Printer Friendly
The Free Library
22,695,004 articles and books

Meeting the language needs of tertiary NESB students.

With the numbers of international and local non-English-speaking background (NESB NESB Non-English Speaking Background ) students steadily increasing in most university programs in Australia, teaching staff in all disciplines cannot now avoid issues surrounding the active support of such students in their English language English language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Spoken by about 470 million people throughout the world, English is the official language of about 45 nations.  and learning development. This article is based on a needs analysis project undertaken by the author which explores the language needs of NESB students in the context of a first year undergraduate engineering program at a university in Western Australia Western Australia, state (1991 pop. 1,409,965), 975,920 sq mi (2,527,633 sq km), Australia, comprising the entire western part of the continent. It is bounded on the N, W, and S by the Indian Ocean. Perth is the capital. .

It is argued that an on-going language-across-the-curriculum program, where language learning is integrated with discipline learning and facilitated by all teaching staff, is essential to support and empower NESB students in their language development. It is further argued that channelling mechanisms must be clarified and streamlined in order to make additional, specialist language support facilities clearly accessible to those NESB students who require them.

Brief background to the project

The purpose of the project was to investigate the language support needs of NESB students in a mainstream undergraduate university program. A particular academic area was chosen as a focus, as it has a discrete first year cohort of engineering students of whom 30 per cent are NESB. Given resource constraints in the project, it was felt that focussing on a specific area would be better received as a prelude prelude (prā`ld), musical composition of no universal style, usually for the keyboard. It was originally used to precede a ceremony and later a second, often larger piece.  for change at a school or departmental level. Twelve NESB students agreed to take part in the research, representing a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and competency COMPETENCY, evidence. The legal fitness or ability of a witness to be heard on the trial of a cause. This term is also applied to written or other evidence which may be legally given on such trial, as, depositions, letters, account-books, and the like.
 in English language. Four academic staff(1) participated, two from the engineering area and two from the communication skills area, all of whom have had extensive experience teaching undergraduate students and have substantial professional experience gained from other contexts outside the university.

Following a naturalistic nat·u·ral·is·tic  
1. Imitating or producing the effect or appearance of nature.

2. Of or in accordance with the doctrines of naturalism.
 research design, data were gathered from initial written questionnaires and seven taped semi-structured interviews A semi-structured interview is a method of research used in the social sciences. While a structured interview has a formalized, limited set questions, a semi-structured interview is flexible, allowing new questions to be brought up during the interview as a result of what the , each of which was approximately one hour in duration. The staff participants were interviewed separately and the students in three small groups. All interviews were audio-taped, fully transcribed and then coded.

The students

Current statistics indicate that approximately 30 per cent of the total student population in the university under study are from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Approximately 35 per cent of these students are international students, predominantly from south-east Asia South-East Asia nle Sud-Est asiatique

South-East Asia south nSüdostasien nt

South-East Asia n
, and 65 per cent are local, that is, students sponsored by the federal government. The student cohort in this study is thus representative of the general trend as 34 per cent of the participants are international, full-fee paying students (see Table 1, over page). The languages and cultural backgrounds of these students are predominantly South-east Asian (see Table 2, over page), although one of the students is from Kenya and another from Sri Lanka Sri Lanka (srē läng`kə) [Sinhalese,=resplendent land], formerly Ceylon, ancient Taprobane, officially Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, island republic (2005 est. pop. .

Table 1: Student participant profile
             Nationality    Previous                   Time spent
                            educational                in English
                            institution                education

Student 1    Kenyan         High school                14 years

Student 2    Indonesian     High school overseas       4 years
                            -- local high school
                            (3.5 years)

Student 3    Australian     High school, WA            5 years
             Perm. Res.     (5 years)

Student 4    Australian     High school, WA            7 years

Student 5    Australian     High school, WA            8 years
             Perm. Res.

Student 6    Australian     TAFE college in WA         3 years

Student 7    Taiwanese      CIE, Foundation Studies    2 years
                            (Curtin University)

Student 8    Australian     High school, WA            8 years

Student 9    Australian     High school, WA            12 years

Student 10   Australian     High School, WA;           9 years
             Perm. Res.     another university, WA

Student 11   Australian     High school, WA            8.5 years

Student 12   Malaysian      High school overseas       4 years

             English                      Completed Curtin
             matriculation                ESL units?
             entry criterion

Student 1    GCE `O' English              No
             GCE `A' General Studies

Student 2    IELTS: 7                     No
             TEE (ESL): 65%

Student 3    TEE English: 55%             No

Student 4    TEE English: 65%             No

Student 5    TEE English: 36%             Bridging English at
                                          Curtin, IC 141

Student 6    TEE (ESL): 50%               Completed bridging
                                          English at Curtin,
                                          IC, 141 & 142

Student 7    Foundation Studies           Completed
                                          Foundation Studies
                                          (pre-tertiary) and
                                          IC141 & 142

Student 8    TEE (ESL): 67%               No
             IELTS: 6

Student 9    TEE (fail): 41%              No

Student 10   TEE (ESL): 60%               No

Student 11   TEE English: 55%             No

Student 12   IELTS: 7                     No

Key to abbreviations

CIE (Commission Internationale de l'Eclairage, International Commission on Illumination, Vienna, Austria, An international organization that sets standards for all aspects of lighting and illumination, including colorimetry, photometry and the measurement of visible and  Centre for International English International English is the concept of the English language as a global means of communication in numerous dialects, and also the movement towards an international standard for the language. It is also referred to as Global English, World English, Common English, General English. , Curtin University.

