Dan Tam Thi Nguyen
Soc Trang Teachers' Training College, Soc Trang, Vietnam
This research examined three issues: what Vietnamese students think about learning autonomy, the similarities and differences of learning autonomy in Vietnam and England, and how learning autonomy affects their learning progress. Three postgraduate students from different English background and previous training styles participated in this research. They were provided a time table to describe what they did for learning autonomy in two places: Vietnam and England. After that, the interviews were recorded for analysing and comparing. The finding shows that all of the participants have learning autonomy, but its level is strong affected by teachers’ roles and teaching method. Although they proved that they are autonomous learners, their learning autonomy strategy differ from each other.
Keywords: Belief, learning autonomy, learning progressINTRODUCTION
Learning autonomy (LA) is rather important as it can reflect the learners’ images partially. Both LA and communicative language teaching (CLT) have the same target which is the learner- centeredness (Benson, 2001: 17). Basing on autonomy learning strategy, the standards of ‘a good learner’ can be made (Hedge, 2000: 77). Benson (2001: 48) considers autonomy as the capacity to make decisions at successive stages of the learning process. The autonomous learner is able to direct the course of his own learning by making all the significant decisions concerning its management organization.
Therefore, I question if Vietnamese students at University of Birmingham are ‘good learners’ in term of LA. In addition, it seems that there are different beliefs about LA between teachers and students. From the teachers’ perspective, autonomy is primarily concerned with institutional and classroom learning arrangements within established curricula whereas from the learners’ perspective, autonomy is primarily concerned with learning, and its relationship to their lives beyond the classroom (Benson, 2008: 15). This encourages me to investigate the beliefs of Vietnamese students towards LA. Moreover, there is a stereotype that, in general, Asian students including the Vietnamese are relatively dependent on the teachers (Palfreyman, 2003: 24). Besides, it is widely believed that because Asian students are dependent, they find it hard to adapt with post education which requires much more LA. Hence, hopefully this research can provide a new look at Asian students by investigating the Vietnamese students in Birmingham; especially when they have just changed the learning environment from Vietnam to Birmingham for a while.
This paper is going to analyse their beliefs of LA, comparison of LA in the two countries and the influence of LA on their learning progress. 1. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
1.1 What are the beliefs about learning autonomy?
1.2 What are the similarities and differences of learning autonomy in VN and the UK?
1.3 How does learning autonomy affect the learning progress?2. PARTICIPANTS
There are three participants in this research. All of them are female students at the University of Birmingham. Their ages are from 25 to 30 years old. They are post graduate students, but their subjects are different. Participant A majors in Heritage Management, Master level. Participant B is doing a doctorate course in International Study. Participant C is following a Masters degree in Economic Rural Development. I chose female participants because I think female students may have more learning autonomy than males, and that would benefit my research. In addition, the English background of these participants is also different from each other. A has the lowest level of English as she is in the pre-sessional course. B’s English is the best among three because she finished the Masters programme last year whereas C has just finished two terms of the academic year.
Another point I expect from these participants’ reflections is that their hometowns are in different regions which may influence their learning autonomy styles due to different living conditions. A’s hometown is in Ben Tre, a rural and agricultural province while B was born and grew up in Ho Chi Minh city, the second largest and the most civilized in Vietnam. C lives in Tien Giang province, next to Ho Chi Minh City. From the background of these participants, hopefully I can understand and analyse the learning autonomy more reflectively.3. LITERATURE REVIEW
The concept of autonomy first entered the field of language teaching through the Council of Europe’s Modern Language Project, established in 1971 (Benson, 2001: 8). It was defined as ‘the capacity to take charge of one’s own learning’, being seen as natural product of the practice of self-directed learning, or learning in which the objectives, progress and evaluation are determined by the learner themselves. Later, CRAPEL (Centre de Recherches et d’Applications en Langues) developed to adult self-directed learning. The key innovations for self-directed language learning were the self-access resource centre and the idea of learner training or the idea of individualisation because it aims initially to provide adults with opportunities for lifelong learning. However, Benson (2001: 11) finds that individualisation and autonomy overlapped in as both were concerned with meeting the needs of individual learners. Self- directed learning was in a sense of individualisation, in which learners determined their own needs and acted upon them. Individualisation took the form of programmed learning- a mode of instruction in which learners were expected to work their way, at their own pace, through materials prepared by teachers.
Beside the four strategies including cognitive, meta-cognitive, communication and social-affective strategies that suggested by Hedge (2000: 77-79), Benson (2001: 111) also provides six approaches to the development of autonomy- foster:
+ Resource-based: independent interaction with learning materials
+ Technology-based: independent interaction with educational technologies.
+ Learner-based: direct production of behavioural and psychological changes in learner.
+ Classroom-based: learner control over the planning and evaluation of classroom learning.
+ Curriculum based: extended the idea of learner control to the curriculum as a whole.
+ Teacher-based: the role of the teacher and teacher education in the practice of fostering autonomy among learners.
In order to select the right choice for autonomy, it depends on how learners define the term ‘learning autonomy’. Benson (2008: 26) suggests that in learners’ perspectives, LA means to have the answer for what they can do to help themselves move toward the personal goal. In other words, learners are typically more concerned with learning what they need to learn for the achievement of these life goals, than they are with learning to be autonomous. He sees that learners’ perspectives on autonomy are always contextualized within particular experiences of learning and life. In his research, the Cantonese learners failed to complete the tasks, skipped homework, and did not take the advantage of the practice outside of the class. However, there was no relationship between LA and their behaviour. The author thinks that they were independent learners because they decided what was more important for them. They were adult learners who had current jobs, so they did not complete the task because of lacking time. They skipped homework to save time for investing on other tasks which were helpful to them. Similarly, Ariza (2008: 47- 73) claims that students conceived autonomy as an opportunity to find a key to learning beyond the classroom. They have independent action for decision making.
