The Impact of Using Smartphone Language Learning Applications on Chinese International Students’ Willingness to Communicate (WTC): A Confucian Heritage Cultural (CHC) Perspective

  • Dan Zhao

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Willingness to communicate (WTC) has been identified as one of the key factors influencing the learning and usage of L2 among Chinese students (Zarrinabadi, 2014). However, extensive research has not been conducted to establish the possible impacts of newly developed technologies, such as Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL), in the enhancement of Chinese students’ WTC in L2. Therefore, the present study focused on addressing this gap in knowledge by assessing the impacts of Duolingo and HelloTalk language learning apps on the WTC among the Chinese students with Confucius Heritage Culture (CHC) background. In order to achieve this goal, the present study adopted mixed-methods research in the form of a quasi-experimental design. The present study comprised three phases. Phase 1 (before treatment) involved the collection of quantitative data based on demographic information, WTC scale and frequencies of usage of other English media, Phase 2 (5-week treatment) involving the collection of qualitative and quantitative data using log sheets, and Phase 3 (after treatment) involving the collection of quantitative data using WTC scale and frequencies of usage of other English media and qualitative data using semi-structured interviews. A total of 67 International Foundation Year (IFY) Chinese students participated in the present study; 33 participants were included in the Duolingo group, while 34 participants were randomly assigned to the HelloTalk group. Furthermore, 4 participants from each group (a total of 8 participants) participated in the semi-structured interviews. Comparative assessment of quantitative results from Phase 1 and Phase 2 showed that the use of Duolingo and HelloTalk apps enhanced WTC among Chinese students. The participants showed higher WTC with people who they had an emotional and social connection with, such as friends, boyfriends/girlfriends and acquaintances. Moreover, participants reported the lowest WTC with strangers both before and after treatment with the respective language learning apps. Qualitative results identified factors such as time of usage, the goal of communication, and frequency of usage that influence the ability of the involved language learning apps to enhance participants’ WTC with different groups of people.
Date of Award29 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorReka Ratkaine Jablonkai (Supervisor) & Andres Sandoval Hernandez (Supervisor)


  • willingness to communicate
  • Confucius Heritage Culture
  • mobile assisted language learning
  • IFY Chinese students
  • Duolingo
  • HelloTalk

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