Speaking difficulties of International students
The number of students who travel to other countries for education has increased considerably in recent years. Immigrant students join courses in order to learn English so that they can communicate with the local people, settle in a new country and study the subjects of their interests. Students expect that the courses should not only provide the knowledge of English language but also offer tips that would prepare them in every way to settle in a new culture. They expect to get knowledge about manners and etiquettes of the new country and serve as finishing schools. This renders the situation in a classroom of International students is different from the situation in a normal classroom. Immigrants from different lands have different needs and backgrounds. Their reasons for visiting a country are also different. have various kinds of communication needs. “Lumping all English Language Learners (ELLs) together as if they all had the same instructional needs is a mistake,” ( TheFreeLibrary.com, 2014). Language is not the only factor involved in communication. Immigrants become parts of different groups like the student community or the working community. Each cultural group has its own set of values systems and beliefs. The immigrants carry with them the values and beliefs of their home countries. They find a vast difference in the systems and encounter a number of difficulties in adopting new systems of values and beliefs, new trends and merge with the existing groups and communities. Non-verbal aspects of communication are also different. Students join the course with great hopes and expectations that completion of the course will enable them to gain proficiency in English and prepare them to get settled in a new country in every way. “ELLs are, indeed, faced with learning multiple Englishes concurrently: conversational or home English, work related or professional English and formal, academic English,” ( Baker, in Delpit, p.51, 2002). The syllabus for international students has to be based on sound theories of language and the most relevant theories are socio-cultural theories.
When students in a class pursuing the same course come from different countries, they find it difficult to bond together. Coming together of the students is called cohesion. Cohesion affects learning. Clement, R., Dornyei, Z., & Noels, K. (1994) carried out a study titled “Motivation, Self-Confidence and Group Cohesion in the Foreign Language Classroom”. The attempt was to find out how factors like motivation, self-confidence and group cohesion affected learning in a foreign language classroom. It is important to note that the three factors are inter-related. If there is cohesion, students feel confident. Confidence in turn helps to boost motivation. This study attempts to apply the social psychological perspective to L 2 learning in a FL classroom in a unicultural context. The study distinguishes between integrative orientation and instrumental orientation of learners. The former is about a special bond with the L2 community while the latter is about learning target language for some specific purpose. A strong affective component is involved in integrated orientation. If contact with L2 community is frequent and pleasant, there is high self-confidence and low anxiety in learners. Research has confirmed that situation specific factors contribute significantly to L 2 motivation in FL classrooms. According to the results, classroom contexts, extra-curricular contact and group cohesion jointly affect motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. The integration and instrumental orientations lead to factors like anxiety and self-confidence. These factors in turn depend upon group dynamics, especially in a unicultural classroom. The aim of the study is to examine the joint effect of all these factors.
Psychological theories of motivation and personality theories which explain anxiety and self –confidence are an integral part of this study. The main theory is the psycho-social perspective. The study aims at exploring the effects of linguistic self-confidence and linguistic anxiety, which are part of the learners’ personalities. The third element integrates aspects of group dynamics as applied to classroom setting. The psycho-social theory forms the basis of this study. Anxiety levels and self-confidence are exhibited in group settings. The study establishes the close association that exists between the evaluation of the environment, the teachers’ appraisal of the group and the students’ evaluation of their own learner group. Thus, the task, the teacher and the learner group are perceived as interdependent aspects of a real classroom situation, significantly affecting students’ L2 learning behavior. International students experience anxiety and lack confidence while speaking. This study points out that group cohesion is important for reducing the anxiety level and increasing the confidence of international students while speaking English.
Group cohesion can be achieved if there is acculturation. In an international classroom, one finds a gathering of students from different countries and cultures. Language and culture are closely related. When students from a new country get accustomed to the values and beliefs of the local culture, acculturation takes place. Acculturation also plays an important role in SL learning. Barjesteh, H., & Vaseghi, R. (2012) conducted a study on “Acculturation Model for L2 Acquisition: Review and Evaluation.” This study evaluates the acculturation model which consists of assimilation, preservation and adaptation. The major claim is that acculturation is a cluster of socio-psychological factors and a cause of SLA. The model promotes the explicit teaching of the conventions of the target discourse community to ESL students in order to overcome cultural differences. The study is based on evidence from previous research on acculturation.