Therefore, Benson admits that autonomy manifestation will vary according to culture contexts (2000: 55). Regarding to LA of Asian students, Palfreyman and Smith (2003) finds the difference between LA styles among Asian students. In their research, the Korean student chose communication and social effective strategies for her LA in the USA because she had not had many chances to speak to native speakers, and she wanted to improve pronunciation. In contrast, the Hong Kong student who speaks English as a second language at home and school chose intellectual privacy to develop her study when she was in Texas. She needed privacy to access learning facilities. Both of the participants in that research were successful in their learning because they knew exactly what they needed and how they directed themselves to achieve their personal goals. Contributing to Asian students’ LA, Kubanyiova (2004: 13, 14) claims that Thai students were autonomous as ‘it is the students who search, adapt and create’.
With the purpose to compare the autonomy between Asian and European learners, Gieve and Clark (2005: 261- 276) researched a group of Chinese students studying at some British universities. They find that ‘the Chinese students expressed at least as much appreciation of the benefits of autonomous study as did the European students, and claimed to make equally good use of the opportunity’. In an agreement with him, Littlewood (2000) learns that Asian students are willing to question teachers when necessary to help their understanding. They are not obedient students as they have been assumed.
From all of the researches above, I would like to investigate Vietnamese students’ perspectives towards LA, what are their LA strategies and how LA links to their learning progress.4. METHODOLOGY
In order to collect the data for this research, I designed the time table (see appendix 1) to understand their learning autonomy activity and sent to them by email. In that time table, the participants were asked to fill in what activities they had done or were doing for learning autonomy including what time, how long, how often and with whom for each activity during one week. They would answer the same questions in two learning environment: Vietnam and England. In addition, in that time table they would explain the reasons why there were any differences of learning autonomy between the two learning environment.
After receiving their time tables, I read them carefully, and started to interview. Every interview lasted around 40 minutes. The interview based on the prepared questions (see appendix 2), and a variety of other follow up questions focusing on the time table so that I could understand their beliefs about learning autonomy and its role in the learning progress. Two interviews were face-to-face, but the other one was conducted on the phone because her house was off campus. One among three interviews was done in Vietnamese for participant A to be comfortable, self-confident and to express herself accurately. The other two wished to speak in English. After that, three interviews were listened several times and compared with each other in terms of learning autonomy styles, beliefs and activities. Finally, the interview in Vietnamese was translated into English and the transcripts for all were made. During the process of analysing data, I compared what I found from the participant with my experience where relevant because I am also a Vietnamese learner.
There were some advantages in this method of collecting data. Firstly, filling in the time table was like writing a type of diary, so the participants felt familiar and relaxed because they had time to recall what they had done in Vietnam. Secondly, the topic was about the participants’ learning, so they could express themselves more easily. However, at the beginning, two were participants found it shy to share about their learning autonomy as they were afraid that they could be judged as not very studious. After trying to convince them that the aim of this research was wishing to understand more about Vietnamese students’ learning autonomy, they were willing to help me. Moreover, during the collecting data process, some technical problems happened such as the voice recording mp3 ran out of battery without any signal, so we had to do it again or the quality of the phone network was not strong enough to start the interview which resulted in delaying it into the following day.5. RESULTS5.1 Beliefs about learning autonomy
Participant A and B agreed that LA was independence and self- directed learning, but A also confirmed that interest and willingness contributed to LA: ‘It means learning independently. No one forces to learn and almost for my interests and willing’.
Participant C understood that LA was a process, the responsibility and making choices and decisions: ‘Learning autonomy is the process in which students are the key figures responsible for the decisions concerning with ones’ learning and all the implementations of these decisions
’. Also, she said LA reflected learners’ motivation and learning effectiveness. From their definitions, they had different LA styles and different beliefs about teacher’s role.
According to A, a teacher is a controller and a facilitator. For her, a teacher must control the class to remain the order and discipline, but he should let students have some freedom to discuss and develop critical thinking: ‘The teacher can control the class, but can’t force the students to obey everything. Although he needs to control in some situations to control and remain order, he must let time for students to discuss freely to develop creativity’
. In contrast, B thinks that a teacher is a counsellor to provide students materials, guidance and instructions: ‘Explain what I don’t understand. Let me know good books. Tell me her/his experiences in doing things more effectively
’. C seems to combine those two ideas together: ‘I prefer that the teacher is the organizer, co-operator, and supporter to the student’s learning process. As being so, the teacher can enhance the efficiency of the student’s learning remarkably. In the class, the teacher organizes the learning content and activities, working with students in these activities and helping students when they need. That’s the way learning process becomes interesting and effective
Although all of the participants agreed that learning autonomy refer to the activities to enhance study skills and they did those activities both inside and outside the classroom, their LA strategies were different. Participants A and B shared the same view as they were doing four strategies at the same time such as cognitive, meta-cognitive, communication and socio-affective strategies. Discussing with teachers, friends, asking questions, contributing to the lessons, using self- directed facilities such as books, internet, attending social event with native speakers were what they chose for their LA. However, C only focused on the first two strategies, especially critical thinking. She planned her learning; self- evaluated her learning and worked with the lecture by herself. In this point, she and B were alike because they preferred to be silent in classes, only listened and took notes. Depending on teachers’ personalities, she would email her questions to teachers whereas A felt interested in raising hand to talk directly in the classroom. While A and B would like to participate in local events to meet more native speakers, C wanted to do private activities.
Although they had a slight difference in LA styles, they were identical in dealing with teachers’ feedback. A said: ‘If teachers give me the answers, it seems so simple, not impressive, and easy to forget. But if I do it by myself, I can memorise it
’. All of them wanted to work with feedback by themselves as long as it had enough clues or guidance for them to improve their work. The appropriate feedback would not only guide them to the right direction, but also would encourage them to investigate something new while revising the same work.
