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4 Students’ Perception of Improvement While at University

4 Students’ Perception of Improvement While at University

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5 Can Diagnosing University Students’ English Proficiency Facilitate Language…



99



How would you rate your improvement in English reading skills during your first

year at University?

250

200

High



150



Average



100



Low

None



50

0

Identifying specific Understanding

Inferring meaning

information

main ideas (general

comprehension)



Feeling at ease

while reading

(confidence)



Fig. 5.3 Students’ perception of improvement in reading skills



How would you rate your improvement in English listening skills during your first

year at university?

250

200

High



150



Average

Low



100



None



50

0

Identifying specific Understanding

Inferring meaning

information

main ideas (general

comprehension)



Feeling at ease

while reading

(confidence)



Fig. 5.4 Students’ perception of improvement in listening skills



The disproportionate emphasis on writing compared to speaking makes this

result unsurprising too. Teachers in Hong Kong tend to give extensive feedback on

writing, focusing particularly on grammatical accuracy and error correction (Lee

and Coniam 2013). In terms of vocabulary, slightly more improvement was reported

in understanding unknown words from context, though again the students felt that

they had improved in all areas (Fig. 5.6).

These survey results are also not surprising considering the students’ responses

to questions on their use of English inside and outside campus. According to the

survey, a large majority of the students (around 90 %) used spoken English from



100



A. Urmston et al.



How would you rate your improvement in English grammar during your first year at

university?

250

200

High

Quite high



150



Average

Quite low



100



Low

None



50

0

Grammatical accuracy in writing



Grammatical accuracy in speaking



Fig. 5.5 Students’ perception of improvement in grammar



How would you rate your improvement in English vocabulary during your first year

at university?

250

200



High

Quite high



150



Average

Quite low



100



Low

None



50

0

Understanding

unknown words

from context



Academic

vocabulary

knowledge



Academic

vocabulary use



Feeling at ease with

vocabulary



Fig. 5.6 Students’ perception of improvement in vocabulary



‘often’ to ‘always’ in compulsory academic settings such as lectures, seminars and

tutorials, whereas English was rarely used with peers in their residence hall activities and other extracurricular activities. In addition about 50 % said they used

English in their part-time jobs (often involving tutoring or sales work) (Table 5.9).

These results suggest that the students felt that they had made improvement in

their ability to listen for main ideas and supporting details and understand unknown

words from context because of the need to use English in academic settings where

they are required to read extensively, and listen to lectures in English for around 20

h a week.



101



5 Can Diagnosing University Students’ English Proficiency Facilitate Language…

Table 5.9 Students’ self-reported frequency of use of spoken English (%)

How often do you use English

in the following situations?

Always

In lectures

27

In seminars/tutorials

24

Outside class with other students 6

Residence hall activities

4

Extra-curricular activities

4

Part-time job

6



Almost

always

32

36

8

8

9

11



Often

25

29

30

20

22

27



Sometimes

11

9

23

20

25

25



Rarely

4

1

26

40

31

25



Never

1

1

2

10

9

6



Never

4



Table 5.10 Students’ self-reported use of written English (%)

How often do you do the following

activities in English?

Online messaging (including

WhatsApp, Skype, MSN etc.)

Email

Social media (including Facebook

or Twitter etc.)

Internet chat forums, blogs or

homepages

Browsing websites

Reading books/magazines/

newspapers

Listening to music

Watching TV/movies



More

than 5 hrs

a day

8



About

3–5 hrs a

day

13



About

1–3 hrs a

day

35



Less than

an hour a

day

39



2

5



10

13



25

36



59

39



4

7



1



8



22



50



19



3

2



9

7



27

30



54

50



7

10



8

5



12

12



36

31



41

49



3

3



Of other activities, English was used by more than half the students for email,

online messaging, social media and listening to music for more than an hour a day

(Table 5.10).

The perceptions of improvement or lack of it are further explained by the students’ motivations to learn English while at university. Survey results revealed that

students’ main reasons for English language learning were factors such as meeting

a course requirement, eligibility to participate in exchange programmes, importance

of English for future career, and encouragement from teachers and parents. However,

lack of confidence in their ability to learn English and feelings of anxiety while

learning a language continued to be hindrances. These results suggest that English

language learning while at university is mainly for pragmatic reasons, i.e. the need

to use English for academic purposes.



