Factors Affecting the Level of English Proficiency
A Case Study among Undergraduate Students of the International Islamic University Malaysia
Research Paper (undergraduate) 2016 25 Pages
TABLE OF CONTENT
2.0 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
3.0 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
4.0 LITERATURE REVIEW
8.0 CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
The level of English proficiency among Malaysian students often questioned. Despite learning English for almost 10 years in school, the majority of Malaysian students still encounter difficulties in using the language effectively especially in tertiary education. Many local graduates are still unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English. The purpose of this study is to investigate the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) undergraduate students. A set of questionnaires were distributed online and data from a sample of 75 students were collected through Google Forms. Two demographic factors namely gender and years of learning English were used as the variables. The finding of the study suggests that the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students were not affected by gender but were affected by the duration of learning English. The factors that were contributing to the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students were language anxiety, students’ attitude and also peers, parental and teacher influences. Besides, the study also revealed that there is no significant relationship between cultural stereotypes and students’ performance in second language acquisition.
Keywords: English proficiency, factors, second language acquisition, university students
Considering the importance of English as lingua franca, many countries including Malaysia has chosen English as their second language. English subject has been required by the Ministry of Higher Education (2010) to be taught in all government school after Bahasa Melayu. However, the level of proficiency among Malaysian students often questioned. Despite learning English for almost 10 years in school, the majority of Malaysian students still encounter difficulties in using the language effectively especially in tertiary education. Most Malaysian undergraduate students have low proficiency in English, especially in writing and speaking. According to Melor Md Yunus and Gan Ek Hen (2011) , many local graduates are still unemployed due to their lack of fluency in English as most job sectors demand those with the capability to communicate in English effectively.
Therefore, this paper aims to emphasize the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) undergraduate students. The focus will be on language anxiety, cultural factors and the attitudes of students towards bilingual education and how it affects their level of expertise towards the target language.
2.0 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
The level of proficiency in English language amongst university student has long been discussed. Despite learning English as a second language since primary school, there are still a number of students who failed to use the language effectively. This becomes a major concern by the Ministry of Higher Education Language as English is now used globally in most job sector around the world. Students who encounter problems in English language often find it hard to secure a job. Therefore, it is vital for university students to equip themselves with good English communication skills, not only for job demands but also for their own advantage. The study had shown that one of the major factor contributing to the low proficiency in English among Malaysian undergraduate students is language anxiety ( Nur Afiqah bt Ab. Latif,2014). However, there is still an insufficient study in this area on the other factors contributing to the low level of proficiency in English language and how student’s attitude towards bilingual education affect their level of proficiency.
3.0 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
In relation to the study of factors affecting level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students and the relationship between students’ attitude and perception towards second language acquisition and their performance towards the targeted language, these are the questions this research intends to answer:
1. What are the factors contributing to the level of proficiency in English among IIUM undergraduate students?
2. How student’s attitudes towards bilingual education affect their level of proficiency towards the language?
4.0 LITERATURE REVIEW
One of the factors affecting the level of proficiency in English language among university students is language anxiety. Language anxiety can be defined as the feeling of anxiety towards second language acquisition (Gardner & MacIntyre, 1994). Students who faced language anxiety often fear of negative evaluation by their educators or native speakers. Humphries R. stated in her paper that fear of negative evaluation greatly affected students when they tried to practice their target language. A study conducted by Crookall & Oxford (1991) as cited in Humphries, R.(2011), a little anxiety can be motivating and gives benefit for the students, however if it passes a certain limit, it will affect students’ focus towards language learning which resulting in poorer performance. Furthermore, the study done by Humphries R. reveals that it would be less intimidating if the instructor was more friendly and encouraging rather than be an authority figure. This is because students feel more comfortable to interact using the target language with their friends rather than their instructor. According to a research conducted by Nur Afiqah binti Ab. Latif (2014), language anxiety among adult learners in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) reveals that there is no relationship between language anxiety and gender or age. The study also reveals that there is no significance difference between male and female because both genders experiencing a similar amount of anxiety in their second language class. Furthermore, language anxiety also has no significance difference between old and young learners. However, the duration of learning English do affect the level of language anxiety experienced by the learners as the longer the years of learning, the lower level of language anxiety facing by them. Apart from that, fear of negative evaluation caused by language anxiety could clearly be seen in a study conducted on a group of Malaysian university students where they claimed that the impediment they experienced to communicate in English makes them passive in the classroom (Noor Hashimah, 2007).
