A major source of concern across a number of English-speaking countries is the loss of language teachers from the profession. In a global era where the ability to engage across languages and cultures is seen as vital for international engagement, this poses a significant problem as teacher shortages continue to challenge the efficacy of language education programs. And yet, there are very few large-scale studies which investigate the career attrition of foreign language teachers. The Australian mixed methods study reported here investigated the relationship between social capital and the career retention of 227 foreign language teachers.
The findings expand our understanding of language teacher attrition, by showing that teachers who felt professionally valued and who had strong relationships with their colleagues and administrative leaders were less likely to leave language teaching. It was also found that social bonds with other foreign language teachers were an important form of social capital proactively sought by many language teachers, to help them overcome their professional isolation and thus maintain their professional standards. However, these strong social bonds were found to play a role in promoting language teacher attrition, as they provide teachers with a ladder to other career opportunities.
This study concludes that some language teachers are lacking in social capital, and that this lack of social capital is a key driver in career attrition. Therefore, there is a need to develop policies, and engage in practices, which facilitate and encourage the further development of language teachers' social capital. The conclusion of this paper explores ways to move forward to improve the retention of language teachers.