A foreign culture causes inhibitions in SLA. If acculturation takes place, the inhibitions can be overcome. Learners feel more comfortable and learn the new language easily. International students can overcome inhibitions if there is acculturation. Inhibitions are particularly experienced while speaking. The argument is that if SLA is a social science, it should comply with the established social science theories. The Acculturation model is based on social theory and has its roots in anthropology. When two cultures come in contact, acculturation takes place. Either the two cultures merge or the dominant culture accommodates the weaker culture. Languages also merge and may result in pidgins. The acculturation model takes for granted cultural differences and exploits them as a justification for pedagogical needs of ESL students.
Acculturation model focuses on social and psychological factors and ignores other aspects of SLA. There is limited empirical support in favor of the model. It is difficult to apply cultural factors in a classroom setting.
Acculturation is so important in an international classroom that researchers have pointed out in an article titled “Intercultural miscommunication: impact on ESOL students and implications for ESOL teachers” that there is a danger of intercultural miscommunication in the absence of acculturation. When there is a breakdown in communications between speakers due to opposing views on social interactions. In a research study, Anderson ( 1992, in thefreelibrary.com) has stated the consequences of miscommunication on ESOL students. It can cause culture shock and spark feelings of anxiety, depression and helplessness. Students with a foreign sounding accented are rejected in an international classroom. Students who belong to the same language community have shares beliefs and perceptions. The study emphasizes the importance of acculturation. The importance is evident in the statement, “The study of intercultural communication leads researchers to find that each lexical and grammatical item of a language has a cultural background within this item and this idea is very broad and complex,” ( Liidicoat, 2009, in FreeLibrary.com).
The strength of this research study lies in the fact that it suggests ways to prepare international students for the new culture preventing culture shock. Some of the ways that can be adopted by teachers are showing video clips based on communication situations in English, showing films or displaying pictures about culture.
Motivation is regarded as one of the most prominent affective factors in education and language learning. The article titled “Contemporary Motivation Theories in Educational Psychology and Language Learning: An Overview” by Ozturk, E. (2012) presents a comprehensive review of all theories of motivation, their implications in educational psychology and language learning. The theories reviewed in this program include expectancy value theory, achievement-motivation theory, self-efficacy theory, attribution theory, self-worth theory, goal-setting theory, goal-orientation theory, self-determination theory and theory of planned behavior. The motivational theories in the SL learning which are analyzed in this program include Gardner’s motivation theory, Dornyei’s motivational framework of L2 motivation, William and Burden’s Framework of L 2 motivation and Dornyei’s Framework of L2 self –esteem.
Psychologists attempt to study what moves or drives people to take an action, what actions they choose, why, the latency of their behavior, their intensity and persistence of a particular behavior. Psychologists also consider the thinking and feeling of people engaged in the action, or the cognitions and emotional reactions accompanying the behavior. When the choice is the study of SL, the theories are useful in understanding why learners choose to learn a second language, how hard they will work at it, how long, how intensely, persistently and their attitudes or thinking and feelings while learning a language. An understanding of these aspects will help language teachers to modify their teaching strategies and design the curriculum. . Language frameworks based on motivation theories are discussed in detail. Individual motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic is taken into account. The role of motivation in a classroom situation is also considered. Motivation of international students to learn English in a classroom situation decides the amount of efforts they will take in learning to speak. The students are already intrinsically motivated; the teachers must provide extrinsic motivation. The paper is an exhaustive overview of motivational theories. By reviewing the chief tenets of each theory as a foundation for language frameworks, a relation between the two is logically established. Motivation plays an important role in the efforts of international students in learning to speak.