Despite learning English for almost 11 years, Malaysian undergraduate students still encounter difficulties to communicate in English. One of the reasons of lack of proficiency in the target language is cultural stereotypes. Some culture in Malaysia considered people who speak a foreign language as an outcast as they embraced another culture. As Malaysia have 3 different major races – Malay, Indian, and Chinese, each race have their own perception and stereotypes towards foreign language. Some of the Malays perceived other Malays who speak English as ‘less Malay’ and sometimes they being ‘othered’ by their own society because of their high proficiency in the target language (Lee Su Kim, 2003). Meanwhile, as for the Chinese, those who speak English are viewed as educated than those who speak Mandarin (Wong Fook Fei, Lee King Siong, Wong Fook Fei, Azizah Yaacob, 2010). On the contrary, in one of the study conducted, the Indian society put their utmost respect to someone who can speak their own language rather than foreign language. (Wong Fook Fei, Lee King Siong, Wong Fook Fei, Azizah Yaacob, 2010). However, all of these cultural and society stereotypes does not affect learners who have high motivation and spirit to increase their proficiency in the target language.
Attitudes of Students towards Bilingual Education
The other factor affecting the level of proficiency in English among Malaysian university students is the attitudes of students towards bilingual education. The use of English in the education process is aimed to help students fulfilled the demand in job sectors in the future. Despite learning English for a long period, many local graduates still encounter problems to use the language effectively. Consequently, resulting them to be unemployed due to the lack of proficiency in English language. Therefore, students’ attitudes towards bilingual education become a major concern. Attitude is regarded as one of the main contributing factors to second language learning achievement (Spolsky, 1969). Students must have both, motivation and attitude in order to ensure a successful language learning experience (Thang Siew Ming, Ting Siew Ling, Nurjanah Mohd Jafar, 2012). Students with positive attitudes and high motivation level will be successful in second language learning while students with negative attitudes tend to be judgmental and ethnocentric towards the target language, making them unsuccessful in second language acquisition (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). As cited by Ramiza Darmi and Peter Albian (2013) negative attitudes are associated with feelings such as anxiousness which resulting in excessive stress on the learners during second language learning. Hence, students’ motivation and attitudes towards bilingual education play a vital role to improve students’ proficiency in English language.
Based on this paper, it could be seen that language anxiety, cultural stereotypes and students’ attitudes towards bilingual education contribute to the level of English proficiency among university students. Although many researches have been conducted in this area, there is still insufficient finding on the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students. Therefore, this paper aims to investigate the factors contributing to the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students.
This paper aims to investigate the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Undergraduate students which focus primarily on three factors which are language anxiety, cultural factors and attitudes towards bilingual education. Therefore, a quantitative research methodology was used to conduct the study by distributing a set of online questionnaires to IIUM Undergraduates Students.
This study employed the use of quantitative research methodology which is questionnaire. The items on the questionnaire consist of 5 point Likert scale that were adapted from Factors Contributing to Proficiency in English as a Second Language Among Chinese students in Johor Bahru by Azizi Yahaya, Noordin Yahaya, O. Lean et al (2011) and Attitudes and Motivations of Malaysian Secondary Students towards learning English as a Second Language by S. Thang, S. Ting, and NurJanah Mohd Jafar (2011) . The questionnaires were divided into 3 sections which consist of demographic information (gender and courses), English language acquisition background (years of learning English and achievement) and 6 possible factors affecting the level of expertise in English language among IIUM Undergraduates students. The questionnaire consisted of 36 questions in total and was conducted online as it is the most convenient way to receive responds from all the respondents.
The subjects of the study were students of Undergraduate Studies from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), Gombak campus. The total number of the respondent is 75 students. Both male and female students were participating in this survey, but the number of female respondents is higher than male respondents.
A set of questionnaire were uploaded onto Google Forms and were distributed online through social media. The questionnaires were kept online for 2 days and the total number of respondent was 75 undergraduate students from IIUM. The data were collected and analyzed to answer the research questions.
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The purpose of this research was to investigate the factors affecting the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students and how students’ attitudes towards bilingual education affect their level of proficiency towards the language. The first research question aims to discover the contributing factors towards the level of English proficiency among IIUM undergraduate students. Figure 1 manifested the first factor which is Language Anxiety. The majority of the respondents admit to experience language anxiety towards English language acquisition. Figure 1 (a), (c), (d) and (e) shows that majority of the respondent opt for ‘agree’ option for the statement ‘I feel anxious to speak English’, ‘I fear of negative evaluation’, ‘I fear of making grammatical mistake’ and ‘I don’t have wide vocabulary in English’. Meanwhile, it can be seen in Figure 1 (f), 21 respondents opt for ‘disagree’ for the statement ‘I find it hard to translate my native language to English during speaking’ and another 19 respondents remain ‘neutral’. Besides, for Figure 1 (b), 26 of respondents choose ‘agree’ with the statement “I encourage myself to speak English even when I am afraid to speak’.