«submitted in accordance with the requirements for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY WITH SPECIALISATION IN ADULT EDUCATION at the UNIVERSITY OF ...»
In the final chapter, Chapter 5, an overview of conclusions drawn from the research, were presented. This chapter furnishes the limitations of the study, as well as conclusions and suggestions for further research.
5.3 Limitations of the study The contribution of this study was to explore the gender differences of adult male and female learners in Qatar when acquiring English as a second or foreign language, and more specifically the influence of these learners’ cognitive differences on language acquisition, their motivation towards learning, strategies employed during language acquisition, the anxieties they experienced, as well as the best teaching practices to accommodate them. While the aims of the study were achieved, it was conducted at one specific English language centre and therefore the applicability and generalisation of the findings to other contexts could be limited. The commitment of the centre director, lecturers and learners who participated, as well as the researcher’s own perceptions, might differ from other language centres in this country and other English language centres around the globe where English is being taught as a second or foreign language.
Therefore the applicability of the findings to other contexts should be treated cautiously.
5.4 Conclusions of the study 5.4.1 Conclusions drawn from the literature study
• The adult male and female English language learner enter the classroom with a wealth of knowledge, but also with preconceived gender differences. Within the context of this study, that would include differences in ability to acquire a language, as well as differences in communicative styles (refer to sections 2.2).
Women are presumed to be disempowered in certain societies and that would also be reflected in their specific language usage (refer to subsection 2.2.1). This perception is however, slowly changing within the Qatar learning environment, where education is now seen as a tool to elevate a nation.
• The adult male and female language learners also need to know the relevance of what they are learning and the future benefits of such learning. As a person matures, the motivation to acquire a second or foreign language might become more internal and that will assist the learning process (refers to section 2.3).
Some adult learners are motivated by the monetary value attached to learning, whereas others are motivated to study for pleasure.
• Adult second language learning differs from mother-tongue learning in that in respect of mother-tongue, learning occurs with little effort, whereas in respect of a second language, learning has to take place in a classroom with a qualified lecturer. If this learning is done in a meaningful way, with enough exposure to the target language, learning will be successful (see subsection 2.3.1).
• Learning is a life-long process and should not stop after a certain chronological age. But, the preferred learning styles of the adult male and female learners are different (see section 2.4). Learners enter the English language centre from various nationalities around the world, as well as from the local Qatari population. Language learning can never be seen in isolation and the social and religious culture surrounding this learning, should always be considered (see subsection 18.104.22.168).
• The communicative approach to foreign language teaching is still the prevailing preferred method. This approach in the language learning classroom forms the basis of instruction. The implications of using the communicative approach, are that lecturers would spend less time on grammar and language structure (see subsection 2.4.4). This would be achieved by allowing more time for learners to interact formally and socially in the classroom by doing group and pair work.
During this time the lecturer has ample time to act as a facilitator to correct mistakes, where necessary. Lecturers should however, familiarise themselves with the various cultures and religions within one language learning classroom.
Therefore, topics covered should always be culturally sensitive, to avoid misconceptions.
5.4.2 Conclusions drawn from the case study
The aim of this case study was to explore gender differences in second or foreign language acquisition, taking cognitive styles, motivation towards study, strategies used and anxiety experienced, into account (refers to subsection 1.5.3). Therefore, the conclusions drawn from this study were directly related to the principal aim.
• Gender differences in cognitive styles Adult male and female language learners can more easily remember what they have learnt, if it could be linked to their existing knowledge. These learners enter the language learning classroom with a wealth of knowledge in their respective fields and from life-experiences, but unable to communicate effectively in the target language. The study revealed that men sometimes overestimate their learning abilities and women underestimate themselves (refer to subsection 4.4.4), “I think the idea of women being more conscientious about learning anything, including languages and men are less conscientious, because they think they can do it already.” The male and female learners start their English language acquisition from the same point of reference and that would be by drawing similarities between their native language and English.
Women also seemed more effective in learning the language, because they appeared to be hard working. Women were more inclined to use repetition to remember work, while men would memorise, without necessarily understanding what they were learning.
• Motivation towards English language acquisition Different motivational factors fuel the adult male and female language learners’ desire to acquire English. For men, the motivational drive pointed more towards the monetary value that would include a promotion at work, more money and lastly the possibility of entrance to a foreign university or to communicate effectively when travelling overseas. Women were more motivated to study English for personal communication needs, like being able to converse with a child’s school teacher, or officials at a bank or an airport. As one male lecturer reported, “In this particular country, it’s, ah, to keep up with the times. Hmm, a lot of high positions or a lot of opportunities only come nowadays, with English.
So, it’s more monetary value. For the women, phew, it would be a part yes, but the main drive would be to compete with the guys. Because they have the excellent example set to them by Sheikha Moza, (consort of the Father Emir) who speaks English, is well educated, and who is not shy to go after her ambitions” (refer to subsection 4.4.4). The influence of the lecturers’ personalities, teaching methods and cultural differences on the learners’ personalities, and therefore, their motivation towards acquiring English, could also not be underestimated, as this could lead to de-motivation towards language acquisition.
