted avoidance of contact with migrants and opposition to governmental funding of immigrants’ language education. The effects held even after controlling for participants’ political orientations, perceived difficulties of the English language, and judgments of target immigrants’ language fluency. These findings suggest that promoting growth mindsets about language ability can lead to more positive intercultural attitudes that impact the acceptance of migrants. We discussed the implications of language mindsets for understanding the processes of intercultural communication and forming positive intercultural relations.
Preprint, August 20th, 2020 (International Journal of Intercultural Relations)
This preprint may differ slightly from the final, copy-edited version of record.
1 © Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta
Mindsets about language learning and
support for immigrants’ integration
Nigel Mantou Lou1,2 and Kimberly Noels1
1 University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
2 McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
E-mails: mantou@ualberta and
Language mindsets guide people to make sense of their experiences in intercultural contexts.
Trait and experimentally-induced language mindsets predicted support for migrants’ integration.
Fixed (vs. growth) mindsets led to negative judgments about immigrants’ language potential.
Judgment of potential predicted contact avoidance and opposition to integration programs.
Growth language mindsets promote positive intercultural relations.
People rely on their lay theories, or mindsets, to make meaning of their experience in intercultural contact. Given that
proficiency in the local language is a crucial social marker of immigrants’ integration, we argue that language min dsets (i.e.,
beliefs about whether language learning ability is fixed or changeable) guide members of the receiving society to make
inferences about immigrants’ language ability (e.g., “can immigrants improve their language ability?”). This social inferenc e,
in turn, predicts their willingness to interact with immigrants and support immigrants’ language education. In a correlationa l
study (n = 231) and an experimental study (n = 106), we investigated whether and how language mindsets influence
participants’ support for immigrants’ intercultural contact. We found that trait and experimentally-induced fixed (vs. growth)
mindsets led to negative judgments of immigrants’ potential to develop their skills in the local language, which in turn
predicted avoidance of contact with migrants and opposition to governmental funding of immigrants’ language education.
The effects held even after controlling for participants’ political orientations, perceived difficulties of the English langu age,
and judgments of target immigrants’ language fluency. These findings suggest that promoting growth mindsets about
language ability can lead to more positive intercultural attitudes that impact the acceptance of migrants. We discussed the
implications of language mindsets for understanding the processes of intercultural communication and forming positive
intercultural relations.
Keywords: Implicit theory, Language mindsets, Language attitudes, Intergroup contact, Immigration, Language policy
1. Mindsets about language learning and support for
immigrants’ integration
Worldwide debates about immigration often involve the
discourse about what it means for immigrants to become
integrated members in the receiving society. Proficiency in the
local language would seem to be a consistently strong
requisite characteristic. For instance, the key marker that
promotes the acceptance of immigrants in Japan is their
competence in the local language (Komisarof et al., 2019), and
in the US, English proficiency is considered the most
important requisite of national identity, even more important
than birthplace (Pew Research Center, 2017). Given that
language is an important social marker for social
categorization, members of the receiving society tend to
perceive immigrants who are not yet fluent in the local
language(s) as an outgroup and see them as less intelligent,
trustworthy, and employable (e.g., Giles & Billings, 2004;
Elliott & Leach, 2016; Hansen & Dovidio, 2016; Lippi-Green,
2012). These negative social judgments underlie the receiving
group’s avoidance of immigrants and opposition to supportive
policies for newcomers (e.g., funds for supporting immigrant
language education), which can undercut immigrants’ efforts
to integrate and improve their language skills (Dragojevic &
Giles, 2014; Kinzler et al., 2007). Consequently, immigrants
who are less fluent in the local language(s) report more
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
negative social experiences, affecting their social and
psychological adaptation into the new society (Wei et al.,
People’s attitudes toward immigrants and support for
immigrants’ integration are impacted by many individual
characteristics (e.g., political orientation and prior contact;
Stephan et al., 1999) and socio-cultural factors (e.g., policies
and ideologies; Berry, 2013; Hui et al., 2015). Recent research
suggests that people’s mindsets, or lay theories, guide them to
make inferences about immigrants’ integration (Madan et al.,
2019; Rad & Ginges, 2018). People who endorse a fixed
mindset about people’s general characteristics (a belief that
people cannot change who they are) are more likely to believe
that migrants cannot integrate, compared to those who endorse
a growth mindset (a belief that people can change the kind of
person they are; Madan et al., 2019). Similarly, beliefs that
nationality is fixed (vs. malleable) influence people to endorse
more negative judgments towards immigrants because they do
not believe immigrants can fully acquire a new national
identity (Rad & Ginges, 2018). However, past research on
mindsets about intergroup relations (and attitudes towards
immigrants) glossed over a key aspect of mindsets language
mindsets, or beliefs about whether the ability to learn
languages is innate (fixed) or malleable (growth). In this
paper, we examine whether and how language mindsets
influence how one makes sense of immigrants’ language
ability. We argue that language mindsets guide people to make
inferences about immigrants’ language potential, which can in
turn influence people’s support to help immigrants or to hinder
immigrants’ opportunities to improve.
1.1 Mindset Approach to Intercultural Communication
The mindset approach to intergroup relations
suggests that people form and use their “lay” theories to
make inferences about their social experiences (Hong et al.,
2001). One important mindset focuses on people’s beliefs
about whether human characteristics, such as personality and
intelligence, are fixed or malleable (Dweck & Yeager, 2019).
