Scholarly article on topic 'An Investigation of ACT Students’ English Language Problems and their Learning Strategies in Grade 10 Bilingual Program'

An Investigation of ACT Students’ English Language Problems and their Learning Strategies in Grade 10 Bilingual Program Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Sarintip Ngersawat, Robert Kirkpatrick

Abstract The study investigated English language problems and learning strategies through a survey design which involved administering questionnaires of rating scales to measure English language problems and language learning strategies from 30 Grade 10 Bilingual Program students of Assumption College Thonburi (ACT). Participants reported frequent use of the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) as well as compensatory strategies, while metacognitive strategy was the least frequently use. The problem least mentioned was being ashamed of pronunciation when communicating with foreign or English native speaker teachers.

Academic research paper on topic "An Investigation of ACT Students’ English Language Problems and their Learning Strategies in Grade 10 Bilingual Program"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 1356 - 1365

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

An Investigation of ACT Students' English Language Problems and their Learning Strategies in Grade 10 Bilingual Program

Sarintip Ngersawata, Robert Kirkpatrickb' *

aAssumption College Thonburi, Bangkae Bangkok, 10160, Thailand bGulf University of Science and Technology, Kuwait City, 21308, Kuwait

Abstract

The study investigated English language problems and learning strategies through a survey design which involved administering questionnaires of rating scales to measure English language problems and language learning strategies from 30 Grade 10 Bilingual Program students of Assumption College Thonburi (ACT). Participants reported frequent use of the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) as well as compensatory strategies, while metacognitive strategy was the least frequently use. The problem least mentioned was being ashamed of pronunciation when communicating with foreign or English native speaker teachers.

© 2014 TheAuthors.Published by ElsevierLtd.This isanopenaccess article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

Keywords: Linguistic problems; learning strategies; SILL; sociocultural persepectives; second language learning

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

It has been recognized that the education business of Thailand is rapidly growing. This creates greater demands for strategies to develop high-level English language skills for communication. Such demand can be seen in parents' requiring their children to have highly functional language skills to be able to continue their education efficiently.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +965-2530-7000; fax: + 965-2530-7030. E-mail address: ltaeditor@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.553

Many institutions require the applicants to be fluent in English but students studying bilingual program such as ACT encounter adjusting difficulties to the new environment of both academic and cultural aspects. That is, they find themselves in an educational environment where the teaching style and learning context are different from their former experiences in terms of expectations, learning support and academic requirements (Chalmers &Volet, 1997). In a general educational program, the speaking and listening abilities in English of Thai students have been weak as students have little chance to practice speaking English in or outside the classroom. Students respond to the teacher only when called upon and the learning atmosphere is individualistic. Moreover, learning English in Thailand is often a rote memorization of new words and sentence structure only on paper. Therefore, the students in bilingual programs suffer from academic difficulties, for example, attending lectures, taking notes, and participating in classroom activities.

1.2. The objective of the study

The study aims to investigate and clarify the English problems and solutions of the students at ACT. In examining the English problems of the students at ACT, this study will attempt to answer the following two research questions: Research Question I: What are the English problems perceived by ACT grade 10 bilingual students? Research Question II: How do they use learning strategies to achieve the target goal?

2. Literature review

In order to understand the theoretical framework of this study, a critical review and analysis of the literature relevant to the study is provided in the following section. The state of the English language problems and solutions are based on a number of variables including the following aspects:

2.1. Linguistic problem

Linguists have relied on native speakers natural intuitions of grammatical accuracy and their sure sense of what is proper language use to establish a norm against which the performance of non-native speakers is measured. Language efficiency can be considered as one of the next important tools. However, Mitchell & Myles (1998) indicates that one phenomenon of second language learners is incomplete success and fossilization. Thongsongsee (1998) investigated linguistic and cultural difficulties encountered by Thai student graduates from American universities and revealed that factors such as a good understanding of western cultural norms, the ability to adapt oneself to a different style of learning, and personal problems played a crucial role in the overall achievement of the students. Songsangkaew (2003) studied the language function difficulties experienced by Thai students in real situations in America. She summarized Asian students encounter the linguistic problems such as writing composition, listening comprehension and plagiarism. These problems are an obstacle to achieve academic learning.