1. (formerly in Britain) General Certificate of Education

2. Informal a pass in a GCE examination

GCE n abbr (BRIT) (= General Certificate of Education) →
 General Certification of Education at Ordinary (0) and Advanced (A) level (British examinations).

ICI (language) ICI - An extensible, interpretated language by Tim Long with syntax similar to C. ICI adds high-level garbage-collected associative data structures, exception handling, sets, regular expressions, and dynamic arrays. 41/142 Intercultural in·ter·cul·tur·al  
Of, relating to, involving, or representing different cultures: an intercultural marriage; intercultural exchange in the arts.
 Communications 141 and 142 (ESL (1) An earlier family of client/server development tools for Windows and OS/2 from Ardent Software (formerly VMARK). It was originally developed by Easel Corporation, which was acquired by VMARK.  units) for credit at Curtin University.

IELTS IELTS International English Language Testing System  International English Language Testing Scheme (NESB English test for university entry -- min. score required is 6).

TEE ENGLISH WA university entrance exam Noun 1. entrance exam - examination to determine a candidate's preparation for a course of studies
entrance examination

exam, examination, test - a set of questions or exercises evaluating skill or knowledge; "when the test was stolen the professor had to
 -- Tertiary Entry Examination. English for Native Speakers. Pass = 50%.

TEE (ESL) This student completed the ESL English examination. The `pass' level varies but is usually around 60%.

Table 2: Profiles of languages used by student participants
             Canton-     English     French    Hakka     Hindi

Student 1                   X          X
Student 2                   X
Student 3                   X
Student 4                   X
Student 5       X           X
Student 6                   X
Student 7       X           X                    X
Student 8       X           X
Student 9                   X                              X
Student 10                  X
Student 11                  X
Student 12                  X

             Hokkien    Indones-    Japanese   Malay     Mand-
                           ian                           arin

Student 1
Student 2                   X                              X
Student 3                   X
Student 4
Student 5       X                                X         X
Student 6
Student 7       X                                          X
Student 8                              X
Student 9
Student 10                                       X         X
Student 11                                                 X
Student 12                                       X         X

             Punjabi     Singha-    Swahili    Viet-
                          lese                 namese

Student 1       X                      X
Student 2
Student 3
Student 4                   X
Student 5
Student 6                                        X
Student 7
Student 8
Student 9
Student 10
Student 11
Student 12

With further reductions in federal government operating grants, the numbers and diversity of fee-paying overseas and local students are set to rise. The necessity to address this diversity has been identified as central to the improvement of university retention rates (See McInnis, James & Macnaught, 1995; Pitkethly, 1997).

University entry requirements

Students are accepted into university programmes provided they meet one of many English language matriculation ma·tric·u·late  
tr. & intr.v. ma·tric·u·lat·ed, ma·tric·u·lat·ing, ma·tric·u·lates
To admit or be admitted into a group, especially a college or university.

 requirements (in the university of this study there are seventy-two accepted qualifications). However, in many cases it is evident that despite meeting these minimum entry standards students find that their English language proficiency pro·fi·cien·cy  
n. pl. pro·fi·cien·cies
The state or quality of being proficient; competence.

Noun 1. proficiency - the quality of having great facility and competence
 is inadequate to their real needs in terms of tertiary academic discourse in English. As one staff respondent noted:

In general, as you'd expect of people who are intelligent enough to go to university, all the information is there, but it is sometimes a struggle to try and retrieve what they're saying from what they're actually writing.

It is not proposed to argue here that tighter gate-keeping measures are the solution to this problem. There is already research which demonstrates the unreliability of English proficiency test proficiency test nprueba de capacitación  scores as predictors of tertiary success (see Phillips, 1994). Besides, times have changed -- there is now much wider access for many disadvantaged groups(2) and Australia's higher education higher education

Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art.
 sector has been transformed `towards a system of mass higher education' (Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET), 1996: p. 2). In the early years of overseas or NESB students at Australian universities, the onus was on the students to cope with new learning demands; now, institutional goals are firmly directed towards supporting these students through to graduation.

Responsibility for language support

Pressure to provide a `quality educational product', realised through greater individual and institutional accountability, is increasing from many quarters. Pressure is increased by factors such as inter- and intra-university competition to attract new students in `a market economy and regular DEET quality audits where funding is contingent upon Adj. 1. contingent upon - determined by conditions or circumstances that follow; "arms sales contingent on the approval of congress"
contingent on, dependant on, dependant upon, dependent on, dependent upon, depending on, contingent
 documented performance. There is also more insistent in·sis·tent  
1. Firm in asserting a demand or an opinion; unyielding.

2. Demanding attention or a response: insistent hunger.

 feedback from industrial and professional bodies in Australia and overseas about their expectations of new graduate employees. (For example, see Australian Association of Graduate Employers The Australian Association of Graduate Employers (AAGE) is a non-profit body representing organisations that recruit and develop Australian graduates.

