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The fifth and final observation was in a classroom with six Spanish speaking ladies, desperate to improve their communicative skills and the lecturer was from England. As a listening exercise about pronunciation of words, the ladies were given a list of words and when the words were read out by the lecturer, they circle the ones they thought they were hearing. They reported that they used the English sub-titles of movies to further assist them with pronunciation. During conversation time, they expressed their desires to become more fluent English speakers in order to communicate better with the teachers at the children’s schools, in restaurants, at airports and for making new friends.
One lady then proceeded to tell the others about her anxieties, which resulted from her lack of competence in English; this started from the time she arrived in the country; at the airport she realised that being unable to converse with airport staff, life ahead would not be easy.
The classroom observations shifted the focus from language acquisition to a broader focus on gender differences in cognitive styles, motivation towards their studies, strategies employed during language acquisition, as well as possible anxieties experienced whilst acquiring English as a second or foreign language by adult learners.
This privilege also afforded the researcher the opportunity to get to know the learners better and at the same time, for them to get to know the researcher and to become more comfortable with having her in the language learning classroom as an observer.
The classroom observation was very helpful to use as a starting point for the continuation of the research study. From these sets of data, (as presented in subsection 4.4.1), key features of each class observed, which were captured by means of completing checklists.
3.2.2 Questionnaires as a method of data gathering According to Cohen and Manion (2001:245) questionnaires are a widely used and useful technique for obtaining the same information from respondents in a relatively economical way. Although questionnaires are not that prominent in qualitative research, because the subjects are responding to the stimulus and might not act naturally, they nevertheless reach a larger sample that can be reached by conducting interviews (see subsection 22.214.171.124).
126.96.36.199 Strategic Inventory for Language Learning questionnaire
A specially designed questionnaire, based on the Strategic Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) as designed by Oxford (1990:1), was applied (see Appendix B). The copies of the questionnaire were hand-delivered to male and female adult learners, to be completed by them in their own good time. The questionnaires were randomly handed out the learners who were at levels 3 and above (as described in subsection 188.8.131.52), because the questions were quite extensive and required a more advanced knowledge of the English language. Of the twenty questionnaires handed out, only thirteen were received back. In order to protect the anonymity of the adult language learners, these questionnaires were all completed anonymously and respondents were only required to indicate whether completed by a male or female learner.
Questions one to nine concern memory-related strategies and learners were expected to give and account of how newly learnt information, with special reference to vocabulary, would be stored in the memory, in order to be retrieved for later use. It became evident that ladies apply these strategies more than men.
Questions ten to twenty three dealt with cognitive strategies that would link existing knowledge about the learners’ native language to newly acquired information about English as a second or foreign language. Both genders seemed to be employing these strategies evenly.
With regard to questions twenty four to twenty nine, learners had to indicate whether they used guessing and gestures (body language) while acquiring English, and the females seemed to be using these more often than males.
Questions thirty to thirty eight concerned the employment of meta-cognitive strategies.
According to their responses, it became evident that ladies do not significantly organize, plan or evaluate their own learning more than the men.
Questions thirty nine to forty four dealt with affective strategies, involving feelings, attitudes and motivations towards language learning, and according to their responses, were used more by men than by the women.
With regard to social strategies, as contained in questions forty five to fifty, where social interaction formed part of language acquisition, it became evident that men use these strategies more often than women (as presented in subsection 184.108.40.206).
220.127.116.11 Questionnaire of attitude motivation test battery The second set of questionnaires (see Appendix E), which were based on the adapted version of Gardner’s attitude motivation test battery, (AMTB), were handed out to adult male and female learners. The questionnaire was meant to establish how motivated learners are to learner to speak English as a second or foreign language. McMillan and Schumacher (1993:126) refer to purposeful sampling as the selection of particular elements from the population that will be representative or informative on the topic of interest. For this reason, these questionnaires were purposefully handed out in a classroom with five male and six females from various nationalities. The learners were all at level four of English learning and already had adequate command of English to answer the questions.
In the questionnaire, the majority of questions dealt with the learners’ motivation to study English and as such, acquire it as a second or foreign language. The ladies indicated that they were a lot more motivated to study, than the men. In the questions dealing with the learners’ attitudes towards learning in general, course material and the lecturer, ladies viewed them more favourably. These were all adult learners and for this reason, the encouragement they received from their parents, could not really be considered.
These completed questionnaires were analysed in Chapter Four and then compared with information gathered during observations; and then compared with the information collected by means of interviews. The information, though limited to only five male and six female adult learners, was useful in clarifying certain facts and opinions regarding motivation towards English language acquisition by these language learners (as presented in subsection 18.104.22.168).
3.2.3 Focus-group interviews
Greeff (2011:360) suggests that focus groups are group interviews aiming at “understanding how people feel or think about an issue, product or service.” The group is focussed, involving commonalities in characteristics or activity (Greeff 2011:360), (see subsection 22.214.171.124).
