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Communicative language teaching in EFL contexts: Learner attitudes and perceptions

SANDRA J. SAVIGNON AND CHAOCHANG WANG

Abstract Reecting a trend in Asian contexts generally, the Taiwan Ministry of Education has recently initiated curricular changes intended to reect a more communicative approach to English language learning. The impact of this policy initiative awaits documentation. Research has highlighted the challenges associated with the adoption of communicative language teaching in EFL contexts. However, while many studies report on teachers perceptions in implementing communicative language teaching, few have looked at learner attitudes and perceptions with respect to classroom practice. This study investigates Taiwanese EFL learners attitudes and perceptions with regard to classroom practices identied as primarily meaning-based and form-focused. Findings suggest a mismatch between learner needs and preferences and their reported experience of classroom instruction. Interest in communicative language teaching, particularly among those learners who began learning English at an early age, offers support for the curricular changes currently being implemented. In this and other EFL contexts planning or implementing reform, careful exploration of the concordance of classroom practice with the attitudes and perceptions of learners is seen to be crucial in determining the success of these changes. 1. Introduction

With a major focus on developing learner ability to use language appropriately in context, communicative language teaching (CLT) contrasts sharply with established traditions that emphasize learner knowledge of formal features. Not surprisingly, innovations in various EFL contexts developed in consonance with the underpinnings of communicative language teaching have faced major challenges (see, for example, Anderson 1993; Bhatia 2003; Cheng 2002; Dam and Gabrielsen 1988; Li 1998; LoCastro 1996; Nunan 1993; Sato and Kleinsasser 1999; Savignon 2002, 2003; Yano 2003). The origins of these challenges
IRAL 41 (2003), 223249 0019042X/2003/041-0223 c Walter de Gruyter

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are multiple and include the teacher, the students, the educational system, and communicative language teaching itself (Li 1998). Dam and Gabrielsen (1988) found that the need for teachers to redene their roles contributed more to difculty in the implementation of task-based approaches than did resistance from learners. A study by Sato and Kleinsasser (1999) points to the inconsistency between teachers perceptions of communicative language teaching and their actual in-class behavior. And Anderson (1993) reports that in addition to both teacher and learner resistance, the difculties of implementing a meaning-based program include teachers lack of communicative competence in English, the lack of adequate teacher preparation generally, and the multiple and excessive demands placed upon teachers. Finally, Nunan (1993) suggests that a mismatch between the teaching preferences of the teacher and the learning preferences of learners may be a source of difculty. Once they have been recognized, the difculties experienced in the implementation of a communicative approach often lead to further modication. A less enlightened, perhaps, but understandable response is sometimes a return to form-focused teaching. Falling back on established practice is not an outcome welcomed by those who promote communicative goals for language programs. There are also reports of communicative approaches being welcomed and resulting in positive learning experiences in EFL contexts. For example, R. Wang (1990) reports the success of communication-based teaching with particular attention to oral competence in a foreign language school in China. Although the goals of communicative language teaching are not limited to spoken language, Wang reports that in this particular setting an emphasis on oral communication was seen to contribute to learners development of skills in not only listening and speaking but also in reading and writing. Anderson (1993) indicates that despite the difculties that may hinder innovation, there is a growing recognition among teachers and learners of the advantages of using a communicative approach. And many teachers have reported progress in teaching communicatively. In his summary of research ndings related to learner-centered approaches, Nunan (1993) identies the involvement of learners in making meaning with both their teacher and their peers as a key factor in determining success. Finally, Kleinsasser (1993) has examined the interaction between school context, teacher perceptions, and teacher performance and found a reciprocal relationship between teacher performance and the particular instructional or technical culture in which teachers nd themselves. Teacher performance is affected by and situated in the technical culture which, in turn, is shaped by the way teachers go about their daily tasks (see also Sato 2002).

Learner attitudes and perceptions 2. 2.1. Literature review Foreign language learner attitudes and perceptions

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Whether communicative language teaching is seen to be difcult, effective, or is rejected as inappropriate, reports on its implementation have been based mainly on teachers perceptions of communicative language teaching (Li 1998). Only a few studies have investigated learners views (for example, Schulz 1996), and fewer still, learner views of communicative practices in the classroom. And yet, as Savignon (1997: 107) asserts, if all the variables in L2 acquisition could be identied and the many intricate patterns of interaction between learner and learning context described, ultimate success in learning to use a second language most likely would be seen to depend on the attitude of the learner. Learner views of learning cannot be ignored, in particular, when there is a mismatch between teacher beliefs and learner beliefs (Schulz 1996). To investigate learner beliefs, Horwitz (1988) developed an instrument called the Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory (BALLI). This instrument has served to survey students views on a variety of issues regarding language learning and teaching (Kern 1995; Yang 1993). Findings vary with different studies. For example, many students in Horwitzs study (1988: 290) found it difcult later to correct the errors they are allowed to make in the beginning stages, while only one third of the students in Kerns study agreed with the statement. Nonetheless, there were consistent ndings, such as beliefs about error correction. Most language learners in both studies expressed a desire for error correction, that is, they wanted teachers to note and correct their errors. An interesting nding in Horwitz (1988) has to do with the potential of classroom practices for changing learner beliefs. Sixty percent of the Spanish and German students in her study considered that learning a foreign language is mostly a matter of translating from English (Horwitz 1990: 25), possibly as a result of the classroom realities they had experienced. Kern (1995) offers further evidence in support of the impact of instructional practices on learner beliefs. For section 1 of a modied BALLI, 60 % of the student-teacher correlations were actually lower at the end than at the beginning of the semester. There are numerous other studies that use different instruments or interviews to investigate learner attitudes and beliefs about language learning. For example, Bacon and Finnemann (1990) employed a 109-item questionnaire to survey the attitudes, motives, and strategies of university foreign language students. Wen and Johnson (1997) used their Language Learner Factor Questionnaire, and Gaies, Galambos, and Cornish (1999) used a modied version of Sakui and Gaiess (1999) 45-item questionnaire. However, most studies look at learner attitudes and beliefs about language learning in general; few focus on learner attitudes and beliefs about instructional practices in particular. And yet, as Horwitz (1988) suggests, classroom realities that contradict learner expec-