Referring to self-learning facilities, they liked books and internet the best, but they preferred books rather than internet, which was opposite to my assumption. They explained: ‘Though it’s very convenient for me to access the internet sources, books are more helpful and effective than the others. I could read it again, understand thoroughly what are being discussed and what can be useful to me
’.5.2 The differences of learning autonomy in Vietnam and England
The result shows that the level of LA in England is higher than that in Vietnam. In England, the participants do a wider range of activities. In other words, in Vietnam, if they use all of LA strategies in England, they had two, cognitive and metacognitive strategies, which were more about repetition, memorization and doing homework for the next class: ‘After school, I usually stayed at home to study by myself. I often had a break for 1 or 2 hours having meals or watching televisions with my family. Then I went to my studying corner to do all my homework, preparing for tomorrow class, and do some extra exercises on maths or English
’. Besides, they thought they were more active than that in Vietnam because it was them who managed the time and chose what they wanted to do: ‘I seem to have more free time now compared to me in the past. However, the activeness I have now is much greater than that in the past. I can organize my time and my work properly and flexibly while in the past my time and work depended greatly on my school timetable. I also have to set up my work (what to do, what to read, how to do it, etc.) myself as well. That’s why I think I am more active now than I was in the past’.5.3 The influence of learning autonomy on learning progress
The finding shows the important roles of LA. A and B said that LA increased study results while C admitted that it reflected learning motivation:A: ‘The more you have learning autonomy, the higher result you can get. If you ignore learning autonomy just a little bit, the result will decrease at once. For example, first I spent time equally on practising 4 skills, but later I reduced the time for reading a bit, then the final score for reading also reduced’.
B: ‘Good learning autonomy will increase the learning result’
C: ‘To my opinion, learning autonomy plays a crucial part in the learning process. It reflects the intrinsic motivation and the learning effectiveness of a student. It also helps a student assess one’s learning outcomes and improve one’s knowledge and skills according to one’s needs. As a result, it might be justifiable to say that learning autonomy affects greatly learning progress’.DISCUSSION
From the result, it is likely to say that it is the teacher who determines students’ autonomy. The more appropriate beliefs of Vietnamese students towards LA have just been built since the time they came to England where CLT, learner- centeredness teaching method, is being applied to teach them. They said LA meant independence, self-learning, responsibility, willingness to learn and the choice of what they learn. It seems that their teachers who use CLT have changed their learning attitudes and strategies because they are aware of two among the most important concepts in CLT: setting goals and objectives and self- monitoring (Hedge, 2000: 19). In opposition, when they were in VN, their LA was limited in having few chances to speak in the class, and doing homework. In my experience as a learner and a teacher, I think it was due to the teaching method and how students were educated to interpret the teacher’s image. I am totally in agreement with the participants that when we were in VN, the cognitive strategy we used was only memorization and repetition due to the grammar translation method and considering the teacher as the controller. Yet, when we are taught with CLT and the role of the teacher has changed, we start to be familiar with another angle of cognitive strategy: working on tasks and materials in different ways (Hedge, 2000: 77).
Learning autonomy should be built at the early age
In the past, we were very dependent on the teachers, so I may wonder about the conclusion of Littlewood (2005) which says that Asian are willing to question their teachers and are very independent. In his research, the Vietnamese students were studying in the UK and the USA where the teaching method and the teachers’ role were completely from those in Vietnam. Therefore, if he conducted a research with Vietnamese students who are learning in Vietnam now, the result would differ. Even now, when the participants are in England, only two of them choose to question the teachers directly in the class. They prefer to listen, take notes and email the questions to teachers. I can find my image in them as I would do the same. To us, keeping silent to listen while taking notes is a way to think, compare with what we have known before and respect the teachers. We prefer writing questions to teachers instead of asking directing in the class to prevent the misunderstanding that we negatively challenge teachers with unexpected questions. In my experience, the more mature we are, the less we question. Silence does not mean our autonomy is not high; it is because of our way to respect teachers. That can explain the reason why the youngest participant likes to raise hand to talk in class.
It is relatively interesting because how the participants looked at the teachers rather matches what CLT expects. Among the 9 roles that Hedge (2000, 28) listed from Kavanras’s work (1995), the roles as a facilitator of learning and source of expertise were the most recommended, and that was what the participants expected from their teachers. Because of the change in teachers’ roles, their LA was changes as well, which resulted in they wished to work on the feedback independently, instead of giving them the right answers. Therefore, in her article, Kubanyiova (2004) argued that teachers should ‘leave the students alone’ for them to create, design and learn, and teachers should not do what the students can do.
Not only CLT changes the teachers’ roles, it also affects learners’ roles and responsibilities as well. Their improved LA in England makes them indentify learning needs, contributing to the syllabus and encouraging them to learn more effectively (Hedge, 2000: 34). Those important factors are what CLT aims at, and we can see that through task based approach. The task based approach does help students to develop learning autonomy as every task has a target and it is the students who find the solution to achieve that goal by contributing, cooperating and encouraging each other whereas in Vietnam everything was done by the teachers due to the structure- based approach, the grammar translation method and the traditional role of a teacher.
Another fantastic point that CLT brings for LA is motivation because students have the freedom to respond, reflect, self evaluate their learning process, decide and choose what they want to learn or what they are interested in. All of the participants admitted that LA affected strongly their learning result. Their scores would fluctuate with level of LA, so LA must be remained by motivation or the willingness to study. Motivation inspires learners with more effective self learning because it is connected to the discipline. Therefore, if a learner lacks motivation, he may lack discipline for LA, but with the application of CLT, which targets at considering students in context learning, he can develop his LA, resulting in better study skills (Hedge, 2000: 343). With the help of CLT, I am in agreement that Vietnamese students as autonomous as European students as the previous research suggested.
In conclusion, learning autonomy plays an important role in the teaching and learning process. It creates the mutual relationship between teaching and learning. The appropriate teaching method can train students to have learning autonomy. Then, after students have learning autonomy, they can share some burdens with teachers as Kubanyinova (2004) writes: ‘I no longer spend nights searching for suitable texts for class debates. Neither do I worry if the questionnaires are exactly relevant to their students’ lives. It’s the students who search, adapt and create. Not to just my time though, but to make the most of theirs ’. With that belief, although there is a debate about whether CLT has dead, I prefer to adapt and use CLT in my classrooms. Personally, learning autonomy is very important from primary to higher education. Therefore, it should be trained from the early age so that its skills can be developed through time, so I think the beginning point should be teaching students to discover as Holec (1980: 35) says: ‘The basic methodology for learner training should be that of discovery. The learner should discover, with or without the help of learners or teachers, the knowledge and the techniques which he needs as he tries to find the answers to the problems with which he is faced. By proceeding largely by trial and error he trains himself progressively.’
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a Path to Learning Beyond the EFL Classroom. Profile, (10) 47-73.