Shibuya, K. (2014), has also dealt with the role of motivation in FL learning. This study also reviews past research on motivation theories in second language acquisition and identifies the main currents in order to reach at a better understanding of the subject. The study points out the objections raised against integral orientation and how they gave rise to recent studies that came up with ideas like knowledge, friendship and travel orientations. International students study English for various purposes like travel and friendship and not just as a library language. Shibuya’s study begins with Gardner’s theory of motivation as a starting point and goes on to trace the developments in second language acquisition. The theories of motivation and psychological theories, their advantages and disadvantages are discussed in the paper. There are a number of articles that review the past theories of motivation with an intention to arrive at a better understanding of the role of motivation in SLA. This study is different because it is the only one that classifies qualitative and quantitative studies and suggests that a combined approach will be the best solution to the problem of SLA motivation.
Matsumoto, M. (2009), also studied motivation as a factor in SL learning in the article “ Second language learners' motivation and their perception of teacher's motivation.” This study deals with the motivation of second language learners and their perception of teachers’ motivation. It also considers other related aspects like the role of teachers in motivation, the teacher related factors that affect motivation, and the proficiency of the students and its relation to motivation. The clue is picked up from a review of research on studies related to motivation and the questions that arise from it. The objectives of the study are to find out whether there is a difference in the learners’ motivation and the learners’ perceived level of teacher motivation and teacher commitment.
The students answered a questionnaire that sought information in three areas: the teachers’ behavior, personality and teaching style. The results conformed to the results on earlier researches on motivation. Findings showed that the commitment of teachers is an important factor. Personality is important at the beginner level while teaching style is considered at a higher level. The program relies heavily upon theories of motivation in psychology. It deals with the recent trends of research on motivation as a factor that influences learners of second language. While most of the studies focus on students’ motivation, this study extends to the learners’ perception of teachers’ motivation.
The results of the study are interesting. The study noted a positive correlation between learners’ perception of teachers’ motivation and commitment. This implies that international students must be convinced about the commitment and motivation of teachers who teach them. The study also discovered that the intermediate stage is the most problematic stage in the study of English as a second language in terms of motivation. The strength of the study is its basic groundwork which consists of an exhaustive review of previous research on motivation and SLA. On the basis of the review the study has been able to pin point research questions which emerge from gaps observed in previous studies. The study confirms the important finding that learner perception changes during the course of study. This applies to international students. International students might change their views about language learning depending on their changing perceptions about teacher motivation and commitment. The limitation of the study is that it is based on a single teaching-learning context. Questions related to students’ attitudes towards their teachers and their desire to please the teachers may not be answered truthfully by all the students, in spite of assurance about the confidentiality. Hence, the validity and reliability of the questionnaire as a tool is doubtful.
Just as motivation and commitment of teachers is valuable in an international classroom, the teacher’s intervention is also significant. Scaffolding is one form of intervention. Baleghizadeh, S., & Timcheh Memar, A. (2008) studied the effect of scaffolding in lanaguge tecahing. The results are discussed in the article titled “A Sociocultural Perspective on Second Language Acquisition: The Effect of High-structured Scaffolding versus Low-structured Scaffolding on the Writing Ability of EFL Learners.”
The study offers a socio-cultural perspective on SLA. It attempts to find out whether there is a difference between the effect of high-structured and low-structured scaffolding on the writing ability of learners between the effect of high-structured scaffolding and non-structured help and between the effect of low-structured scaffolding and non-structured help. Writing exercises were assigned to the experimental and control groups and the results were calculated statistically. It was concluded that help offered to the students must be structured and geared to the student’s Zone of proximal development (ZPD) in order to lower the cognitive load of the task. It was observed that the cognitive load plays an important role in students’ performance. It should not be too high to the extent that students feel frustrated and not so low that students lose the sense of challenge. The program is based on Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory and his innovative idea of the relation between thought and language which has given rise to a lot of research on SLA. From among the various related concepts, scaffolding is considered to be important.
