Exploring Difficulties in English Language Communication Skills Among Iraqi High School Students in Australia dissertation

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Iraqi Students

The literature review provides an abundance of material related to the educational and cultural aspects of Australian society and how those aspects play into the educating process regarding immigrants and especially high school students from Iraq who immigrate to Australia in search of education and a better way of life. The review focuses not only on the generality of those concepts but on specific aspects as well. Some of the items covered by the literature review will include; the different approaches taken by Australian teachers, instructors and administrators in order to teach international students participating in the Australian educational system, the importance and functions of good communication skills (as well as the difference between good and bad skills), the cultural differences found in education, the teaching of English in Australian schools, and the influence of globalization. Additionally, the literature review will take a look at how all the above mentioned components and more, tie together to create an effective study of how Iraqi high school students are assimilated into the English study culture found at most Australian schools. Those specific aspects include how the Australian educational system uses both the grammar translation approach to teaching English and the CLT approach and how those two approaches differ from one another, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Grammar Translation vs. CLT Approach

There are a number of approaches currently being used in the Australian educational system to teach English.

Two of the approaches being used are the grammar translation approach and communicative language teaching. One web site that provides readers with a definition of grammar translation may have presented it in the best conceivable manner when it stated "for left-brained students who respond well to rules, structure and correction, the grammar-translation method can provide a challenging and even intriguing classroom environment. For those students who don't respond well to such structures, however, it is obvious that the grammar-translation method must be tempered with other approaches to create a more flexible and conducive methodology" (Thuleen, 1996). Another website described communicative language teaching using almost the exact opposite phraseology by stating "most groups are enthusiastic about the lesson opportunities which CLT offers. However, some also indicated they felt constrained by the system under which they operated, especially those teaching in settings which are particularly exam-focused" (Belchamber, 2007). These are two different styles attempting to teach the same subject.

Grammar Translation Method

The grammar translation method, allows for almost no translation deviation, instead it calls for rote memorization and a rigid phrase for phrase translation process from the target language to the native language and back again, with discussions in between. Grammar translation might best be known for its inherent ability to teach the dead languages (latin and greek as examples). The grammar translation's main approach is to use the written word to teach the target language on a word by word, and phrase by phrase grammar methodology. This approach has been in existence for a number of years and it has been commonly used for a number of language development courses.

One recent study confirms the approach, stating; "the vast majority of language development studies have relied on written transcripts of the speech young children hear around them" (Goodrich, Kam, 2009, p. 81). Whether it has been in existence for decades or not is not the real question, the question that really should be asked is whether it is the most effective manner in which to present English as a second language, especially regarding immigrated Iraqi high school students now immersed in the Australian educational system. After all, there is such a thing as differential item functioning (DIF) which is a statistical methodology that focuses on whether items have an equal probability of a particular response for examinees from different language groups (Wei, Wolfe, 2010, p. 81). According to Wei and Wolfe; "studies reveal two broad potential sources of observed DIF -- linguistic and cultural features" (p. 81), which is the exact reason that many experts deride the grammar translation method; it does not take into account any cultural bias or effects at all to the translations.

The Wei and Wolfe study also found that "children who are raised in different social-cultural contexts and take different language versions of the same instrument may perform differently on items that elicit knowledge or require cognitive skills that are fostered by different sets of cultural values and priorities" (p. 83). Additionally, Li wrote that "one's thinking style or understanding is influenced by cultural values and childrearing processes" (Li, 2005, p. 190). The literature seems to find that the grammar translation method used throughout Australian schools may not be the best method for international students seeking to learn English as a second language.

Communicative Language Translation

Another primary method used to teach English in the Australian educational system is the communicative language translation methodology. This method of teaching does not rely on rote memorization or phrase by phrase translation at all. Instead, CLT provides the students the classroom opportunity to have conversations and discussions using the target language. Studies have shown that the communicative language translation method of teaching allows for a much stronger relationship between the teacher and the student, and even though this relationship might be strong, there is even a stronger relationship "between an individual's language and their personal and ethnic identity (which) has received general acceptance and substantial support within social science literature" (Bishop, 2008, p. 913). The Bishop study also determined that participation in international or local language communities can prove an invaluable part of the learning experience in terms of cultural-linguistic learning" (p. 920). This 'invaluable part' in large part is due to the fact that (according to Bishop) stereotypes may be less likely to be reinforced in a natural language context than in a classroom. If this is true to the CLT method, it is likely to be even more true than in the grammar translation method, especially in the classroom, since the grammar translation method is much more classroom oriented than is the CLT method.

CLT and Grammar Translation Comparison

Whether the teacher is using the CLT or the grammar translation methodology in the classroom, a mixture of both, or some other method entirely, the idea is to teach English to students in the most effective manner. Both the CLT method and grammar translation offer advantages and disadvantages to the teachers and students.

Since "language has been shown to attribute meaning to an individual's understanding" (Kramsch, 2006) it makes perfect sense that the exact opposite is true as well; that an individual's understanding gives meaning to the language. It is important therefore to ensure that students understand the true meaning of the language being taught, and that they are not confined to one methodology over the other.

Advantages of grammar translation include the fact that it has been used effectively for decades to teach different languages, and use breeds comfort. Teachers who have been effective in the past by implementing the grammar translation methodology are likely to be less enthusiastic about incorporating changes into their curriculum or teaching methods. They may also expound upon the fact that rote memorization works well, especially regarding language and word acquisition. In the 1970's, Chomsky (1970) and Read (1971) conducted studies on how children learn languages and discovered that children have an innate ability to learn languages and that the way they do so is through knowledge of the relationships between letters and sounds. Therefore, it is likely that rote memorization allows for an effective way to learn if they repeat the sounds and words over and over. However, CLT also allows for sounds and words, but in a much more informal and conversational method.

Communication skills

Just because the educational system in Australia is teaching English to the international students (including those from Iraq) does not mean that they are teaching the students to communicate, or to communicate in an effective manner.

Communication skills are skills that can be acquired, and should be acquired throughout one's lifetime. That does not mean that they will be acquired on the same scale for every individual, and in fact, there are as many ways to communicate as there are languages to communicate in. Communicating with one's body while one is speaking is natural. Body positions, hand gestures, facial expressions and eye movements are all part of the communication process. As an example, "eye gaze can be used as a cue to the speaker's communicative intention, and help a child infer the meaning of a word" (Baldwin, 2000). This type of communication is known as non-verbal communication as compared to the verbal communication which is the words and sentences spewing forth from our mouths. A third category of communication can be classified as the paraverbal manner of speaking. The paraverbal method of speaking is described as the tone, speed, intonation, pitch and volume in which the voice is used to speak. Working together, all three components can assist the person in delivering a particular…[continue]

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