31 SES 05 B, Focus on Content Through Language: Models, Materials, Motivations
The growing importance of internationalization for universities across Europe has resulted in an increasing use of English at various levels of higher education (Bolton & Kuteeva, 2011; Seidlhofer, 2010). In Sweden, English is increasingly used in parallel with Swedish in tertiary education, particularly as a reading language (Pecorari, Shaw, Malmström, & Irvine, 2011). In this paper, I will present the results of a questionnaire and interview study involving 400 Swedish university students and upper secondary school pupils. The study reported on aims to contribute new knowledge on academic reading in English. This will be done by addressing the following research questions:
1. To what extent do Swedish university students have problems reading the English texts on course reading lists?
2. Which attitudes do Swedish upper secondary school pupils and university students express in relation to reading academic English?
3. To what extent do Swedish upper secondary school pupils and university students feel prepared to read in English when they start university?
4. To what extent are Swedish upper secondary school pupils and university students familiar with reading strategies?
A majority of course literature across most disciplines in higher education in Sweden today are English-language publications (Bolton & Kuteeva, 2012), even in courses that do not have English as the official medium of instruction (Kuteeva, 2014; Pecorari et al., 2011). It is unquestionable that this shift toward English has resulted in new challenges for students across Europe, but little research has been done on the use of foreign-language textbooks in contexts where the focus is on content learning (Pecorari et al., 2011). Higher education institutions depend on upper secondary schools to provide students with the necessary English language skills for further education, but the curriculum for English in upper secondary school in Sweden “contain(s) arbitrary and ambiguous language” (Siegel, 2019, p. 275) and “lacks explicit guidance about timings and priorities” (Siegel, 2019, p. 267). These so-called grey areas in steering documents (Hult, 2012), combined with a lack of focus on scientific content and academic reading in the curriculum, allows for a wide range of teaching practices.
Attitudes toward the second language (L2) is one of the main motivational influences involved in Dörnyei’s (2001) process model of L2 motivation. Attitudes also play a key role in Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior (TPB) and determines what we as humans will and will not do (Ajzen, 1975; Dörnyei, 2001). According to TPB, the impact of attitudes “is modified by the person’s subjective norms (perceived social pressures) and perceived behavioural control (perceived ease or difficulty of performing the behaviour)” (Dörnyei, 2001, p. 11). In a Swedish context where citizens are exposed to English daily through media, business and education (Philipson, 1992) and a majority of the population are said to be bilingual in English (Falk, 2001), the perceived social pressure to be able to read academic English are likely greater than in many other parts of Europe. This could potentially result in that students who perceive reading academic texts in English to be difficult express negative attitudes toward the English language in general or the use of English texts in university in particular.
The survey was conducted through two online questionnaires which were distributed in person in digital classrooms and lecture halls in early 2021, and follow-up interviews with a smaller number of participants. Both the questionnaires and the interviews were designed to cover the following content areas: (1) students’ and pupils’ perceived difficulty of reading in English and perceived preparedness for reading in English; (2) attitudes toward reading in English; and (3) familiarity with reading strategies. The two questionnaires consist of a number of closed-ended items, which have been analyzed quantitatively using a combination of descriptive and inferential statistics, and a smaller number of open-ended questions which have been analyzed using qualitative content analysis (Dörnyei & Taguchi, 2009). The main purpose for combining qualitative and quantitative methods is to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of a complex phenomenon by looking at it from different angles, and to triangulate one set of findings against another (Dörnyei, 2007, p. 164). The questionnaire that is aimed toward university students focuses on the past and present and has been distributed to first-year students at selected social science programmes at three universities. The questionnaire that is aimed toward upper secondary school students instead focuses on the present and future and has been distributed to groups of students who are attending their second or third year at a social science program. The questionnaires were distributed in person in order to try to minimize self-selection from students who are especially good at English. The follow-up interviews are semi-structured in nature and are informed by each individual’s questionnaire data. This sequential explanatory design (Creswell, Plano Clark, Gutmann, & Hanson, 2003) allows for the collection of in-depth data, in which respondents can be asked to elaborate on or explain their answers. In addition to the previously mentioned content areas, the interviews also focused on what students associate with academic reading in English and whose responsibility they believe it is to enable them to read academic texts in English. The interview participants were located through a question at the end of the questionnaires about whether or not the individual was interested in participating in a follow-up interview. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed using a simple discourse transcription method (Du Bois, Schuetze-Coburn, Cumming, & Paolino, 1993), and analyzed using qualitative content analysis.