In socio-cultural theories, learners are considered to be active agents in the learning process. This is true of international students. The gist of Vygotsky’s theory is that the teacher is a More Knowledgeable Other ( MKO) who tries to activate students and makes use of their potentials by scaffolding them within their ZPD. In this theory, scaffolding implies guiding templates provided to learners through a semiotically mediated situation in order to achieve a higher level of competence and regulation, ( Indirect mediation).
The greatest merit of the program lies in adapting the theory to suit a whole class. One more merit is the idea of indirect scaffolding in the form of templates. Similar scaffolding is given to all students irrespective of their national and cultural background. In an international classroom, the background of all students is different; uniform templates may ot be useful to all the students. The teachers’ efforts are reduced because students do not need individual help and attention. Pre-designed templates are provided to the entire class. However, the greatest care has to be taken while designing the templates. The cognitive load has to be taken into account. If there is little sense of challenge, the students will lose motivation. If the load is high, the students will be frustrated. Teachers must consider the cognitive load factor while offering scaffolds to international students. This study was meant for writing skills and has little significance for development of speaking skills, except the intervention in the form of scaffolding.
One of the earliest explanations about language learning was given by behaviorism. In his article “Behaviorist Theory and Language Learning,” Demirezen, M. (1988) has expressed his opinion that out of out of the several basic theories like Mentalist theory, Rationalist Theory, Empirical theory and Cognitive code theory, The behaviorist and mentality theories are applicable to native language acquisition but only to some extent and in the first few years of life. However, he opines that second language learning objectives have some similarities with native language acquisition and native language competence does some service in second language acquisition. The writer explains the basic tenets of the behaviorist theory like the stimulus-response model, language as habit formation and learnt through imitation. The latter part of the article lists the drawbacks of the behaviorist theory in the light of recent theories of first and second language acquisition. The writer concludes that certain approaches to language learning like audio-lingual approach and total physical response are based on behaviorism and although it explains language acquisition in terms of conditioning, it has its value in the list of theories and is not to be totally discarded.
According to behaviorism, which is the backbone of this paper, language is viewed as a stimulus. It is learnt through habit formation and imitation. The positive and negative feedback helps to condition learners, as in Pavlov’s Classical conditioning. In spite of recent theories of language learning, the behaviorist way is suitable for international students because in a sense, they are beginners. Speaking skill can be best developed through imitation, practice and drilling. Positive and negative feedback also helps international students to strengthen the correct grammatical structures. Of course, they cannot stop with this. They need to go further to and understand the underlying rules of English grammar in order to develop proficiency in speaking, and to be able to produce new structures which they have never heard before. If language is learnt through imitation, the behaviorist theory cannot explain the production of structures never heard before. One has to accept Chomsky’s principle that there must be a system that understands the underlying grammatical rules. At the same time, we cannot deny that a good deal of learning takes place through conditioning. The theory certainly provides insight into the laws that govern linguistic behavior.
Behaviorism was followed by cognitive theories that came as a reaction to behaviorism and explained language learning in a different way. Pang, J.-x. (2001), has discussed cognitive theries in his article titled “ A Cognitive Perspective on Second Language Acquisition Process.” The article discusses the differences in L1 and L2 learning. While Piaget believed that language serves to express thought, linguistic theories believe that language influences thought. According to this study, language learning is a complicated process. The drawbacks of the cognitive theory and Vygotsky’s social theory are overcome by suggesting a cognitive information processing approach to SLA. The study points out the strengths of approaches for mastering the different aspects of language like lexicon, phonology and semantics. This point has an implication for international students. International students are also in a position to process information that comes in the form of input and arrive at conclusions about grammatical rules.
There is considerable controversy about existing theories. Hence, the study suggests a new approach which is not divergent from other theories but based upon them. This study does not stop at discussing the tenets of past theories and taking an overview of them but takes a bold step and suggests a new model called the cognitive information processing approach.