2. 2.Sociocultural perspectives on second language learning

The sociocultural perspective grounds on the theory of Vygotsky. He conducted the instrument in the area of the learning processes. The significant theory lies on the understanding of human cognition and learning as social and cultural rather than individual phenomena. This phenomenon is called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

2.3. Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are methods taken by students to enhance and achieve their own learning. Oxford (1990) identified the second language learning strategies in six categories as the followings:

i) Cognitive strategies are essential in learning a new language. Such strategies are a varied lot, ranging from repeating to analyzing expressions to summarizing. Four sets of cognitive strategies exist practicing, receiving and sending message, analyzing and reasoning, and creating structure for input and output.

ii) Metacognitive strategies are actions which go beyond purely cognitive devices, and which provide a way for learners to coordinate their own learning process. Language learners are often overwhelmed by too much unfamiliar vocabulary, confusing rules, different writing systems, seemingly inexplicable social customs, and nontraditional instructional approaches.

iii) Memory strategies reflect very simple principles, such as arranging things in order, making associations, and reviewing. Language learners have a serious problem remembering the new vocabulary to achieve fluency. Memory strategies help language learners to cope with this difficulty.

iv) Compensatory strategies is the way that language learners guess the context in listening and reading; using synonyms and "talking around" the missing word to aid speaking and writing; and strictly for speaking, using gestures or pause words. Compensation strategies allow learners to produce spoken or written expression in the new language without complete knowledge.

v) Affective strategies are identified on learner's mood and anxiety level, talking about feelings, rewarding oneself for good performance, and using deep breathing or positive self-talk. The affective side of the learner is probably one of the very biggest influences on language learning success or failure.

vi) Social strategies are identified as asking questions to get verification, asking for clarification of a confusing point, asking for help in doing a language task, talking with a native-speaking conversation partner, and exploring cultural and social norms. Social strategies help the learner work with others and understand the western culture as well as the language.

2.4. Differences in educational systems and backgrounds

The students usually suffered from academic difficulty in attending lectures, taking notes, and participating in classroom activities. Textbooks and other books for students in developing countries were unavailable, difficult to find, or too expensive. The Basic Curriculum was developed in 2000 by the Ministry of Education. It aimed to address shortcoming in the teaching of mathematics, science and foreign languages specifically English and to gradually eliminate the practice of rote-learning instead promote critical thinking and skills for life.

3. Methodology

Since this study aimed at investigating English language problems perceived by Grade 10 bilingual program students, 30 research participants in this study were the students in bilingual program of Assumption College Thonburi. The questionnaire is divided into 3 sections. The first section is students' demographic data. Section two is designed to collect the students' English learning problems. The content of the questionnaire is concerned with the mentioned theories: linguistic problem, sociocultural on second language learning. The questions of linguistic problems are considered in 4 language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The last section is aimed to find students' solutions which attempts to consider the strategies learning as a solutions that participants employ to achieving the target goal. The questionnaire was designed according to Oxford (1990) on six categories of second language learning strategies including cognitive strategies, metacognitive strategies, memory-related strategies, compensatory strategies, affective strategies, and social strategies. In addition, the questionnaire was verified by an American-Thai teacheran English teacher in bilingual program to check the effectiveness of the questionnaire before employing in the study.

3. 3. Results

The English problems were classified into Yes, No and specified number in percentage and the description was interpreted under each table.

Table 1. Demographic data of participants.

Demographic Data Frequency Percent

15 11 36.67

16 19 63.33

Male 21 70.00

Female 9 30.00

10 Years 0 0

How long have you been studying English 11 Years 0 0

language? 12 Years 0 0

13 Years 30 100

Personal information Frequency Percent

Have you ever studied abroad? Yes 1 3.33

No 29 96.67

Excellent Appendix A. 0 0

How do you rate your overall English Good 3.33

proficiency compared with the 1

proficiency of other students in your Fair 20 66.67

class?

Poor 9 30.00

Do you enjoy English language Yes Appendix B. 16 53.33

learning? No Appendix C. 14 46.67

Total 30 100

The table shows that most of participants (63.33%) were 16 years old. The number of female participants was 9 (30.00%) and male was 21 (70.00%). The table also provided information on the breakdown of the participants by period of studying English language. All of the participants(100%) studied 13 years. Most of participants (96.67) never studied aboard. They rated their proficiency compared with others students in class at the fair level (66.67%) and enjoyed studying English 53.33%.

Table 2. Reason for learning English.

