Learners and Learning

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Institution of Learning

All individuals are acknowledged that education in a second language does not only involve teaching and learning grammar, vocabulary, and phonology to ensure the complete acquisition of language, but also certain features of the learners’ first language, culture, its similarity to the language shape, speed and quality of acquisition.

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Students from Eastern International University have come from one cultural background and in a particular language background. The age of all students is about nineteen-twenty years. They are the first-year university students. They have been studying English during formal school education for eleven years. Thus, the high degree of linguistic and cultural similarities among all the learners makes their acquisitions similar. For instance, due to the teachers’ basic model they use to educate in the formal schooling and the cultural value attached to written form, these students are more advanced in writing than in speaking. The biggest challenge for the instructors is speaking skills education. The essential cultural difference I have noticed between the students is that some of them have come from the big city Ho Chi Minh while others have come from the suburban city, Bing Dong. Therefore, students make groups and isolate themselves from each other according to their origin. During my observation, I have experienced various classroom settings. I have observed four different classes from the elementary level to the upper intermediate level acknowledging major business and engineering programs. There are about seventeen to twenty-five students in each course. The teachers, who are British or Australian, are required to learn the Vietnamese language and understand Vietnamese culture. Therefore, they can incorporate some cultural aspects and language in their lessons for many reasons. Firstly, it helps students to be motivated when they see teachers are familiar with their culture and respect it as Stephen Cary has mentioned (2007). For instance, the students are surprised and excited when the tutors discuss the Vietnamese population and mention the name of a famous Vietnamese athlete. Students add more information to each other and feel less intimidated by the language. Secondly, it can facilitate education and make students be related to various aspects. For example, when a teacher asks students to write about transportation in Vietnam in their own words and represent the paragraph instead of Italy as required in the textbook, a teacher eases the task and permits students to use the language structure following the knowledge content. Also, knowledge of the basics about the students’ first language, sound, words, and sentence construction enables the teacher to modify her/his education and instructions. Moreover, understanding the students’ culture and language helps teachers avoid cultural conflict with students such as gestural training. I still remember the class of students with elementary level, a teacher hardly tried to explain the word “babysitter”. Nevertheless, she has failed such an attempt because she was not aware of such a concept in Vietnamese culture.

On the other side, students also need to learn about the target culture. Teachers can encourage students to search for cultural differences and similarities in comparison to their culture. The comparison between learners’ culture and the target culture facilitates the process of acquisition of new knowledge, its understanding, acceptance, and successful communication among learners. The primary language similarities among students have positive and negative influences in informing classroom instructions. When teachers apply the same first language in all classes, they make common errors as I have recently observed. For example, the educators direct all students to practice pronunciation of words like “Because” or “Lize” as scholars have difficulties with them. After a quick research, I have found out that students do not pronounce the final consonants in the Vietnamese language, which creates errors for most of the students. Such practice is undoubtedly useful and helpful for all students. I suggest students pay attention to the differences between the two languages. However, having the same first language makes students chatting and communicating Vietnamese during group or peer activities. That makes teachers reduce the group work that is necessary and important for speaking practice. The students’ motivation and frustration are very significant aspects of a successful acquisition. I have noticed that most of the teachers search for a way to increase the students’ motivation in learning the language. They do not need to use English Foreign Language (EFL) in everyday life. The teachers considering such an essential moment always provide various activities and homework using English out of class. Also, the role-playing aspect has a crucial impact to stimulate the real use of the English language. As the majority of students are young individuals, teachers use to rely on games in order to motivate them speaking and reviewing what they have already learned. I use to incorporate some games in my class. I have recently found out students are excited and aware of the real use of new grammar structures in daily conversation. Furthermore, some teachers always give students positive feedback to ease their frustration, pointing out common and regular mistakes. Translation, memorization, and dictionary use are common learning strategic aspects for students in the whole educational process. These strategies are very effective and rational for students’ education. However, many teachers, as I have observed, do not lead students to use dictionaries all the time. Instead of this, the tutors propose a practice of guessing the words’ meaning from the context. Some teachers incorporate other learning strategies making students more oriented and enjoyed providing group or pair work and peer editing. The analysis of learning strategies helps learners to control and be responsible for their own training. Therefore, I would strongly suggest giving students a copy of the course syllabus so they can monitor their performances, progress, and self-evaluation upon task completion. Although, teachers do not have to follow the syllabus and necessary educational changes rigidly, students can come to the class more motivated with general ideas of their learning.

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Instructional Factors

In every lesson, teachers are required to make many decisions based on various theoretical approaches they use to fit their lessons. Therefore, teachers need to consider all these factors in designing their lessons. Even more, they can apply different theories in one lesson to get benefits from each method’s strengths and avoid weaknesses. Each classroom I have observed reflects a set of conscious practices that support many theories of second language teaching. Teachers use a contrastive analysis as a beneficial method to draw learners’ attention to various points including differences from the first student’s language. During my teaching, I asked students about their equivalents to “Present Perfect Continuous” tense which was the topic of their native language. Once they started negotiating, I was confident they understood the lesson as they were able to explain differences in two languages. Explicit instruction is also an effective aspect to make students realizing their common mistakes. The implicit learning is another elementary level for teachers to use. Students learn English implicitly through general classroom activities with insignificant instruction. For example, an educator spends fifteen minutes of training and repeating sentences without certain instructions. That point helped me realize the role of both learning types. The classroom instructions are not rigid. They can be modified according to the lesson’s goal and the students’ needs.