102



4.5



A. Urmston et al.



Students’ Perception of the Impact of DELTA on their

English Language Learning Habits



In order to determine how students perceive the impact of DELTA on their English

language learning habits, eight of the students from Lingnan University were asked

to participate in focus group interviews to elaborate on their perceptions of DELTA

and its impact on their English learning. At Lingnan University, students use their

DELTA report as input for the independent learning component of their compulsory

English language enhancement course, English for Communication II. The independent learning component accounts for 20 % of the course grade and many students do use their DELTA reports for diagnosis, i.e. to help identify areas of relative

weakness, formulate learning plans or pathways and work on these in their independent learning.

Three growers and five sustainers participated in the focus group interviews. All

of the students claimed that DELTA was able to reflect their English proficiency in

that the DELTA report accurately reported their strengths and weaknesses. All of

them used the report as a first step to improve their English proficiency. What distinguished the growers from the sustainers, however, was how they approached their

own language learning. First, a quote from one of the growers:

I tried [using the independent learning links in the DELTA report] when I was in year one,

semester one but I stopped trying it because I have my own way of learning English, which

is like in last year, my semester one, I listened to TED speech. I spent summer time reading

ten English books and made handful notes. I also watched TVB news [a local Englishlanguage TV station] online to practice my speaking. I also watched a TV programme. I

used to use the advanced grammar book and there is a writing task, I forget the name, I

bought it. It helped to improve my English. It’s really a good book, it helped me to improve

my grammar and writing skills. So people have different ways to learn English. I’ve found

my way to learn English. I think these websites may be useful to someone, but not to me.

Tony (grower)



Tony described how he independently developed his own language learning

without help from others. He made an effort to surround himself with English (e.g.,

listening to talks, reading books, doing grammar activities) because he believed it

was the only way to improve. He did not think the independent learning links in the

DELTA report were particularly useful to him as they did not suit his style of

learning.

On the other hand, two of the sustainers took a different approach.

I felt curious to use this website to improve my listening. This year is my second time, I don’t

consider it important. Sia (sustainer)

I think my instructor wouldn’t know the details of the report. He just said, “you refer to

the DELTA report to decide which skill you want to improve when planning your independent learning”. Now when I see this report shows my vocab is weakest, which I agree, I feel

the DELTA, in addition to helping you to make an independent learning plan, shows us

what skill I have problem with. I think what is more important is that the instructor can tell

in you detail which skill is weak and has to be worked on. Elsa (sustainer)



5 Can Diagnosing University Students’ English Proficiency Facilitate Language…



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Table 5.11 Top English activities by growers and sustainers that helped improve their English

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20



Reading in English (fiction, non-fiction, magazines)

Using self-access centre (Speaking and/or Writing Assistance Programme)a

Listening to lecturesa

Watching TV shows or programmes

Text messaging

Talking to exchange students (inside or outside the classroom)

Academic reading (journal articles, textbooks)a

Using dictionary to look for unknown words

Listening to and/or watching TED talks

Doing grammar exercises

Listening to music

Test preparation

Watching YouTube clips

Watching movies

Doing online activities

Attending formal LCE classesa

Memorising vocabulary

Joining clubs and societies

Reading and writing emails

Exposure to English environment



a



Study-related activities



Sustainers were similar to growers in that they did not find the independent learning links provided in the DELTA report useful for their learning. However, they

required further guidance from teachers to improve their English. They felt that the

DELTA report was useful and accurately reflected their strengths and weaknesses

but they attributed their lack of development to not having support from teachers to

show them what the next step in their language learning should be. This confirms

the survey finding that lack of confidence in their ability to learn English was a hindrance to further development, as well as supporting Alderson et al.’s (2014) second

principle for diagnostic assessment, that teacher involvement is key.

The participants were also asked to describe the top activities that they thought

helped them improve various aspects of their English. Table 5.11 lists the top 20

activities that growers and sustainers specifically thought were useful in their

English language growth.

Surprisingly, only three of the top ten activities are study-related (listening to

lectures, using self-access centre and academic reading) and the rest are all nonstudy-related activities. Reading in English was the most popular activity followed

by the use of services offered by the self-access centre and finally listening to lectures and watching TV shows or programmes in English. These results suggest that



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