Benson, P. 2001. Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. Longman.
Benson, P. et al. 2008. Learner and Teacher Autonomy: Concepts, Realities, and Responses. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Philadelphia.
Gieve, S., Clark, R. 2005. ‘The Chinese Approach to Learning’: Cultural Trait or Situated Response? The Case of a Self-directed Learning Programme. System, (33) 261–276.
Holec, H. 1980. Learner training: meeting needs in self- directed learning’. In H.B Altman and C.V James (ed) Foreign Language Learning: Meeting Individual Needs. Oxford.
Kubanyiova, M. (2004). Leave them alone. English Teaching professional, Issue 33, 13-14.
Littlewood, W. (2000). Do Asian Students Really Want to Listen and Obey? ELT Journal, 54(1), 31-36.
Palfreyman, D., Smith, R. C. 2003. Learner Autonomy across Cultures. Palgrave.
Dan Tam Thi Nguyen
Vietnamese American Training College, Soc Trang, Vietnam
Dealing with large classes (around 45 students per class) and the increase of drop-out students are the most urgent issues in Vietnamese educational system. In order to decrease those issues gradually, Vietnamese students should be motivated and controlled. This paper is to share some experiences about this.
Keywords: TEFL, control, motivation, Vietnamese upper secondary school
Introduction Control and motivation of students are two of the major features in the process of teaching and learning English. Malcolm et al (1982) explains that teachers often find it vital to maintain their dominant power in the classrooms. He says they need to be determined what to do in the classrooms and how to deal with students’ behaviour in every context. In contrast, Bell (cited in Ford, Alber & Heward, 1998) indentifies the three important issues in education: ‘The first one is motivation, the second one is motivation and the third is motivation’. Victor (1964: 229) reports that motivation influences effective performance. In EFL classrooms, this performance is related to linguistic performance which is considered the target of teaching a foreign language. As a result, there is no doubt about the importance of control and motivation. However, the quality of teaching and learning English in Vietnam is limited because of the loss of control and motivation in language classrooms.
Most Vietnamese high school students seem to be disinterested in English for a large variety of reasons. Firstly, English is not a core subject in the curriculum. Secondly, English textbooks in Vietnam are considerably complicated and impractical because of the length of units and unfamiliar topics mentioned in lessons, such as discussing the ideal seat on a luxurious yacht, the life under the sea or gravity (see English 10: 1999). Moreover, they are interrupted by many events during the school year which is from September to May, for example, the Vietnamese Woman’s Day, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Day, Christmas Day, the Western New Year Day, and the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Week. Besides, students postpone their study for several events of other ethnic groups such as the holidays of the Khemer and the wooden sampan racing considered a holy ceremony to wish a new productive harvest and lasting for a few days. Finally, students are organized in large classes having from forty-five to fifty students per class whereas the classes in language centres often have about twelve students.
The aim of this paper is therefore to examine the control and motivation of students in Vietnamese Secondary Schools. In the first part, important definitions will be explained. Problems arising will be discussed in the next part. The following aspect is about possible solutions. Finally, evaluations are mentioned.
Motivation is related to several issues.According to Deborah (2001:310), motivation refers to self-confidence, enthusiasm, and the desire to understand and develop skills. In contrast, Wlodkowski (1997) confirms that motivation stimulates behaviour, gives purpose to behaviour, permits behaviour to persist and leads to the selection of a certain behaviour. For Hunter (1981), motivation can be learnt, taught and is the responsibility of educators. Because motivation can be divided into smaller concepts, it is known to be difficult to define.
Motivation is categorized into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation focuses on ‘satisfactory completion of the course’ and strongly affected ‘by external rewards and pressures’ (Brown et al, 1998:16). In other words, students learn because of external reward like grades or prizes from parents. In contrast, intrinsic motivation is dependent on personal goals and interests. In this case, students want to learn because of their natural interests and satisfaction. In general, extrinsic motivation is the-need-to-learn while intrinsic motivation is the-want-to-learn.
It is generally believed that control refers to the issues of disciplines and punishment. However, according to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2003), a ‘control’ is an act ‘to instruct or rule something or someone’s actions and behaviour’. Jenifer et al (1982:25) states that to control means ‘to direct the activities of pupils away from behaviour that was not allowed and towards the required activity of work’. Moreover, Malcolm et al (1982) reports that teachers feel it important to be dominant in the classes to cope with any situations arising.In this paper, controlling is a technique in classroom management so that teachers can manage the classes effectively in the ways that they want, especially when they are responsible with large classes.
A typical class in Vietnam:
2. PROBLEMS ARISING FROM VIETNAM
2.1 The Preference of Core Subjects
Since English is not a core subject in secondary schools, Vietnamese students tend to neglect it. Students at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Grammar Secondary School, in Soc Trang city is an illustration. Most of them study Maths, Physics, Biology or some other natural science subjects. This is shown by the number of Maths, Physics and Biology classes which are always the double or the triple of the English classes (Department of Education and Training: 2008).
In Vietnam, if students focus on English language, this means they can only take the entrance exam to universities with Maths, Literature and English which will lead them to careers in teaching or working in social sciences. In Vietnam, there are two types of entrance exam: one for social sciences which requires Maths, Literature and English; one for natural sciences including Maths, Physics and Chemistry. According to the data of Hung Vuong University for 2009, there were 3070 candidates registered to the entrance exam of natural sciences while there were 1264 candidates interested in social sciences. As a result, English is ignored.
2.2 The Failure of Language Achievement
The complicated English textbooks contribute to the factors discouraging students from learning English. Malcolm (1982) claims that teaching materials should not be too difficult or contains the use of complicated language.However, Vietnamese textbooks contain many complex grammar points and imaginary speaking and writing tasks. For example, changing sentences from direct into indirect speech (see English 10: 1999) or writing a letter to ask a friend to help on the birthday party (see English 10: 2008).
In addition, because the lessons are designed to develop specific skills, they must be conducted in well-equipped classrooms. However, a large number of schools do not meet the basic standard in equipment. A survey from Department of Education and Training conducted last year shows that approximately 50% schools lack tape and CD recorders, English tapes and disks and electricity (2008). Therefore, in every part of the lessons, students usually listen to teachers’ reading aloud which results in noise from students. As a result, equipment and materials strongly influence the teaching and learning process (Stefan: 1982).