Fixed (vs. growth) mindsets breed the emergence and
maintenance of stereotypes and thus, giving rise to prejudice
and discrimination towards outgroups (Levy et al., 1998). As
a result, people with a fixed (vs. growth) mindset tend to
avoid intergroup communication and disapprove of policies
that promote group equity (Rattan & Georgeac, 2017). The
causal link between mindsets and intergroup attitudes has
also been established in experimental studies. Research
demonstrates that changing people’s mindsets shifts their
social inferences; those who are informed that people’s
characteristics can be changed reduce their stereotypes
towards outgroups and are more supportive towards
intergroup contact (Kung et al., 2018; Levy et al., 1998;
Madan et al., 2019). Therefore, researchers argue that
malleability mindsets serve as a compass to guide motivation
and action in intergroup settings (Hong et al., 2001; Rattan &
Georgeac, 2017).
Although growing research demonstrates the impact of
mindsets in intergroup relations, little is known about the
role of mindsets in people’s attitudes towards outgroups who
are learning the ingroup language. This research question is
important because attitudes about language use and language
ability are key aspects of understanding intergroup relations
between the established, mainstream group and immigrants
(Collins & Clément. 2012; Giles & Billings, 2004; Gluszek
& Dovidio, 2010; Lambert et al., 1960). Language often
constitutes an essential part of one’s social identity; linguistic
characteristics (e.g., accent) often signal group memberships.
People can simply listen to one’s speech to automatically
make social inferences about the target (Giles & Billings,
2004; Rakić et al., 2011). Speakers with non-standard
accents are often linked to stereotypes and prejudice
associated with outgroup memberships (e.g., non-native
speakers and non-native born; see Fuertes et al., for a meta-
analysis). Even young children express less trust and
preferences for those who spoke with an accent different
from the children’s native accent (Kinzler et al., 2007).
Language mindsets provide a lens through which people
understand the nature and processes of second language
learning and use (Lou & Noels, 2019c). People who endorse
a fixed (vs. growth) mindset put less effort into studying their
second language (L2) because they think effort is less
important than talent (Lou & Noels, 2016). They are also
more anxious about conversing with native speakers and are
more fearful of failure in communication because failures
would indicate they lack talent (Lou & Noels, 2019b, 2020a).
However, previous research on language mindsets focused
solely on meaning-making with regards to on’es own ability
in language learning. We propose that language mindsets
also play a role in shaping social inferences about others’
potential to learn a new language. Specifically, we predict
that people with a fixed (vs. growth) mindset are less likely
to believe language learners, such as immigrants, have the
potential to acquire a new language. This social inference can
give rise to negative attitudes towards immigrants who speak
with a non-standard accent and opposition towards language
education and immigrant integration policies and programs.
In contrast, people who judge that immigrants can improve
are more likely to support immigrants’ language
development on both personal and institutional levels, for
example, by interacting with them and supporting
government policies to fund immigrants’ language education.
We maintain that social inferences about immigrants’
linguistic potential driven by mindsets are distinct from the
perceptions of linguistic attributes of L2 speakers (e.g.,
proficiency, accentedness, comprehensibility, and fluency;
Derwing et al., 2009). As such, whether a person believes a
migrant speaks the local language well or poorly, or has a
strong or weak accent, is not necessarily connected with
whether the person believes the migrant can improve their L2
or not. Therefore, one goal of this study is to understand
whether mindsets indeed provide a unique explanatory lens
that contributes to understanding language attitudes.
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
Importantly, people’s perceptions of L2 speakers can be
changed. Studies show that people’s intercultural exposure to
L2 speakers can positively influence people’s judgment of
L2 speakers’ comprehensibility and reduce their stereotypes
about immigrants (Derwing & Munro, 2014; Reid et al.,
2019). This finding suggests that people can be trained to
reduce their negative judgment about immigrants who use
the local language as an L2, and to increase their willingness
to interact with migrants.
Given that judgments about L2 speakers’ potential can
be changed, two important questions arise. First, can
changing people’s language mindsets influence their
judgments about immigrants’ potential, and second, can
changing such social judgments improve intergroup contact
and attitues towards group equity policies? To our
knowledge, no empirical research has examined factors that
predict people’s views of immigrants’ potential to develop
their linguistic capacities in the mainstream language. This
research aims to address these questions using a mindset
approach. We predicted that changing people’s language
mindsets, such as by learning about whether language
intelligence is fixed or malleable, can influence their
inferences about immigrants’ language potential. The
judgement of immigrants’ potential might, in turn, predict
people’s behavioural tendencies in intergroup interaction and
support for funding immigrants’ language education.
Therefore, using this mindset approach to examine language
attitudes could potentially provide a new perspective for
understanding how to reduce prejudice towards immigrants,
thereby providing practical insights for policy-making and
social interventions.
1.2 Research Overview
We conducted two studies to investigate our hypothesis
that language mindsets influence people’s judgment of
immigrants’ potential to improve their skills in the local
language, which in turn predicts support for immigrants’
integration. In this research, supports for immigrants’
integration are measured by (1) willingness to communicate
with migrants and (2) supporting policies and programs that
help migrants to improve their cultural and linguistic
competence. The national context of the present study was
western Canada, where English is the dominant official
language. To assess people’s judgment of immigrants’
language skills, English Canadians listened to a sound clip of
a Chinese immigrant speaking in English, and then evaluated
whether they thought the speaker has the potential to
improve their English ability.
Study 1 is a cross-sectional correlational study.
Specifically, Study 1 investigated whether people who
We selected the sound clip from a previous study that
recorded 92 immigrants’ speech. The sound clips were from
recordings of non-native speakers describing in English a story
from a set of pictures (see Derwing et al., 2009). All the collected
clips were standardized and presented to 330 native English
speakers to evaluate, including perceived fluency (1= not at all to 9
= completely). The sample sound clip selected for this study was
endorsed fixed (vs. growth) language mindsets are more
likely to report contact avoidance and opposition to policies
that support immigrants’ language learning, and whether
perceived language potential mediates this link. Study 2
tested the causal direction of the relation between mindsets
and the other variables through an experimental design.