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tations about learning may disappoint them and thus interfere with the attainment of desired learning outcomes. To be sure, a discrepancy between learner beliefs and teacher beliefs does not necessarily imply a need to modify instructional practices. Nonetheless, as Nunan (1993: 4) argues, teachers should nd out what their students think and feel about what they want to learn and how they want to learn. The extent to which communicative components in instructional practices are seen by learners as essential for classroom language learning should be taken into account in making pedagogical decisions. 2.2. ELT reform in Taiwan Competent English users are in great demand in Taiwan, where English serves as a link language between people from different cultures and countries, as well as a tool for the exchange of knowledge and information in the areas of culture, technology and business. To raise Taiwanese communicative competence in English, the Taiwan Ministry of Education has made changes in English education policy. The decision to introduce English learning at elementary school level in 2001, and the elimination of form-focused senior high school and college entrance examinations effective in 2001 and 2002, respectively, are among the more important moves in this direction. In addition, in order to reect features of communication-based teaching and to guide material development and classroom practice, the Taiwan Ministry of Education has published new curricula for English teaching in both junior and senior high schools (C. Wang 2000). 3. EFL learner attitudes and perceptions in Taiwan: A quantitative study

3.1. Design of the study To better understand the challenges facing curricular reform in the EFL context of Taiwan, a questionnaire was developed to investigate rst-year university EFL learners perceptions of the classroom practices they had experienced in secondary school as well as their beliefs about language learning in general. Three research questions were addressed: 1. 2. 3. In terms of instructional focus, what are learners perceptions of the classroom practices they have experienced? What are learners attitudes toward these classroom practices? What are learners beliefs about English language learning generally?

In developing the questionnaire, instructional practices with features that engage learners in meaning making were dened as communicative. These features may include use of the L2 as a medium of instruction, group work on tasks, tolerance of learner errors, and a general classroom atmosphere conducive to learner participation with a focus on selected grammatical features

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as appropriate (Savignon 1997). In contrast, form-focused instruction focuses learners attention on the forms of language and features explanation and practice of grammatical rules. The L1 is typically used for explanations of formal linguistic features whereas L2 use is limited to sentence repetition, L1 to L2 translation, and an assortment of structure and vocabulary drills. Statements highlighting features of these two contrasting instructional approaches were included in each section of the questionnaire subsequently developed for use in the study (see Appendix). 3.2. Method

To maximize the range of perspectives on current secondary school teaching practices in Taiwan, a sample of rst-year university students from different elementary and secondary school backgrounds was used. One hundred seventyfour freshman students from two Taipei universities, 105 female students and 69 male students responded to a questionnaire designed to reect their attitudes and beliefs about English language learning, in general, and their recollections of experiences with EFL instructional practices in secondary school, in particular. The questionnaire was written and administered in Chinese. (The version included in the Appendix is an English translation of the original.) Most respondents had studied English in Taiwan for at least six years. A pilot version of the questionnaire was developed and tested in spring 1998 with another sample of Taiwanese university students. This preliminary version was then modied and expanded to its present form. The questionnaire includes ve parts. Parts 1, 2, 4 and 5 each consists of eleven statements relating to perceptions of classroom learning experiences. Five statements relate to form-focused classroom practices; another ve statements relate to meaningbased classroom practices. An eleventh statement in each of parts 1, 2, 4, and 5 addresses attitudes toward error correction. Part 3 of the questionnaire consists of 29 statements which concern beliefs about English language learning in general. Items 1 to 11 are similar in nature to the eleven statements in parts 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the questionnaire described above. In addition, statements 12 to 16 specically address beliefs about grammar-focused instruction; statements 17 to 19 concern beliefs about meaning-based instruction; statements 20 and 21 relate to beliefs about error correction; 22 and 23 relate to pronunciation; 24, 25 and 28 address the importance of English; and 26 and 27 are concerned with learner perceptions of the interrelationship of language learning ability and intelligence. There was a total of 72 statements or items in the ve-part questionnaire. Responses were scored from 1 to 7 on a scale in the Likert format and the scores then converted to a scale from 3 to +3 for ease in interpretation. Reliability estimates were calculated and are shown in Table 1.

