English Abilities for Academic Listening: How Confident Are Chinese Students?

Article excerpt

Research with ESL students studying at North American universities has indicated that Chinese students have difficulties in understanding academic lectures, taking notes, writing assignments, and giving presentations although they have obtained high TOEFL scores. The study investigates their English academic listening challenges as reported by seventy-eight Chinese students at an American university. This paper focuses on Chinese students' reported confidence in their English abilities for academic listening. Their self-ratings show that reading ability and grammar are the strongest areas, and listening and speaking are the weakest areas. Ninety-two percent of the participants reported having difficulties in understanding English academic lectures. Arts students who had been studying at this American university for less than one year reported that they could only understand sixty to seventy percent of the lectures in their majors.

Introduction

Research with English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students studying at North American universities has indicated that Chinese students experience considerable challenges in their academic learning: their unfamiliarity with the North American educational culture; their lack of North American academic background; their financial difficulties; their lack of academic study skills and inadequate English proficiency (Chen, 1985; Chen, 1999; Feng, 1991; Liu, 1994; Sun & Chen, 1997; Myles, Qian, & Cheng, 2002; Zhong, 1996). Their lack of English language proficiency has become a major challenge in their academic studies. They have difficulties in understanding academic lectures, taking notes, writing assignments, and giving presentations (Huang, 2004; Yuan, 1982). Their lack of English proficiency was also identified as the biggest obstacle in the process of Chinese students' acculturation in the academic context although they came to North American universities with high TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores (Sun & 1997).

Empirical studies have demonstrated that Chinese students have great difficulty in their academic studies at North American universities due to their inadequate English proficiency (Huang, 2004; Sun & Chen, 1997; Yuan, 1982). However, little research has investigated Chinese students' confidence in their English language abilities for academic studies. Through the investigation of their English academic listening challenges, this study also examined their confidence in English abilities for academic listening as reported by Chinese students at an American university.

About This Study

Seventy-eight Chinese students who enrolled in the 2000 winter semester at an American university participated in this study. Table 1 shows the demographic information of the participants.

Of the 78 students, 40 (51%) were male and 38 (49%) were female. The females and males were distributed almost equally. Among the 78 participants 36 (46%) were students of arts, and 42 (54%) were science students. The number of arts students and the number of science students were also approximately equal. The students from the following majors were classified as arts students: Linguistics, Education, Law, MBA, and International Studies. The students from the following majors were classified as science students: Computer Science, Mathematics, Chemistry, Accounting, Electrical Engineering, and Biology. Of the 78 students, only 18 (23%) were undergraduate students and 60 (77%) were graduate students. Twenty-two (28%) of them had studied at this American university for less than one year and 56 (72%) for more than one year. All of the 78 participants had achieved a TOEFL score greater than 550 before they came to America, which is the minimum requirement for most of the graduate schools in America, and 48 of them had a TOEFL score greater than 600. All the 78 participants spoke Mandarin Chinese. …