Specifically, Study 2 examined whether people who were
exposed to the idea that language-learning ability is
malleable, compared to those who were exposed to the idea
that language-learning ability is relatively fixed, are more
likely to believe in immigrants’ language potential, and in
turn be more willing to interact with them and more
supportive of immigrants’ language education programs.
We examined alternative explanations for the effect of
mindsets and perceived potential on contact avoidance and
attitudes toward immigrants’ language education programs.
First, we included participants’ political orientation given it
has been found to be associated with people’s nature vs.
nurture mindsets (Keller, 2005), and it is often associated
with people’s views on immigration (Mayda, 2006). Second,
we included participants’ beliefs about the difficulty of
learning the English language, because the effect of
perceived potential may be confounded with the belief that
English itself is a difficult language to learn. That is, the
judgement of low potential lies not in the immigrants’
capacity but in the language’s difficulty. Including these
potential confounding variables can better assess the
predictive power of language mindsets and the perceived
potential of immigrants for contact avoidance and attitudes
towards immigration.
2. Study 1
2.1 Participants and Procedure
Participants were recruited from the subject pool of a
psychology course at a western Canadian university.
Because the highest vitality ethnolinguistic group in western
Canada is English Canadians, all recruited participants (1)
were born in Canada; (2) had parents who were born in
Canada; (3) described their native and heritage language as
English; and (4) identified as European Canadian. The
research protocol for both studies was approved by the
university’s research ethics board. We recruited 231
participants (83.3% females; Mage = 23.1 years, SDage = 2.61)
under the guise that this study concerned their ability to
evaluate people’s language proficiency.
The participants first filled out the 18-item Language
Mindset Inventory. They then listened to a sound clip of a
non-native female English speaker.
The participants were
judged on average (3.04) to be lower than the midpoint in fluency
(i.e., 5) and lower than the average of the whole sample (M = 4.09,
SD = 1.47). This sound clip was 114-second long, and the speaker
was a 41-year old Chinese woman who scored 7 out of 12 in the
Canadian Language Benchmarks (intermediate English level).
Participants did not know this background of the person.
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
provided with the background that the speaker was an
immigrant in a language class, who came to Canada three
years before the sound clip was recorded. After listening to
the sound clip, participants filled out some questions relating
to their judgments of the speaker’s language proficiency and
potential. Finally, they completed a questionnaire regarding
their attitudes towards the speaker and immigration policies.
All research materials are attached in supplementary and are
available at OSF (
2.2 Measures
2.2.1 Language Mindsets. The participants responded to the
Language Mindset Inventory (Lou & Noels, 2017). They
indicated their agreement (1 = strongly disagree to 6 =
strongly agree) on eighteen items (e.g., “People can’t change
how capable they are at learning new languages”). A higher
mean score indicates a stronger fixed (vs. growth) mindsets
about language learning.
2.2.2 Perceived Proficiency. After listening to the sound clip,
the participants evaluated the speaker’s English proficiency
on one item (from 1 = not at all to 7 = completely).
2.2.3 Judgment of Language Potential. The participants
rated the speakers’ potential to improve (four items; e.g., “I
think this speaker can hardly improve her English level in the
future,” “I don’t think this speaker has the potential to be
fluent in English.”) on a 7-point scale. Higher mean scores
represent stronger beliefs that the target speaker has the
potential to improve.
2.2.4 Beliefs about English-Language Difficulty. Participants
rated their agreement (1 = completely disagree, to 7 =
completely agree) on two items: “English is one of the more
challenging languages to learn.” and “English is not a
difficult language to learn.” The two items are highly
correlated (r = −.81), thus we reversed the second item, and
higher mean scores indicated the belief that English is more
difficult to learn.
2.2.5 Support for Immigrants’ Language Education
Program. The participants were informed that the target
person was a student in an English-as-a-second-language
class. Participants read a brief article about the Language
Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program,
including details about the government’s financial support
for this program (see Appendix). The participants then
indicated their attitudes towards the LINC program (five
items; e.g., “the LINC program benefits the Canadian society
as a whole”; “the government should decrease the funds
allocated to the LINC program.”) on a seven-point scale (1=
strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agreement). These items
were adapted from a previous study on attitudes towards
immigration policies (Zimmerman & Reyna, 2013). A higher
mean score represents a stronger support for the immigrants’
language education program.
2.2.6 Contact Avoidance. Participants respond to five
scenarios in which they imagined themselves interacting with
immigrants and/or international students who are not fluent
in English (adapted from Lou & Noels, 2019b; see
Appendix). They rated their behavioural tendency in each
scenario. A sample scenario is: “Imagine that you are in a
class and the professor assigns students to form several
groups for class projects. You are assigned to work with a
student who is not fluent in English.” In this scenario,
participants rated “I will try to change to another group or
avoid interacting with the international student because I may
have a hard time understanding him/her” on a six-point scale
(1 = very unlikely to 6 = very likely). We averaged
participants’ ratings across the five scenarios (α = .70). A
higher mean score indicated a stronger tendency to avoid
interacting with migrants.
2.2.7. Political Orientation. Participants indicated their
political orientation on a seven-point scale (1= very liberal to
7 = very conservative).
2.3 Results
2.3.1 Preliminary analyses. As shown in Table 1, all the
measures are normally distributed and reliable (α ≥ .70).
2.3.2 Correlational analyses. We first examined whether
the control variables (political orientation and perceived
difficulty of English) were correlated with the main variables
(see Table 1). We found that more conservative participants
reported stronger contact avoidance (r = .31) and less support
for immigrants’ language program (r = −.34). However,
political orientation was not significantly correlated with
mindsets or perceived potential. The perceived English
proficiency of the target speaker was correlated with support
for immigrants’ language training (r = .18), but not with
contact avoidance (r = −.06). Finally, the perceived difficulty
of English was significantly correlated with contact
avoidance (r = −.30) and support for immigrants’ language
program (r = .30). That is, those who think English is a
difficult language to learn are less likely to avoid interactions
with immigrants and more supportive of immigration
policies. Given the pattern of significant correlations, we
controlled for political orientation, perceived proficiency,
and perceived English difficulty in the major analyses.