2.3 BAD LEARNING ATTITUDES
Because students are interrupted by so many events during the school year, their attitudes towards learning are even worse after having time to celebrate those events. An example of this is students from Le Loi secondary school, a school of athletic students. They have to participate in some marathon and jogging races, sports, processions and meetings. For instance, 3600 students attended 9 processions in the second semester, resulting in students missing the classes so often. As a result, the learning interest including English cannot be developed as social activities are usually preferred to attending classes every day.
2.4 Difficulties in Organizing Pair Work and Group Work
Large size classes tend to result in the failure of the implementation of pair work and group work. Stenfan et al (1982) emphasizes that the arrangement of single unit desks in the classrooms is the most suitable for most classes, but with Vietnamese students whose tables are long, and heavy find it difficult to collaborate effectively because they cannot change their seats to participate in the groups. Ke (2008) points out that large size classes challenge teachers in two main aspects: effective communication with students and successful organization in activities and exercises. Consequently, they are not eager in learning English because it is difficult for them to get correction from the teachers in the classrooms due to large size classes.
In general, students tend to be demotivated in learning English, so there is a need to find some possible solutions to deal with such problems.
3. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
One way to attempt to eliminate the difficulties in controlling and motivating students is the implementation of a new mark record. This can be designed for not only teachers to control and motivate students in learning English at the same time, but also for students to be aware of their marks and more responsible to their study (see Diagram 1, below).
3.1 What the Mark Record Is About and Its Importance
In this diagram, students’ marks will be recorded every week. They will be assessed on 8 criteria: taking oral tests, answering questions, summarizing lessons, taking good notes, making teaching aids, having good attendance, keeping notebooks clean and doing ‘running exercises’. This new assessment would work better on students because it is more comprehensive than the previous one which only has a mark for oral tests. Students have more chances to improve marks and teachers have more tasks for students to control their learning.
3.2 How It Works
The maximum mark for each criterion is 10 and the maximum bonus mark is 2. This example describes the marks of an imaginary student named Quoc.
3.2.1 Speaking Activities
It is generally believed that speaking activities are important in teaching and learning English. Jennifer et al (1982) suggests that concentrating in speaking activities is particularly useful to check students’ interests during the lessons. As a result, the first three criteria focus on speaking activities, including oral tests, answering questions and summarizing lessons.
An oral test is one of the everyday compulsory tests at the beginning of the class in Vietnam, since this is an effective way to find out whether students study or not (Malcolm et al: 1982).Each student has only one final score in the curriculum mark record. This means if Quoc gets low marks at the beginning of the term, he will have no other chances to improve his score which would most likely demotivate him during the rest of the term. Using this new form of mark record, he can have at least two more chances to improve the score because the teacher will make a total sum of all the marks he gets and records the final mark from the total sum. In the example, Quoc got two different marks in oral test on 09/9 and 15/09, 0 and 5.
Another speaking activity is giving marks for answering the questions, consideredone of the ways to get students involved in classroom activities. For Stefan et al (1982), taking answers from students is a common strategy to check students’ comprehension and attract their attention. Therefore, marking oral answers in classrooms is likely to make students more active. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
The final issue is lesson summary conducted at the end of the lesson. Students can retell about any parts of the lessons such as the use of a grammatical point, the main idea of a reading text, some structures applied in a speaking lesson or the format of a formal letter in a writing lesson. In order to do such things, students are required to concentrate carefully on the lesson during the class. Therefore, giving marks for lesson summary may control and motivate students. In the example, Quoc got 9 for this part.
3.2.2 Writing Activities
It is widely agreed that writing is very important. Students should be aware of the value of writing (Bloomfield: 2004). Therefore, writing is emphasized in the next three criteria.
Taking notes is essential because Vietnamese tests are based on notes which are usually learnt by heart, and will help to memorize vital information (Mathew: 2009), so grading students’ notes can both arise their interests in study and train them the responsibility to have sufficient notes for the days they miss the lessons instead of skipping those notes. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
Because of the importance of notes, marking notebooks should be applied for two reasons: the preparation for the inspection from supervisors of Education Department and the creation of the tidy habit. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
Running exercise’, a fun activity, is of the last criterion. An exercise is given to students to finish in limited time and only few fast answers are graded. Anyone who completes the exercise on time has to run quickly to the teacher’s table to hand in the answers. Easy tasks are often organized into this to encourage students to take part in the lesson, providing them a chance to get great marks. Dornyei (2003:14) agrees that giving the right task is also a motivation in learning a target language. Therefore, this exercise would change students’ passive mood. In the example, Quoc got 10 for this part.
3.3 Other Criteria
Teaching aids make the abstract concepts become concrete, thus increasing students’ interests and motivation (Ali: 2007). Therefore, students can be asked to make teaching aids. For example, they can collect film posters, photos of actors for a unit about motion pictures (English 11, 2001:5) or draw a picture of farming to illustrate a unit about a typical day of a farmer (English 10, 2008:6). This can be used as a technique to guide students’ learning outside the classroom because when they begin to make teaching aids, they have to review what they have learnt before or prepare the lessons in advance. In the example, Quoc got 2 marks for bonus which would be added up to the total score.
The last criterion focuses on students’ low attendance and drop out from schools because it is a serious setback (France: 2009). According to the data collected in the school year 2008-2009 from Department of Education and Training in Soc Trang city, after term one, 963 students in Le Loi Secondary School left. Therefore, giving them some bonus marks for their attendance may contribute to not only the control in classrooms but also the limitation in the number of students dropping out of schools. This is of high concern because if any school has a highly considerable rate of dropout, it will miss the annual prize from the city government no matter what achievements it gains in other fields. In the example, Quoc got 1 bonus mark.
In the last step, the teacher will make a total sum of the marks Quoc received to give him the final score in the official mark record.
0+5+8+9+8+8+10= (48+2+1)/7=51/7=7.28 → 7
For instance, Quoc, in our example would get 7 in the official mark record instead of 0 which he would get from the current system.