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Table 1. Summary statistics and reliability estimation for the questionnaire (n = 174) Variable Classroom practices Senior high form-based Senior high communication-based Junior high form-based Junior high communication-based Attitude Senior high form-based Senior high communication-based Junior high form-based Junior high communication-based Belief Form-based Communication-based Subjects Items Mean SD KR 20 reliability 0.50 0.73 0.77 0.80 0.65 0.71 0.72 0.93 0.80 0.88

174 174 174 173 171 170 174 173 173 172

5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 10 8

4.77 0.71 8.51 2.43 2.07 8.91 0.49 6.70 3.26 15.51

4.74 6.58 5.02 6.22 5.05 5.35 5.75 6.35 8.23 6.87

Kuder-Richardson Formula 20 (KR 20) values ranged from a low of .50 to a high of .93. All but one were above .70, exceeding the minimum for scale reliability of .60 (Gay 1976; Sax 1989). (The scale with an estimated reliability of .50 was among those scales that included only ve items. An increase in the number of items would most likely have increased the estimated reliability for this scale). Two English instructors teaching at two different Taipei universities in Taiwan were asked to distribute the questionnaire to freshman students in two intact classes at their respective universities. Two hundred questionnaire forms were distributed and 174 were returned: a remarkably high response rate of 88 %. Data were entered into Minitab 12.23 to obtain descriptive statistics and both hypothetical and matched-groups t values as well as correlation coefcients. Data were also imported into SAS version 7.0 (on MS Windows) for analyses that required the use of two-way ANOVA and MANOVA statistics (betweengroups design). Data analysis included two stages. In the rst stage, t tests were used to test the trend or tendency of the respondents perceptions of classroom practices, as well as their attitudes with respect to these practices. In the second stage, the effects of learner variables including gender, university, and age of initial English learning experience were analyzed using statistical procedures that included correlation, two-way ANOVA, and MANOVA.

Learner attitudes and perceptions 3.3. Results

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3.3.1. Learner perceptions. Table 2 shows the respondents perceptions of the English language classroom instruction they had experienced in senior high school. Most agreed that these experiences had been grammar-focused (Total M = 4.77 on a scale of 15 to +15 (3 to +3 multiplied by 5, or the total number of items), SD = 4.74, t = 13.22, p < 0.01). Sentence drilling and repetition, grammatical rule explanation and practice, and frequent use of Chinese as the language of instruction were reported to be common. Communication, or meaning-based practice, was reportedly rare, with few, if any, interactive activities designed by teachers. Although respondents reported that trial-and-error attempts to communicate were permitted, little such communication seemingly took place. These ndings are consistent with the ndings of descriptive studies of English language teaching in Taiwan (Du-Babcock and Du-Babcock 1987; Huang 1998) as well as with the experience of the second author of this report as a student and now a university-level teacher of English in Taiwan. Table 3 shows the respondents perceptions of the English language classroom instruction they had experienced in junior high school. As was true for senior high school, English language teaching in junior high school was perceived to be grammar-focused (Total M = 8.511 on a scale of 15 to +15, SD = 5.02, t = 22.38, p < 0.01). Few reported having experienced a communicative approach (Total M = 2.43 on a scale of 15 to +15, SD = 6.22, t = 5.15, p < 0.01). Clearly, the majority of participants in this study felt that the classroom practices followed in their English language classroom instruction in both junior and senior high school were primarily form-focused, as opposed to meaning-based. 3.3.2. Learner attitudes. Table 4 summarizes data concerning the respondents attitudes toward the classroom practices they reportedly had experienced in senior high school. Most expressed a dislike for form-focused instruction (Total M = 2.07 on a scale of 15 to +15, SD = 5.05, t = 5.36, p < 0.01) and high regard for practices that engaged them in making meaning (Total M = 9 on a scale of 15 to +15, t = 21.69, p < 0.01). Many also favored the use of Chinese as a language of instruction, item II.3 (M = 0.51 on a scale of 3 to +3, t = 4.56, p < 0.01). Learners expressed preference for Chinese as the language of instruction would appear to be inconsistent with their general preference for meaningbased classroom activities. This seeming inconsistency may be explained by the reportedly heavy classroom emphasis on learning grammatical rules. Learners often experience difculty understanding teacher explanations of rules, especially when these explanations are given in the L2. Transition to a meaningbased instruction, with more communicative activities that require interaction

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Table 2. Perceptions of classroom practice in senior high school Item Form-based I.1. Grammar-focused English teaching I.2. Sentence drilling and sentence repetition I.3. Chinese used most of the time I.4. Most time spent on grammar rules explanation I.5. Seldom needed to open my mouth Total Communication-based I.6. Communication-based teaching practices I.7. Many activities involving communication I.8. Communication-focused with grammar explained when necessary I.9. Trial-and-error attempts allowed I.10. Atmosphere created for the use of English Total Error correction I.11. Teachers corrected my errors in class
a p < 0.05 b p < 0.01 n.s. = not signicant

N 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 174

Mean 1.13 1.18 0.89 1.21 0.36 4.77 0.40 0.58 0.35 0.82 0.20 0.71

SD 1.55 1.58 1.63 1.47 1.95 4.74 1.83 1.92 2.20 1.70 1.79 6.58

t 9.65a 9.84b 7.16b 10.8b 2.45a 13.22b 2.89b 4.00b 2.07a 6.34b 1.44 (n.s.) 1.42 (n.s.) 0.30