Language mindsets were significantly correlated with
contact avoidance and support for the LINC program.
Language mindsets were also correlated with the perceived
potential of the immigrant to learn English but not with
perceived English difficulty or perceived proficiency of the
speaker, suggesting mindsets have a distinct role in
predicting perceived potential. Moreover, perceived language
potential was not significantly correlated with perceived
English language difficulty or perceived proficiency of the
target, indicating that the judgment of an immigrant’s
linguistic potential is independent of the judgment of the
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
immigrant’s current proficiency or the belief of whether
English is difficult to learn.
2.3.3 Path Analyses. We conducted path analyses in Mplus
7.0 (Muthén & Muthén, 2016) to systematically test
the hypothesized mediation model (“mindset perceived
potential avoidance and support for language training”).
We tested whether controlling for the belief about English
language difficulty and political orientation would change
the results. Both models fit the data well: χ2 =1.59, df = 2, p
= .45, CFI = 1.00, RMSEA = .01, SRMR = .00 (without
controlled variables) and χ2 =7.74, df =8, p = .46, CFI = 1.00,
RMSEA = .00, SRMR = .04 (with controlled variables). We
applied 5,000 bootstrap samples to test the indirect effects.
The results of the path analyses with standardized
coefficients are presented in Figure 1 (see Table S1 in
Appendix for unstandardized coefficients).
In the model without controlled variables, the direct
effects of language mindsets on contact avoidance and
support for immigrants’ language program were significant.
We also found that the paths between language mindsets, on
the one hand, and contact avoidance and support for
immigrants’ language program, on the other, were mediated
by the judgment of migrants’ potential for growth (contact
avoidance: Indirect effect = −0.09, SE = 0.05, 95% CI =
[−.205, −.008], β = −.06; support of language program:
Indirect effect = 0.24, SE = 0.13, 95% CI = [.002, .171], β =
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
In the model controlling for political orientation, perceived
English difficulty, and perceived immigrants’ language
proficiency, we found the indirect effect of “mindsets
perceived potential contact avoidance and support for
immigrants’ education” remain significant (contact
avoidance: Indirect effect = 0.07, SE = 0.04, 95%, CI =
[.006, .154], β = .05; (support of language program: Indirect
effect = −0.08, SE = 0.04, 95%, CI = [−.179, −.008], β =
−.05). However, the direct effects of mindsets on both
contact avoidance and support for immigrants’ education
were no longer significant, suggesting a full mediation. As
such, those who endorsed strongly fixed mindsets believe
that immigrants have little potential to improve their English,
and in turn they are less willing to interact personally with
immigrants and less supportive of language training
programs. This finding of a distinct effect of perceived
potential that fully mediates the relation between language
mindsets and outcome variables underscores the special
relevance of people’s beliefs about immigrants, over and
above political orientation, perceived language proficiency of
the immigrant, and perceived English language difficulty.
In summary, Study 1 established that language mindsets
are correlated with contact avoidance and support for
immigrants’ language education, and that perceptions in
migrant’ linguistic potential accounts for this relation. People
who endorse a fixed (vs. growth) mindset believe that a
target migrant has less potential to improve their L2, and
they are less willing to interact with the immigrant and less
supportive of immigrants’ language education. We also
demonstrated that these indirect effects were not affected by
one’s political orientation, perceived difficulty of English
language, and perceptions of the target immigrant’s language
3. Study 2
Study 2 extends Study 1 in three ways. First, Study 2
investigated the causal effects of mindsets. We examined
whether priming fixed or growth language mindsets would
change people’s judgment of immigrants’ language potential,
which would in turn predict their avoidance tendencies and
support for language-related immigration policies. Second, to
overcome the drawbacks of self-report, Study 2 introduced
an unobtrusive behavioural measure. Participants were told
that they could skip to the end of the sound clip, and the
length of time participants listened to the participants’ speech
was recorded as a proxy of avoidance behaviour. Third, we
include a more comprehensive perception measure about the
target’s linguistic characteristics (including fluency,
accentedness and comprehensibility). Including these
variables also allowed a direct examination of whether (a)
judgment of linguistics potential is distinct from judgments
of other linguistic features in predicting intercultural contact,
We selected the sound clip from a larger study described
in Study 1. The sound clip in Study 2 is different from Study 1’s s
but was also within one SD below of the group mean on fluency as
rated by native speakers. The speaker was a 42-year old Chinese
and (b) priming of language mindsets would change not
only the judgment of immigrants’ language potential, but
also the judgment of other language-related characteristics.
3.1 Participants and Procedure
We recruited 107 English Canadian participants at the
same university, following the same selection criteria as
Study 1. However, one was excluded because the participant
did not summarize the mindset reading or answer the
multiple-choice questions that assessed their understanding
of the manipulation article. The final sample (N = 106)
consists of 79 females and 27 males (Mage = 20.81, SDage =
2.73). Participants arrived at a computer lab in groups of 5
students or less, and were informed that they were taking part
in two separate studies in exchange for partial course credit.
They were told that the first study was about the difficulty
level of a psychology article written for a popular audience
and their thoughts on incorporating the article into the
introductory psychology textbook. After finishing the first
study, participants signed a new consent form (as part of the
cover story), and they were told that the second study was
about language assessment and attitudes towards Canadian
3.1.1 Manipulation. In the first part of the study,
participants were randomly assigned to one of two language
mindset conditions. In the growth-mindset condition (n =
54), participants read a mock Psychology Today article about
the malleability of language learning ability, including
evidence about neuroplasticity. In the fixed-mindset
condition (n = 52), participants read a similar article about
the stable nature of language learning aptitude, with the
premise that language-learning ability is determined mostly
by nature. These articles were used in past work to
effectively induce different mindsets (Lou & Noels, 2016).