Using the new form of this mark record has both positive and negative aspects for teachers and students.
The first advantage for teachers is its simple and easy application because nearly all of activities are targeted in it. Because of its comprehensiveness, teachers can benefit from it to vary their activities to avoid students’ boredom. In addition, a good relationship between teachers and students which, according to Malcolm (1982), can be mentioned as an encouragement, is possibly developed as well. As a result, an active learning atmosphere can be achieved which also motivates teachers themselves during the teaching process.
For students, using this form is a chance to improve scores. As a result, they can self-evaluate in learning progress. Furthermore, they are encouraged to practise English in the classrooms with obvious reasons. In addition, the more important point is that they are trained the habit to prepare lessons in advance gradually and naturally resulting in better learning attitudes. Besides, they are probably motivated by great marks since marks are important to them. Finally, the experience in finding the material to illustrate related lessons seems to be developed at the same time which is good for autonomous study. Convington et al (2001:46) confirms that ‘freedom of choice’ of exercise to ‘act autonomously’ is a great positive intrinsic motivation, so students can be interested in study.
However, the application of this new mark record has the potential to depower the image of the role of teachers because of the friendlier relationship between students and them. A stereotype in traditional teaching is that many teachers may be concerned about the tendency to lose part of their power if these traditional roles disappear. Many teachers (cited by Malcolm: 1982) believe that the main duty of a teacher is to control students. In addition, this application is likely to be time-consuming as teachers have to do many calculations when the term finishes. Finally, students may be more concerned about the marks than knowledge conveyed in the lessons.
In summary, the lack of students’ motivation and the challenge of controlling classes in TEFL are caused by the interest in natural sciences, the inappropriate content of English textbooks, the abundance of holidays in different time during the school year and the organization of large size classes. A possible solution is using the new form of mark record which comprehensively covers most of the teaching and learning activities happening in the classrooms. Students’ intrinsic motivation is awakened by the extrinsic one which gives them obvious objectives before doing some tasks instead of simply delivering several activities to force them to complete. Although this solution may break the image of a powerful teacher in Asian countries, consume a great deal of time, and concern about marks, it is simple to use, can vary teaching activities, improve teachers’ and students’ relationship, encourage speaking English, create active learning atmosphere, and develop the study autonomy.
Although some restrictions still occur, hopefully this form can work well with the paper administrative system applied in education in Vietnam. There is a belief that in the near future Vietnamese students can benefit from a qualified education system consisting of appropriate content textbooks and smaller class sizes to attract more students in learning English. This can only be done when designing textbooks does not involve business issues, but instead a student’s ability, age and characteristics (Malcolm: 1982), and more land is saved for schools to narrow the class sizes. Therefore, Vietnamese government should manage the budget for education more carefully to be certain that public finance is spent wisely.
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Dan Tam Thi Nguyen School of Education, University of Birmingham, UK
That ‘English is becoming a global language’ does not mean that everyone has the same chance to learn. Adult learners in Soc Trang, a remote and poor city in Vietnam are struggling to meet the needs of the labour market. All Vietnamese employers require one of the following English certificates: TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, LEVEL B (intermediate) and level C (advanced). However, there have been no centres offering those courses in this city. Therefore, I have a dream of an English language centre for adults with specific purposes based upon centres observed in Birmingham UK.
Keywords: English for specific purposes; Vietnam; Soc Trang; EFL; ESOL; IELTS; ESP; EAP Introduction
My hometown, Soc Trang is a provincial city in MeKong Delta, in the South of Vietnam. A decade ago, agriculture was the main economy in this quiet city, but now industry and tourism have taken over. The government promoted and invested funds in repairing pagodas because the majority of the population follow Buddhism. Soc Trang has some 60 pagodas, some of them are very famous far beyond the city. Due to the beauty of those pagodas, Soc Trang has become a new destination for tourism. Fluency in English is therefore demanded more than ever.
The two current English centres do not, however, meet the needs of the diversity of learners, especially adults with stable occupations. As a result, after observing some English language centres in Birmingham, UK, I have a dream that there will one day be a similar centre in my hometown of Soc Trang, Vietnam. 1. Some English language centres in Birmingham: Different programs for different needs and different age learners
1.1 Bournville College (BC)
Bournville College is located in Northfield, Birmingham. This college provides a wide variety of courses for adult learning such as Pre-Masters, A level subjects for entry into higher education, vocational and professional qualifications and English for speakers of other languages. In addition, besides more common English courses like ESOL and IETLS, it also presents English courses for other purposes.
The first of these is English with Numeracy. This is necessary for new immigrants who wish to seek jobs in the UK. The course focuses on Skills for Life as well as English. Learners are taught English used in basic ICT, they learn numeracy and literacy in English and the flexibility in using language for writing CV and preparing for job interviews. Second is English for Business. This provides the learners with a certain amount of vocabulary and knowledge of business and economics. Lastly is English for IT Skills which is helpful for international students as the terminology used in IT is difficult to look up in the dictionary due to its special meaning.
1.2 Brasshouse Language Centre (BLC)
Brasshouse Language Centre is based in the city centre and belongs to Birmingham City Council - it can therefore attract more learners every year due to its reputation. Like BC, BLC also offers English for IETLS and English for Business. In addition, it provides a variety of other courses from Cambridge University such as: KET (Key English Test), PET (Preliminary English Test), FCE (First Certificate of English), CAE (Certificate of Advanced English) and CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English). However, CPE is the highest level which requires IELTS 7.0 plus to access the class. As we know, the IELTS standard for higher education around the world is 6.5, so the minimum requirement of CPE course rarely has enough learners to run, but a manager stated that the centre did arrange classes for learners who wish to achieve CPE in spite of the very limited numbers. 2. A comparison with English centres in Vietnam
2.1 A Mixture of learners
Like other countries, Vietnam does have a large amount of foreign language centres. In Soc Trang city, there are three: Soc Trang Informatics and English Centre (IEC), funded by the city government; Foreign Language Centre (FLC), which is a department of Soc Trang Teachers’ Training College; and the Vietnamese American Training College (VATC), a self- funded international centre.