0.040 1.742

with L2 texts, oral and/or written, should take into account established learner preference for Chinese as the language of instruction. The responses for item 11 indicate a strong learner desire to use English correctly and even to attain native-like competence. Learners reported feeling it necessary for teachers to correct their errors, even in oral communication. The high value placed on standard American English (pronunciation, word use, and syntax) in Taiwanese culture, a standard which few learners in fact attain, no doubt inuenced these learners perceptions of communicative competence (see C. Wang 2000). Table 5 contains data pertaining to the participants attitudes toward the teaching practices in junior high school. The analysis reveals a dislike for both form-focused teaching and the amount of class time devoted to the explanation and practice of rules of grammar. As was the case for reports of senior high school classroom practice, learners expressed a preference for the use of

Learner attitudes and perceptions


Table 3. Perceptions of classroom practice in junior high school Item Form-based IV.1. Grammar-focused English teaching IV.2. Sentence drilling and sentence repetition IV.3. Chinese used most of the time IV.4. Most time spent on grammar rules explanation IV.5. Seldom needed to open my mouth Totalb Communication-based IV.6. Communication-based teaching practices IV.7. Many activities involving communication IV.8. Communication-focused with grammar explained when necessary IV.9. Trial-and-error attempts allowed IV.10. Atmosphere created for the use of English Total Error correction IV.11. Teachers corrected my errors in class
a b

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N 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 173 174 174 174 173 173

Mean 1.71 1.74 2.05 1.90 1.13 8.51 0.79 1.06 0.13 0.44 0.84 2.43 0.10

SD 1.38 1.38 1.20 1.20 1.71 5.02 1.57 1.57 1.82 1.66 1.67 6.22 1.64

t 16.30a 16.65a 22.47a 20.88a 8.71a 22.38a 6.61a 8.93a 0.91 (n.s.) 3.46a 6.63a 5.15a 0.83

p < 0.01 Since numbers were automatically adjusted by Minitab, the total is almost always a very small fractional difference from 100 %. n.s. = not signicant

Chinese as a language of instruction. However, in contrast with the negative attitudes expressed toward sentence drilling and repetition in senior high school, learners favored these same practices on the junior high school level, item V.2 (M = 0.52 on scale of 3 to +3, SD = 1.60, t = 4.26, p < 0.01). A possible explanation for this difference is that the respondents found the audio-lingual exercises widely used in junior high school ELT to be of value simply because they are among the few exercises at that level that require active learner participation. Similar to their attitudes toward senior high school ELT practice, respondents in this study reported that they enjoyed opportunities for learning English through activities associated with a meaning-based approach (Total M = 6.699 on a scale of 15 to +15, SD = 6.35, t = 13.87, p < 0.01).

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Table 4. Attitude toward perceived classroom practice in senior high school Item Form-based II.1. Grammar-focused English teaching II.2. Sentence drilling and sentence repetition II.3. Chinese used most of the time II.4. Most time spent on grammar rules explanation II.5. Seldom needed to open my mouth Total Communication-based II.6. Communication-based teaching practices II.7. Many activities involving communication II.8. Communication-focused with grammar explained when necessary II.9. Trial-and-error attempts allowed II.10. Atmosphere created for the use of English Total Error correction II.11. Teachers corrected my errors in class
a p < 0.01

N 174 174 174 173 172 171 174 171 173 174 174 170 174

Mean 0.94 0.03 0.51 0.94 0.68 2.07 1.65 1.33 1.85 1.99 2.03 9.00

SD 1.64 1.63 1.48 1.51 1.54 5.05 1.33 1.48 1.24 1.26 1.13 5.35

t 7.54a 0.23 4.56a 8.19a 5.78a 5.36a 16.37a 11.77a 19.63a 20.94a 23.70a 21.69a 11.02a

1.190 1.424

3.3.3. Learner perceptions and attitudes compared. The ndings summarized above pertain to classroom practices as they were experienced by respondents at both the senior and junior levels of high school as well as to the attitudes of these same respondents toward these practices. Generally speaking, learners reported having experienced far more grammar-based than meaningbased instruction at both levels of high school. They expressed highly negative attitudes toward the former and positive attitudes toward the latter. They also felt it important for teachers to correct their oral errors and favored Chinese as a language of instruction. When the classroom experiences reported by learners were compared with their attitudes, they were clearly at odds. Table 6 shows the comparison of learner attitudes with reported classroom practices in senior high school for each item in parts 1 and 2. All differences are signicant. The clear mismatch in senior high school between learner attitudes and their perceptions of classroom practices can be seen in Figure 1 (p. 235). Similarly, the results presented in Table 7 and Figure 2 (p. 235) show the extent to which communication-based practice was favored and not perceived for junior high schools.

