Factors Affecting Acquisition Essay

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This paper is a report on an investigation into the relationship between three variables and language learning strategy use by Thai and Vietnamese university students using Oxford’s 80 item Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL). Two main objectives of this study are: 1) to determine three factors: how gender, motivation and experience in studying English affect the choices of language learning strategies; and 2) to compare the roles of these factors and the pattern of language learning strategy used by Thai and Vietnamese students. The analysis revealed that, amongst these three factors, motivation is the most significant factor affecting the choice of the strategies, followed by experience in studying English, and gender, respectively.

Following the taxonomy of Oxford’s language learning strategies, the analysis also showed that lowly-motivated and inexperienced Thai female students tend to use the six strategy categories less than their Vietnamese counterparts. This study’s findings would be beneficial to Thai and Vietnamese educational planners and methodologists in general, and classroom teachers in particular, facilitating the better understanding of the roles of crucial variation in learning English exiting between male and female, motivation and experience in studying English.

Introduction Within the realm of second language acquisition and learning, a large number of research bodies (e.g. Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990) have agreed that language learning strategy use is one of the most important factors in the second language acquisition process. Many studies of second language learning (e.g. Green & Oxford, 1995; Griffiths & Parr, 2001; Oxford, 1990; Park, 1997; Wharton, 2000) have extensively documented how successful learners seem to use a wider variety of language learning strategies than unsuccessful learners. Meanwhile, several studies (e.g. Bruen, 2001; Cohen, 1998; Oxford, 1990; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990; Purpura, 1997; Shen, 2005; Wharton, 2000) have revealed that selecting appropriate strategies could enhance the learners’ performance of second language learning.

Therefore, it is clear that the choices of strategies used by second language learners plays a vital role in second language learning. Likewise, scholars and researchers in second language acquisition are also interested in determining the effect of strategy use on success in learning another language. Oxford (1989), for example, suggests that the variables that seem to influence language learning strategy choice include age, sex, attitudes, motivation, language learning goals, motivational orientation, learning style, aptitude, career orientation, national origin, language teaching methods, task requirements, language being learned, duration, and degree of awareness.

Among these variables, gender, motivation, and experience in studying a language are claimed to have discernible influences on the choices of language learning strategies (Dörnyei, 2001; Goh & Kwah, 1997; Gu, 2002; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006; MacIntyre, 1994; Mochizuki, 1999; Wharton, 2000; Yutaka, 1996). Despite the fact that the published research mentioned above shows that over the past decades, researchers investigated effective language leaning strategies and variables contributing to the use of strategy, certain criticisms of this line of research have been raised.

First, different scholars and researchers have investigated learning strategies from different settings, reaching somewhat different conclusions as well as pedagogical implications. In addition, the incongruent results lead to questions of the reliability and application of the analysis. Then, despite the enormous number of learning variables studies, many studies tend to focus on one factor to investigate in a study. Finally, Wharton (2000) noted that the use of different types and numbers of strategies might depend on the characteristics and setting in which learning occurs and the language task to be completed. In this light, there is very little research on effective language learning strategies which is conducted in more than one country in a real international setting.

In Thailand and Vietnam, even though English has the status of foreign language, there are several similarities and differences in their English teaching and learning context. In 1992, Aksornkul (1980) reported that, in Thailand, English was first taught as a foreign language in schools by British Missionaries in 1845, but the Thai government continued reforming the education system for a long time to improve the Thai students’ English proficiency. This has led to a situation where English is taught to Thai students from Grade 1 onwards. However, whilst this is the case for Thai students, in Vietnam, according to Thinh (1999), the teaching and learning of English is very limited. English was first taught twenty years ago.

The importance of English in Vietnam was recognized when Vietnam adopted its Doi Moi policy in 1986. Since then, English has been taught as a foreign language to students from Grade 6 through secondary school. Although there are differences in the history and development of teaching and learning English in these two countries, it is very interesting that English education in Vietnam has rapidly improved as demonstrated by the fact that Vietnamese students scored higher in several standardized tests when compared with Thai students’ scores (Bolton, 2008). Since there is a substantial body of evidence to support the positive contribution of language learning strategies to improvement in learning a foreign language, an examination of how students in the Thai and Vietnamese context employ these strategies and the effects of variables on these choices of strategies is very critical.