Two focus group interviews were conducted. These interviews were with three male and seven female adult learners and they were originally from Egypt, Palestine, Qatar and Tunisia. The interviews formed part of their conversational skills development during the English language acquisition lessons in the classrooms. The same group of learners were used for the first and second focus group interviews. This was done at the beginning of their course and again at the end of the course, in order to get a better understanding of their perceptions toward language acquisition.
The participants had enough time and opportunity to voice their opinions, while at the same time encouraging each and every one to partake of the interview. These exercises were very insightful and the participants were stimulated by the perceptions of others, while simultaneously giving follow-up answers. The researcher, acting as the facilitator, used predesigned questions to guide these interviews and probed participants periodically with follow-up questions when necessary to get additional information. All the time it appeared participants were more than willing to share their feelings and
opinions freely. The following questions formed part of the interview (see Appendix C):
• What professional qualifications do you have?
• How long have you been studying at the centre?
• What level are you studying at the moment?
• How do you learn English?
• Be specific and tell me how you learn, what makes it easier to remember things and do you use any special strategies to make it easier?
• What motivates you to study English?
• Do you get anxious before writing a test or speaking in front of others?
These focus group interviews were all tape-recorded and later transcribed. Although all the learners were Arabic speaking, the interviews were conducted in English. Some of the learners had to obtain prior approval from their respective families before they agreed to be tape-recorded. This tempered with the time frame of the interviews, as some families were reluctant to give permission, but agreed in the end. Only a few learners were initially uncomfortable with having their voices recorded; but eventually became more comfortable and participated freely (as can be seen in subsection 4.4.3).
3.2.4 Individual interviews
According to Greeff (2011:347) unstructured or semi-structured interviews are typically used for qualitative studies. Greeff (2011:347) refers to Collins (1998:1) who notes that the term unstructured could be misleading, as they (interview) are actually structured in many ways with the researcher initiating and determining the nature of the event.
However, by using semi-structured interviews, the experiences of the participants can be explored and understood by allowing them to say it in their own words (Bogdan and Biklen (1992:26). The latter is in line with Greeff’s (2011:351) view, who notes that the semi-structured method allows both researcher and participant more flexibility, while at the same time allowing the researcher “to follow up particular interesting avenues that emerge in the interview, and the participant is able to give a fuller picture.” Nine interviews were conducted with participants. Six participants were adult learners, three males and three females and three were lecturers at the language centre.
Detailed information was needed from learners and lecturers, in order to obtain learners’ perceptions on how they acquire English as a second language and at the same time the lecturers’ perceptions on how learners learn and to further explore the correlation, if any, (see subsection 126.96.36.199).
188.8.131.52. Interviews with lecturers Interviews were conducted with three lecturers and semi-structured questions were asked. Before commencing these interviews, the researcher informed them of the purpose of the study, (see subsection 184.108.40.206).
The first participant was a British lady, between the ages of 50 to 60. She had lived and worked in Qatar as a TEFL lecturer for more than twelve years and was well experienced in teaching adult learners from various nationalities.
The second participant was another British lady, also between the ages of 50 to 60. She had a BA degree in Socio Anthropology. Although she had only two years experience of teaching English as a second or foreign language in Qatar, she had thirty years experience as a TEFL lecturer of adult learners at various language centres around the world.
The third participant was an American 28 year old male. He had a BA degree in Human Resources Management and had six years TEFL experience. He spoke Arabic and English fluently as he came from a background where his father was Arabic speaking and his mother was American.
These participants, whom I felt were “information rich” participants, as well as experienced lecturers in teaching English as a second or foreign language, were
interviewed. The following questions were posed (Appendix D):
• What professional qualifications do you have?
• How long have you been teaching at the centre?
• What different levels are you teaching at the moment?
• In your experience, how do learners learn English?
• Be specific and tell me how you think they learn?
• What makes it easier for them to remember and what special strategies do you teach them to make it easy for them to learn English?
• How do you feel learners get anxious before writing a test or speaking in front of others, or is it a “non-event’ for them?
• What, in your opinion do you think motivates them to study English?
As a further exploration, questions such as “Could you explain more clearly what you mean by that?” and “Could you give me an example?” were asked.
These one-to-one interviews with the three lecturers were all conducted at the language centre, recorded and later transcribed (as presented in subsection 4.4.4).
220.127.116.11 Interviews with learners In selecting the adult learners to be interviewed, the researcher was very much guided by the recommendations of the lecturers used for the one-to-one semi-structured interviews, as well as her own experience obtained while conducting the classroom observations, (see subsection 18.104.22.168). The learners were all informed that the information they were about to reveal would be used for the research only and would be kept confidential. They were also reassured of their anonymity. All selected learners completed and signed ethics consent forms, (in accordance with subsection 1.5.4).
The six adult learners interviewed, three men and three ladies, were all from different nationalities. The researcher felt that gave her a broader spectrum of data. All interviews with learners were conducted in English, as they were studying this at an English language centre and the researcher had little to no knowledge of their respective native languages.
The learners’ interview questions focused on their own understandings of English second language acquisition, the strategies they employ, what motivates them to study and what anxieties they experience during this process. See Appendix E for the interview schedule.
Recordings were made of the one-to-one interviews with these six adult learners;