The AAGE was incorporated in 1988 and is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia.
, 1993, [AAGE AAGE Association of Anthropology and Gerontology
AAGE Army Advisory Group On Energy
].(3)) In an increasingly user-pays environment students themselves are becoming more vocal about their needs and their expectations of the university environment; some would argue, though, that many NESB students are not aware or vocal enough. As a staff respondent commented:

I don't think they are as aware as they should be ... I think there are times that students should sue the university [for lack of appropriate facilities].

If we accept that language is the key to learning, all educators have a clear and pressing responsibility to support students' language development. Such assistance cannot be confined con·fine  
v. con·fined, con·fin·ing, con·fines
1. To keep within bounds; restrict: Please confine your remarks to the issues at hand. See Synonyms at limit.
 to a one-off, low credit tertiary writing skills class in an alien academic department on the other side of campus, far from the reality of a student's home school. Students, and especially those from a non-English-speaking background, often experience significant culture shock when adapting to university life in Australia, without being cut off as well from language and learning support within their own department. (Edwards in Garner et al., 1995; Neville, 1996).

An international student respondent in this project who recognised that his English language difficulties were hampering his progress in engineering expressed frustration at teaching staff in his department he perceived as ignoring his learning needs. This student was on the brink of giving up his university studies.

For my situation they [engineering lecturers] just expect me to know everything. If I come to them and ask some questions maybe they feel fed up and tell you. They think you should know about this [engineering topic] but actually you don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
. Sometimes they don't just give a hint. They don't even do that.

Educators' difficulties in meeting NESB students' needs

Many are challenged by this responsibility. In fact, educators in mainstream courses often feel that they are not qualified or resourced to support NESB students' language needs, stating that they are frustrated frus·trate  
tr.v. frus·trat·ed, frus·trat·ing, frus·trates
a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart:
 by NESB students' weaknesses in English language. An engineering staff respondent commented as follows on NESB students' report writing skills:

You can get extremely good reports, better than the Australians', through to the sorts of things being left out that make it ... extremely difficult to read in a flowing manner -- even things like the indefinite article indefinite article
An article, such as English a or an, that does not fix the identity of the noun modified.

indefinite article

Grammar either of the words `a' or `an'
 disappearing all the time can be quite annoying to an English language reader.

Sometimes it is not only difficult to understand what the student means, but identifying the grammatical gram·mat·i·cal  
1. Of or relating to grammar.

2. Conforming to the rules of grammar: a grammatical sentence.
 or syntactical syn·tac·tic   or syn·tac·ti·cal
Of, relating to, or conforming to the rules of syntax.

[Greek suntaktikos, putting together, from suntaktos, constructed, from
 error the student has demonstrated and correcting it is also difficult. Error correction is very time consuming, especially with large undergraduate classes. Additionally, it has a debatable de·bat·a·ble  
1. Being such that formal argument or discussion is possible.

2. Open to dispute; questionable.

3. In dispute, as land or territory claimed by more than one country.
 effect on a student's future error rate (Leki, 1992). A lecturer comments:

Even though you show them exactly where they've missed it [error], the next thing is they'll come back with exactly the same [mistake]. They won't necessarily have learnt from that.

Implicit in Adj. 1. implicit in - in the nature of something though not readily apparent; "shortcomings inherent in our approach"; "an underlying meaning"
underlying, inherent
 other staff respondents' frustration over the additional time and effort required to support NESB students is the perceived lack of institutional recognition or reward for their efforts in this area. Nevertheless, staff continue to offer this support, often in the face of clear institutional exploitation. A sessionally paid lecturer and part-time postgraduate makes the following observation about his willingness to edit, without payment, final year students' theses.

If they [students] come to me and say, `Would you give me some help with this?' even though it's nothing really to do with me, I am personally prepared to do it. It's for the good of the profession, if you like.

Other difficulties surface in some lecturers' ability to recognise the diversity of undergraduate students in the university environment and their willingness or ability to meet change. As Becher notes on the role of university academics:

Membership of the academic profession -- at least in elite departments -- is defined in terms of excellence in scholarship and originality o·rig·i·nal·i·ty  
n. pl. o·rig·i·nal·i·ties
1. The quality of being original.

2. The capacity to act or think independently.

3. Something original.

Noun 1.
 in research and not to any significant degree in terms of teaching capability. (1989: p. 3)

As a consequence, many academics will perpetuate per·pet·u·ate  
tr.v. per·pet·u·at·ed, per·pet·u·at·ing, per·pet·u·ates
1. To cause to continue indefinitely; make perpetual.

 their own experience of education as a student when they are required to teach others. Many still promulgate To officially announce, to publish, to make known to the public; to formally announce a statute or a decision by a court.  a transmission theory of learning, which views students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge rather than as processors of knowledge. Others do not consider altering their teaching styles to meet NESB students' needs. One lecturer was asked how much he adapted his lecture format or delivery to make the content more accessible to NESB students.

... not the methods really in the lecture context. I'd say one doesn't adapt much at all there. In a lecture context you're really often not getting enough feedback to realise where problems might be ... If you don't get feedback you really have to carry on.

Cross-cultural misunderstandings arise as a result of teachers' failure to appreciate the changes in student population. Many teachers have little understanding that NESB students may be working in their second or third language and from very different cultural understandings. Similarly, many do not appreciate the effect of students' English language difficulties on their ability to comprehend and articulate their understanding of content in what is primarily a very traditional, behaviourist-type assessment context. Although most lecturers are sympathetic to the myriad of affective affective /af·fec·tive/ (ah-fek´tiv) pertaining to affect.