These reasons suggest a need for more studies in this research area. Despite the preponderance of research on language learning strategies within English as a second and foreign language (e.g. Green & Oxford, 1995; Griffiths & Parr, 2001; Gu, 2002; Hong-Nam & Leavell, 2006; Oxford, 1990; Park, 1997; Wharton, 2000), to the best of our knowledge, no study yet explored the context of Thai and Vietnamese students’ language learning strategies. Given the importance of learning strategies in language acquisition, two pertinent questions emerge:

1) How are these two groups of students different regardless of their use of language learning strategies?; and 2) what are possible factors affecting their choice of strategies? Moreover, along the line of the limitations mentioned earlier, Oxford’s taxonomy and other researchers’ work in language learning strategies have been essential in popularizing the importance of understanding how learners learn a second language and what factors have an influence on learning process. To fill the gap in this area of research, the objectives of this study are twofold:

1) to determine three factors: how gender, motivation and experience in studying English affect the choices of language learning strategies reported by Thai and Vietnamese undergraduate students; and 2) to compare the effects of these factors on their language learning strategy use. The results of this present study are beneficial to Thai and Vietnamese teachers, helping boost better understanding of learning strategies used by Thai and Vietnamese undergraduates through illustrating the intricate relationship existing between gender, motivation, and experience in learning English, affecting their learning strategies choices. An insight from the analysis of language learning strategies within the context of academic English in Thailand and Vietnam will be used to determine a range of learning strategies to be explicitly taught to Thai and Vietnamese learners, and to improve both English learning processes and final learning outcomes.

This section provides a description of English Education in Thailand and Vietnam. Subsequently, a definition of language learning strategies is presented, which is followed by a review of studies which have investigated the roles of language learning strategies on gender, motivation and experiences in studying a language. 2.1 English education in Thailand English in Thailand was first taught as a foreign language in schools by American Missionaries in the reign of King Narai the Great (1824-1851 A.D.). However, knowledge of English was limited to higher court officials and administrators. There was also no written curriculum for English as a subject until 1890.

According to Aksornkul (1980) 1890 should be regarded as the starting point for the formul teaching of English in Thailand because in this year the Examination Act was enacted and was used as the guideline for educational management. Moreover, English was systematically taught in schools established by American Missionaries, where ordinary people could equally study English. Later, in 1895, English language was assigned to be studied as an optional subject taught in secondary schools.

The major change, then, occurred in 1909 when English was assigned to be studied in primary schools. Later in 1921, English became a compulsory subject for students beyond Grade 4. Aksornkul (1980) astutely stated that the objectives of this change were twofold: to produce modern thinkers for the country, and to provide students with sufficient knowledge of English to be able to function in classrooms. In 1960, there was a change in the English syllabus for secondary schools. That is, English language was started in the Upper Elementary Education Curriculum to be a compulsory subject at the upper elementary level.

Another major change was witnessed in the 1978 curriculum, which classified the English subject as optional again, and English subject was grouped together with Work Oriented Experience Area in the Special Experience Group. As for 1980 national curriculum, the English subject was classified as an elective in primary schools and compulsory subject from Grade 7 or in secondary schools. Then, the revised English language curriculum was introduced in 1996.

According to Khamkhien (2006), although English was still an elective in primary schools, the Thai government put a lot of effort into every government school to start learning English at Grade 1 onwards because there was a gap in terms of English standard between students studying English in private schools and those from government schools. The purpose of this revised proficiency-based curriculum was to provide students with the opportunity to continue their English education without interruption and to facilitate life-long learning.

At this stage, emphasis was placed on the development of the students’ language proficiency to fulfill a number of purposes: communication, acquisition of knowledge, use of English in socio-cultural functions, career advancement, etc. In terms of approach to language teaching, the approach was focused on functional-communicative with an eclectic orientation (Wongsothorn, Hiranburana, & Chinnawong, 2003). The currently used English curriculum was introduced in 2001 when the Ministry of Education introduced the national foreign language standard and benchmarks. The motivation for this revision was to be consistent with the changing world and globalization.

