WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH AFTER ONE

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INTRODUCTION, In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of international students. in Australian universities As a result in some faculties of the University of Melbourne. non native speakers of English make up almost 50 of the total enrolments. While there may be many reasons why these students choose to study in an English. medium university there is a common expectation that this will produce a significant. improvement in students English language skills This assumption is supported by research. that has identified the requirements for successful second language learning meaningful. language input pushed output and the opportunity to receive feedback on output Gass. 2003 Studying in an English medium university seems to satisfy these requirements. However the extent to which there is improvement is likely to vary according to students. circumstances Indeed a recent study found that in the year 2005 2006 34 per cent of. the 12 116 international students graduating from Australian universities surveyed did. not have the English standard needed for admission to university let alone to graduate. Birrell 2006 Indeed for these reasons the University of Melbourne has flagged the. English Language Proficiency ELP of international students as an area of major concern. The present study was set up to investigate whether studying in an English medium. university for one semester has an impact on the English language proficiency ELP of. international students In this study the impact on English language skills was investigated. using results on reading and writing tests and written discourse measures In addition. questionnaire and interview data were used to investigate a number of variables including. English language support which previous research had shown to have an impact on. students language proficiency, There have been a number of studies investigating the relationship between English. language tuition and scores on tests of academic English However those studies which. have investigated gain scores on IELTS following IELTS preparation courses have pro. duced somewhat mixed results possibly due to variations in sample size and course. duration For example in a small scale n 17 study in New Zealand Read and Hays. 2003 found that gains made by the students following one month of an IELTS prepar. ation course were not statistically significant In a large scale study n 476 Green and. Weir 2003 found that on average students scores only increased by 0 21 of a band. from an average of score of 5 27 to 5 48 following 3 12 weeks of intensive IELTS. preparation and English for Academic Purposes type courses Retrospective studies based. on results from candidates who had taken IELTS on more than one occasion over varying. intervals of time Gardiner 1999 Green and Weir 2002 2003 produced similar results. 04 2 WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH ARTICLES. In contrast Elder and O Loughlin 2003 found that 10 12 weeks of intensive English. language courses in Australia and New Zealand n 112 resulted in a significant improve. ment in English language proficiency with students on average increasing their IELTS. score by half a band They found that the improvement was greatest on the Listening. subtest and gains were likely to be greater for students with low initial ELP They also. found that a range of personal instructional and environmental factors were linked to. these improved scores but that these factors varied from one language skill to another. However Elder and O Loughlin 2003 suggest the need for caution in interpreting these. results as these studies are measuring average gains and individual performance is highly. In contrast to these previous studies which involved students enrolled in test prepar. ation courses or intensive English language instruction prior to admission to university. courses the focus of the present study is on whether and to what extent international. students language develops in the course of regular university studies. STUDY DESIGN, The study was based on a test re test design Participants took a diagnostic English test. DELA at the beginning and end of semester in 2004 and completed a questionnaire. A subset of these students also volunteered for interviews All participants were paid for. their participation,PARTICIPANTS, Thirty nine international students predominantly from South East Asia the source of. most of the University s international students agreed to participate in the study The. majority 29 spoke a variety of Chinese as their first language Of these about a third. 14 had accessed some kind of ESL support an ESL credit subject or not for credit. workshops or individual tutorials during their first semester Fifteen students had com. pleted some form of study in Australia year 12 or foundation year prior to entering the. university As all students enrolling at the university must fulfil certain English language. requirements and only a subset of these are directed to diagnostic English language as. sessment the participants represent a fairly narrow range of proficiency from intermediate. to upper intermediate e g overall IELTs scores in the range of 6 5 7 A large number. of the participants 27 were postgraduate students mainly from the Faculties of Eco. nomics Commerce and Engineering These two faculties tend to have the largest number. of international students, WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH ARTICLES 04 3.