Learner attitudes and perceptions


Table 5. Attitude toward perceived classroom practice in junior high school Item Form-based V.1. Grammar-focused English teaching V.2. Sentence drilling and sentence repetition V.3. Chinese used most of the time V.4. Most time spent on grammar rules explanation V.5. Seldom needed to open my mouth Total Communication-based V.6. Communication-based teaching practices V.7. Many activities involving communication V.8. Communication-focused with grammar explained when necessary V.9. Trial-and-error attempts allowed V.10. Atmosphere created for the use of English Total Error correction V. 11. Teachers corrected my errors in class
a p < 0.05 b p < 0.01 n.s. = not signicant

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N 174 174 174 174 174 174 174 173 174 174 174 173 173

Mean 0.27 0.52 0.99 0.37 0.38 0.49 1.24 1.08 1.31 1.58 1.53 6.70 0.79

SD 1.77 1.60 1.43 1.76 1.81 5.75 1.47 1.55 1.50 1.32 1.35 6.35 1.50

t 2.02a 4.26b 9.14b 2.76b 2.77b 1.12 (n.s.) 11.13b 9.11b 11.51b 15.76b 14.94b 13.87b 6.91b

3.3.4. Learner beliefs about language learning. Table 8 shows learner attitudes and/or beliefs about English language learning in general, part 3 of the questionnaire. Not surprisingly, learners considered important those same classroom emphases for which they expressed a preference. Items measuring the same variable are grouped. Items 15 and 1216 relate to grammar-based teaching and learning; items 610 and 1719 relate to meaning-based teaching and learning. The t-test results clearly show learners to believe that language teaching should focus on communication (M = 15.51 on a scale of 24 to +24, SD = 6.87, t = 29.60, p < 0.01) and that language learning should not be grammar-based, or form-focused (M = 3.26 on a scale of 30 to +30, SD = 8.23, t = 5.21, p < 0.01). Items 24, 25, and 28 reveal highly positive attitudes toward English (M = 5.82 on a scale of 9 to +9, SD

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Table 6. Needs and perceived classroom practice in senior high school Emphases/Attitudes (Item) 1. Grammar-focused English teaching 2. Sentence drilling and sentence repetition 3. Chinese used most of the time 4. Most time spent on grammar rules explanation 5. Seldom needed to open my mouth 6. Communication-based teaching practices 7. Many activities involving communication 8. Communication-focused with grammar explained when necessary 9. Trial-and-error attempts allowed 10. Atmosphere created for the use of English
a p < 0.05 b p < 0.01

N 174 174 174 171 172 174 171 173

Emphases Mean 1.13 1.18 0.89 1.21 0.36 0.40 0.58 0.35

SD Needs SD Mean 1.55 0.94 1.64 1.58 0.03 1.63 1.63 0.51 1.48 1.47 0.94 1.51 1.95 0.68 1.54 1.83 1.92 2.20

t 13.03b 7.64b 2.57a 13.63b 6.11b

1.65 1.33 12.26b 1.33 1.48 10.96b 1.85 1.24 11.48b 9.56b

174 174

0.82 0.20

1.70 1.79

1.99 1.26

2.03 1.13 14.96b

= 2.98, t = 25.67, p < 0.01), consistent with the generally positive attitudes toward English in Taiwan society as a whole (see C. Wang 2000). Items 22 and 23 indicate that those surveyed did not consider good pronunciation to be an indicator of English language ability (M = 2.26 on a scale of 6 to +6, SD = 2.79, t = 10.68, p < 0.01). However, they did feel that teachers should correct learner errors. Items 26 and 27 showed that students did not believe there to be a correlation between intelligence and the ability to learn a new language, an indication that they considered language learning attainable by all students, irrespective of their overall academic aptitude. 3.3.5. Learner variables. In anticipation of school language study, it is common for Taiwanese parents to enroll their children in private English language classes, or bushiban, for one or more years of advance preparation. Parents who send their children to these private English language classes seek to give them not only an early start but also better communication skills. English teaching

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Figure 1. Comparison of perceived classroom practice and learner needs in senior high school (Items in Parts 1 and 2 of the questionnaire)

Figure 2. Comparison of perceived classroom practice and learner needs in junior high school (Items in Parts 4 and 5 of the questionnaire)

in these settings emphasizes oral communication in a pleasant, non-threatening environment (C. Wang 2000). Most bushiban for children learning English employ native speakers of English with one Chinese teacher per class to assist them. Inasmuch as learners who have experienced the communication-based practices familiar in bushiban ELT may have attitudes or beliefs different from those without such experience, the attitudes of those who had begun their English language learning prior to entering secondary school were compared with those whose English language learning had not begun until junior high school. Results were analyzed using one-way MANOVA for a between-groups design. The analysis of the results regarding attitudes and beliefs about communicationbased practices showed no signicant difference between these two groups: Wilks lambda = 0.99, F (3, 157) = 0.70; p > 0.05. However, the analysis of the results regarding attitudes and beliefs about form-based instruction revealed

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Table 7. Needs and perceived classroom practice in junior high school Emphases/Attitudes (Item) 1. 2. Grammar-focused English teaching Sentence drilling and sentence repetition Chinese used most of the time Most time spent on grammar rules explanation Seldom needed to open my mouth Communicationbased teaching practices Many activities involving communication Communicationfocused with grammar explained when necessary Trial-and-error attempts allowed Atmosphere created for the use of English
p < 0.01

N 174 174

Emphases Mean 1.71 1.74

SD 1.38 1.38

Needs Mean 0.27 0.52

SD 1.77 1.60

t 12.51a 8.54a

3. 4.

174 174

2.05 1.89

1.20 1.20

0.99 0.37

1.43 1.76

8.14a 14.70a

5. 6.

174 174

1.13 0.79 1.06 0.13

1.71 1.57

-0.38 1.24

1.81 1.47

9.05a 13.00a 13.00a 8.25a

7.

173

1.57

1.08

1.55

8.

174

1.82

1.31

1.50

9. 10.

