Topic: A study on EFL university graduates perception and attitudes towards English speaking skills at China Agricultural University

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Significance of this study and Previous studies

Nowadays, over 2 billion of people speak English, which making English the largest language by the number of speakers. According to Lyons (2017), it is approximately 20% of world people speak English. However, most of English speaks are not native English speaker, there are only 60 million of English speakers are native speaker. In addition to being widely spoken, English is the most commonly studied foreign language in the worldwide, and followed by the French at a distant second (Lyons, 2017). According to Smith, (2017), English is the most common official language in the world, 53 of countries use English as their office language, such as Fiji, Ghana, India, and Malta. Therefore, it is important to learn English especially learn how to speak English. However, the 2018 EF English Proficiency Index ranks of online test score reported that Chinese English skill at 47th out of the 88 total measured countries, with an overall score of ‘Low proficiency’. Chinese students are lack of English speaking skills significantly. A huge proportion of Chinese student cannot speak English, as they are not required to develop their English skills at school. In addition, According to Woodrow (2006), English language learners from Confucian Heritage Cultures (CHCs) such as China, Korea and Japan are easier to be anxiety language learners than other ethnic groups.

1.2 Aims of the mini-research project and including research questions

The main purposes of this mini-research project is to identify speaking anxiety among EFL Chinese learners who have already graduated from China Agricultural University in recent few years. Another purpose is to investigate EFL adult learners’ perceptions and attitudes towards English speaking skills. It is important to conduct this research as lots of studies have explored the difficulties EFL learners encounter in terms of developing writing, listening, and reading skills. However, few studies examined the level of speaking anxiety with Chinese EFL learners as well as their perceptions towards enhancing English-speaking skills. In addition, this research can give EFL Chinese classroom teachers some suggestions for how to reduce students’ speaking anxiety and to improve their speaking skills. In order to achieve the aim, it is important for EFL teachers to understand learner’s perceptions of spoken English and challenges students face in speaking skills.

This project aims to answer the following research questions:

What is Chinese EFL learners’ perception of their overall spoken proficiency in English?

What are Chinese EFL learners’ attitudes towards developing English spoken skills?

What are the factors that affect English spoken skills of Chinese EFL learners?

This Mini research report is design to investigate the perception and attitudes of EFL university graduates towards English oral performance. Questionnaires will be designed to better investigate the perception of Chinese university students toward English oral performance and measure their English speaking level. The students of China Agriculture University will participate the survey, and they are going to complete the questionnaire objectively. The detail of data collection procedure and data analysis will be discussed at methodology section, and the result of the survey will be concluded in result section. Moreover, The survey result will be explained by relevant theories and other empirical studies. The finding of mini research will be compared with previous study. The last but not the least, the pedagogical suggestions will be provided by the finding of the study.

2.0 Methodology

Instruction used in this project

Questionnaire is used in this quantitative research to collect data. Specifically, a Chinese-owned online survey platform called ‘Wenjuanxing’ is used to elicit details relating to participants’ previous English learning experience and their perceptions and attitudes towards the importance of spoken English learning. There were 20 questions in the questionnaire, and a few of them were adapted from Horwitz et al. (1986) (as cited in Öztürk & Gürbüz, 2014). Moreover, these adapted questions are included aiming to investigate Chinese EFL learners’ level of speaking anxiety. Most importantly, in addition to these adapted questions, I also included other questions in my questionnaire relating to participants’ perceived level of proficiency in English as well as in their speaking skills, and their attitudes towards spoken English. The reasons for having them is that there is no interview conducted in this study, which means some findings of the research might be unclear or confusing. Therefore, receiving more information about participants’ learning experience makes easier for researchers to understand and interpret the research date, and finally to explain the results clearly and easily.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding of the questions while participants completing the questionnaire online, all the items are translated into Chinese version.

The Participants

A total of 110 university graduates participated in this study, including 73 female and 36 male. All the participants are EFL Chinese learners who had already completed their Bachelor degree in a range of majors within ten years at China Agricultural University. Their ages ranged from 22 to 32. Furthermore, all of them have full-time jobs and now they are stilling learning English during their free time. It is noticeable that they all have learned English more than ten years in China and they are at a wide variety of proficiency levels.

Participants are only required to scan a QR code on Wechat to compete the questionnaire, and the questionnaire can be done on either a mobile device or computer.

Data Analysis

In this research, the data from the questionnaire was examined by the ‘Wenjuanxing’ software aiming at analyzing all of the research questions quantitatively. Firstly, crossover trails are used to answer

3.0 Results

This research gives some insights into Chinese EFL students’ view of spoken English learning. Students’ attitudes and perception of English speaking skills are examined.

3.1 What are Chinese EFL learners’ perception of their overall spoken proficiency in English?

As the result, Chinese students has low confidence of their English oral performance, 58.18% of participants think English speaking is their weakness, and just 1.82% of students think he/she can speak English fluently. Only 26.26% of participants satisfy their English speaking skills. Moreover, 73.26% of participants think school factor affecting English speaking significantly. However, Chinese English teachers are more focus on teaching the grammar (82.73%) rather then tech English speaking (21.82%).

3.2 What are Chinese EFL learners’ attitudes towards developing English spoken skills?

On the other hand, the participants have positive perception and attitude to improve their English skills, for example, 83.64% of students think it is really important to improve their English. The biggest problem to develop English skills of 67.27% participants is lack of vocabulary. However, 58.18% of participants are anxious language learner who is afraid to speak English.