Why do you want to learn English language? Yes No

interested in the language 17 (56.67) 13 (43.33)

interested in the culture 2 (6.67) 28 (93.33)

need it for my future career 28 (93.33) 2 (6.67)

have friends who speak the English language 2 (6.67) 28 (93.33)

required to take a course for further education 29 (96.67) 1 (3.33)

the school curriculum 30 (100) 0 (0)

The table stated that , the reasons of the participants to study English language are; the school curriculum (100%), required to take a course for further education (96.67%),need it for future career (93.33%), and interested in the language (56.67%) respectively.

For the Research Question I. What are the English problems perceived by ACT grade 10 bilingual students? the following problems were found out and presented with tables.

Table 3. Problems with English language listening skill.

Listening skills Yes No

1. I never have a listening problem. 1 (3.33) 29 (96.67)

2. I can understand a native speaker speaking at normal speed. 9 (30.00) 21 (70.00)

3. I participate class discussions in English. 10 (33.33) 20 (66.67)

4. I feel comfortable in listening to a native speaker teacher in the classroom. 9 (30.00) 21 (70.00)

5. I can understand classroom lectures in English. 9 (30.00) 21 (70.00)

6. I can understand the main idea of the native speaker teacher. 15 (50.00) 15 (50.00)

The table indicated participants usually have listening skill problems. From the results, it can be interpreted that the serious problems of all participants are that they cannot understand the understand a native speaker speaking at normal speed, classroom lectures in English and they don't feel comfortable in listening to a native speaker teacher in the classroom (70.00%). The lowest problems are to understand the main idea of the native speaker teacher and participate class discussions in English.

Table 4. Problems with English language speaking skills.

Speaking skills Yes No

1. I can explain my idea clearly in English. 12 (40.00) 18 (60.00)

2. I can have a formal conversation in English. 3 (10.00) 27 (90.00)

3. I feel comfortable in talking with a native speaker teacher in the classroom. 14 (46.67) 16 (53.33)

4. I can perform academic presentations in English in the classroom 13 (43.33) 17 (56.67)

5. I can ask questions in English in the classroom. 18 (60.00) 12 (40.00)

6. I can have an informal conversation in English. 22 (73.33) 8 (26.67)

7. I find it easy to express myself in English. 11 (36.67) 19 (63.33)

From the table, it can be concluded that the serious problems of all participants are that they cannot have a formal conversation in English (90.00%), cannot find it easy to express themselves in English (63.33%), cannot explain

their idea clearly in English (60.00 ), cannot perform academic presentations in English in the classroom (56.67) and feel uncomfortable in talking with a native speaker teacher in the classroom (53.33) respectively. The lowest problem perceived by them is to have an informal conversation in English (10.00).

Table 5. Problems with English language reading skills.

Reading skills Yes No

1. I can understand English idioms 12 (40.00) 18 (60.00)

2. I can read academic textbooks in English 22 (73.33) 8 (26.67)

3. I can explain the main idea and summarize the passage 13 (43.33) 17 (56.67)

4. I never have a reading problem 10 (33.33) 20 (66.67)

5. I can read a magazine in English 20 (66.67) 10 (33.33)

6. I can guess the meaning of new vocabulary 17 (56.67) 13 (43.33)

As can be seen in table, the students always have problems with language learning that they cannot understand the English idioms (60.00), cannot explain the main idea and summarize the passage (56.67), cannot guess the meaning of new vocabulary (43.33) and cannot read a magazine in English (33.33) respectively. They can read academic textbooks in English is the lowest problem (26.67).

Table 6. Problems with English language writing skills.

Writing skills Yes No

1. I can write an essay within limited ime. 5 (16.67) 25 (83.33)

2. I can write an academic paper in English. 10 (33.33) 20 (66.67)

3. I can perfectly use grammatical rules in writing any papers. 15 (50.00) 15 (50.00)

4. I can paraphrase English passages. 5 (16.67) 25 (83.33)

5. I never have a writing problem. 2 (6.67) 28 (93.33)

6. I can choose appropriate vocabulary to write my paper. 3 (10.00) 27 (90.00)

7. I have an adequate English vocabulary for writing essays. 4 (13.33) 26 (86.67)

From the table, the problems are:the students cannot choose appropriate vocabulary to write their paper (90.00), cannot have an adequate English vocabulary for writing essays (86.67), cannot write an essay within limited time and cannot paraphrase English passages (83.33) as well as can write an academic paper in English (66.67). They can perform well in using grammatical rules in writing any papers (50.00).

For Research question II How do they use strategies to achieve their target goal?, the results were presented with tables as follows.

Table 7. Cognitive strategies use perceived by the participants.