174 174

0.44 0.84

1.66 1.67

1.58 1.53

1.32 1.35

7.96a 15.20a

a signicant multivariate effect for different groups who began learning English at different ages: Wilks lambda = 0.93, F (3, 160) = 3.80; p < 0.05. The age of initial English learning showed a signicant effect on attitudes toward form-focused instruction in both senior and junior high school, as well as on beliefs about language learning in general. The sample means are displayed in Figure 3. Tukeys HSD test showed that respondents who had begun learning English before they entered secondary school scored signicantly lower on the three dependent variables ( p < 0.05). That is to say, they expressed signicantly

Learner attitudes and perceptions


Table 8. Beliefs about learning English Item Grammar-based: III.15 and 1216 Communication-based: III.610 and 1719 Correction: III.11, 20, 21 Pronunciation III.22, 23 Attitude toward English: III.24, 25, 28 Intelligence: III.26, 27
a p < 0.05

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N 173 172 174 174 173 171

Mean 3.26 15.51 3.37 2.26 5.82 1.75

SD 8.23 6.87 2.58 2.79 2.98 2.36

t 5.21a 29.60a 17.21a 10.68a 25.67a 9.71a

Figure 3. Mean levels of attitude and belief about form-based instruction observed for participants beginning learning English before secondary school and on entering secondary school

more negative attitudes about form-focused instruction than did those who did not begin to learn English until after they had entered secondary school. One-way MANOVA was used to see if this early experience of learning English had an effect on beliefs about pronunciation, the importance of English, the relationship of intelligence and good learners, and/or error correction. The results failed to show a signicant multivariate effect: Wilks lambda = 0.99, F (4, 161) = 0.53; p = 0.72. Gender and the university to which they had been admitted were learner variables potentially affecting their views of instruction. Results were analyzed using a two-way MANOVA, between-groups design. This analysis failed to show signicant multivariate effects on attitudes and beliefs about either form-based practices (Wilks lambda = 0.99, F (3, 159) = 0.76; p > 0.05) or communication-based practices (Wilks lambda = 0.98, F (3, 156) = 0.79; p > 0.05). The effect of these two variables on each variate was further examined by means of a two-way ANOVA. Their individual effect on each variate was

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also examined by means of a one-way ANOVA. No signicant effect was found for these two variables. Similarly, results analyzed with a two-way ANOVA revealed no signicant effect for gender or university on views of error correction, pronunciation, and the relationship of intelligence and good learners. However, the university in which repondents were enrolled did have a signicant main effect on their views of the importance of English, F (1, 164) = 11.88; p < 0.01. Tukeys HSD test indicated that respondents from one university scored signicantly higher on their views of the importance of English than did those in the other university ( p < 0.05). The analysis using a one-way ANOVA yielded similar results. Since both universities were located in Taipei, access to and awareness of English would not appear to be an explanatory factor. However, it may be relevant to note that of the two universities, the one from which was drawn the sample of learners who expressed more markedly positive views about the importance of English was the university with higher academic entrance requirements. 4. Discussion

The results of this study suggest a mismatch between the needs and preferences of English language learners in Taiwan and their perceptions of instructional practice. Instructional practice in secondary schools is described as generally form-focused in nature. These learner perceptions are consistent with the observations of Du-Babcock and Du-Babcock (1987), who report the predominance of grammar-translation and audiolingual methods in English language teaching in Taiwan, as well as with the experience of the second author of this article as both a learner and teacher of EFL in Taipei. The results are also consistent with data found in the narrative accounts of a group of prominent Taiwan English language teacher educators reported in C. Wang (2002). In contrast, an analysis of attitudes toward English teaching and learning in general shows learner preference for a meaning-based approach. Learners sampled expressed strong agreement with such statements as Learning English is learning to use the language. They disagreed with such statements as Learning English is learning its grammar rules and I believe my English improves most quickly if I study and practice the grammar. (The statements used here for illustration, like the questionnaires provided as an appendix to this article, are English translations and therefore only approximations of the Chinese statements that were used in the study. The actual Chinese statements are available from the authors.) Learner attitudes toward classroom practice reected a similar preference. There was strong agreement with statements such as I liked my (high school) English teachers to create an atmosphere that encouraged us to use English in class and I liked communicative activities where we could interact in English with peers. There was general disagreement with such state-