THE DIAGNOSTIC ENGLISH LANGUAGE ASSESSMENT DELA, All students entering the University of Melbourne must demonstrate a requisite level of. ELP and most international students take the IELTS As IELTS scores may be up to 2. years old at entry they may not always provide an accurate measure of the current status. of the student s ELP Furthermore IELTS entry scores are set at what is considered to. be the minimum level necessary to cope with university studies So while a score of IELTS. 7 is sufficient to gain entry to most university courses students at this level are still likely. to benefit from further English language support For this reason the University provides. a free diagnostic English language assessment DELA to newly enrolled international. students on the basis of their IELTS and or year 12 results For example students who. score below 7 on IELTS are strongly recommended to sit the diagnostic test. The Diagnostic English Language Assessment DELA is a professionally validated. test of English language proficiency Designed specifically for the university context it. comprises subtests in listening reading and writing Scores on each subtest are reported. on a scale of 1 to 9 with 9 representing an advanced level of proficiency Scores on the. reading and listening test are converted to a band score on a scale of 1 to 9 The writing. subtest is assessed on the criteria of Fluency Content and Form vocabulary and gram. matical accuracy For each of these three criteria the student receives a score of 1 to 9. using a descriptive scale and the three scores are then averaged to yield a single writing. score The DELA results are used to generate recommendations regarding the type of. language support if any the student is likely to need Students identified as requiring. substantial language support e g DELA scores of 6 or below on two of the subtests. are recommended to enrol in credit bearing ESL subjects offered by the School of Lan. guages Students who require less intensive support are directed to workshops and indi. vidual tutorials offered by the central and faculty based language and learning support. units Uptake of recommended ESL support is not mandatory but may be taken into. account in the event of unsatisfactory progress,DATA COLLECTION. Data included the DELA test scores and scripts written questionnaires and interviews. Participants did the same version of the reading and writing sections of DELA twice. once at the beginning of the semester Time 1 and again towards the end of the semester. Time 2 1 The writing test was double marked with any discrepancies resolved through. discussion, 04 4 WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH ARTICLES. All participants completed a background questionnaire just prior to re sitting DELA. This included questions about the participants first language language learning back. ground and the type of ESL support if any they had accessed It also contained questions. relating to variables that we thought might have a bearing on students language devel. opment e g language spoken at home whether they have Australian friends A copy. of the questionnaire is appended Appendix 1, Semi structured interviews were conducted with a subset of the group n 15 repres. enting a range of ELP levels as indicated by the initial DELA scores undergraduate. and postgraduate students and students who had and who had not accessed ESL support. Students were asked about their experiences of studying in an English medium university. and whether they believed their English language skills had improved as well as about. opportunities they had to communicate in English at the university and outside The In. terview schedule is appended Appendix 2,DATA ANALYSIS.
Data analysis was both quantitative and qualitative Comparisons of pre and post test. reading and writing scores were used to investigate the impact of selected variables. including uptake of ESL support on score gain All writing scripts were analysed for. discourse measures of fluency accuracy and complexity to identify any changes in stu. dents writing which may not have necessarily been reflected in the post test score. Fluency was measured in terms of the number of words produced in the given time. In order to analyse for accuracy and complexity all scripts were coded for T units and. clauses A T unit is defined by Hunt 1966 735 as one main clause plus whatever. subordinate clauses happen to be attached to or embedded within it This measure is. the most commonly used unit of analysis of both written and oral discourse Foster. Tonkyn and Wigglesworth 2000 Written scripts were also coded for clauses distinguish. ing between independent and dependent clauses An independent clause is one that can. be used on its own Richards Platt and Platt 1992 In the present study a dependent. clause was one which contained a finite or a non finite verb and at least one additional. clause element of the following subject object complement or adverbial Foster Tonkyn. and Wigglesworth 2000, The measures of accuracy used in this study were the ratio of error free T units of. all T units EFT T and of error free clauses of all clauses EFC C Errors in this study. included syntactic errors e g errors in word order missing elements and morphology. e g verb tense subject verb agreement use of articles Errors in lexis word choice. WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH ARTICLES 04 5. were included only when the word used obscured meaning All errors in spelling and. punctuation were ignored, Two measures of complexity were used in this study The first was the ratio of clauses. to T units C T The other measure of complexity used was the proportion of dependent. clauses to clauses DC C which examines the degree of embedding in a text Wolfe. Quintero Inagaki and Kim 1998 According to Ellis and Barkhuizen 2005 these. measures of accuracy and complexity can be applied to oral and written language data. All discourse measures used are presented in Figure 1. Figure 1 Discourse measures used in analysis of written scripts. In order to check for inter and intra rater reliability in coding and following the. advice of Polio 1997 guidelines were formulated stating clearly what constitutes a T. unit a clause and an error A random sample of four writing scripts forming approxim. ately 30 of the entire data set were then coded by the second researcher and re coded. by the first researcher two days after the initial coding Intra rater reliability for T unit. and clause identification was 0 94 and 0 88 respectively Inter rater reliability for error. counts was 0 82 Discussion between the raters resolved all disagreements. Responses to survey questions that were categorical e g L1 Have Have not Aus. tralian friends were entered into a data base Responses to open ended questions and. responses to interview questions were coded thematically around the factors found in. previous research Elder and O Loughlin 2003 Green and Weir 2003 to influence ELP. including ESL status whether the student had accessed any type of ESL support and. enrolment status undergraduate or postgraduate, Following Green and Weir 2003 who found evidence for self confidence in writing. ability and integration into the host culture to be important factors in explaining language. proficiency gains we also considered whether participants used English at home in. Australia and whether they had any Australian friends In this study self confidence. was operationalised as whether students indicated they had difficulties with their English. on their questionnaire, 04 6 WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH ARTICLES. The effect of each factor on score gain was examined separately using statistical tests. of difference 2, In order to assess whether studying in an English medium university makes a difference.
to students English language proficiency DELA scores on reading and writing global. and criteria scores for Time 1 T1 were compared with the scores for Time 2 T2 The. WHAT HAPPENS TO INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS ENGLISH AFTER ONE SEMESTER AT UNIVERSITY Neomy Storch University of Melbourne Neomy Storch is a Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at the University of Melbourne Her research interests include classroom second language acquisition the nature of pair work in language classes second language grammar pedagogy and second

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