To check whether participants read and understood the
article, they wrote a paragraph summarizing the article and
answered three multiple-choice questions about their
comprehension of the article. Also, as part of the cover story
that was designed to engage students in the reading materials,
they wrote a paragraph about whether they thought the article
was written at the appropriate level to be included in their
psychology textbook.
3.2 Measures
Following the first part of the study involving the
experimental manipulation, the participants listened to a
sound clip of a non-native English speaker describing a story
(see Study 1) and their life living in Canada
. The
participants were provided with the information that the
speaker was an immigrant taking a language course.
Importantly, we instructed participants that they did not have
to listen to the whole clip (the total length is 325s), and they
woman whose English proficiency was in the range of lower-
intermediate based on her Canadian Language Benchmark score (5
out of 12).
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
could stop and go to the next page whenever they wished to.
The computer automatically recorded the time participants
spent on listening to the sound clip.
The participants then evaluated the speakers’
linguistic characteristics, including fluency (defined as few
pauses or hesitations), accentedness (i.e., the perceived
strength of the foreign accent), and comprehensibility (i.e.,
how understandable the speaker was) on a scale from 1 = not
at all to 7 = extremely (see Derwing et al., 2009). They also
reported their judgment of the speakers’ potential to improve
their English on a 7-point scale (see the four items in Study
1). The rest of the questionnaire included instruments to
assess the participants’ attitudes towards immigrants’
language education programs, contact avoidance, political
orientation, and, as a manipulation check, language mindsets
(see Study 1 for materials)
3.3 Results
3.3.1 Manipulation Check and Mean Differences. As
shown in Table 2, participants in the fixed-mindset condition
endorsed stronger fixed (vs. growth) mindsets compared to
those in the growth-mindset condition. Moreover,
participants in the two conditions did not differ in their
Given that Study 1 showed that the beliefs about English
language difficulty were not related to language mindsets or
political orientations and other control variables. These
findings suggested that randomization and manipulation
were effective. The participants in the fixed-mindset
condition believed that immigrants had less potential to
improve their English compared to those in the growth-
mindset condition. However, there were no significant
differences between the two conditions in the participants’
assessment of the target’s English comprehensibly, fluency,
and accentedness. These findings demonstrate that language
mindsets have a distinct effect on the judgment of the target’s
potential, but not on the perceptions of other linguistic
characteristics. The manipulation did not significantly affect
participants’ support for language education and contact
3.3.2. Correlational Analysis. We then examined whether
the control variables (political orientation and L2
assessment) were correlated with the outcome variables (see
Table 3). Consistent with Study 1, we found that
conservative participants were more likely to report contact
avoidance (r = .36, p < .001) and were less likely to support
immigrants’ language programming (r = −.45, p < .001). We
also found that the language assessment score was linked to
different outcomes: perceived comprehensibility was
judgments of potential, we did not include it in Study 2 in order to
reduce the number of potential covariates.
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
significantly correlated with contact avoidance (r = −.37, p <
.001), support for immigrants’ language program (r = .29, p
= .002), and length of time participants spent on listening to
the immigrant’s speech (r =.25, p = .01); perceived
accentedness was linked to contact avoidance (r = .20, p =
.04), support for immigrants’ language program (r = −.28, p
= .004), and length of time for listening to the immigrant’s
speech (r = −.21, p = .03). However, perceived fluency was
not correlated with any outcome variables. In summary,
those who perceived the immigrant’s speech to be less
comprehensible and to have a stronger accent were more
likely to avoid contact with the immigrant and less likely to
support language education programs. Therefore, we retained
these variables to control for their effects in the main
3.3.3 Path Analysis. We conducted path analyses to
systematically test the hypothesized model and the mediation
effects. We also tested a model that controlled for the
participants’ political orientation and the perceived linguistic
characteristics of the immigrant. Both models fit the data
well: χ2 =5.51, df = 3, p = .14, CFI = .96, RMSEA = .09,
SRMR = .04 (without controlled variables) and χ2 =14.28, df
= 11, p = .22, CFI = .97, RMSEA = .05, SRMR = .07 (with
controlled variables). The results of the path analyses with
standardized coefficients are presented in Figure 2 (see Table
S2 in Appendix for unstandardized coefficients).
When the control variables were not included, we found
three significant indirect effects between the mindset
manipulation and outcomes via the judgment of migrants’
potential (contact avoidance: Indirect effect = 0.11, SE =
0.05, 95%CI = [.036, .215], β = .10; support of language
program: Indirect effect = −0.11, SE = 0.04, 95%CI =
[−0.206, −0.029], β = −.12; time spent on listening to
immigrant’s speech: Indirect effect = −6.19, SE = 2.87,
95%CI = [−13.17, −1.56], β = −.07). After controlling for
political orientation and perceived linguistic characteristics,
these indirect effects remained significant (contact
avoidance: Indirect effect = 0.08, SE = 0.04, 95%CI = [.023,
.162], β = .07; support of language program: Indirect effect =
−0.09, SE = 0.04, 95%CI = [−0.163, −0.024], β = −.10; time
spent on listening to immigrant’s speech: Indirect effect =
−4.51, SE = 2.59, 95%CI = [−11.21, −0.60], β = −.05). That
is, people in the fixed (vs. growth) mindset condition
believed that immigrants had less potential to improve their
English. And in turn, negative judgments of potential
predicted less time spent listening to immigrants’ talk,
greater avoidance of interaction with migrants, and less
support for immigrants’ language-training programs. These
findings were consistent even after taking into consideration
the control variables, suggesting that the effect of mindsets
was not likely due to people’s political orientation and other
language assessment (i.e., comprehensibility, fluency, and
accentedness of the immigrant’s speech).