Learner attitudes and perceptions

239

ments as I liked English classes in which I did not need to open my mouth or I liked sentence drilling and repeating phrases after my teacher. In sum, learners expressed negative attitudes toward grammar-based instruction and positive attitudes toward a more communicative approach. These ndings corroborate those of Huang (1998) who found Taiwanese senior high school students view of the ideal way to learn English to be through the use of English. She observed that grammar instruction was being emphasized while learners communicative needs were being ignored. They are moreover consistent with current classroom language learning theory which underscores the value of meaning-based experience in the development of communicative competence (see, for example, Lightbown and Spada 2000; Savignon in press; Wong and vanPatten in press). Although a majority of the learners in both groups expressed a preference for communicative practices, negative attitudes toward form-focused instruction were stronger among those those who had had more English language learning experience. Of particular signicance was the effect of age of initial English language learning on learner attitudes. Learners who had begun learning English prior to entering secondary school expressed stronger negative attitudes about form-focused instruction than did those whose initial classroom experience had been in junior high school. As was reported in the introduction to this article, public school English language learning in Taiwan has until recently begun at the junior high school level. In recognition of the high value accorded communicative competence in English, effective in Fall 2000, island-wide curricular reform mandates the introduction of English language learning at the 5th grade elementary school level. The elimination of form-focused senior high school and college entrance examinations effective in 2001 and 2002, respectively, further signals a commitment to communicative goals for ELT. If the trend of preparing children for state school ELT by sending them for prior private school instruction in English continues, a likely supposition given the high stakes of school achievement in Taiwan, learners will be afforded even greater opportunity to develop their communicative skills. The ndings of this study suggest that upon reaching the secondary school level, these learners may well have established beliefs and preferences that strongly favor communicative language teaching. It is true that classroom practices are not necessarily a reection of teachers beliefs about language teaching and learning, let alone those of learners. Theory and practice are often at odds for a number of reasons (Sato and Kleinsasser 1999; Savignon 2002). A discrepancy between learners beliefs and classroom practices, however, has been shown to affect learning no less than does a discrepancy between learner beliefs and teacher beliefs (Horwitz 1988; Kern 1995; Schulz 1996). Successful instructional programs thus depend upon a clarication of the needs and expectations of learners. Where there is a mis-

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Sandra J. Savignon and Chaochang Wang

match with learner perceptions of classroom practices, there may be a need for teachers to convey to learners their own expectations as to the goals and nature of language learning (Nunan 1993). Or, more relevant to the focus of the study reported here, a mismatch may suggest a need to reconsider classroom practices. Although many of the learners who responded to the questionnaire in this study consider the integration of a grammar component necessary for initial language interaction and practice, the majority felt that their English language needs are best met through communicative programs that encourage language use in class. They favor the idea of adopting a meaning-based approach, with grammar taught in class as needed. Moreover, they feel it important that language teachers do not overemphasize the teaching of rules. 5. Conclusion

Taiwanese learners may be typical of learners in other EFL contexts in that they are very good at explaining the rules of English but are often unable to use English for communication (Liang 1994). Activities or tasks designed to engage them in making meaning orally or in writing offers an opportunity to learn English by using the language in context rather than simply recognizing or memorizing grammatical rules. Research has documented the difculties in adopting a communication-based approach in many EFL contexts. Nonetheless, teaching for communicative competence appears to be the appropriate guiding principle of English pedagogy in settings such as Taiwan where learners and the society as a whole expect and value communicative skills. Overcoming the many obstacles confronted when implementing a communicative program is, of course, in no way the responsibility of classroom teachers and learners alone. Successful program implementation requires efforts from administrators, parents and society as a whole (Kleinsasser 1993). This study is not without limitations. The learner samples used in this study were drawn from populations of rst-year university students in Taipei who were asked to reect post hoc on their secondary school EFL classroom experience. Although the questionnaire response rate was quite high (88 %), the preference expressed for communication-based English language learning cannot be said to represent the views of university students throughout Taiwan. Moreover, additional research is needed before any claim can be made about the experiences and preferences of learners who do not continue English language study beyond secondary school. On a yet more basic level, the statement of learner attitudes and beliefs about classroom language teaching practices on a Likert-type scale may or may not be an accurate reection of learner attitudes. And, certainly, reports of learner perceptions of their classroom language learning experiences cannot be claimed to accurately reect actual classroom practices.

Learner attitudes and perceptions

241

The learner perceptions and attitudes reported in this study represent but one feature of English language learning and teaching in Taiwan, an EFL context among many worldwide currently engaged in or contemplating curricular reform. In addition to the perceptions and attitudes of learners, numerous other factors necessarily inform pedagogical decisions. The ndings are nonetheless encouraging in the support they reect for ongoing Ministry of Education revisions of English education policy. Given the documented struggles for language teaching reform in other international contexts, the implementation of new curricula reective of communication-based teaching in Taiwan promises to be a challenge. An understanding of learner attitudes and their perceptions of current teaching practices is important to an accurate denition of the function and goals of EFL and of the methods of teaching that best help learners to attain these goals. The Pennsylvania State University SJSavignon@psu.edu Ming Chuan University caw207@yahoo.co Appendix Questionnaire (English translation of the Chinese questionnaire used in the study) Please circle the number or provide an answer that best reects your view for each item. I. 1. English practice in the classroom in my Senior high school
Strongly disagree

English teaching in my high school was grammar-focused. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

2.

My English teachers in high school often asked us to do sentence drilling and repeat sentences after them. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

3.

The language used in the classroom by my teachers was mostly Chinese. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

4.

English teaching in my high school was mainly explaining and practicing grammar rules. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree

242 5.

Sandra J. Savignon and Chaochang Wang


Strongly disagree

I seldom needed to open my mouth in the classroom. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Strongly agree

6.

Strongly disagree

English teaching in my high school was communication-based. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

7.

My teachers often designed activities to have us interact in English with peers. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree Our focus in class was communication, but the teacher would explain grammar when necessary. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree English teachers in my high school allowed us trial-and-error attempts to communicate in English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

8.

9.

10.

My English teachers often created an atmosphere for us to use English. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

11.

My English teachers often corrected my errors in class.

II. My attitude toward the instructional practice in my senior high school 1.


Strongly disagree

I liked grammar-focused English teaching in my high school. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

2.

