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Learners should be given enough time by the English language lecturer to interact and socialize with native speakers, for example, opportunities should be created for them to meet the lecturer, or more advanced learners, informally outside and within the classroom.
Taking Oxford’s (1990) L2 learning strategies into account, the diverse composition of the population in Qatar is bound to reflect on various strategies employed by other learners in their L2 acquisition, as well as the implications they have in the classroom.
ESL learners vary significantly in their sensory preferences, as demonstrated by Reid (1987), with different nationalities favouring different learning strategies. The learning strategies employed by males and females when learning English as a second or foreign language, were further explored in this study to find similarities or disprove their existence.
2.6.2 Gender differences in learning strategies
Not a great deal of research has been conducted on gender differences in learning strategies of second language acquisition. The findings of the few studies conducted, did not necessarily reveal conclusive evidence in respect of different strategies employed by males and females in second language acquisition.
Tran (1988) reports that a study of English as a second language by Vietnamese immigrants to the USA revealed that males used more skills to improve their language than females. These skills included taking English courses, practising English with Native American speakers and watching television or listening to radio programmes in English.
Nyikos (1990) also concludes that males made greater use of a particular strategy for vocabulary recalls. When using visual-spatial stimuli of colour and pictures, males were better, however, females recalled better when only colour was the only stimulus (Nyikos, 1990).
According to a study by Zoubir-Shaw and Oxford (1995:182) female learners studying French made more use of “guessing or working with contextual clues” as a learning strategy, than male learners. In a study of Chinese learners studying English as a second language, GU (2002) made the same finding as Zoubir-Shaw and Oxford (1995:212).
After a study of 1200 university students, Oxford and Nyikos (1989) proposed that gender had a “profound influence” on strategies employed and that it was more frequently used by females than males. According to Ehrman and Oxford (1989) females also employed more strategies and used them more effectively.
In the language learning classroom, helpful strategies for the lecturer to improve L2 by the adult language learners are: allowing learners time to organize work; reminding them not to rely on memory only and that they have to understand the work; allowing enough time for learners to practise their English skills; repeating work when necessary, and finally, including pictures, colour and gestures to assist learners. Lecturers should develop strategies to help the adult language learner to be more effective. The use of language learning strategies was further explored in this study to determine if the same conclusions as the above would be reached. For learners to use more learning strategies in English second language acquisition, lecturers have to become the facilitators to guide these adult language learners.
2.6.3 Experiences elsewhere concerning strategies utilized Considerable studies have been conducted on language learning strategies utilized by learners of English as a second or foreign language. Not many studies however, have been carried out in the Arabic setting of ESL.
22.214.171.124 Qatar Using the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) Al-Buainain (2009) concludes that meta-cognitive strategies scored the highest and affective strategies was ranked the lowest. The subjects of her study were only female learners, who enrolled in the Department of Foreign Languages at Qatar University and representing different learning levels.
As the above study in Qatar included only female learners, the SILL (Appendix C) applied in this study to test strategies employed, included adult male and female English language learners, to see if the same conclusions could be reached.
126.96.36.199 Italy Macleod (2002) notes in her survey of two successful Italian men, that as English language learners they both employed a variety of learning strategies, depending on the particular learning task. Both learners reported that the time constraint and teaching method resulted in an increase in the number of strategies utilized.
This study tested the various strategies employed by adult male and female English language learners at the language centre.
2.7 Defining anxiety in L2 learning Acquiring a second language can sometimes be a traumatic experience for learners.
Worde (1998) reports that one third and more of learners examined, reported various levels of anxiety during language learning. Of the many variables related to foreign language learning anxiety, research has determined that they fall into the two main categories: situational variables and learner variables. Jackson (2002) and Spielmann and Radnotsky (2001) note that course level, course organization and course activities, as well as instructor behaviour and attitudes, and social interaction with fellow learners fall under situational variables. On the other hand, Brown, Robson and Rosenkjar (2001:378), as well as Gregersen and Horwitz (2002), amongst others, include age, attitudes, beliefs, culture, gender, learning styles and learners’ personalities under learner variables.
Anxiety, as a well documented psychological phenomena could by definition mead “the subjective feeling of tension, apprehension, nervousness, and worry associated with an arousal of the automatic nervous system” (Spielberger, 1983).
To be able to understand language learning anxiety in the language learning classroom, its causes, as well as its effects on the learning process and learners’ ability to cope with it, needs to be explored.
2.7.1 Anxieties in L2 learning MacIntyre (1995) argues that language anxiety plays and essential role in language learning as a social cognitive activity. According to MacIntyre, understanding what causes anxiety and what consequences these anxieties have, need to be understood by language lecturers.
The English language lecturer, as the facilitator in the classroom, needs to understand the importance of these anxieties experienced by adult language learners and how they could hamper the language acquisition process.
Language anxiety is a relatively distinctive psychological phenomenon, with specific characteristics in the language learning situation and is intertwined with other individual factors such as emotions, motivation and personality traits. The learners at language centres in Qatar are from different ages, nationalities, religions and gender, which all serve as added complications within the learning environment. Lecturers should be culturally sensitive in dealing with a number of diversities within the language learning classroom.