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
4. Discussion
Two studies provided converging evidence for the
proposed model that language mindsets can directly shape
people’s social inferences about immigrants’ potential for
learning a new language. The more one endorses a growth
(vs. fixed) mindset, the more one believes that immigrants
can potentially improve their language ability. In turn, the
belief that immigrants have the potential to improve is
related to increased interaction with immigrants and greater
support of governmental policies and government-funded
language training programs that help immigrants to improve
their language proficiency. These findings are consistent
across diverse methods and measures (evaluation of an
immigrant’s speech, responses to scenarios, and behavioural
observation). And they are robust even after controlling for
political orientation and L2 assessment.
The results highlight that beliefs about the malleability
(or not) of L2 ability (i.e., language mindsets) provide an
important “framework” that guides people to make sense
about not only their own (Lou & Noels, 2019b), but also
others’ ability in intercultural contexts. This meaning-making
process plays a role in shaping people’s judgement about
migrants’ potential to improve their L2 competence, which
can reduce negative attitudes towards immigration, and
improve willingness to interact with immigrants who are
struggling in language learning. Although the correlational
study demonstrated that language mindsets are linked to
contact avoidance, changing language mindsets did not
directly affect people’s contact avoidance but rather did so
indirectly by changing their view of immigrants’ language
potential. These findings suggest that language mindsets,
perceived potential, and avoidance tendency are interrelated
as a system (see Lou & Noels, 2019a), but changing one
aspect of the system (e.g., language mindsets) may not
directly impact a distal aspect of that system (contact
avoidance). Instead, the impact may occur indirectly, through
a more proximal, intervening aspect of the system (e.g.,
beliefs about immigrants’ potential).
This research also highlights the distinct role of perceived
potential in understanding people’s attitudes toward L2
speakers, particularly immigrants. Previous research focused
on native speakers’ judgments of language learners’ fluency,
accentedness, and comprehensibility (Derwing et al., 2009;
Derwing & Munro, 2014), and we found that native
speakers’ judgment of learners’ potential predicted contact
avoidance over and beyond these perceptions about learners’
linguistic characteristics. Judgments of potential were not
related to judgments of proficiency or accentedness of the
speaker, suggesting that whether people think an L2 speaker
is fluent/accented does not relate to whether they believe that
the speaker can improve. Moreover, perceived fluency or
accentedness did not predict contact avoidance. Although
perceptions of the target’s comprehensibility and perceived
potential were interrelated (Study 2), they both made
independent contributions to contact avoidance. Consistent
with previous research, we found that perceived
comprehensibility is important in understanding social biases
(e.g., “I don’t want to talk to you because I don’t understand
you”; Dragojevic & Giles 2014; Elliott & Leach, 2016;
Hansen & Dovidio, 2016). In addition, we found that
perceived potential to improve is equally important as
perceptions of L2 speakers’ comprehensibility in
understanding people’s willingness to engage with
immigrants (e.g., “I don’t want to talk to you because I don’t
think you can improve”).
4.1 Practical Implications
There are widely held cultural beliefs around the
difficulty of learning new languages, particularly in
adulthood (Marinova-Todd et al., 2000). People may rely on
this lay theory to justify their negative attitudes toward
immigrants and immigration (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003).
Indeed, some anti-immigration discourse perpetuates the
misconception that adult immigrants have deficits that
prevent them from learning new languages (Tse, 2001).
Therefore, we argue that one factor that explains unfair
treatment (e.g., avoidance) towards migrants is the belief that
immigrants generally do not possess the potential to
sufficiently learn an L2, a conviction rooted in language
mindsets beliefs about whether language learning ability is
immutable or malleable (i.e., fixed vs. growth mindsets).
Based on these research findings, intercultural training
programs may benefit from incorporating growth mindset
messages to change native speakers’ beliefs that L2 speakers
have the potential to learn and improve their skills in the
local language. Moreover, previous research suggests that
native speakers can be trained to change their perceptions to
better understand accented speakers (Derwing & Munro,
2014). The current study suggests that guiding people to
believe in L2 speakers’ potential can complement the
training of accent comprehension, and together improve their
communication with L2 speakers.
The diminishmentof immigrants’ educational
opportunities has impacted many immigrants’ language
development and integration (Cowie & Delaney 2019; Office
of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 2013). People
may rely on their “lay theories” to make sense of how
immigrants learn new languages. For those with a fixed
mindset, they may be more concerned about whether
language education can really help immigrants become
proficient and contribute to the economy. In contrast, when
members of the receiving society adopt growth mindsets
about language learning, they are more optimistic about
immigrants’ potential to improve their linguistic competence,
which in turn promotes inclusion and policies that promote
immigrants’ access to language education.
4.2 Limitations and Future Directions
Although the present research shows that endorsing
growth mindsets may have positive social implications,
future research should address some of these studies’
limitations. One set of limitations pertains to the methods
used in this program of research. Although a lab-based
Intercultural Communication Lab, University of Alberta Lou & Noels, 2020
experiment demonstrated a causal effect of mindsets on
people’s judgment of immigrants’ language potential, future
studies should understand the effectiveness of the
manipulation and the duration of such effects in natural
settings. For example, previous research suggests that
learning about the neuroplasticity of intelligence and writing
about the personal experience of growth in a workshop can
sustain students’ growth mindset and improve their
performance (e.g., Dweck & Yeager, 2019). However, no
research has examined whether such interventions also have
the long-term benefit of reducing people’s negative
perceptions about others. In addition, research is needed to
better understand the effect of language mindsets on the
quantity and quality of intercultural communication. For
example, following a language mindset intervention,
participants could keep a daily diary about their experience
interacting with immigrants and international students (e.g.,
how often they engaged in contact with non-native speakers
and how positive/negative those experiences are). One might
predict that those who experienced the intervention might
recount more frequent and positive interactions.