Cognitive strategies Yes No

1. If I don't understand any lessons, I will repeat it many times until I understand clearly 27 (90.00) 3 (10.00)

2. When someone corrects my English errors, I try not to repeat the same 21 9

errors (70.00) (30.00)

3. I remember new English words by making a clear mental image of it or drawing a picture by 10 (33.33) 20 (66.37)

4. I take every opportunity to practice English 8 (26.67) 22 (73.33)

It can be concluded that the most frequently employed strategies are: the repetition strategy (if they don't understand any lesson, they will repeat it many time until understand clearly) 90.00%, monitoring strategy (when someone corrects their English errors, they try not to repeat the same errors) 70.00%, and imaginary strategy (they remember new English words by making a clear mental image of it or by drawing a picture) 33.33% respectively. The lowest frequently employed strategy is to take every opportunity to practice English which was 26.67%.

Table 8. Metacognitive strategies use perceived by the participants.

Metacognitive strategies Yes No

1. I rely on context to figure the meaning of 26 4

unfamiliar words in the text (86.67) (13.33)

2. I try to guess if I don't fully understand what is being said 25 (83.33) 5 (16.67)

3. If I am speaking and cannot think of the right expression, I use gestures or 12 18

switch back to my own language momentarily (40.00) (60.00)

4. If I don't understand all the words, I read or hear, I try to keep 10 20

listening/reading (33.33) (66.67)

5. When I don't know how to say something in English, I say something 23 7

else instead (76.67) (23.33)

From the results it can be summarized that the frequently employed strategies are: to rely on context to figure the meaning of unfamiliar words in the text 86.67%, they try to guess if they don't fully understand what is being said 83.33%, when they don't know how to say something in English, they say something else instead 76.67, if they are speaking and cannot think of the right expression, they use gestures or switch back to their own language momentarily 40.00 respectively. The lowest frequently employed strategy is if they don't understand all the words they read or hear, they try to keep listening/reading 33.33%.

Table 9. Memory strategies use perceived by the participants.

Memory strategies Yes No

1. I think of relationships between what I've already known and new things I 20 10

learnt in English. (66.67) (33.33)

2. I remember new English words or phrases by remembering their location 25 5

on the page, on the board, or on street sign. (83.33) (16.67)

3. I remember a new English word by making a mental picture of a situation 10 20

in which the word might be used. (33.33) (66.67)

4. I use new English words in a sentence so I can remember them.

(50.00) (50.00)

5. I review English lessons often.

(43.33) (56.67)

From the results it can be shown that the frequently employed strategies are: imaginary strategy (they remember new English words or phrases by remembering their location on the page, on the board, or on street sign) 83.33%, background knowledge strategy (to think of relationships between what they've already known and new things they learn in English) 66.67%, and mental strategy (they remember a new English word by making a mental picture of a situation in which the word might be used) 33.33%, use new English words in a sentence so they can remember them 50.00%. respectively. The least frequently employed strategy is revision (they review English lessons often) which was 43.33%.

Table 10. Compensatory strategies use perceived by the participants.

Memory strategies Yes No

1. I make up new words if I do not know the right ones in English. 19 (63.33) 11 (36.67)

2. I direct the conversation to a topic for which I know the words. 18 (60.00) 12 40.00)

3. I read English without looking up every new word. 8 (26.67) 22 (73.33)

4. To understand unfamiliar English words, I make guesses. 21 (70.00) 9 (30.00)

5. When I can't think of a word during a conversation in English, I use 28 2

gestures. (93.33) (6.67)

The results illustrated that the frequently employed strategies are: using gestures when can't think of a word during a conversation in English 93.33%, make guesses to understand unfamiliar English words 70.00%, make up new words if they do not know the right ones in English 63.33% and direct the conversation to a topic for which they know the words 60.00% respectively. The least frequently employed strategy is read English without looking up every new words which was 26.67%.

Table 11. Affective strategies use perceived by the participants.

Affective strategies Yes No

1. I pay attention to physical signs of stress that might affect my language learning. 10 (33.33) 20 (67.67)

2. I give myself a reward when I have done something well in English learning. 12 (40.00) 18 (60.00)

3. I try to relax whenever I feel anxious about using the new language. 5 (16.67) 25 (83.33)

4. I talk to someone I trust about my attitudes and feelings concerning the English language learning process. 7 (23.33) 23 (76.67)

5. I make encouraging statements to myself so that I will continue to try hard 18 and do my best in English language learning. (60 00) 12 (40.00)

The most frequency use affective learning strategies of all participants are: to make encouraging statements to themselves so that they will continue to try hard and do their best in English language learning 60.00%, give themselves a reward when have done something well in English learning 40.00%, pay attention to physical signs of stress that might affect the language learning 33.33%, talk to someone they trust about their attitudes and feelings concerning the English language learning process 23.33%, respectively. The lowest frequency employable strategy is try to relax whenever feeling anxious about using the new language which was 16.67%.