Another set of language learning principles was offered by Krashen who was the first linguist to differentiate between first language acquisition and second language learning. He has expressed his views in the article “Second Language Acquisition: Theory, Application and Some Conjectures.” ( 2013). The paper states in brief five hypotheses about current theories on language acquisition: the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis. While first language is naturally and automatically acquired second language learning is a conscious effort on the part of international students. The Natural Order Hypothesis implies that changing the order of language elements is not going to help even in case of international students. The Monitor Hypothesis states that consciously learned language, as in the case of international students, acts as a monitor or editor and corrects errors. The centerpiece is the Comprehension Hypothesis which asserts that acquiring a language implies understanding it. The Affective Filter prevents input from reaching the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). International students must have a positive attitude towards the new language so that it can reach the LAD. If input is comprehensible, the learner is bound to be ready for i+1 (initial first language + the second language). Comprehensible input prepares international students to be ready for the next language element.
The writer starts with the assumption about the goal of language classes, which is to bring students to the point where they can understand authentic, real world input. This is the goal of international students in learning English. The research claims that once this point is reached, learners continue to improve on their own. When international students understand input, they will be motivated to continue making efforts so that they can communicate orally in English.
The writer has discussed the results of the research on providing comprehensible input to learners in the beginning and Sheltered Subject Matter teaching at the Intermediate levels. Both the strategies have shown positive results as pointed out by the writer. He has supported his point with reference to systematic research studies. The writer has also discussed the advantages of free and narrow reading. The writer concludes that Total Physical Response (TPR) and Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPSR) and sheltered subject matter teaching fetch better results than teaching formal grammar in the classrooms to second language learners.
The program is based on preparing a syllabus consisting of aural comprehensible input. Aural input serves as exposure to the new language and a model to be imitated for the international students. Listening is the foundation for speaking. Teachers can take advantage of Total physical Response, games, stories, projects and pictures to make the input comprehensible. There should not be error correction and students should not be forced to speak. Grammar is taught only to older students only to satisfy their curiosity about some gaps and only when conditions for Monitor Hypothesis are met. The program emphasizes sheltered subject matter teaching and free, narrow, self-selected reading as ways to improve proficiency in second language.
According to the program, self-selected reading forms a bridge between conversational language and academic language. However, one cannot trust learners to be qualified and matured enough to select texts. Interests vary from person to person. All texts on one topic that interests the readers cannot be of much help in complete development of language. Youngsters may select texts containing anti-social or erratic content. Free, selected reading, especially narrow reading, can be dangerous. Otherwise, the program conforms to established theories of language learning.
One significant obstacle for international students is the development of vocabulary. Speaking in English requires a strong vocabulary and understanding of word meanings and usages. Crossley, S., Salsbury, T., MacCarthy, P., & McNamara, D. (2008) conducted a study on lexical development, titled “Using Latent Semantic Analysis to Explore Second Language Lexical Development.” The study explores the use of Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) as a method to examine the lexical development of L2 speakers. The study showed that semantic similarity between utterances increases significantly when learning proceeds over time. L-2 learners develop tighter semantic relations between words and utterances in a short time. The results show a growth in lexical networks. The study has important implications for inductive learning and contextualized vocabulary learning. The study indicates the use of LSA to make word sorting and relatedness judgments, generate word synonymy judgments and model vocabulary learning.
The goal of the program was to prove that lexical acquisition is not a result of explicit learning techniques and memorization strategies. Most international students tend to memorize words and their spellings and meanings in the initial stages. The program is based on cognitive and psycho-linguistic theories, corpus linguistic techniques and connectionist theories. L2 learners understand word meanings in context. LSA is a tool that acquires language through contextual induction. Greater the experience with a word better will be the chances of connection with other words which will assist in the formation of semantic spaces and lexical networks. All these are important implications for an international classroom.
A review of the above literature points out that acculturation, motivation of students, motivation of teachers, student’s perception of teacher motivation, commitment of teachers, intervention in the form of scaffolding are important factors that play a significant role in developing the speaking skills of students in an international classroom. In spite of recent theories in language learning and teaching, the old theories like behaviorism, cognitive theories and Krashen’s hypotheses are relevant in case of international students. The psycho-social theories like motivation and anxiety are used in this paper. The most important theories are socio-cultural theories because an international classroom is a unique socio-cultural setting.
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