Other directions relate to the contexts in which future
studies can be expanded. First, this research focused on
immigrants as a broad target group. Future research should
examine the role of mindset in judgements of specific
migrant groups with different ethnolinguistic backgrounds
(Kil et al., 2019), social status, and immigration status
(refugees vs. skilled immigrants; Lee & Fiske, 2006) and so
on. Although cultural stereotypes may influence people's
perceived potential of different groups of migrants, mindsets
may play a role in mitigating the stereotype effect (Levy et
al., 1998). Second, replications of this study across societies
with different socio-political ideologies regarding
immigration (Berry, 2013) are also important. In a
multicultural society, such as Canada, people are more
accepting of cultural diversity and have a wider range of
language learning experiences, both of which might impact
language mindsets and attitudes towards immigrants. Future
cross-cultural comparison research may provide insights into
how the socio-cultural environment shapes language
mindsets and attitudes towards immigrants (cf. Lou & Li,
2017; Mayda, 2006). Finally, recent research suggests that
migrants can perceive others’ mindsets through their
feedback, which in turn influence their motivation and
confidence in using English (Lou & Noels, 2020b). Future
studies may expand this line of work to understand how
people with different language mindsets in the community
and workplace communicate with migrants and impact
migrants’ integration.
5. Conclusions
Even if newcomers are motivated to improve their
proficiency in the local language, the process can be difficult
because of many potential barriers to developing their
competence, including a lack of educational opportunities to
learn and feeling rejected when using the language in
interactions. It is important for researchers, policymakers,
and educational program developers to draw from
multidisciplinary evidence to better understand people’s
views on these issues and their actions when interacting with
immigrants, thus promoting a more inclusive and socially
just society for L2 speakers and migrants (Collins &
Clément, 2012; Derwing & Munro, 2014; Dragojevic &
Giles, 2016). The current research addressed these issues
with a mindset approach connecting people’s beliefs about
language learning to their judgment of migrants’ language
potential, and in turn, reducing their avoidance behaviours
and concerns about immigrants’ language training programs.
Extending previous research showing that language mindsets
influence migrants’ anxiety about communication with native
speakers (e.g., Lou & Noels, 2019), this research highlights
that language mindsets also impact the intercultural
communication processes from the perspective of native
speakers. Research on language mindsets provides a new
perspective to understand how to promote successful
intercultural communication and positive intergroup
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Supporting students’ growth mindsets (i.e., beliefs that ability can be improved) and basic psychological needs (i.e., needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness) is an important way to sustain their motivation and resilience after challenging situations. We argue that others’ feedback may support or undermine mindsets and need satisfaction simultaneously through students’ meta-lay theories—that is, students’ perceptions of whether others (in this case, their teacher) believe that ability can be improved or not. We conducted a randomized controlled experiment in which 180 university students who spoke English as their second language failed a difficult English test and received either feedback from a teacher who consoled their lack of ability, feedback that focused on improving ability, or no feedback. We found that compared to students receiving no feedback, students receiving ability-consoling feedback perceived that the teacher believed less in their potential and felt less competent, and students receiving improvement-oriented feedback perceived that the teacher believed more in their potential. Consequently, meta-lay theory (“the teacher believes I can change my ability”) predicted students’ endorsement of growth mindsets (“I believe I can improve”) and need satisfaction (sense of competence, relatedness, and autonomy). In turn, mindsets and need satisfaction jointly predicted language confidence and beliefs about mistakes. Only need satisfaction, however, predicted task avoidance and duration of task engagement. Meta-lay theories underlie the processes through which feedback supports or undermines students’ resilience after failure.
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“Mindset”, or beliefs concerning whether a psychological characteristic is more or less malleable, is an influential psychological concept that has had a wide impact on motivation research and educational practices. This chapter surveys research on mindsets in language learning, which shows that mindsets predict how learners make sense of their learning situations and their motivation during second/foreign language development. Synthesizing research in language learning and other domains, the “Language-Mindset Meaning System (LMMS)” framework highlights how language mindsets, as a fundamental belief about the nature of language, relate to aspects of language learning motivation (e.g., effort beliefs, attribution, achievement goal orientation, failure mindset, self-regulatory tendency, and competence-based emotions). A research agenda designed to better understand the LMMS’s content, impact, contextual influences, and dynamics is presented.
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For migrant students enrolled in a postsecondary institution where the language of instruction is not their native language, experiencing anxiety using a new language can manifest in their daily social interactions, and lead them to avoid using the target language, thereby undercutting their academic and social adaptation. We propose that this vicious cycle of language anxiety and intercultural experiences is influenced by language mindsets (i.e., beliefs about the extent to which language learning ability is fixed versus malleable). We conducted three studies (N = 581), including a social interaction task, a double-blind randomized experiment, and a preregistered cross-sectional survey, to test the role of language mindsets on English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students' rejection sensitivity, perceived rejection, self-and experimenter-reported contact avoidance, willingness to interact with peers, and the amount of time in using English. We found that fixed (vs. growth) language mindsets were linked to negative perceptions of language-based rejection and self-and experimenter-reported contact avoidance. Importantly, growth language mindsets mitigated perceived language-based rejection and encouraged future communication among those with low (but not with high) perceived English competence. The findings highlight that growth mindsets contribute to the resilience of language minority students during their university experience, especially for those with low English competence.
