«submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY WITH SPECIALISATION IN ADULT EDUCATION at the UNIVERSITY OF ...»
(ISM01) “Oh, now that is an interesting one. We, me with my wife and kids, want to immigrate to Canada and I want to do well in English, because I have to pass the entry test.” (ISM02) “Well, first of all to be able to talk to my colleagues. I’m away from home for two weeks at a time working off-shore, so I have to talk to other people. And also, if I continue to study English and get real good, I will get a promotion to become a manager one day.” (ISM03) “You see, when I come back and want to work in Hamad hospital; I have to pass a test to show them I can speak English.” Follow-up question: “Could you explain more?” (ISM03) “You see, where I study, we do not really use English, but I need it for the future.
It is very important, because what will happen if I get a patient and I cannot understand the person?” (ISF04) “Two things. One is the fact that my daughter is in a school where they follow an American curriculum. So I need to speak to her teachers and also to try and help her with homework. Number two, my husband has a lot of social work functions. His English is really very good, so I want to be able to speak to the people we meet at these functions.” (ISF05) “Nowadays, I think I can speak four languages. English, French, Spanish, Italian and of course my mother tongue, Portuguese. Mhm, when I thought I wanted to learn English, it was because I wanted to change my profession. I used to work as a physical teacher in Education, and ah, and I decided to change my profession, so I became a flight attendant. And as a flight attendant, I should speak many languages to be able to speak to different passengers and I like to talk.” (ISF06) “To be able to do better in university. And I would like to become an actor one day, so that will really help me. And another thing, I will get paid. And when I’m famous, I will get lots of money. Ha, ha, ha.” Interpretation: Language learners enter the classroom with an individual motivation towards studying English. The motivating factors for the adult learner to acquire English, varied. But it was clear that males and females needed English to communicate with other people, for possible future monetary reward, for either a better life in another country, a promotion at work, or a career change.
When participants were asked what strategies they employed to learn English and what
made it easier for them to remember, they replied as follows:
(ISM01) “Every day I write words in it (own dictionary) that were new to me plus the meaning. Then, when I have the time, I run through them again and try and memorise them, or at least try and understand. I also make notes of words I do not understand well and ask teacher the next time in class to explain.” (ISM02) “When I’m not in class, I get a bit lazy. But when I have to study, I read the work over and over.” (ISM03) “I read, and read, and read and try and remember.” (ISF04) “Well, I do write everything down. I do not just rely on my memory to get me through. And I try and do as many on-line English studying as well.” (ISF05) “I don’t know. I just study. I study a lot when I am home and I read a lot in the language, and I memorise. I listen to this music and I try to accompany the song and I memorise. I don’t know, I don’t know.” Follow-up question: “What else makes it easier for you to memorise, like singing?” (ISF05) “No, I don’t know. I only read and my memory is photograph(ic). When I see a word written, I just memorise it the way I wrote it down. And I have a photograph(ic) memory. I think it helps me a lot.” (ISF06) “I do memorise words by saying them over and over. I listen to TV programmes and try and follow it without looking at the sub-titles. I also use colour pencils. I find that really helps me and almost make the words ‘jump out’ at me that I marked. This way I remember them better.” Interpretation: From the above responses, it could be concluded that the majority of these adult language learners memorise what they have learnt in order to retrieve it for later use. Repetition by way of reading and rereading work as a way to consolidate what has been learnt was also employed by five of the learners. Only one learner reported the use of colour to help her with remembering unfamiliar words.
Learners replied as follows to the question, “Who or what do you think is responsible for anxieties in the classroom?” (ISM01) “I study and try and do my best. That is not really for me. Being a bit older, I don’t really get anxious anymore. But you know, there is always the uncertainty before a test, ha, ha. Anxious teachers can be really bad for the whole class.” Follow-up question: “Explain more.” (ISM01) “Well, you see, if the teacher feels nervous, it is easy for the class to pick that up and not feel comfortable.” (ISM02) “Not really. But yes, sometimes, when I went out the night before and did not have time to study. People who do not want to listen and are noisy in class. When one person in not paying attention or when a teacher gets a bit mad! Things like that. Like I said, sometimes it’s the students, sometimes it’s the teacher. But is does not happen that often. Only sometimes.” (ISM03) “Only if I did not study, but that does not really happen. Writing a test. Noisy students. Cheating. I’m not really sure. It is not easy to say.” (ISF04) “I’m fine with speaking, but that’s ok. But I do get anxious before writing a test.
I think that is just a normal reaction. Even if I studied and know my work and even at this age, I still feel nervous. I think we have been very lucky with very understanding teachers. But if the teacher is anxious and shows it, the class would feel it. And that would be teachers who have not prepared work properly.” (ISF05) “No, I’m not anxious. I speak. I just speak.” (ISF06) “At the moment we are in a nice class. The students are all nice and the teacher very friendly. Like I said, at the moment it’s fine. But it can be a bit of both. Students can be very naughty and noisy or just not paying attention. But if the teacher is anxious, we can all feel it.” Interpretation: The above responses indicated clearly that learners’ anxieties do exist within the language learning classroom and that these anxieties were caused by different situations. The responses indicated that anxieties within the classroom were mostly associated with the learning process and that learners attributed the cause of their anxiety to either the lecturer or other learners. The learners’ perceived own inabilities, being anxious before writing a test, and not having had enough time to study, as other contributing factors.