2.7.2 Gender differences in second language learning anxiety
In second language learning, anxiety could be caused by the lecturer, gender differences or the learners’ perceived ability level. Horwitz (2001) and Young (1999) note that learning anxiety has been attributed to the student’s self-esteem and self-image being threatened by his or her own inability to express an opinion in the target language.
According to Spielmann and Radnofsky (2001) the variables in second language anxiety fall into the two main categories of situational variables and learners variables, where situational variables could be course related items, such as activities, lecturer behaviour, the level and social interaction with other learners, and learner variables include emotions, motivation and individual personality traits.
Anxiety could also be situation-specific, as Spielberger (1983) notes. A learner might feel anxious to write and English second language essay, but would feel very comfortable writing an essay in his or her first language. Learners who feel incompetent in the second language, could be reduced to a childlike state, according to Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986), who associated three factors with foreign language anxiety: “a fear of negative evaluation, test anxiety and communication apprehension.” Learning anxiety can affect both genders and lecturers should always be mindful that not all learners will react in the same way to teaching methods, because it might have an adverse effect on learners who perceive a situation as threatening. The normal classroom introductions before the start of a new language learning session could make some learners very anxious and embarrassed, because of their initial lack of appropriate words to use. To make it easier for learners, the lecturer could lead by the example of introducing himself or herself to the class, as the adult learners like to know more information and background about their lecturer as well. Another contributing factor to classroom anxiety is if a lecturer should ask learners questions in a predictable order, the learners could become more anxious as their turn approaches.
Lecturers need to consider their own actions and not let it add to classroom, or language learning tension, but should do everything in their power to make the learning experience as pleasant as possible for the adult language learners. Lecturers should not be judgmental toward learners, show or express verbal disapproval and try to make insincere positive reinforcement.
2.7.3 Experiences elsewhere about learners’ anxiety
According to Tallon (2009) individual differences such as cognitive abilities, personality characteristics, learning styles, meta-cognitive differences, social contexts and affective aspects are some of the factors determining the outcome of the learning process. He does however point out that anxiety is a very important affective variable in learning a foreign language.
The influence of adult learners’ anxiety during English language acquisition was tested in this study, because it can affect the outcome either positively or negatively.
188.8.131.52 China and Qatar In a study of EFL learners in China, Cheng (2002) notes that one-third of the learners were negatively affected by foreign language anxiety, depending on their interest in English and their intentions to study the language. Likewise, Al-Buainain (2009) notes that despite efforts by learners to relax, their fears of making a mistake often kept them from trying when they were uncertain about how to express what they wanted to say, in English.
In the researcher’s view, some adult learners enter the classroom with a lot of anxiety, be that towards studying English, or personal baggage that they carry with them, that hampers learning. Lecturers should put adult learners at ease in the language learning classroom and as such, make it more pleasant for these learners to acquire English.
184.108.40.206 Japan A survey by Matsumoto, Kudoh, Scherer and Wallbott (1988) indicates that Japanese learners at a university in Japan experienced anxiety in a similar way the American learners, whose desire to express themselves effectively could not be attained or, experienced. The Japanese learners attributed the cause of their anxiety to the lecturer or other people, the effects associated with gender and their perceived ability level.
This is of interest to this investigation; as a result the influence of gender on adult language learning anxieties, was tested.
2.8 Cultural perspectives In the English language teaching environment in Qatar, for example in the classroom, lecturers have to be constantly aware of differences between men and women, and acknowledge them, especially taking the Middle Eastern culture into account. Cultural factors, such as religion, the environment and heredity, cannot be overlooked. The local Muslim religion determines that certain segregation will exist between men and women, as explained in section 2.2. Irrespective of their motivation to study English, Muslim women are not allowed to make eye-contact with men. In a multicultural classroom situation, this can be problematic. It is not always clear who the ladies are talking to or what they are saying, especially if they wear a full face veil. The Western ladies do not mind and would quite openly engage in a conversation with men, Qatari or expatriate, during pair-work and group work. Therefore, what the Western ladies perceive to be a normal learning environment, Muslim men and ladies might not be comfortable with.
Lecturers have to be constantly mindful of the differences and must always obtain permission from the Muslim women before assigning them for pair-work with male learners, ladies are granted the right to refuse. The lecturers’ sensitivity in the classroom towards the adult male or female learners from different cultures is of utmost importance.
2.8.1 Lecturers’ culture
Some years ago, English was regarded as belonging to the English-speaking world only.
As the world has “become smaller” because of international communication and advanced technology, English has become an international commodity, being used in many industries as the medium of communication. Jenkins (2000:5) notes that native speakers had the privileged status as “owners of the language, guardians of its standards and arbiters of acceptable pedagogic norms”.
Learners in the diverse second language classroom might experience the fear of being assimilated into a target culture represented by the lecturer of that culture. According to Ferdman (1990:189) neither the lecturer nor the learner should consciously attend to the ways in which they are engaged in ‘cultural transmission’ in order not to hinder the learning process. Taylor (1985:15) and Wertsch (1991:16) note that Vygotsky’s view of culture also suggests that no human ever functions autonomously from outside interference and that even when functioning in isolation, a person is inherently social in that he or she incorporates socially evolved and socially organized cultural tools.