1. Concerned with or arousing feelings or emotions; emotional.

 factors which impact on NESB students and understand that students are fearful of failure due to their language difficulties, they may not actually recognise symptoms of student unease. And even if they do recognise such behaviours, such as some NESB students' reluctance to participate in class discussion or give verbal feedback, they may not know how to deal with them. A lecturer commented on NESB students' hesitance Noun 1. hesitance - a feeling of diffidence and indecision about doing something

diffidence, self-distrust, self-doubt - lack of self-confidence
 to seek help from him on a one-to-one basis:

I mean, with Australian students I expect them to come walking through the door saying `[name of lecturer] this' and `[name of lecturer] that'. Asian students ... very rare that they'll do that ... very slow to communicate and get across to you what they're really after ... In a sense it's a respect thing which may be misplaced mis·place  
tr.v. mis·placed, mis·plac·ing, mis·plac·es
a. To put into a wrong place: misplace punctuation in a sentence.


Aside from underdeveloped un·der·de·vel·oped
Not adequately or normally developed; immature.
 cross-cultural communication Cross-cultural communication (also frequently referred to as intercultural communication) is a field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds endeavour to communicate.  skills, educators in mainstream areas are often unsure themselves what constitutes effective English language skills for tertiary students and how these skills may be developed. Despite the fact that the staff respondents in this project had demonstrated commitment to supporting all students' communication skills at university, the foci in their responses to the question, `What do you perceive as the main academic literacies required by undergraduate students?', although complementary, were quite different.

Resp. 1. To be able to write and speak effectively ... To put down the coherent sentence, the coherent paragraph and put the thing together so a document is readable read·a·ble  
1. Easily read; legible: a readable typeface.

2. Pleasurable or interesting to read: a readable story.

Resp. 2. The ability to read technical documents is just as critical as being able to write. So things like library searching as an ability is pretty important.

Resp. 3. The ability to present clearly, both orally and in writing to a group of people who are basically in a position to give you money to do things ... that's what it boils down to ... in real engineering life.

Resp. 4. That they be able to write competently in their specific areas so that they can actually pass a degree.

Staff who are less interested in students' literacy skills tend to state that grammatical accuracy and surface features such as spelling and punctuation punctuation [Lat.,=point], the use of special signs in writing to clarify how words are used; the term also refers to the signs themselves. In every language, besides the sounds of the words that are strung together there are other features, such as tone, accent, and  are what constitute effective literacy skills and thus NESB writers' texts need to be error free. The fact that many NESB students can never achieve this state can be a continuing contributor to their lack of confidence in English communication and confusion. This is especially so since educators' understanding and tolerance of errors differ. In some cases a lecturer's perception of error in a NESB student's writing may arise from the fact that s/he expects a certain perceived `standard Australian English'; the student, however, may be communicating in another dialect dialect, variety of a language used by a group of speakers within a particular speech community. Every individual speaks a variety of his language, termed an idiolect.  of English such as Indian or Singaporean, which is quite acceptable in his/her own cultural context. Many of the lecturers who focus on the surface features of writing also believe that the responsibility for fixing the problem can be delegated to communication skills staff in another department who can administer a single subcutaneous subcutaneous /sub·cu·ta·ne·ous/ (sub?ku-ta´ne-us) beneath the skin.

adj. Abbr. s.c., SQ
Located, found, or placed just beneath the skin; hypodermic.
 shot of grammar and punctuation to remedy the problem. (For further exploration of this medical intervention metaphor see Chanock in Garner, Chanock & Clerehan (eds), 1995.)

Teaching staff's reluctance to engage with students' English language difficulties is compounded by educators who are NESB themselves and fear not only that their own English language inadequacies will be exposed but also that their skills are unequal to Adj. 1. unequal to - not meeting requirements; "unequal to the demands put upon him"
incapable, incompetent

inadequate, unequal - lacking the requisite qualities or resources to meet a task; "inadequate training"; "the staff was inadequate"; "she was unequal
 the task of recognising and correcting others' errors in English. Furthermore, many mainstream academic staff do not realise that because `they have been initiated and socialised Adj. 1. socialised - under group or government control; "socialized ownership"; "socialized medicine"

liberal - tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition
 into their discourse community The term discourse community links the terms discourse, a concept describing all forms of communication that contribute to a particular, institutionalized way of thinking; and community, which in this case refers to the people who use, and therefore help create, a particular  the elaborate rhetorical rhe·tor·i·cal  
1. Of or relating to rhetoric.

2. Characterized by overelaborate or bombastic rhetoric.

3. Used for persuasive effect: a speech punctuated by rhetorical pauses.
 strategies they have learned are internalised' (Vance, 1995: p. 94). As a result, they do not recognise the gulf of discourse between themselves and their students.