Participants responded as follows to the question, “How do you cope with anxiety in the classroom?” (ISM01) “I study and feel confident when I know my work.” (ISM02) “You know me; I do my work, come in and go out. I don’t really talk in class with other students. Only outside or in break time.” (ISM03) “Ha, ha. I study. If I know the work, it’s ok.” (ISF04) “Make sure I know my work. Not come to class late, although it can be a rush in the mornings.” (ISF05) “I never had a problem during my classes. I don’t know how to answer this, but if there is a problem, I would speak to the teacher about the problem and I would speak to the person who was causing the problem.” (ISF06) “I try to relax. Not always easy.” Interpretation: As these responses were participants’ self-reports, personality traits were not taken into account. It is possible that language learning classroom anxieties may stem from their individual perfectionist tendencies, because four of the participants reported that they felt confident when they know they have prepared themselves adequately for class. One participant responded in a mature attitude by getting to the core of the problem and suggesting it should be eliminated from within the situation, by addressing the “guilty” parties directly.
The English language learning classroom at the language centre is very unique, in the sense that the adult learners who want to acquire English as a second of foreign language, could be highly qualified in their specific fields, but just being unable to communicate effectively in English due to lack of the necessary skills to express themselves adequately in the target language.
From time to time, some ladies from Qatar or from other Arabic speaking countries would request an all ladies class to study English as a second or foreign language together. This is normally done because it is encouraged from their respective families, or for personal reasons. Some of these ladies are not comfortable to speak to other men who are not closely related to them or come from the same household. With them, since they come from families where speaking face to face with an adult male stranger is either prohibited or viewed with a sceptical eye. That prompted the next question, “How would you like teachers to handle different genders within the classroom?” The
responses were as follows:
(ISM01) “In class we are all the same and should get the same attention.” (ISM02) “Sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable with ladies in the class, or even with the men. But once I know them a bit better, it becomes easier and we talk like normal, you know.” (ISM03) “They (the lecturers) must just be respectful, know their work and not let others talk too much and be noisy in class.” (ISF04) “Well, we had no problem. We all got along well and there was really no need to treat anybody differently.” (ISF05) “They treat everybody equally.” (ISF06) “I can’t really say. I was in an all girls’ school. The guys in class with us now are very respectful, so that makes it no problem for the teacher. I really don’t know what it would be like in a class where the teacher can’t handle the situation.” Interpretation: From the answers it was evident that these participants felt quite at ease in the English language learning classroom. The normal assumption in this part of the world especially, would be that ladies sometimes feel uncomfortable in a classroom with unfamiliar men. One male participant however, responded that he also feels uncomfortable with ladies in the classroom, or even males he is not familiar with. This indicated that the uncomfortable feeling of different genders within one language learning classroom, does not apply to females only, but that males sometimes shared the feeling.
To provide learners’ perspective on teaching practices, participants responded as follows to the question, “How would you like to be taught English to make the situation acceptable for adult male and female language learners in the classroom?
(ISM01) “We could get more chance to speak. I like to speak and do not always have enough time in class to do that. Involve students in the process, but don’t let them take over the class. No where to draw the line.” (ISM02) “Here I think teachers are doing a lot. That’s why I keep coming back. They really want to help, I feel. And they are all doing a lot to encourage us and make us want to learn and enjoy English classes. This is good for me. A lot better than in school. Here we have enough time to learn grammar and spelling. Perhaps a bit more talking one to one with the teacher.” (ISM03) “This way works for me. But I don’t have enough time to speak English and my friends don’t want to help me. They just laugh at me. I don’t know. Some students don’t like strict teachers. I don’t mind.” (ISF04) “Everything was really ok for me, but we could do more speaking. I can only speak from my own experience and everything was fine. Really.” (ISF05) “I, I was very lucky, because I had very good teachers. I studied with a very good English teacher.” (ISF06) “Well, in school we only had one hour and forty-five minutes of English lesson a week. That was not enough. Now I am here and we would all just love to talk. But I understand the teacher has work to do and have to teach us grammar and structure and things like that. But what I’m getting here is so much better that the school days.
Perhaps if we could do some on-line stuff. I think that will help. But I don’t know how the teacher will have the time to check our work.” Interpretation: Learning grammar structure in the classroom plays an important part during language acquisition. The responses from the participants indicated that in general, they were satisfied with the English language curriculum being followed at the language centre. Five participants indicated that they would prefer to have additional time for talking. This was a clear indication that the adult male and female language learners needed ample opportunities to improve their communicative skills. One respondent indicated that technology could be incorporated into the language learning classroom.