Initial results show that although a majority of students felt prepared to read course literature in English when they started university, they perceive reading in English to be considerably more difficult than reading in Swedish, with 44 percent of university students saying reading in English is ‘quite difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ compared to only 6 percent in Swedish. More than half of students express negative emotions in relation to reading in English. These include emotions such as fear, anxiety, panic and stress, but also that reading in English is considerably more time-consuming than reading in Swedish. In this presentation, I will argue that these negative emotions are caused by a lack of preparation for reading academic English in upper secondary schools in Sweden, as exemplified by the following quote from one of the participants: “I have almost never read any English literature in upper secondary school, so when you have to read English literature at university I feel a lot of pressure, that it will be difficult and that I will not understand (…) It’s a difficult transition.” Another cause for concern is that when confronted with a word in English they do not understand, as many as 10 percent of university students say they give up and stop reading. Regarding reading strategies, a majority of university students report a lack of awareness of the concept. This is in contrast with the participating upper secondary school pupils who predominantly appear to be familiar with reading strategies, although few report using any reading strategies on a regular basis. When asked how often they were taught about reading strategies in upper secondary school, more than half of the participants responded ‘never’ or ‘do not remember’, while less than 5 percent responded ‘every month’.
Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1975). A Bayesian analysis of attribution processes. Psychological Bulletin, 82(2), 261-277. Bolton, K., & Kuteeva, M. (2012). English as an academic language at a Swedish university: Parallel language use and the 'threat' of English. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 33(5), 429-447. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2012.670241 Creswell, J., Plano Clark, V., Gutmann, M., & Hanson, W. (2003). Advanced mixed methods research designs. In A. Tashakkori, & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research (pp. 209-240). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Du Bois, J. W., Schuetze-Coburn, S., Cumming, S., & Paolino, D. (1993). Outline of discourse transcription. In J. A. Edwards, & M. D. Lampert (Eds.), Talking data: Transcription and coding in discourse research (pp. 45-89). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Dörnyei, Z. (2007). Research methods in applied linguistics: Quantitative, qualitative and mixed methodologies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational Strategies in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dörnyei, Z., & Taguchi, T. (2009). Questionnaires in second language research. New York, NY: Taylor and Francis. Falk, M. L. 2001. Domänförluster i svenskan [Domain Losses in Swedish]. Stockholm, Språkrådet: Nordic Council of Ministers. Hult, F. M. (2012). English as a transcultural language in Swedish policy and practice. TESOL Quarterly, 46(2), 230-257. Kuteeva, M. (2014). The parallel language use of Swedish and English: The question of 'nativeness' in university policies and practices. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(4), 332-344. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2013.874432 Pecorari, D., Shaw, P., Malmström, H., & Irvine, A. (2011). English textbooks in parallel-language tertiary education. TESOL Quarterly, 45(2), 313-333. Phillipson, Robert. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Seidlhofer, B. 2010. “Lingua Franca English: The European Context.” In The Routledge Handbook of World Englishes, edited by A. Kirkpatrick, 355–372. Abingdon: Routledge. Siegel, J. (2019). Identifying priorities for action research in Swedish EFL classrooms. In B. Ljung Egeland, T. Roberts, E. Sandlund, & P. Sundqvist (Eds.), Klassrumsforskning och språk(ande): Rapport från ASLA-symposiet i Karlstad, 12–13 april, 2018 (pp. 259-278). Karlstad: Karlstad University.
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