Beliefs about and attitudes to languages are central in the context of language teaching and learning. While language teachers and learners might have a certain attitude to some accents or non-standard language variations, they might also have attitudes about a language as a whole, as Peter Garrett outlines in his study on Attitudes to Language (2010). Attitudes can support, slow down or even inhibit language learning; they have a very effective impact on the language learning process, but are often not very visible, difficult to identify and to pin down.
In order to understand childrens’ awareness of their linguistic condition and their attitudes to languages as part of the MA Applied Linguistics program we designed a study which aimed to explore attitudes to languages within a multilingual primary school setting in Ireland. As the research study was carried out within one semester, it was intended to be a small scale ‘one-off’ study. The project employed a multiple-method approach, which is common in attitudinal studies to avoid the limitation of each single method: Qualitative and quantitative methods, direct and indirect approaches were juxtaposed; the research perspective was predominantly pupil-centred. While the pupils from 4th to 6th grade were asked to take part in several tasks, parents were included in the questionnaires only. Our research aim was firstly to explore pupil's awareness of their own linguistic condition and of the linguistic setting of their school. Various tasks such as observing the languages made visible in the classroom and school, introducing themselves in other languages than English were carried out in order to shed light at the pupils’ linguistic condition and environment. Secondly, we aimed at gaining knowledge about the participants' beliefs about various languages through their ways of describing, understanding and valuing them. Linguistic exercises such as drawing language portraits and relating different sizes of triangles to languages were employed to find answers for this question. Thirdly, their use of languages was studied through observation methods as well as through questionnaires and language diaries written by the participants.