Local NESB students are often left out of the equation when considering the needs of second language speakers. It is assumed that because local NESB students have been educated in Australia and orally seem confident communicators in English this confidence extends to their written skills, especially in formal, university writing contexts. As research has demonstrated, the language learning needs of NESB students cannot be equated with their length of time in Australia In mainland Australia, the keeping of standard time is divided into three time zones: eastern (UTC+10), central () and western (UTC+8). There are also some areas using an unofficial "central western" zone (). Most Australian external territories also observe different time zones.  because so many other factors impact on students' fluency flu·ent  
a. Able to express oneself readily and effortlessly: a fluent speaker; fluent in three languages.

 in English (Mincham in Brindley [ed.], 1995; Wales Wales, Welsh Cymru, western peninsula and political division (principality) of Great Britain (1991 pop. 2,798,200), 8,016 sq mi (20,761 sq km), west of England; politically united with England since 1536. The capital is Cardiff. , 1990).

Communication skills staff are uneasy at times about assessing NESB and ESB (Enterprise Services Bus) A message broker that supports Web services. See message broker, messaging middleware and Web services.  students' work together in the one class, a situation compounded by inconsistencies in the expectations of students' home departments.

... so it's `what level is acceptable?'. Like years ago when I first looked at their work, if I just put everyone down equal all the time, they would be all failing ... it's really hard for them [NESB students] to come to a level which is acceptable ... then there's that continual tension between their [students'] interpretation of what is OK depending on what department they come from. So I find that a really hard thing.

Lecturers in non-streamed communication skills classes also feel uneasy about what they perceive as the competing needs of NESB and ESB students for individual assistance in their classroom.

You're spending at least 15, 20 minutes longer sitting with them [the NESBs]. And obviously, for me, they are getting a slight advantage in getting that sort of feedback.

Such staff justify the time spent by saying that any student is entitled en·ti·tle  
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.

2. To furnish with a right or claim to something:
 to seek help but they fear they cannot cope with any more one-to-one sessions in out-of-class time.

Financial resources are allocated to overseas students to provide a limited amount of language support in the form of NESB units, workshops or one-to-one tuition. This is a source of resentment to local NESB and ESB students who would also benefit from such support.

Students' perceptions of their language and learning needs

The project revealed some interesting differences between what students perceived various areas of the university expected of them, and what they believed they needed themselves. (For a summary of their coded needs, see Table 3 opposite.)

Table 3: Students' perceptions of their individual languages development needs
              Writing   Conciseness   Accuracy in   Genres
                        in writing    writing       (+ style
                                      (sentence     issues)

Student 1               X             X
Student 2
Student 3     X                                     X
Student 4     X                       X             X
Student 5     X
Student 6     X                                     X
Student 7     X
Student 8     X                                     X
Student 9
Student 10                                          X
Student 11    X                                     X
Student 12                                          X

               Grammar   Oral    Background   The
                         pres.   research     creative
                                 reading      process

Student 1                                     X
Student 2      X         X
Student 3                        X
Student 4      X
Student 5      X                 X            X
Student 6
Student 7                                     X
Student 8                                     X
Student 9                X
Student 10
Student 11     X                              X
Student 12               X

Students in the study stated that they needed to spend a great deal of time reading texts to keep up with their degree program.

If you don't read, you don't know anything about the lecture you're going through.

I find if I don't go through each subject every night I lose track.

One student stated that the only way he could understand the `theory' in his course was by committing himself to three to four hours of preparatory pre·par·a·to·ry  
1. Serving to make ready or prepare; introductory. See Synonyms at preliminary.

2. Relating to or engaged in study or training that serves as preparation for advanced education:
 and revision reading each evening. However, the majority of the students stated that they could only manage one and a half hours per evening due to the time requirements of assignments. Students said that they found much of their reading, from text books in the main, to be difficult and thus their progress through the text was slow. However, they perceived this to be caused by problems in understanding the content, rather than in understanding the language used to communicate the content, or any difficulties in their reading methods.

There appeared to be a contradiction in this perception when students were asked about whether they gave time to non-academic reading in English. All students stated that they read very little extra-curricular material. However, one student commented specifically:

... No, I don't have time. I feel [it is] hard to read the newspaper or books. If I don't know the words I don't want to read.

When students were asked if they had any difficulties in understanding their lecturers, again they stated that it was the content which challenged them, rather than the language.

You can understand English-wise, but not content-wise, because you are too busy copying [lecture notes] usually. And you go home, look at the notes and try to understand them.

Apart from the difficulties of understanding content while taking notes, which is a difficulty for ESB students also, students in this study also commented on lecturers' poor use of visual aids visual aids
Noun, pl

objects to be looked at that help the viewer to understand or remember something
 and distracting dis·tract  
tr.v. dis·tract·ed, dis·tract·ing, dis·tracts
1. To cause to turn away from the original focus of attention or interest; divert.

2. To pull in conflicting emotional directions; unsettle.
 body language which they believed hampered their understanding of material.

... It's hard for [science subject], because the lecturer uses one page for one diagram and uses that for ten examples. The page is filled and you don't understand what's going on What's Going On is a record by American soul singer Marvin Gaye. Released on May 21, 1971 (see 1971 in music), What's Going On reflected the beginning of a new trend in soul music. .

... He [science subject lecturer] walks to the door and walks to the middle and he walks to the window, and you can't catch him!

However, the students' major area of concern was writing.

I have this major weakness in writing essays. My brain goes blank and I don't know what to write.

