Scholarly article on topic 'L2 Learning Challenges and Needs of University Students: A Preliminary Study'

L2 Learning Challenges and Needs of University Students: A Preliminary Study Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Parilah M. Shah, Nor Haslinda Hashim, Aminuddin Yusof, Rosseni Din, Aidah A. Karim, et al.

Abstract Technology demands individuals to be knowledgeable in another language, in particular the English language. Learning a second language (L2) is one of the significant experiences encountered by a student in an institution of higher learning. Some L2 acquirers would be more successful than others in acquiring another language. University students need a good knowledge of the English language to access the globalized world technologically. An investigation was conducted to examine the challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs about English language learning held by university students in Malaysia. The subjects exhibited somewhat differing responses with respect to L2 learning perceptions of experiences. The paper also addressed the practical implications of the results.

Academic research paper on topic "L2 Learning Challenges and Needs of University Students: A Preliminary Study"

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ScienceDirect

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 106 (2013) 1669 - 1676

4th International Conference on New Horizons in Education

L2 learning challenges and needs of university students: A

preliminary study

Parilah M. Shaha*9 Nor Haslinda Hashimb, Aminuddin Yusof% Rosseni Dind, Aidah A.

Karime, Ghazaliyusri Abd Rahmanf

"Faculty of Education, National University of Malaysia, 43600 UKMBangi, Se langor, Malaysia bFaculty of Education, National University of Malaysia, 43600 UKMBangi, Se langor, Malaysia cFaculty of Educational Studies, Univers iti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPMSerdang, Se langor, Malaysia dFaculty of Education, National University of Malaysia, 43600 UKMBangi, Se langor, Malaysia eFaculty of Education, National University of Malaysia, 43600 UKMBangi, Se langor, Malaysia _fLanguage Academy, MARA University of Technology, ShahAlam, Se langor, Malaysia_

Abstract

Technology demands individuals to be knowledgeable in another language, in particular the English language. Learning a second language (L2) is one of the significant experiences encountered by a student in an institution of higher learning. Some L2 acquirers would be more successful than others in acquiring another language. University students need a good knowledge of the English language to access the globalized world technologically. An investigation was conducted to examine the challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs about English language learning held by university students in Malaysia. The subjects exhibited somewhat differing responses with respect to L2 learning perceptions of experiences. The paper also addressed the practical implications of the results.

©2013TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selectionandpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityofTheAssociationofScience, EducationandTechnology-TASET,SakaryaUniversitesi, Turkey.

Keywords: L2 learning; challenges; needs

1. Introduction

Technology demands individuals to be knowledgeable in another language, in particular the English language. Learning a second language (L2) is one of the significant experiences encountered by a student in an institution of higher learning. Being a complex process, it would take an individual a considerable period of time

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+6012-3151362; fax: +603-89254372 E-mail address: drparila@hotmail.com

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of The Association of Science, Education and Technology-TASET, Sakarya Universitesi, Turkey. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.189

to acquire another language, other than his/her own native tongue. Some L2 acquirers would be more successful than others in acquiring a second language. University students all over the world need a good knowledge of the English language for various reasons. What are their reasons? Which aspects of the language that they need most and urgently? What are the challenges they encounter and how could they be assisted to produce a good command of the English language? Educationists seem to frequently contribute views and suggestions that could increase the rate of second language acquisition or design materials that would enhance second language learning and mastery. Nevertheless, seldom would educationists investigate and document learners' challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs about their L21earning and their learning experiences. Investigations on students' challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs should be conducted for several reasons: (i) educators would be aware about language learning from the learners' perspectives, (ii) learners' needs and beliefs guide the way they behave and these can impact their learning outcomes, (iii) educational institutions can provide empowerment to the learners, (iv) learners' views could lead to an improvement in the system of education. The researchers believe that this study would provide a compelling contribution to the field ofapplied linguistics.

A study of learners' perceptions is would present a better understanding of students' performance. According to O'Shaughnessy (1992) "perception is an experience" (p. 226) that assists and provides physical actions. A study of learners' challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs would enable researchers to gain access into the learners' worldview as well as into how they interpret their learning and learning experiences. The purpose of this investigation is to examine the challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs about English language learning held by university students.

2. Literature Review

This section focuses This section focuses on two theoretical perspectives of second language learning and acquisition that form the basis of this research. The first one is Gardner's Socio-Educational Model and second, it is Cummin's Model of Academic Language. Previous studies related to this investigation were also discussed.

Gardner's Socio-Educational Model (1985) asserts that second language acquisition takes place in a social and cultural context. It proposes that the cultural beliefs and the community that the individuals are in, may influence the general language proficiency. For instance, if the cultural belief is that second language learning is difficult, then there would be low level of achievement. The model also indicates that there are four different kinds of individual differences, for instance intelligence, language aptitude, motivation and situational anxiety. Attitudes and personality would have their effect through one ofthese four components.