The similarity of these three centres is that learners of all ages such as children, teenagers and adults can be in the same class: they do not divide learners into ages in the way that BC and BLC do. Another difference is that the first two centres allow learners to evaluate their own language competence and enrol on courses based on their own preferences. Therefore, learners of all ages can gather in very crowded classrooms. The typical classes of this type are English for Beginners and English for National Certificate Preparation, usually with around 80 learners per class. This is a big disadvantage for adult learners in Vietnam in general, as they usually feel ashamed at being in the same class as younger learners. The psychology derives from the educational policy of the government, that is, academic learners must be in the classes at the exact ages stated in the convention. Learners can only retake the classes twice due to the failure of the final exam. As a result, adult learners often feel shy with younger ones, and so urgently require a centre specifically for them. VATC does organize placement tests for learners and try to divide them into age groups, but ultimately they have to merge teenagers and adults together because the number of a specific age group is not sufficient for a class to proceed.
2.2 English for general purposes only
Soc Trang city has neither an English centre for adults nor a centre that provides English for specific needs. The three centres above teach general and communicative English only. There are a wide variety of reasons for not having an English centre for specific needs. The First Certificate of English, for those that want to find a job, is about English for communication. The majority of clients in these centres are there for that reason. Secondly, we lack materials for teaching. In Vietnam, the English course books for specific needs are very rare. We only have some self-learning books which tend to focus on greetings and communication with customers rather than the specific subjects. Finally, we lack teaching English staff that are qualified for those specific subjects. As a result, an English centre for adults that offers English for specific needs has been a wish until now. 3. Some previous research on English for specific purposes
The term ‘English for Specific Purposes’ first appeared in the 1960s, and was later considered the instrument for course design (West, 1994). In actual fact, the term derived from the phrase ‘need analysis’ which had been introduced in India in 1920s. At that time, need analysis had two focuses: what to learn and how to master it (White, 1988). Therefore, today need analysis is very popular in English-speaking countries (Richards, 2001).
According to West (1994), needs are defined as:
• Necessities or demands of the programmes (objective, product oriented or perceived needs);
• Learners’ wants (subjective, or felt needs)
• The methods of filling the gaps between these two (process oriented needs).
From those various definitions of needs, however, Duong (2007) and Richterich (1983) confirmed the ‘need’ to distinguish ‘need’ from ‘want’. Need is related to two aspects: first, it is ‘the learner’s preferred strategies for progressing from where they are to where they want to go’. Second, it is ‘the teacher’s strategies to help the learner meet their needs’. By contrast, the want is ‘what the learners want or feel the need of’. Although some differences may occur between these two terms, the need and the want are linked to help second language learners achieve the best results. Maybe this explains the appearance of ‘English for Academic Purposes’ (EAP) courses which are widely taught in many universities.
Duong (2007) conducted a study with the purpose of comparing two EAP programmes in New Zealand and Vietnam. Her aim was to determine whether the EAP courses in these countries met the needs of students. Finally, she found that the course in New Zealand did meet students’ need thanks to the course management, elective programme, placement tests, course questionnaires, ongoing communication among teachers and between teachers and students, flexibility in teaching, learning facilities, independent learning, and integrated teaching and changes. Those factors are updated by asking students to fill in the surveys at the end of the course. However, the EAP course in Vietnam fails to meet students’ needs because of one significant factor: the assumption. That is the assumption from the course designers which has resulted in the different interpretations about the needs between teachers and students.
Realizing the important of EAP, Olivera (2005) wrote a proposal for the research on EAP. He explains very clearly that because EAP has grown all over the world and EAP has been accepted as a discipline in Applied Linguistics and the Department of English, there has been a steady increase in journals from outside the USA and the UK. As a result, the more the proportion of the papers from foreign countries contributes to the traditional homes of English language, the more research should be done on EAP. In fact, EAP is a special and specific type of English for international students, especially for who are pursuing post graduation qualifications because EAP writing is quite different from students’ prior experience (Molle et al, 2008). This can explain why the University of Birmingham, along with others, requires students to be proficient in EAP writing before starting the academic year. Even when they begin the academic year, the university also organizes more EAP writing classes at lunch time and encourages students to attend.
In order to address and identify students’ needs for English, a major New Zealand university has implemented the Diagnostic English Language Needs Assessment (DELNA) programme (Read, 2008). This fact reflects the development in linguistic diversity among international and native students. To confirm the importance and need of English for Specific Purposes, Beck (2009) concludes that there is ‘a need to produce field-specific academic word lists, which, in our view, should incorporate all frequent academic lexical items necessary for the expression of the rhetoric of the specific research area.’
This research is the background which has inspired in me the plan of establishing an English language centre for specific purposes for adults. 4. The need and the dream
From the above context and reason, I think there is a need to establish a foreign language centre for adults of specific English needs in Soc Trang city, Vietnam.
4.1.1 English for monks
The idea of teaching English to monks comes from my teaching memory. Many years ago, when I taught at Soc Trang IEC, most of the students in my class were monks. It was a big effort to teach them because their first language is Khmer, not Vietnamese. Hence, they had two dictionaries with them: Khmer- Vietnamese and Vietnamese- English. Whenever they wanted to express in English, they thought in Khmer first, then translated into Vietnamese, and finally from Vietnamese into English. However, only a few of them could complete the course because their self-esteem was strongly hurt by classmates who were not religious. Their classmates laughed at them for two reasons: their strong Khmer accent and, second, the words from the Bible they used in class . As a result, at that time, I wished I could have had an English textbook to teach them.
As previously mentioned, Soc Trang city is a city of pagodas, so the best tourist guides are the monks who live in those pagodas. Each pagoda has its own beauty and specialty. Some of them are very popular, such as the Bat pagoda, Clay pagoda and China pagoda. The Bat pagoda is like its name, having in it thousands of bats. In the Clay pagoda, every object was made of clay. Moreover, it has a couple of huge candles which have lasted 60 years apiece. China pagoda was built by matching pieces of china bowls. Others are well-known because of huge sculptures of Buddhists and scenes which represent the laws of Buddhism. As a result, in order to introduce the places they are proud of, the monks feel there is a need to learn English.
This program would focus on skills for speaking in front of the public and basic vocabulary about Buddhism such as places, objects and beliefs. When finishing the course, every monk would be self confident enough to communicate and introduce the pagodas with tourists.