3.3 What are the factors that affect English spoken skills of Chinese EFL learners?

Moreover, from the result of question 3&4, the cross result analysis will be provide in Table1, as the result, EFL Chinese collage graduate students’ perceived English language proficiency affect their speaking fluency. Although it is hard to find students who can communicate well with people in English, overall, students with higher English degree, they will perform higher English speaking level. However, a student who have CTE 4 certificate could hardly speak English, which is an expectation of the result.

Table 1 Vertical and horizontal comparison analysis fromquestion3 and 4


4.0 Discussion

Although Chinese students think it is important to improve their English speaking skills, Chinese students feel hard to speak fluency English as their teacher and Chinese education system ignore the development of speaking skills. The Most Chinese kids learning English just for entrance exams. For example, S., Liu (2007) suggested that there is only 1% of Chinese can actually speak English conversationally. The Chinese 4 examination reinforced the problem, 80% of the examination test is the writing component, 20% of the test is listening, and English speaking was only required for the English major student (J., Liu, 2007). The result of the mini research proves the study made by Maclntyre & Gardner (1994), that suggesting that the effects of language anxiety may be both pervasive and subtle. Considering the key role of teachers in second language or foreign language teaching methods, it is necessary to investigate language teachers’ beliefs and opinions about learning a second or foreign language (Tanveer, 2008). In the mini research, Chinese university graduates are lack of English speaking skills, and Chinese education system reinforced the problem. School is the main place that students learn how to speak English, Chinese school is lack of English speaking focus. According to China Daily (2013) reported that more than 70 percent of Chinese parents want their children to learn English just for getting good scores in exams and entering better schools. The online survey was conducted by the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, based on the questionnaires sent in by 45,758 Chinese parents.

Chinese EFL university graduates are anxious language learner.  Second/foreign language learners often exhibit anxiety, anxiety, and neuroticism when learning to speak a second/foreign language, and are thought to have a potentially negative impact on the communication of the language. When anxiety is limited to the language-learning situation, it falls into the reaction of specific anxiety (Atas, 2015). Second language researcher has been aware that Anxiety is often associated with second language learner, especially in speaking second language (Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M., & Cope, J., 1986). As the results this mini research, Over half of participants of Chinese university graduates are anxious language learner and afraid to speak English, as they are worried about others will laugh at them. According to Woodrow (2006), English language learners from Confucian Heritage Cultures (CHCs) such as Chinese, Korea, and Japan are easier to feel anxiety for learning a language especially speaking a language. China as the biggest CHCs country, Chinese people influenced deeply by CHCs in past 2000 years, and they are more introverted to express themselves then other ethnic groups. Chinese student are easily get anxiety in English speaking. Moreover, according to the study of Liu (2006), A common observation about Chinese students in American classrooms is they keep silent in the class, which has been speculated on the result of the Chinese students’ lacking communicative competence compatible to their native-English-speaking counterparts. Second language anxiety has a debilitating effect on the oral performance of second language speakers. Chinese students are more anxious language learner than other ethnic groups, which makes a negative effect to their oral performance. Developing oral performance need to eliminate anxiety, being confident and practice orally again and again.  It is relevant between student anxiety, confidence, and cultural awareness in the ESL students. ESL who has lower self-confidence is easier to be an anxious speaker. According to the study of Lucas (1984) and Liebert & Morris (1967), worry was inversely relevant to performance expectancy, and low self-confidence seems to be important components of the speaking anxiety of ESL. Students who are more introverted, are easily get anxiety in second language speaking. This mini research proves the result of the study of Liu &Jackson (2008), Chinese EFL university graduates has low confidence of their English oral performance. In Chinese EFL Classroom, more than one third of the students felt anxious in their English language classrooms, and they feared being negatively evaluated and were apprehensive about public, the majority of Chinese EFL did not like to risk speaking English in class.

On the other hand, according to Mak (2011), more proficient students tended to be less anxious, the higher English certificate level Chinese EFL get, the more proficient English they can speak. The result of the question 3 of this mini research is more proficient students can speak more fluency English. English language proficiency affect speaking fluent of EFL University graduates. The higher English certificate the students of China Agricultural University get, the more fluent English they can speak.

5.0 implication of the study

It is important for language teacher to reduce learners’ affective filter in the speaking lessons in the EFL Chinese classroom, which need to attempting to create a low-anxiety classroom. Teacher needs to encourage students speaking more English. When EFL Chinese students can speak English without anxiety, students will speak develop their English speaking skill significantly. The higher anxious the students were about speaking English, the lower scores they gain in oral performance of English (Park &Lee, 2005). Giving more confidence to Chinese EFL students when they are speaking English has positive impacts.

Moreover, The teaching style can influence the way students present English significantly. Teachers need to be focus on speaking rather then 80% of the English grammar. This mini research expose a problem that Chinese teacher focus more in teaching English grammar and ignore the oral performance of English. EFL English teacher need to not only teach English grammar but also need to teach how to speak English correctly and properly.

On the other hand, there is a research that made by Atas (2015), states that the drama techniques can lower the speaking anxiety of EFL learners significantly. Therefore, Teachers can give drama training to EFL for better oral performance of students. The requirement of teaching drama is not low, not everyone know how to tech drama at language schools. However, teachers can give some simple tips and play games in class to EFL for better express EFL themselves.

6.0 References

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7.0 Appendixes