This concern seemed to stem from students' experience of pre tertiary English language learning and the communication skills unit at university rather than from their engineering department and the mainstream degree program. Interestingly, they seemed to believe that `essays' are a writing task outside engineering study which require an elusive creativity.

I don't think we do much essays in the course because what we write is purely based on facts.

What we write [in engineering] is purely based on facts and like for the report we have to do the research so you don't have to think of something to come out and write.

Students stated that the writing demands of their course were very `loose', that is, beyond a very broad framework for technical writing tasks (`the lecturer wants a concrete intro, a body and conclusion and that's referenced'), their lecturers were on the whole looking for Looking for

In the context of general equities, this describing a buy interest in which a dealer is asked to offer stock, often involving a capital commitment. Antithesis of in touch with.
 content in assessment rather than expression. One student summed up the situation with: `There's not much English in it [the course] anyway ... it's just basically the course'.

There proved to be significant inconsistency in·con·sis·ten·cy  
n. pl. in·con·sis·ten·cies
1. The state or quality of being inconsistent.

2. Something inconsistent: many inconsistencies in your proposal.
 in terms of the English language expectations placed on students. Not only did the expectations of the students' home school, as a whole, seem to be markedly different from those of the communication skills lecturers, but there were inconsistencies within these two groups of educators as well.

Despite these students' initial expressed confidence in technical writing projects such as reports, on further discussion they also expressed their concerns about these tasks. Some students recognised that they found the tenor of the language required problematic.

You've got to be nice in writing, trying to be persuasive.

On account of my non-English-speaking background I find it quite tough sometimes especially the way you express the language in a formal way.

Others referred to organisation of the content.

... It's how to address a particular piece of information, such as a report, doing the format and knowing the styles you are to use.

When students were asked where they would go to ask for help with any of their writing tasks at university they unanimously stated that they would seek help from their friends first. Secondly, they would seek help from relatives. Thirdly, they consulted dictionaries, grammar books or computer software. The last port of call was lecturers, indicating that possibly lecturers were not sufficiently accessible to their students.

Approaches to meeting NESB students' needs

The above analysis of student language and learning needs demonstrates that many of the problems need to be dealt with within the student's home school through a language-across-the-curriculum approach. There are other problems, however, which require more specialist, intensive language assistance. The following is a summary of the problems identified by the study and suggestions as to how they might be resolved.

Sharing of responsibility

There must be a recognition by all staff who teach students that they have an essential, if not primary, role as educators aside from their role as scholars, researchers or administrators. A language-across-the-curriculum program where all educators collaborate with colleagues will assist in developing a shared understanding of what educators expect of students in terms of language skills and how to best assist students to meet these expectations, including the building and sharing of strategies to support these students. This requires active institutional and departmental support for effective teaching practice especially at undergraduate level, including in-service training as necessary. An effective staff incentive system is also essential as at present little recognition is attached to effective pedogogy.

Integration of language and discipline content

Students will more readily see the relevance of their language study if it is an integral, assessable component of their whole course, and one which is actively promoted by their mainstream educators. Reading authentic, course-related materials with support from academic staff will increase motivation and efficiency, especially given time constraints In law, time constraints are placed on certain actions and filings in the interest of speedy justice, and additionally to prevent the evasion of the ends of justice by waiting until a matter is moot.  in an already heavy academic program. Writing within a discipline-specific context also supports students' understanding of the discipline itself as it supplies the keys to understanding content. An ESL specialist assigned to the home school can assist lecturers in identifying discipline-specific language needs and in developing appropriate teaching strategies.

Explicitness of expectations

Students in this study were often confused by the contradictions or vagueness of the messages they received from academics about their expectations of them in terms of English communication skills. The language of a discipline embodies its culture, acting to exclude new entrants who do not know its rules. In addressing this, academics will first need to identify their discipline's way of thinking and analysis. They will need to integrate the teaching of genre-specific skills into their courses, to model the genres of their discipline, drawing on authentic industrial or professional models, and to support students in their progress towards individual production of these genres. Clearly many academics will require training and on-going support in order to make this change, such as through the secondment Noun 1. secondment - a speech seconding a motion; "do I hear a second?"
endorsement, indorsement, second

agreement - the verbal act of agreeing

 of a language specialist into degree areas.

Sensitivity to language differences

NESB students face particular difficulties in the English language, which may involve a significantly different language system from their mother tongue mother tongue
1. One's native language.

2. A parent language.

mother tongue

the language first learned by a child

Noun 1.
. Some educators still believe that NESB students demonstrate a language deficit (Wales, 1990) because they do not exhibit native speaker fluency in English. They thus label any support which NESB students need as `remedial', which casts its shadow on students' abilities in other areas of the course. Such negative labelling of NESB students fails to acknowledge students' literacy skills in their first (and possibily other) languages and their diverse social and cultural backgrounds. There is much potential to actively value these skills and understandings, for example, by using students' life experiences as a learning resource in small group problem-solving exercises.

Cross-cultural awareness

Teaching staff need to recognise the diversity of their NESB student cohort, in terms of their social, cultural, educational and economic backgrounds and demonstrate effective cross-cultural communication skills. Cross-cultural differences significantly impact on students' approaches to learning in Australia.

What does seem clear from our experience is that students from different cultures often bring different purposes to their thinking and learning. And these different purposes bring different results.

