This paper reports on a project (funded by a small Australian Research Council grant) investigating levels of metalinguistic knowledge of English and other languages amongst first-year undergraduate learners of French, Chinese and Italian and the relationship between this knowledge and success in studying a language at university. The study is a partial replication of research undertaken by Alderson, Clapham and Steel (1977) in relation to learners studying French at a number of British universities.The findings offer no support for the widely-held view that there is a strong connection between learners’ knowledge about language and their success in foreign language study. Results show that, while undergraduate language learners have serious lacunae in their knowledge about language, those who have studied a language other than English (LOTE) at school do better on some measures of metalinguistic knowledge than those who are beginning language study from scratch. However, the results also show that for all three languages there is a weak relationship between metalinguistic knowledge and second language ability. The study points to areas of further research, including a more detailed examination of the relationship between metalinguistic awareness in L1 and L2 and an investigation of those areas of grammar that may be more amenable to explicit grammar teaching.
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