Cummin's Model of Academic Language (Cummins, 1992 cited in Short, 2002; Snow, Met & Genesee, 1992) considers the integration of language and content instruction. According to Snow, Met and Genesee (1992), Cummins posits a paradigm in which the language tasks may be characterized as context reduced or context embedded and in which the tasks addressed through language may be cognitively demanding or undemanding. This model is based on the basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language (CALP) distinction. BICS refers to the language proficiency in everyday communication context while CALP concerns the manipulation of language in decontextualized academic situations (Cummins, 1992, 2003). Richards, Piatt and Piatt (1993) further clarify that BICS refers to the language proficiency needed to perform tasks which are not directly related to learning academic content and cognitively undemanding, while CALP concerns the proficiency needed to perform tasks that are cognitively demanding and often have to be solved independently by the learner without support from the context.

The research literature generally supports the belief that a measure of attitudes and needs toward learning a second language would relate to achievement in that language (Gardner, 1985). In general, positive

attitudes towards the L2, its speakers, and its culture can be expected to improve and enhance learning. (Ellis, 1994; Gardner, 1985). An investigation conducted by Tremblay and Gardner (1995) on secondary school students at a francophone school in Canada revealed that positive language attitudes orient students toward developing specific learning goals and thus improved achievement in French courses. Among the findings found in Shah's (1999) study was that lack of positive attitude exhibited by key informants and low motivational intensity and L2 learning needs due to minimal effort put on English language learning led to low ESL achievement and academic achievement.

Al-Tamimi and Shuib (2009) investigated on engineering students' attitudes and motivation towards English language learning at Hadhramout University of Sciences Technology in Yemen. It was found that most of students had positive attitude towards the social value and educational status of English, and a high number of the students showed their need and interest in the culture of the English speaking world as represented by English-language films. The data showed that students exhibited greater support of instrumental needs and reasons for learning the English language including utilitarian and academic reasons, and regarding the integrative reasons, the results provided evidence that learning English as a part ofthe culture ofits people.

There is another study conducted by Shah and Ng (2005) which investigated on the reasons as to why international students from China and Indonesia did not perform well in the English Improvement Programme (EIP) available at Inti College, Malaysia. It addressed the students' attitudes towards Acrolect Malaysian English and their needs and motivation to learn the language. Survey questionnaires were utilized to gather the data from the EIP students. The findings revealed that the students showed negative attitudes towards Acrolect Malaysian English. The preferred models were the native English speaker models, for instance Standard American English and Standard British English. In terms of motivation and needs, the students were instrumentally motivated than integratively motivated.

Yashima, Zenuk-Nishide and Shimizu (2004) studied the willingness to communicate (WTC) among Japanese adolescent learners of English. The findings indicated that learners with the higher WTC scores seemed to exhibit more frequent communication in class. They also showed the tendency to interact with teachers outside the classroom and asked questions. It was also found that the learners who were interested in international activities were inclined to show willingness to communicate in the English language more frequently.

Littlewood (2001) addressed three perspectives which are of special potential relevance to language teaching; they are: (i) the distinction between collectivism and individualism; (ii) different perceptions of power and authority; and (iii) different types of achievement motivation. It was found that "most students in all countries question the traditional authority-based, transmission mode of learning. They wish to participate actively in exploring knowledge and have positive attitudes towards working purposefully, in groups, towards common goals" (p. 3).

Shah, Yusof, Al-Bataineh, Yusop, Haron, Ong and Ahmad (2007) addressed the L2 learning beliefs the Malay students in a Malaysian university. The study examined the subjects' beliefs in terms of the nature of second language learning, difficulty of second language learning, and second language learning aptitude. Survey questionnaires that were issued to the subjects were adapted from Horwitz's (1987) Language Learning Beliefs Inventory. One ofthe most important findings was that majority ofthe respondents felt that it is not necessary to know about the English-speaking culture in order to speak English. They just would like to learn the English language per se. Over two-third ofthe respondents judged that vocabulary and grammar to be the most important for language learning. The participants seemed to believe that producing utterances with accurate vocabulary and correct grammar would enhance one's credibility. They did not seem to believe in experimenting with the second language at the initial stage of learning. Over half of the participants considered some languages are easier to learn than others, while 43% indicated that English is a difficult language. English language is far from similar to

the subjects' first language (Malay language) in terms of language structures and rules. Majority of the respondents were not sure about having special language learning ability. This could impede their second language learning process and acquisition could be delayed.