I liked sentence drilling and repeating sentences after my teachers in my high school English class. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked the language used in the classroom by my English teachers in high school to be mostly Chinese. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked much of the time in the classroom to be spent in explaining and practicing grammar rules. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

3.

4.

5.

I liked an English class in which I did not need to open my mouth. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

Learner attitudes and perceptions 6.


Strongly disagree

243
Strongly agree

I liked communication-based English teaching. 1 2 3 4 5

7.

I liked communicative activities so that we could interact in English with peers. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked my English class to be focused on communication, with grammar explained when necessary. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked English teachers in my high school to allow us to make trial-anderror attempts to communicate in English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked my English teachers to create an atmosphere that encouraged us to use English in class. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked my errors in speaking to be corrected by my teachers.

8.

9.

10.

11.

III. My beliefs about learning English 1.


Strongly disagree

Learning English is learning its grammar rules. 1 2 3 4 5

Strongly agree Strongly agree

2.

Strongly disagree

English learning through sentence drilling is effective 1 2 3 4 5 6

3.

I believe Chinese should be frequently used in my English class for my better understanding of the lessons. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I believe the more grammar rules one memorizes, the better he/she is at using English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree Opening ones mouth to practice speaking in the classroom is not essential for English learning. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

4.

5.

6.

A language classroom should be communication-focused. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

244 7.

Sandra J. Savignon and Chaochang Wang It is important to practice English in real-life or real-life like situations. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree Languages are learned mainly through communication, with grammar rules explained when necessary. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I believe making trial-and-error attempts to communicate in English helps me to learn English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree A teacher should create an atmosphere in the classroom to encourage interaction as a class or in groups. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

8.

9.

10.

11.

It is important for the teacher to correct students errors in class. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

12.

Strongly disagree

The formal study of grammar is essential to eventual mastery of English. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

13.

I believe my English improves most quickly if I study and practice the grammar. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

14.

There should be more formal study of grammar in English class. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

15.

It is more important to study and practice grammatical patterns than to practice English in an interactive way in the classroom. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

16.

Grammar rules should be explicitly explained in class. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Strongly agree Strongly agree

17.

Strongly disagree

Learning English is learning to use the language. 1 2 3 4 5 6

18.

Learning English by practicing the language in communicative activities is essential to eventual mastery of a foreign language. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree

Learner attitudes and perceptions 19.

245

A communication-focused language program often meets the learners needs. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I believe it is important to avoid making errors in the process of learning English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree Teachers should correct students pronunciation or grammatical errors in class. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

20.

21.

22.

A good language learner usually pronounces beautifully. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

23.

Strongly disagree

A persons good pronunciation usually indicates good English. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree 7


Strongly agree

24.

Learning English is important for people in Taiwan. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 disagree


Strongly disagree

25.

English is useful in getting a good job. 1 2 3 4 Good language learners are intelligent. 1 2 3 4

Strongly agree

26.

Strongly disagree

Strongly agree

27.

Students who have good grades in other subjects are likely to be good language learners. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

28.

English education should begin in elementary school. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Strongly agree

29.

I wish to speak like English native speakers. If you agree with the above statement, what English would you like to learn to use?

IV. English practice in the classroom in my Junior high school 1.


Strongly disagree

English teaching in my school was grammar-focused. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Strongly agree

246 2.

Sandra J. Savignon and Chaochang Wang My English teachers in school often asked us to do sentence drilling and repeat sentences after them. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

3.

The language used in the classroom by my teachers was mostly Chinese. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

4.

English teaching in my school was mainly explaining and practicing grammar rules. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

5.

I seldom needed to open my mouth in the classroom. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Strongly agree Strongly agree

6.

Strongly disagree

English teaching in my school was communication-based. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

7.

My teachers often designed activities to have us interact in English with peers. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree Our focus in class was communication, but the teacher would explain grammar when necessary. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree English teachers allowed us trial-and-error attempts to communicate in English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

8.

9.

10.

My English teachers often created an atmosphere for us to use English. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree

11. V. 1.

My English teachers often corrected my errors in class. My attitude toward the instructional practice in my junior high school
Strongly disagree

I liked grammar-focused English teaching in my school. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

2.

I liked sentence drilling and repeating sentences after my teachers in my school English class. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree

Learner attitudes and perceptions 3.

247

I liked the language used in the classroom by my English teachers in school to be mostly Chinese. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked much of the time in the classroom to be spent in explaining and practicing grammar rules. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

4.

5.

I liked an English class in which I did not need to open my mouth. Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 agree I liked communication-based English teaching. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Strongly agree

6.

Strongly disagree

7.

I liked communicative activities so that we could interact in English with peers. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked my English class to be focused on communication, with grammar explained when necessary. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I liked English teachers in my school to allow us trial-and-error attempts to communicate in English. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree I like my English teachers to create an atmosphere that encouraged us to use English in class. Strongly Strongly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 disagree agree
Strongly disagree

8.

9.

10.

11.

I liked my errors in speaking to be corrected by my teachers. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Strongly agree

Background information 1. 2. 3. Male Female Major College/University Age: 1520 2125 2629 3035 3640 Over 40 When did you start learning English? Between 7 and 11 Between 12 and 15 Before 7 years old At 16 or after Senior high school Junior high school

4.

248

Sandra J. Savignon and Chaochang Wang

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