ERG SES D 04, Foreign Language Education
Psychologist and linguist Leon A. JAKOBOVITS opens his 1970 groundbreaking book Foreign Language Learning with a testimonial underscoring the political and economic stakes that motivate organizing foreign language programs for large numbers of people and the difficulty in successfully doing so. He gives Canada and Belgium as two examples of how language learning is being used to keep these countries together. In developing countries such as Nigeria or India, having a common language, albeit a colonial one, for technical, administrative and political purposes is a must to advance from a third world country to a modern nation state. This is a time honored method that has been used to forge western countries such as France. On a more prosaic and individual level, speaking at least one foreign language is a given for someone intending to have an international career. For this reason language learning is on the budgets of many institutions of secondary and higher learning in France with unsatisfying returns on the investment. The addition of standardized testing such as the TOEIC to the cocktail has only quantified differently what administrators, teachers, didacticians, parents and politicians already know, students are not satisfactorily mastering foreign languages. The present research will aboard the manifestation of this problem in French Engineering Schools, and study how it affects the performance of engineering students.
Twenty-five years ago the TOEIC was an optional standardized test created by potential employers and passed by a minority of linguistically gifted engineering students who wanted to add substance to their resumes. In the face of increasing industry demands over the past ten years, the Commission des Titres d’Ingénieurs, the governing body that certifies French engineering schools, has insisted on a level of English permitting its engineers to participate in or to manage an international engineering project.
Consequently, today this two hour examination has become a major obstacle keeping students from obtaining their diplomas, because a B2 language level or 785/990 has become a curriculum prerequisite for graduation from the most highly selective engineering schools. Many students when confronted with this situation, consciously or unconsciously give up. They act traumatized and develop different strategies for not dealing with their language requirement which will compromise their academic and professional success. This behavior is similar to what Martin Seligman calls Learned Helplessness which is a disconnection between actions and attainable goals. The result is a 37.5% failure rate in the first round of TOEIC exams at INSA-Strasbourg the engineering school used in this study. It is as much as 45% in other schools.
Part of the problem is that the policies of the engineering schools and the commission certifying them pursue divergent goals, which must be satisfied by faculty that have no input into the language policies or strategies which are imposed by their hierarchy. The resulting disparity between the stipulated results - the B2 level at graduation and the actual results – a 40% failure rate should be analyzed to see if there is an area where the student and language teacher can maneuver to improve.
A useful tool in such a study would be autoconfrontation crosiée, a technique perfected by psychologist, researcher and university professor Yves Clot. The subject is filmed, his behavior is observed, analyzed and commented upon by experts and the subject in an effort to put the necessary distance between him and the role he has adopted as a language learner to allow him to examine possible alternatives. This technique has evolved from socio-psychological research in the working world and has been adapted to other collectives such as the classroom.
Bibliography Alloy, L. B., Albright, J. S., Abramson, L. Y., & Dykman, B. M. Depressive realism and nondepressive optimistic illusions: The role of the self. In R.E. Ingram (Ed.), Contemporary psychological approaches to depression: Treatment, research, and theory, 1990, New York: Plenum BAKHTINE Mikhaïl, Esthétique de la création verbale, 1984, Paris, Gallimard. BONNIOL, J.-J., & VIAL, M. Les modèles de l’évaluation, 1997, Bruxelles, De Boeck. CHARLOT, Bernard, Du Rapport au Savoir, Éléments pour une théorie, 1997, Anthropos, Paris. CHOMSKY, Noam, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, 1965, Cambridge: MIT Press. CLOT Yves, Travail et pouvoir d’agir, 2011, Presse Universitaires de France, Paris. CLOT Yves, FAÏTA Daniel, Genres et style en analyse du travail, Concepts et méthodes, Travailler, 2000, n° 4 : pp. 7-43. Commission des Titres d’Ingénieurs, Références et Orientations, La formation des ingénieurs au contexte international, Culture internationale et maîtrise des langues (dont niveau d’anglais), 2012, Tome 1, C.5.2, p. 46. FISBACH Martine, FEBVRE Jérôme, JOLY-GUILLOU Marie-Laure, LEBRUN Léa, SAINT-ANDRÉ Jean-Paul, RICHARD Isabelle, « Le niveau de compréhension de l’anglais des étudiants en médecine peut être amélioré. Résultats d’une stratégie d’évaluation systématique », La Presse Médicale, Octobre 2011, vol. 4, issue 10, pp. e471-e476, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/07554982/40/10 GEWERTZ Catherine, « How Valuable Are College Placement Tests? », Curriculum Matters Blog, Education Week, August 2, 2012, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2012/08/how_valuable_are_college_place.html HOGGARD, Richard, The Uses of Literacy, 1957 Chatto & Windus; Penguin Books Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. MEADORS, Derrick, Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing, Education 101; About.com. 2012, http://teaching.about.com/od/assess/a/Standardized-Testing.htm SELIGMAN Martin, Helplessness – on Development, Depression and Death, University of Pennsylvania, W. H. Freeman and Company, New York 1975 and 1992. Surveylang, First European Survey on Language Competences – Final Report, June 2012, European Commission, http://ec.europa.eu/languages/eslc/docs/en/final-report-escl_en.pdf. WEINER, Bernard, “The Classroom as Courtroom”, Social Psychology of Education, January 2003, 6 (1), pg. 3-15 WEIR Cyril J., Communicative Language Testing with Special Reference to English as a Foreign Language, 1989, University of Exeter. ZOUROU Katerina, On the attractiveness of social media for language learning: a look at the state of the art, Alsic : Média sociaux et apprentissages des langues, 2012, vol. 15, n°1.
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