Communicative language teaching is the most important theory implemented in all classrooms. All teachers use a system of role-playing activities, games, and other communicative exercises. It helps students communicate and argue through meaningful tasks. Not only speaking skills can be communicative but also writing and listening tasks can be communicative thought the authentic tasks. For instance, one of the teachers has asked students to send him a formal email and complaint letter for a certain situation. The use of authentic materials in teaching language has made a clear effect on students.

In one grammar class, I have noticed the teacher applied the deductive learning method where she explained the form, meaning, and structure of the tense explicitly to the students. Then, students applied a new tense in many related exercises. Unlike another class, the teacher applied the inductive learning method. Learners were presented various examples of the “Present Perfect” tense. Then, they have discovered the language rule and its structure. Each of these approaches is effective in teaching a second language. The key is a selection of the rational method that would fit the current need.

I would like to note that teachers use various options to communicate with students. Tutors discuss the content and instructions to ensure students complete acknowledgment to meet the lesson’s objectives. Teachers speak very clearly with simple language without exaggeration. Tutors usually model any activity they ask students to perform before they start. They also ask students to repeat instructions again to make sure all of them are aware of the task. Any misunderstanding will waste class time and hinder students learning. Moreover, teachers use to draw on the board in order to facilitate the understanding and process of learning. They also use gesturing and hand movements to explain their thoughts, especially for beginners. Stephen Cary (2007) mentions some strategies that support and aid comprehensions such as using objects, video, offering summaries and paraphrasing. I have learned that the use of different instructional methods is a beneficial aspect to correspond to the students’ various learning styles. Some of them are visual or acoustic so they can all get benefit from different methods. In general, the classrooms are spacious. Students have separate desks. It is very practical to get skills and practices in the classes as students can look at each other seating side-by-side. Usually, teachers ask students to group or sit in the traditional form of rows depending on their skills and activities. There are two large windows and small posters that students from the previous quarter have made. There is a large whiteboard in front of the classroom. There is neither a projector nor an Internet connection. I suggest incorporating technology into classrooms. It will help students be more motivated in the process of studying, and it will also maximize their progress in learning the language. Moreover, teachers are able to use PowerPoint to deliver material in the class by means of video clips.

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Study Abroad Experience

I have become aware of various theories and methods while teaching and learning a second language from readings, class discussions, observations, and my teaching. I recognized which of these theories are more applicable and effective in different situations. My first time teaching was quite a challenging process, however, beneficial to analyze various theories. It will definitely bring advantages for my future teaching in the English Foreign Language (EFL) context, in Saudi Arabia. Most likely, I will educate the same university-aged students with the same proficient levels sharing the same basic needs, motivations, and learning strategies with them. Therefore, I consider this course is the biggest preparative step for my future career. I am going to apply various strategies that I have observed in EFL classes. Attempts in making students more oriented rather than teacher-oriented with providing creative activities and games are very beneficial, especially for EFL students, who usually feel a lack of high motivation in learning the language. Effective EFL teaching strategies depend on comprehending ways in order to increase students’ motivation. EFL students do not usually have a real need to use English in their everyday lives. They usually take this in regard because of the requirements to pass, so they almost have the same needs. Such an aspect differs from ESL (English as a Second Language) students who came to an English speaking country to learn the language or found a real need to learn it every day. Many teachers focus their main efforts on increasing the students’ motivation. They propose authentic activities, educational games, role-playing, and positive feedback to encourage students to learn the language. Students should become more motivated and engaged in the process of learning. Analyzing my observation in the classroom, when the teacher asked students to write a sentence using each new word, the students were not interested, and some of them did not complete the task in a proper way. Afterward, the teacher has immediately changed the activity proposing to guess the word from the definition game. A teacher always gives home works to students that stimulate real purposes such as writing a formal email, complaint letter, and application for language school. Stephen Cary (2007) suggested that providing activities to students with a real purpose would improve their language and increase motivation. I have learned many teaching points to use games during lessons in order to motivate students and liven up the classroom. The study abroad course was one of the most exciting and challenging experiences I have passed during my Master’s studies. I got closer to my American classmates as well as Vietnamese students. The memories and friendships will last forever. This experience made me more reflective about my own culture as I had to present it to Vietnamese students, who had never heard of Saudi Arabia before. Also, I have become aware of other cultures and the differences between them. I have experienced European language teaching strategies and recognized how they differ from American teaching theories. This experience has played a significant role in my personal and professional growth as it has raised my self-confidence and independence.

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