Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Evaluating Saudi University Students' Beliefs about Learning English

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Evaluating Saudi University Students' Beliefs about Learning English

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this study, beliefs held by Saudi university medical students toward English and how it should be learnt will be elucidated through an experimental study. There is evidence that students bring their previous beliefs, experiences, learning strategies and attitudes to the classroom which are the main drivers for the actions that students perform to learn (Breen, 2001). It has been highlighted that students' beliefs is important, influencing their learning performance, motivation and learning strategies (Lowie et al., 2009; Horwitz, 1985). Results revealed that students reported more positive beliefs with reference to motivation and expectation statement, more negative beliefs with regard to learning and communication strategies and more uncertain responses to foreign language aptitude. Finally, the findings offered several pedagogical implications and recommendations for further research, especially at the university level.

Keywords: students' beliefs, language learning strategies, attitudes, motivation

1. Introduction

Recent developments in the field of teaching English as a second or foreign language have led to a renewed interest in the pedagogy of teaching and learning. With the advent of communicative language teaching, the role of students becomes more essential and approaches to learning turned to be more learners centered and take into account students' needs, background and goals (Richards & Rodgers, 2001).

The social context of learning is eminent for understanding the beliefs students bring to the process of learning which affect the learning process and performance (Bandura & Schunk, 1981, Breen 2001), and learning outcomes (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Breen, 2001; Horwitz, 1985; Ellis, 1997; Weinert & Kluwe, 1987). Richards and Lockhart (1996) pinpoint the major role of beliefs and state:

Learners' beliefs systems cover a wide range of issues and can influence learners' motivation to learn, their expectations about language learning, their perceptions about what is easy or difficult about a language, as well as the kind of learning strategies they favour (p. 52).

Elaine Horwtiz was the first to conduct a study on the nature of language learning beliefs after developing the Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory (BALLI) in the late 1980s and putting it into practice to examine learners' beliefs about themselves and about the target language and how it should learnt in ESL and EFL settings. However, Bemat and Gvozdenko (2005) claim that although research on learners' beliefs yield significant results, the question of how these beliefs are shaped and produced is still to be answered.

Foreign language teachers and curriculum designers should take into account the beliefs held by students that they bring to the classrooms and help them to expel the unhelpful ones because as Rokeach (1968) asserts "beliefs are predispositions to action" (p. 113). Sigel (1985), Harvey (1986) and Benson (2001) share the view that beliefs guide thoughts and behaviours. Horwitz (1988) notices that identifying students' beliefs will result in better understanding of their expectations about how a foreign or second language should be learnt and she maintains

Although, at first glance, faith in these claims can be dismissed as naive, such expectations surely influence students when they entered conventional language classrooms and their own progress lags behind their preconceived timetables (p. 283).

Besides hindering learning progress, unrealistic beliefs held by students can lead to increasing classroom anxiety and frustration (Horwitz et al., 1986; Truitt, 1995; Maclntyre & Gardner, 1989; Maclntyre, 1995; Krashen, 1985). Teaching practices are also important for affecting students' beliefs. For example, Peacock (1999; 2001) notices the potential impact of language teaching in general term on students' beliefs about language learning. For this reason, if teachers do not compare their own beliefs with their students' and tell students how to learn, learning outcomes might be negative. …

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