That is, all Thai citizens should have equal rights of 12 year-basic education. With this change, the 2001 system integrated primary and secondary into a single stream, which was divided into four sub-levels: Preparatory Level: Pratomsuksa 1-3 (Grades 1-3); Beginning Level: Pratomsuksa 4-6 (Grades 4-6); Expanding Level: Matayomsuksa 1-3 (Grades 7-9); and Progressive Level: Matayomsuksa 4-6 (Grades 10-12). At this point, six English credits are now required as part of a general education program. The current curriculum allows for 800-1000 sessions (20 to 30 minutes) in each academic year in Pratomsuksa, and 1200 sessions (50 minutes) for Matayomsuksa. Foley (2005) asserted that this current English curriculum places an emphasis on learner-centered culture and life-long learning through cognitive, emotional, affective, ethical, and cultural growths within the Thai context.

At the university level, both public and private Thai universities reformed English language curriculum in order to meet the demands for English language skills in the workplace. According to Foley (2005), English is now required for twelve credits instead of 6 in university education, namely, 6 in general English and the other 6 in English for academic or specific purposes. Moreover, Wongsothorn, Hiranburana and Chinnawongs (2003) reveal that the English curriculum in Thailand can be viewed as a paradigm shift from English as an elective to English as a compulsory subject, focusing on independent work, autonomous learning, innovations and new technology in English language teaching (ELT), such as self-access learning, performance standards of general English and English for academic and specific purposes.

In conclusion, in Thailand, English is the most popular foreign language taught in schools. Since the introduction of English language teaching in Thailand, many substantial changes have been made to the curriculum in order to make Thailand’s economy more competitive in the global market, and to meet the international community’s expectations and demands. 2.2 English education in Vietnam The emergence of foreign languages in Vietnam is different from that in other Southeast Asian countries due to the escalating Vietnam War (1954 to 1975). Historically, at this decisive time, Vietnam was separated into two parts: the communist North and the capitalist South (Thinh, 2006).

For the North of Vietnam, Russian and Chinese was the major language of communication, whereas in the South, French and then English were deep-rooted at many social strata. These languages were the main foreign languages to be taught as required subjects in secondary and post-secondary education. Until the national reunification in 1975, according to Be and Crabbe (1999), Russian was the national first foreign language for a number of years, and little attention was paid to the teaching of both English and French. Inevitably, since all schools in Vietnam were nationalized after the reunification, hundreds of private English language centers were closed as an immediate result of the weakening of commercial ties with capitalist nations. In this period, Thinh (2006) indicated that English was only taught in a limited number of classes in high schools. For example, English language was only taught in some classes of schools in towns or in large urban areas.

Later, in order to reform the country and adopt a market-oriented economy both in Southeast Asian countries and English-speaking countries, Vietnam decided to expand its relations with all foreign countries irrespective of different political systems (Canh, 1999). Hence, the Vietnamese government pursued an open-door policy, Doi Moi, in 1986. Thinh (2006) illustrated that this policy helped attract a considerable number of English-speaking visitors as tourists and business people to Vietnam. Social demands have forged the reemergence of English as the language for broader communication and cooperation. As a result, even though foreign languages such as French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and German are still taught in secondary schools and universities, English is in great demand and the most popular language being taught across the country.

English, thus, has become the first foreign language taught and used in Vietnam. Moreover, as far as the importance of English in Vietnam is concerned, English has become the passport to a better paid job not only in the tourism and hospitality industries, but in many other enterprises. Concerning English language instruction in Vietnam, according to Be and Crabbe (1999), English has been made compulsory in the secondary school curriculum. The teaching of English is now established in almost all secondary schools in 61 provinces and cities throughout Vietnam. However, a shortage of teachers of English still occurs in a number of schools located in the remote rural areas and in the highlands. Normally, students learn English for three 45-minute periods a week, except in Grade 6, when they learn for four periods a week. In summary, for a long time, Vietnam did not have a dominant foreign language until recently.

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