4.1.2 English for drivers
Taxi and motor taxi drivers have played in important role in promoting the tourism of Soc Trang city. Unlike monks, drivers have more chances to speak to foreigners. For example, they carry tourists from coach stations to accommodation and from there to tourist sites. Sometimes, backpackers employ them for day trips. These are great chances for them to improve their income, but they need to achieve a certain level of English. Therefore, the course can provide them basic daily communicative English with the bias on greetings, self introducing, giving directions, doing measurements, working with numbers and learning about transportation. At the end of the course, they can use English to improve their occupation as driver.
4.1.3 English for doctors
Today, more and more doctors come to English language centres to learn for many reasons. Firstly, due to the standardization of hospitals, all doctors are expected to possess a level B national certificate of English . If doctors whose degrees are from distance learning, they must have an English certificate to be paid as doctors otherwise their salary is only equal to that of nurses. That is the regulation I knew from a private conversation with a doctor, one of my students. Secondly, because of the convention from the government, they have to take TOEFL or IELTS exams before access is granted to higher education. In addition, more and more charity organizations visit and help hospitals in the city, and the doctors must know English to work with them. Finally, to be fluent in English is an advantage for them in terms of being selected to attend training courses abroad.
Among the courses I have suggested in this program, English for doctors is the most difficult because of its professional targets. This course offers topics such as medical care and treatment, sickness, symptoms, psychology, human anatomy and hospital equipment. This may be the most challenging course for teaching staff.
4.1.4 English for travel
Today, a large number of Vietnamese go abroad for family reunions. They are sponsored by husbands, children or parents. However, the majority of that population is for marriage. Soc Trang is a city which has one of the highest rates of women marrying overseas, both to Vietnamese and foreigners. Hence, they need to learn English in a short time. Because the courses at English language centres have the tendency to train learners with grammar and writing, people who need English to go abroad usually invite personal English tutor to teach them at home, which is very expensive.
As a result, the new course offers daily conversational English about familiar topics such as introducing oneself, asking for requests, asking for directions, talking about interests and weather and basic cultural lessons about the USA and the UK. This is preparation for them to be able to communicate with foreigners and be familiar with the new environment, thereby avoiding culture shock.
4.1.5 English for housewives
Housewives play an important role in maintaining family happiness. Although they stay at home, they are some reasons for them to learn English. First, it may help them to be self confident with others, especially their husbands as their knowledge is upgraded. Most housewives have the duty to help and supervise children’s learning in the evening, so their English will be very helpful with their children. Finally, sometimes their husbands are invited to the social events which require their wives’ attendance. Therefore, being well-equipped in English helps them to participate in public situations where they can meet foreigners. This course provides topics about house furniture, interests, family, shopping, travelling and beauty.
4.1.6 English for IELTS
IELTS is the most demanding and important programme with Vietnamese learners. As I said before, a good IELTS score is compulsory in order to access post-graduate education. If a learner wants to follow post-graduate studies within Vietnam, universities require the minimum score of 5.0 whereas foreign universities’ standard requirement is 6.5. Every year, Vietnamese universities have three entrance exams for post-graduate enrolment. From thousands of candidates, about 1500 students will be selected. Therefore, this programme is very important for students in Soc Trang city, as whenever they have the need for IELTS preparation they have to travel to another main city in Mekong Delta to learn which costs them in travel, accommodation and living expenses. To guarantee the quality of this course, the learners who wish to follow the class are required to take a placement test. They need to have an intermediate level of English before learning IELTS due to the complexity and difficulty of the IETLS test itself.
The textbooks for programmes for monks, doctors and IELTS will be obtained in the UK and will be used for references and as models to design new ones which are suitable for use with Vietnamese learners. The other courses can be designed by teachers in my hometown.
These are some books which might help for the programme:
•English for Medicine in Higher Education Studies: Course Book and Audio CDs (English for Specific Academic Purposes) - Marie McCullagh
•Dictionary of Biomedical Acronyms and Abbreviations - Jacques Dupayrat
•A Dictionary of Medicines (Oxford Paperback Reference) - Jan Hawthorn
•English for Business Studies Student's book: A Course for Business Studies and Economics Students - Ian MacKenzie
•English in Medicine: A Course in Communication Skills: Course Book (3rd Ed.) - Eric H. Glendinning
•A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford Paperback Reference) - Damien Keown
•Cambridge IELTS 7, Cambridge books for Cambridge Exams 2009, by Corporate Author Cambridge ESOL 5. Conclusion
In conclusion, the investment in education is a respectable effort because it serves the public good and the community at large. The plan to establish the English Centre for Adults with Specific Purposes is not a target that is out of reach. For a long time, the tendency to invest in education which targets children has prevailed. Somehow we seem to forget the need of adults who also wish to return to school. Personally, this wish should be respected to a greater extent as adult learners have had to overcome many obstacles and challenges such as the responsibility for a family and the duty for work in order to pursue higher education for their potential development. Therefore, I would be highly grateful for any suggestions, ideas or materials can be sent to me to make my dream come true.
Beck , S. C., Martı´nez, I. A., Panza, C. B. 2009. Academic vocabulary in agriculture research articles: A corpus-based study. English for Specific Purposes, 28: 183–198. Science direct.
Duong, T. H. O. 2007. Meeting Students’ Needs in Two EAP Programmes in Vietnam and New Zealand. Regional Language Centre Journal, 38 (3): 324-349
Molle, D., Prior, P. 2008. Multimodal Genre Systems in EAP Writing Pedagogy: Reflecting on a Needs Analysis. Tesol Quarterly, 42 (4): 541- 566
Olivera, P. A. F. 2005. Research Proposals on Specialized Lexicography and English for Specific Purposes. Specialized Communication and English Studies, 27 (2): 41–55
Read, J. 2008. Identifying academic language needs through diagnostic assessment. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 7: 180- 190
Richards, J.C. 2001. Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.
Richterich, R. (ed.). 1983. Case Studies in Identifying Language Needs. Oxford: Pergamon/Council of Europe.
West, R. 1994. Needs Analysis in Language Learning. Language Teaching 27(1): 1-19.