In another related study Shah, Yusof, Sulaiman, Kudus, Yusof and Latiff (2009) compared the responses from the male and female subjects. One of the results revealed that both the males and females believed that learners who already acquired the L2 would face less difficulty in learning the third one. Both gender groups probably felt that these learners would inevitably employ the language learning strategies that they used to acquire the L2 in their attempt to acquire any subsequent languages. The subjects also resorted to translation throughout their learning process. Being in a climate where the Malay language was a dominant language, translating, word borrowing, code-switching and making associations between the two languages were the best options for the learners as they believed that these activities could hasten their pace oflearning another language.

Shinbo (2004) addressed the heritage language students' weaknesses and needs, strengths, challenges in a foreign language classroom. The data were collected via questionnaires, interviews, observations and e-mails. The data showed that the subjects endorsed strongly the need to improve reading, writing, and oral skills. The language instructors felt that the students "need to improve their oral skills sophisticated enough for utilizing at the academic and professional levels" (p.87). The results revealed two types of challenges encountered in the learning process. The first one concerns the difficulty of learning Japanese as a foreign language, such as unfamiliar with termininology, lack of ability to master kanji, lack of linguistic skill especially the grammatical rules, tendency to mix discoursal styles, and difficulty of employing formal register. The second type of challenge includes pressure to excel, pace ofclass and peers' negative perception.

3. Methodology

The data were collected through issuing survey forms from a random sample of students taking English language courses at Centre ofGeneral Studies, National University ofMalaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia - UKM). The data were collected from 89 UKM students of various disciplines taking English language proficiency courses at the Centre.

A questionnaire was designed based on the works of Sparks, Ganschow and Javorsky (1993), Argaman and Abu-Rabia (2002), and Bell, McCallum, Kirk, Brown, Fuller and Scott (2008). The instrument consisted of Likert-scale items (a scale from 1-5) which used a forced-choice format in which subjects were asked to select from one of the following choices: (1) strongly agree, (2) agree, (3) neutral, (4) disagree, and (5) strongly disagree. In addition, the subjects were required to respond to question items pertaining to demographic information such as age, sex, ethnicity, hometown, program major, years in program, English courses taken, and length of exposure to English. The data will be processed using an SPSS program, in which frequency analysis was performed to examine the subjects' responses with respect to their challenges, needs, attitudes and beliefs about L2 learning.

4. Findings of the Study

The aspects under L2 learning that were analyzed were attitude and needs, beliefs on attention, challenges on anxiety and challenges on self-confidence. Under attitude and needs, subjects responded to items such as "I need to be successful in the English language", "I want to learn the English language," "I need to study harder for my English language courses", and "I feel I have spent too much time studying for my English language courses." The students' responses on L2 language learning attitude and needs are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: L2 Learning Attitudes and Needs

No. Question Items Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

1. I need to be successful in the English language. 28.1% 39.3% 15.7% 11.2% 5.6%

2. I want to learn the English language. 16.9% 52.8% 15.7% 14.6% 0%

3. I need to study harder for my English language courses. 12.4% 64% 21.3% 1.1% 1.1%

4. I feel I have spent too much time studying for my English language courses. 3.4% 11.2% 28.1% 50.6% 6.7%

It was found that most of the subjects (67.4%, i.e. 28.1% strongly agreed and 39.3% agreed) defined being successful in an English language course as an 'A' scale, while 11.2% disagreed and 5.6% strongly disagreed with this notion. Majority of students wanted to learn the English language, of which 16.9% and 52.8% indicating "strongly agree" and "agree" responses respectively. More than 70% of the respondents expressed the need to study harder for their English language courses. The results also revealed that only 14.6% (3.4% strongly agreed and 11.2% agreed) of students felt the need to spend a lot of too time studying their English language courses. The results clearly showed that majority of the subjects wanted to learn L2, and yet not much time was spent in doing so.

With regard to beliefs on attention, the respondents were required to respond to statements such as "I feel my attention wanders more easily in my English language course than my other courses," I feel I fall asleep more easily in my English language course than my other courses," and "I am more easily distracted when I study an English language course than my other courses."

Table 2: L2 Learning Beliefs on Attention

No. Question Items Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

1. I feel my attention wanders more easily in

my English language course than my other 6.7% 18% 20.2% 50.6% 4.5%

courses.

2. I feel I fall asleep more easily in my English language course than my other courses. 6.7% 18% 14.6% 49.4% 11.2%

3. I am more easily distracted when I study an

English language course than my other 7.9% 23.6% 22.5% 32.6% 13.5%

courses.

As can be seen in Table 2, the data revealed that 55.1% of the subjects did not feel that their attention wanders more easily, with 50.6% disagreeing and 4.5% strongly disagreeing with the statement. More than half of the participants (60.6%) indicated that they did not easily fall asleep in an English language class, specifically 49.4% disagreed and 11.2% strongly disagreed with the item. Further, a somewhat similar response was obtained for the next item, of which there were 46.1% of the subjects who presented 32.6% disagree and 13.5% strongly disagree choices when answering question pertaining to being easily distracted when studying an English language. From the findings, it can be seen that more than half of the students indicated paying attention during

their L2 learning, less than half revealed weak attention span, while the rest of the learners were not sure about their focus towards L2 learning.