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Social markers of acceptance are socially constructed indicators of adaptation (e.g., language skills or adherence to social norms) that recipient nationals use in deciding whether to view an immigrant as a host community member. This study had two objectives: (a) to distill the markers considered important by Japanese undergraduates to accept immigrants in Japanese society and (b) to test the premises of integrated threat and social identity theories by ascertaining the effects on marker endorsement of perceived immigrant threat, contribution, relative social status, and intergroup permeability. Native‐born Japanese (the term “native‐born Japanese” is used throughout this article to refer to people born as Japanese citizens—differentiating them from immigrants who are Japanese citizens naturalized after birth) from 12 Japanese universities (N = 428) completed an online survey. Marker importance ratings were factor‐analyzed, and three latent dimensions were found representing sociolinguistic, ethnic, and socioeconomic markers. Multiple hierarchical regressions discerned the main effects of immigrants’ perceived threat and contribution on social markers as well as their interactions with intergroup permeability and immigrant relative status. The results underscored perceived threat’s consistent role in increasing marker importance and suggested divergent paths to acceptance: Immigrants perceived as “low‐status” were expected to conform to sociolinguistic and ethnic markers, whereas socioeconomic markers were stressed more for “high‐status” immigrants when perceived immigrant threat increased and intergroup boundaries were considered less permeable.
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Learners' mindsets have received much attention in psychology and education research, but only recently have foreign/second language acquisition (SLA) researchers begun to study these beliefs. Mindsets refer to lay people's beliefs about whether human attributes (e.g., intelligence, personality, language aptitude) are essential, pre-determined traits (fixed mindsets) or malleable propensities can be cultivated (growth mindsets). To encourage more SLA investigations on mindsets, we review existing studies of mindsets in language education to summarize current knowledge and to identify research gaps. We specifically address five questions: (1) What are people's mindsets about language learning ability? (2) How are mindsets linked to other motivational factors? (3) How do contexts influence language mindsets? (4) Do growth-mindset interventions contribute to more adaptive learning, and if so, how? (5) How can educators support students' growth mindset? We highlight that mindsets are systematically associated with various motivational factors in a meaning-making system that guides learners' emotional responses and behavioural acts across different situations. We discuss avenues for future work on whether, why, how, when, for whom, and to what extent mindsets impact different educationally relevant outcomes, including persistence, resilience, and achievement. Understanding these complex questions are important for informing effective education and advancing motivation research in SLA.
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A growth mindset is the belief that human capacities are not fixed but can be developed over time, and mindset research examines the power of such beliefs to influence human behavior. This article offers two personal perspectives on mindset research across two eras. Given recent changes in the field, the authors represent different generations of researchers, each focusing on different issues and challenges, but both committed to “era-bridging” research. The first author traces mindset research from its systematic examination of how mindsets affect challenge seeking and resilience, through the ways in which mindsets influence the formation of judgments and stereotypes. The second author then describes how mindset research entered the era of field experiments and replication science, and how researchers worked to create reliable interventions to address underachievement—including a national experiment in the United States. The authors conclude that there is much more to learn but that the studies to date illustrate how an era-bridging program of research can continue to be generative and relevant to new generations of scholars.
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In six studies (N = 2,340), we identified one source of people’s differential support for resettling refugees in their country—their beliefs about whether the kind of person someone is can be changed (i.e., a growth mind-set) or is fixed (i.e., a fixed mind-set). U.S. and UK citizens who believed that the kind of person someone is can be changed were more likely to support resettling refugees in their country (Studies 1 and 2). Study 3 identified a causal relationship between the type of mind-set people hold and their support for resettling refugees. Importantly, people with a growth mind-set were more likely to believe that refugees can assimilate in the host society but not that they should assimilate, and the belief that refugees can assimilate mediated the relationship between people’s mind-sets and their support for resettling refugees (Studies 4–6). The findings identify an important antecedent of people’s support for resettling refugees and provide novel insights into the science of mind-sets.
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Nationality governs almost every aspect of our lives, including where we may live and travel, as well as our opportunities for education, healthcare and work. It is a common-sense social category that guides us in making inferences about the social world1–4. Nationalism has been extensively studied within the social5–16 and cognitive sciences17–25, but there has been little empirical investigation into folk theories regarding what determines someone’s nationality. In experiments carried out in the United States and India (N = 2,745), we used a variant of the switched-at-birth task26–31 to investigate the extent to which people believe that nationality is determined by biology or is a malleable social identity that can be acquired32–34. We find that folk theories of nationality seem remarkably flexible. Depending on the framing of the question, people report believing that nationality is either fluid or fixed at birth. Our results demonstrate that people from different cultures with different experiences of migration and different explicit stereotypes of their own nation may share similar folk theories about nationality. Moreover, these theories may shape attitudes towards immigrants—an important public-policy issue35–37. Belief that nationality is malleable is associated with more positive attitudes towards immigrants even when holding ideology constant.
This study examined English Canadians’ stereotypes concerning eight ethnic minority groups and the implications of these stereotypes for ideologies regarding the acculturation of those ethnic groups in Canadian society as well as attitudes regarding immigration to Canada more generally. Questionnaires were collected from 129 English-speaking European Canadians measuring stereotypes and acculturation ideologies toward each of the eight ethnic minority groups, and a general immigration attitudes measure. Results indicated that ethnic minority groups cluster together based on varying degrees of competence and warmth stereotypes, with some groups being perceived ambivalently. Specifically, Chinese and French Canadians were perceived as high in competence and moderate in warmth, but the converse was true for Jamaicans and Filipinos. East Indians, Pakistanis, and Somalis were perceived as moderate and Aboriginal Canadians as low in warmth and competence. Perceived normative beliefs about status and competition were associated with both competence and warmth of the ethnic groups. Stronger perceived competence of and lower perceived competition from the ethnic groups were directly associated with greater support of immigration and indirectly associated with stronger orientation towards integration of ethnic minorities into Canadian society. The results are discussed with regards to better understanding the intricacies of stereotype content, as well as the importance of stereotypes in encouraging integration of ethnic minorities in multicultural societies.