From the completed AMTB questionnaires, however, it could be concluded that women were considerably more motivated to acquire English than their male counterparts. This included motivation towards communicating with others, their desire to acquire a language, as well as attitudes towards the course material, learning in general, and towards the lecturer. The female learners, although all adults and responsible for their own actions, were also motivated by their families to continue acquiring proficiency in English.
• Strategies employed by learners to assist language learning The adult male and female learner who enrol for an English language learning course, already possess individual strategies to facilitate learning. A lot of the men used memorising as a strategy to learn. Women on the other hand used repetition, writing and organising work, and forming acronyms to facilitate their learning. Memorisation, without understanding the meaning of vocabulary and its function in language, will not lead to effective learning. Lecturers do not always have the necessary time during their busy language teaching schedule, to devote time to teaching strategies as well.
With reference to the SILL questionnaires completed by learners, the following could be concluded: women employed memory related strategies marginally more than men; no significant differences could be found concerning application of cognitive strategies between men and women; compensatory strategies were used more by women than men; there were no significant differences in the application of meta-cognitive strategies used between males and females;
affective strategies were applied more by males than females; social strategies were employed by both males and females, but slightly more by males than females (see subsection 22.214.171.124).
• Anxieties experienced by adult language learners The anxieties experienced by the adult male and female language learners, are caused by various situations. Some learners felt less stressed if they had ample time to prepare for a test. Some learners find the mere idea of speaking in front of a group of people, frightening (refer to subsection 4.4.5).
As one female lecturer responded, “Some people do get anxious before writing a test or speaking. Speaking in front of others is probably the most nerve-racking thing they can do, whether it’s your own language or another language. I think, if you can help them, with preparing it properly, then they tend to be less nervous.” And one male lecturer responded, “For the men especially, I find them very, very, very anxious. Surprisingly, some of the women have been anxious, because they don’t normally mix with men, so when they are in a mixed class, they get very shy. But some of the women, most of the women, are not shy to speak their minds, hey” (refer to subsection 4.4.4).
From the responses of the participants, it is evident that males and females experience anxieties within the language learning classroom and mainly before a test or oral classroom presentation. Women are however, less anxious to do classroom presentations, which could be interpreted that they feel comfortable with newly learnt communication skills. Lecturers have an obligation to assist learners to prepare properly for a test by facilitating their revision exercises.
They also have an obligation to assist them with preparations for their classroom presentations by way of advising them on what aids, such as flash cards, to use.
Learner anxiety will be much reduced with the assistance of a supportive English language lecturer.
• The best practices to assist English language learners From the responses of the lecturers who participated in the study, it became evident that they have individual teaching styles and different approaches to teaching English. The lecturers who participated in the study were all native English speakers, had years of experience in the teaching of English and the necessary qualifications to teach English as a second or foreign language.
By following the communicative approach, lecturers were mindful of allowing learners enough time to interact formally and socially within the language learning classroom, while acting as the facilitators, who could correct mistakes when needed, in order for learners to achieve communicative competence. As fluency and accuracy are both important dimensions of language acquisition, this would also mean overlooking some minor mistakes from time to time to let fluency prevail over accuracy. In this way, learning will be a gradual process, which involves trial and error to ensure a successful outcome.
The lecturers are aware that teaching English to adult male and female learners from different cultural backgrounds varies considerably from teaching in a mono-cultural classroom situation. Lecturers are aware that the local religion and culture strongly influence the language learning classroom, and that family and the social environment should never be overlooked. Therefore, lecturers always have to be careful when grouping learners during group and pair-work, by getting permission from the ladies first, as well as be careful, by avoiding culturally sensitive issues within the classroom.
The adult learner expects the language lecturer to be competent, whether acting as a teacher and doing it from the book in front of a class, or from the back, or acting as a facilitator assisting by correcting mistakes. The adult language learner enter the classroom with a wealth of life experiences and sometimes highly qualified in a specific field, but unable to communicate fluently in English. Therefore, they want to be treated with respect by the lecturer. It is the role of the language lecturer to help these learners to link up their existing knowledge with the newly learnt skills in order to facilitate language acquisition.
5.5 Recommendations 5.5.1 Recommendations with regard to teaching adult learners The following recommendations with regard to teaching adult male and female
language learners are made:
• Lecturers should recognise the individual needs of adult learners.
With regard to motivation towards English language acquisition and strategies employed
by adult learners:
• Lecturers should be mindful that learners’ motivational level will be reflected in the different strategies they employ to make language learning more effective.
• Lecturers should be aware that personal and situational factors influence the strategies employed by language learners; such factors could include cultural beliefs, personality traits and the preferred learning style of the individual.
• Lecturers should determine strategies already employed by language learners and build on them.
With regard to teaching practices:
• Lecturers should be encouraged to develop their own unique teaching approach, depending on the situation at hand.
• Lecturers should be aware that for meaningful learning to occur, learners need to hear the language as often as possible.
• Lecturers should encourage adult learners to take responsibility for their own learning.
• Lecturers should be made aware, and also never underestimate the importance and influence their subject knowledge has on teaching and its positive outcome.