(Ballard & Clanchy, 1989: p. 9)

Lecturers should not take for granted that all students will automatically possess skills in critical thinking, for example. In many cultures, a critical approach to analysis is regarded as inappropriate and lacking in respect for authority. Such skills will need to be explicitly taught.

Lecturers of non-English-speaking background

NESB staff who lack confidence in their own English language skills need access to appropriate training. However, students' and staffs' perceptions of each other's minor surface errors in standard Australian English might become less of an issue if the focus was more on the benefits of their skills in several languages and cultures. This would also create a more equitable society in the microcosm mi·cro·cosm  
A small, representative system having analogies to a larger system in constitution, configuration, or development: "He sees the auto industry as a microcosm of the U.S.
 of a diverse and multicultural mul·ti·cul·tur·al  
1. Of, relating to, or including several cultures.

2. Of or relating to a social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.
 Australian university.

Presentation strategies

Attending to NESB students' needs will require implementation of supportive presentation strategies. These strategies will benefit all learners, and will not seek to favour NESB students alone. Students in this project identified a number of positive teaching/learning strategies, including adequate preparation, provision of lecture outlines and notes, adherence to the unit program, clarity of presentation, interpersonal skills "Interpersonal skills" refers to mental and communicative algorithms applied during social communications and interactions in order to reach certain effects or results. The term "interpersonal skills" is used often in business contexts to refer to the measure of a person's ability , and effective mechanisms for consultation, which made their learning easier, more enjoyable and effective.

Channelling systems

Finally, channelling systems within the system need to be set up to allow all students to access more intensive, specialist language assistance, such as NESB Tertiary Communication Skills courses or a one-to-one study centre. This support should be continuing and available throughout students' academic programs. Current channelling systems are undeveloped, leading to some lecturers not knowing how or indeed whether they can help a student who is clearly struggling with English language problems. The responsibility for dealing with major linguistic issues should be clearly assigned to language specialists within a team environment, leaving lecturers to model and consolidate content-driven genres on a consistent and on-going basis throughout the course.


The implementation of language-across-the-curriculum in an educational environment, such as outlined in this article, will require a change of institutional ethos e·thos  
The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement: "They cultivated a subversive alternative ethos" Anthony Burgess.
. It will also require resource commitment at all levels, from staff development requirements to institutional and departmental recognition and reward structures for good practice in this area. Through commitment to more supportive, actively integrated language learning programs at university the passage of many NESB students through university programs will become easier for both learners and teachers.

(1) For the purpose of this discussion the terms `academic staff', `academic', `teacher' and `educator' are used interchangeably INTERCHANGEABLY. Formerly when deeds of land were made, where there Were covenants to be performed on both sides, it was usual to make two deeds exactly similar to each other, and to exchange them; in the attesting clause, the words, In witness whereof the parties have hereunto .

(2) `Disadvantaged' include DEET's six recognised groups: Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, part of Queensland, Australia. They are Melanesians culturally akin to the coastal peoples of Papua New Guinea. ; women (especially in non-traditional areas); people with NESB; people with disabilities; people from rural and isolated areas; people from socio-economic disadvantaged backgrounds (DEET, 1996).

(3) Its survey of 150 of the largest public and private employees (1993) indicated that the most commonly perceived deficit in graduates was in the communication skills area. As further reported by Reid (1994), the AAGE then contacted all Australian University vice-chancellors, urging them to review curricula in order to integrate language development into all courses.


Australian Association of Graduate Employers (1993). National Survey of Graduate Employers.

Ballard, B. & Clanchy, J. (1984). Study Abroad: A Manual for Asian Students. Kuala Lumpur Kuala Lumpur (kwä`lə lm`pr), city (1990 est. pop. : Longman.

Becher, T. (1989). Academic Tribes and Teritories. Milton Keynes Milton Keynes (mĭl`tən kēnz`), town (1991 pop. 36,886) and borough, S central England. Milton Keynes was designated one of the new towns in 1967 to alleviate overpopulation in London. It is the seat of the Open Univ. , England: SRHE SRHE Society for Research into Higher Education (UK)  and OUP OUP (in Northern Ireland) Official Unionist Party .

Brindley, G. (ed.) (1995). Language Assessment in Action. Sydney: NCELTR NCELTR National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research (Australia) .

Chanock, K. (1995). Counselling and academic skills teaching: What person-centred counselling can tell us about person-centred skills teaching. In M. Garner, K. Chanock and R. Clerehan (eds), Academic Skills Advising: Towards a discipline. Melbourne: Victorian Language and Learning Network.

Christie, F. (ed.) (1990). Literacy for a Changing World. Hawthorn, Victoria Hawthorn is a residential suburb of Melbourne, Australia, in the state of Victoria. It is in the Local Government Area of the City of Boroondara.

Though the nearby Swinburne University of Technology, which offers university and TAFE courses, has conferred numerous student
: Australian Council for Education Research.

Cowen, K. (1993). Responding to the writing crisis in universities: Writing across the curriculum. HERDSA HERDSA Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia  Conference, Brisbane, 15-16 April.

Department of Employment, Education and Training [DEET]. (1996). Diversity in Australian Higher Education Institutions 1994. Higher Education Series Report No. 26. Canberra: DEET, Higher Education Division.