With respect to challenges on anxiety, the subjects provided responses to items such as "I have not gotten nervous and tense when studying for my English language course," "I do not worry about my English language course," "I feel anxious about English language exams," and "I feel nervous and afraid about participating in class discussion during my English language course."

Table 3: L2 Learning Challenges on Anxiety

No. Question Items Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

1. I have not gotten nervous and tense when studying for my English language course. 7.9% 28.1% 14.6% 28.1% 36%

2. I do not worry about my English language course 1.1% 23.6% 18% 43.8% 13.5%

3. I feel anxious about my English language exams. 18% 38.2% 24.7% 16.9% 2.2%

4. I feel nervous and afraid about participating in class discussion during my English language course. 24.7% 29.2% 20.2% 20.2% 5.6%

As shown in Table 3, the results showed that 36% (strongly agree = 7.9 % and agree = 28.1%) of the subjects indicated that they had not gotten nervous and tense when studying for the English language course. A dissimilar number of students (19.1%, of which 16.9% responded to disagreement and 2.2% chose strong disagreement) did not feel anxious about their English language exams. In addition to this, more than half (57.3% = 43.8% chose disagree and 13.5% chose strongly disagree) were worried about their English language courses. It is probably due to this that again slightly more than halfofthe students, i.e. 53.9% (strongly agree = 24.7% and agree = 29.2%) felt nervous and afraid about participating in the English language class discussion. The fear of learning L2 could affect students' L2 attainment.

With respect to challenges on self-confidence, participants answered the following items: "I do not feel capable of studying for my English language course," "I feel that I am not in control of my grades in my English language course," and "I will never be successful in an English language course."

Table 4: L2 Learning Challenges on Self-Confidence

No. Question Items Strongly Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

1. I do not feel capable of studying my English language course. 5.6% 23.6% 12.4% 46.1% 12.4%

2. I feel that I am not in control ofmy grades in my English language course. 5.6% 36% 29.2% 24.7% 4.5%

3. I will never be successful in an English language course. 1.1% 7.9% 11.2% 31.5% 48.3%

The findings in Table 4 showed that 58.5% (46.1% selected "disagree" and 12.4% selected "strongly disagree") of the students felt that they were capable of studying an English language. About one-third i.e. 29.2% (24.7% and 4.5% showed disagreement and strong disagreement to the statement) felt that they were able

to control their grades in the English language course. The data also revealed that 31.5% and 48.3% of the participants disagreed and strongly disagreed that they would never be successful in an English language course. This means that a great majority, specifically 79.8% believed that they were capable of achieving success. The data revealed that majority showed confidence in attaining success. However, despite this, their L2 general performance was about average.

5. Discussion and Implications

Given the participants' different language circumstances and target language learning setting, the data revealed different learners' responses and a variation of students' perceptions about English language learning. Among the important findings in the aspect ofattitudes and needs were that majority ofthe participants needed to learn English and most indicated paying attention in class. Despite this, not much of their time was allocated outside class towards their target language learning. Almost half of the students were worried about L2 learning even though majority believed that they had the capability and would be successful. Quite a majority felt that they should have studied harder; this gave the indication that they had not been putting on a maximum effort in the learning of L2. The findings did not indicate that a great majority of the respondents giving maximum attention to L2 learning. This low motivational need indicated that the degree of attitude toward the learning of L2 exhibited by the subjects was not very high. One of Shah's (1999) findings revealed that low achievers showed lack of positive attitude and low motivational need towards L2 learning; similarly this study indicated that these research subjects showed lack of positive attitude and also somewhat low motivational intensity towards the learning ofthe L2.

The results of this investigation provided useful insights on respondents' perceptions on English language learning. Most participants would like to learn another language, and hence implying that they were aware on the importance of being bilingual and the significant position of the English language in the global setting. But, there was lack of effort and energy put on target language learning; this effort should be increased and this means increasing the time of learning. The administrators from UKM should allocate more time and exposure to teaching of English, and a more formal and authentic English language situation should be created. The structures ofa language should be emphasized and effective instruction ofgrammar should be employed.

The Ministry of Education, Malaysia could embark on, at the macro level is the introduction of a bilingual program, emulating the two-way bilingual program existing in the United States. The present language policy should perhaps be changed; a bilingual language policy would be more appropriate. More school subjects should be taught in the English language. Thirty to fifty per cent ofthe school hours should be reserved for the use of English in the teaching of some other subjects. To ensure that Malaysians could function effectively globally, this practice should be introduced; this could prevent the further decline in the target language competence and fluency among the Malaysian students.

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