Table 12. Social strategies use perceived by the participants.

Affective strategies Yes No

1. I usually ask my friend to edit my English writing 9 (30.00) 11 (70.00)

2. I ask my teacher or friends for help when I don't understand any lessons 25 (83.33) 5 (16.67)

3. When I don't understand completely, I summarize what I have understood 13 and ask my friends for verification (43.33) 17 (56.67)

4. I work with my friends to practice, review, or share information 20 (66.67) 10 (33.33)

5. When I have any problems, I prefer to consult with English native speakers rather than Thai friends 2 (6.67) 28 (93.33)

It can be interpreted from the results that the most commonly used strategies are: ask teacher or friends for help when they don't understand any lessons 83.33%, work with friends to practice, review, or share information 66.67%, summarize what they have understood and ask friend for verification43.33%, and usually ask friends to edit their English writing30.33%. The lowest frequency employed strategy is when they have any problems, they prefer to consult with English native speakers rather than Thai friends which was 6.67%.

Table 13. The order strategies uses to achieve their target goals.

No. Strategy Percentage Strategy

1. If I don't understand any lessons, I will repeat it many times until I understand clearly 90.00 Cognitive

2. I rely on context to figure the meaning of unfamiliar words in the text 86.67 Metacognitive

3. I remember new English words or phrases by remembering their location on the page, on the board, or on street sign. 83.33 Memory

4. When I can't think of a word during a conversation in English, I use gestures. 93.33 Compensatory

5. I make encouraging statements to myself so that I will continue to try hard and do my best in English language learning. 60.00 Affective

6. I ask my teacher or friends for help when I don't understand any lessons 83.33 Social

As revealed by table 13, the most frequently employed strategy is compensatory (90.00%) and the least employed strategy is affective strategy (60.00%). The interesting finding is the cognitive strategies employed least by the participants in the current study take every opportunity to practice.

4. Conclusion

The purpose of this study was to investigate the English language learning problems and the learning strategies as a solution to achieve the target goal used by Grade 10 bilingual program students at Assumption College Thonburi with the main two areas of research questions:

(1) What are the English problems perceived by ACT grade 10 bilingual students?

The participants had the most serious problem in writing skills. The students cannot choose appropriate vocabulary to write their paper, do not have adequate English vocabulary for writing essays, cannot write an essay within the limited time and cannot paraphrase English passages, and cannot write an adequate academic paper in English. They are unable to perform well in using grammatical rules in writing any papers.

(2) How do they use learning strategies to achieve the target goal?

The students usually use compensatory strategies when they have problem in English language learning. They use gestures when they can't think of a word during a conversation in English. The affective strategies are the least frequently used.

5. Discussion

The study concluded that the writing skill was the most difficult English language problem that the students encounter, followed by listening and reading. This may be because the cause of the writing is the productive skill in the written mode. Many students compose English assignments by writing in Thai first and then translating into English. The quality of their written assignments are quite poor because they rarely compose an essay in present study. They rarely have a chance to practice productive ideas for writing. Language learning strategies contribute to all parts of the language learning. As can be seen from the results, compensatory strategies were the most frequently used of the students. Students applied compensatory strategies to solve English language problems: speaking, listening, reading, writing.

6. Recommendations

Since the current investigation into English learning problems and language learning strategies of the students was restricted to grade 10 bilingual program at ACT, generalization is limited. Students rarely face a real life situations, and often do not realize the necessity of English language. The study gathered information from a single questionnaire to identify the problems and the solutions of English language learning. Further studies should incorporate multiple measures of English language learning and solutions for example, interviews, direct observations, mail, and pilot surveys, etc.

References

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Songsangkaew, P. (2003). The language function difficulties experienced by Thai students in real situations in America. Unpublished Master's

thesis. King Mongkut's Institute of Technology, North Bangkok, Thailand. Thongsongsee, J. (1998). A study of linguistic and cultural difficulties encountered by Thai graduated students in their use of English when

studying oversea. Unpublished Master's thesis. Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.