Gaffield-Vile, N. (1996). Content-based second language instruction at the tertiary level. ELT ELT English Language Teaching

ELT n abbr (Scol) (= English Language Teaching) → Englisch als Unterrichtsfach
 Journal, 50, 2 (April).

Garner, M., Chanock, K. & Clerehan, R. (eds) (1995). Academic Skills Advising: Towards a discipline. Melbourne: Victorian Language and Learning Network.

Leki, I. (1992). Understanding ESL Writers: A guide for teachers. Portsmouth, New Hampshire Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a city in Rockingham County, New Hampshire in the United States of America. It is the fourth-largest community in the county[1], with a population of 20,784 as of the 2000 census. : Boynton/Cook Heinemann.

Martens, E. (ed.) (1994). Tertiary Teaching and Cultural Diversity. Flinders University The university has established a reputation as a leading research institution with a devotion to innovation. It is a member of Innovative Research Universities Australia and ranks among the leading universities in Australia.  of South Australia South Australia, state (1991 pop. 1,236,623), 380,070 sq mi (984,381 sq km), S central Australia. It is bounded on the S by the Indian Ocean. Kangaroo Island and many smaller islands off the south coast are included in the state. : Centre for Multicultural Studies.

McInnis, C., James, R. & McNaught, C. (1995). First Year on Campus: Diversity in the initial experiences of Australian undergraduates. A Commissioned Project of the Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching. Canberra: AGPS AGPS Assisted Global Positioning System
AGPS Advanced Government Purchasing System
AGPS Advanced Geo Positioning Solutions, Inc
AGPS Advanced Global Positioning System
AGPS Ameron Global Product Support
AGPS Attitude Global Positioning System
AGPS Assisted Gps

Mincham, L. (1995). ESL student needs procedures: An approach to language assessment in primary and secondary school contexts. In Brindley, G. (ed.), Language Assessment in Action. Macquarie University Location
University publications and material indicate that its campus is located in the suburb of North Ryde, although the Geographical Names Board of NSW indicates it is located in the suburb of Macquarie Park. The University has its own postcode: 2109.
 Sydney: NCELTR.

Neville, M. (1996). Literacy culture shock: Developing academic literacy at university. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 9, 1, pp. 38-51.

Phillips, D. (1990). Overseas students and their impact on the changing face of professional educators in universities. Paper delivered at the 1990 AARE Aare (är`ə) or Aar (är), longest river entirely in Switzerland, 183 mi (295 km) long, rising in the Bernese Alps and fed by several glaciers.  Annual Conference at Sydney University entitled The Changing Face of Professional Education.

Phillips, D. (1994). Changes in university teaching as faculty staff interact with cross-cultural and international students. In E. Martens. (ed.), Tertiary Teaching and Cultural Diversity. Flinders University of South Australia: The Centre for Multicultural Studies.

Pitkethly, A. (1997). Students' experiences of their first year in higher education. Paper delivered at the First Year Experience at University conference, York, WA. Melbourne: La Trobe University 1. u/r = unranked

2.AsiaWeek is now discontinued. Student life
During the 1970s and 1980s, La Trobe, along with Monash, was considered to have the most politically active student body of any university in Australia.

Reid, I. (1994). Literacy requirements need a rethink re·think  
tr. & intr.v. re·thought , re·think·ing, re·thinks
To reconsider (something) or to involve oneself in reconsideration.

. Campus Review, June, pp. 23-29.

Vance, S. (1995). Writing in context. In M. Garner, K. Chanock & R. Clerehan, (eds), Academic Skills Advising: Towards a discipline. Melbourne: Victorian Language and Learning Network.

Wales, L. (1990). Literacy for learners of English as a second language. In F. Christie (ed.), Literacy for a Changing World. Hawthorn, Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) is a non-governmental educational research organisation based in Camberwell, Victoria and with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Dubai and India. .

What research says about improving higher education (1996). AAHE AAHE American Association for Higher Education
AAHE American Association for Health Education
AAHE American Association of Housing Educators
AAHE Arlington Association of Home Educators (Arlington, TX) 
 [American Association American Association refers to one of the following professional baseball leagues:
  • American Association (19th century), active from 1882 to 1891.
  • American Association (20th century), active from 1902 to 1962 and 1969 to 1997.
 for Higher Education] Bulletin, April 1996, pp. 5-8.

Ursula Pantelides lectures in communication skills within the School of Communication and Cultural Studies, Curtin University of Technology. Her current research interests include: language across the curriculum, the diverse needs of non-English-speaking background and English-speaking background students in a tertiary learning environment, and student negotiated learning.

Address: School of Communication and Cultural Studies, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, WA 6845.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Australian Literacy Educators' Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Pantelides, Ursula
Publication:Australian Journal of Language and Literacy
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Previous Article:Questions and identity: Local English, global students and a tertiary entrance examination.
Next Article:Language and Learning: The Home and School Years (2nd ed.).

Related Articles
Editors' introduction.
Questions and identity: Local English, global students and a tertiary entrance examination.
Teachers' voices, teachers' practices: Insider perspectives on literacy education.
New Zealand as an English-language learning environment: immigrant experiences, provider perspectives and social policy implications.
Editors' introduction.
Repositioning academic literacy: charting the emergence of a community of practice.
English second language for most Auckland nursing students.
Critical access to higher education: challenges and goals for South African writing centres.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters