English has long become the primary language for most countries. As English grows in importance as a global language, so does the dependence of people on it from across the world.
However, many persons who use English as second language often face challenges while trying to improve on their English Language skills because of different background, culture, stereotype by the host country and teaching method they were subjected to in the first instance of acquiring English language as a second language.
Thus, this research paper will explore these challenges in a sample size of five students with English learning difficulties of Japanese, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Malawian descent studying in American schools. Through one-on-one interview, this paper will reveal the main learning challenges and usage of English in communication among this group.
This research paper targets five students of Japanese, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Malawian descent studying in American schools and uses English as the second language. The first respondent is a 19 years old male Japanese student undertaking his college education in Environmental science at Illinois technical college. Due to confidentiality concerns, he will be called respondent A.
Respondent A has lived in Japan for the last 17 years and only came to America for collage studies. Japanese language is his first language. He first interacted with English language at grade three through his fellow Japanese English teacher at his elementary school. Respondent A has lived in Tokyo for seventeen out of his eighteen years.
The second respondent is a 21 years old female Iranian student undertaking his college education in fashion design at Miami tertiary collage. Due to confidentiality concerns she will be referred to as respondent B. Respondent B has lived in Iran for the last 21 year and has been in America for only three months. Her first language is Iranian.
The respondent first interacted with English language in high school at the age of 14 years. Her first English teacher was a Dutch teaching part time in her former high school in Iran.
The third respondent is 23 years old female Chinese student in a summer education exchange program at Colorado collage of fashion design. She will be referred to as respondent C.
Respondent C speaks Chinese as her first language and has literally lived all of her life in China until she got the opportunity to participate in the summer exchange program in America. Respondent C first interacted with English language in the informal evening English classes in Beijing at the age of 21 years. The classes were offered by a group of volunteer Britons working in Beijing.
The forth respondent is a 20 years old male Indian student pursuing his college education in Colorado collage on a scholarship. Due to confidentiality concerns she will be referred to as respondent D. Respondent D has lived in America for the last three years. He spent his childhood in India and was first introduced to English language at the age of 6 years. He speaks Indiana as his first language and a relatively fair English language.
The fifth respondent is a 21 years old male Malawian who won a green card two years ago and is now an American. Due to confidentiality concerns she will be referred to as respondent E. Respondent E is currently a freshman at sophomore collage and stays in Illinois.
This respondent has lived in Malawi for the last 19 years and speaks Africana as his first language. The respondent first interacted with English language at elementary schooling level from his primary English teacher who was also a Malawian.
Problems and analysis of the cause of failure
Respondent A: 21 years old Japanese descent
From response to interview questions, respondent A identified the disadvantages he faces in America in trying to acquire English proficiency comes from his diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds as well as the ethnic, religious, and cultural barriers from both host country citizens who seem to ridicule his ascent.
Besides, the respondent stated that he had difficulty in picking the spoken English words since the Americans speak with a heavy ascent. However, he blamed the late introduction of English language in his life as the main challenge towards mastering the art of speaking fluent English language.
For the Japanese non-native speakers of English, bilingualism may be a matter of importance to them as their mother tongue is usually reserved for the domestic and social domains while English-speaking skills are acquired for use in the public. For this respondent, the concept of bilingualism is not simple since it is integrated with his learning ability since he started to interact with the English language at a very late age.
While the term Diaspora traditionally signifies dispersion or scattering, it can also be perceived as the dispersion of a new identity which is created as a result of “transformation and difference” (Amedeo, Golledge & Stimson, 2009, p. 43). The term ‘Diaspora language’ is used to describe a new strain of a language developed in an area where people of diverse linguistic backgrounds have migrated.
While studying the diasporic life of the Japanese respondent, it becomes evident that the Japanese respondent faces a lot of problems, as a result of being exposed to diverse socio-cultural identities that easily create fear and low self esteem in English language expression.
Respondent B: 21 years old Iranian descent
The respondent identified cultural conflict as the main reason for challenges she faces in learning the English language. The respondent stated that she had the natural fear that was internalized in her by her native Islamic faith. The issue is that there is a certain level of anxiety that will exist over the fear of the unknown.
Thus, this individual meet with differing cultural backgrounds which has had natural fear of the ’otherness’ that is observed in the response of this respondent. The respondent also identified the Iranian culture which does not permit female to share same classes with males. This has become an impediment on her endeavor to learn English language since she is struggling to adapt to a classroom of male and female students.
Cultures that are in conflict will often bring conflict with a learner into new lands when migration occurs. The tension between adaptation and cultural traditions creates an internal conflict for the new settler in a new land as the Iranian culture has serious flaws on girl child education (Phan, 2008).
This tension divides the identity, creating resentments that will affect the advancement of attaining needed skills, such as language, as the search for identity and the need to find a sense of belonging in the new environment. This is the case with the female Iranian student who faces the challenge of learning and using English language in communication in America.
Respondent C: 23 years old Chinese descent
Respondent C identified heavy ascent and pronunciation of some English words as the main challenge towards learning and using English in communication in America. Further, the respondent had never had an opportunity to grasp all the basics English language content due to the teaching approach that was used to introduce her to English language.
However, the main impediment identified by this respondent was her culture and tradition which has made it difficult for her to learn and use English language in communication without fear of intimidation and ridicule.
For the Chinese descent student, language is not only tied with culture and tradition, but also with the religions and its practices and affects both private and public domains of application since the Chinese are often conservative persons with a lay back personality (Amedeo, Golledge & Stimson, 2009).
The use of foreign materials may have negative effects in two aspects- teachers’ sense of identity and students’ sense of identity, both as constructed from culture as was the case with respondent C.
Respondent D: 20 years old Indian descent
The participant suggested that he had a desire to find a way to integrate English language as a secondary language, but also expressed that he was constrained from integrating due to the differences that his outward presentation of his identity caused in relating to others.
In addition, certain values he has are not be shared by those he has encountered, thus creating a problem in relating to them in a social manner in trying to communicate in English language.
It was clear that the cultural differences between Indian culture and outward appearance created a barrier between the ambition to learn and the experience in trying to learn and apply English language in communication.
While the barriers are not insurmountable, the task to integrate the cultures could be a daunting undertaking (Phan, 2008). In the process, a sense of isolation can develop within the learner, creating a sense of dissatisfaction and loneliness within the immigration experience as was the case with this respondent.
Respondent E: 21 years old Malawian American
In attempting to learn English, one of the initial problems that can be observed through the interview of respondent E is that there is a resistance to integration into the community; so therefore, there is a natural resistance to learning to speak the new English language away from the Africana dialect.
The way in which Africana is central to his identity, that it is a core part of his celebration of traditional culture, makes the learning of a new language within the culture in which he is now living a matter that must be addressed each time he come to class or study to learn.
This kind of contact that respondent E had with English language learning environment in America outside of the cultural norms for the interactions of his native culture. The respondent discussed how the openness with which his teacher discussed his own life with the class created a discomfort for him.
The Africana culture considers privacy and appropriateness between men and women in terms of important cultural norms that are absent in the greater culture of America (Amedeo, Golledge & Stimson, 2009). This creates a problem when attempting to learn English language and applying the same in communication within the American culture.
Solutions and Recommendations
Some of the most critical issues that crop while the respondents learn English in a learning centre could be very simply addressed by providing a safe and comfortable atmosphere for them through communicative language teaching (CLT). While the CLT approach is quite effective in enabling students to express their values and emotions in English, it does hit a roadblock (Amedeo, Golledge & Stimson, 2009).
As the activities and learning materials used in CLT are based on Western culture, it become counter-intuitive if the subject matter disagrees with the values of the foreign descent learners. CLT activities should be tailor-made to suit the unique requirements of the foreign descent learners, by focusing on aspects that practically matter to them.
In a nutshell, CLT materials should give them exposure to day-to-day conversations, American accent and common expressions, which would enable the foreign descent English learners to function effectively in the American society, beyond the confines of the classroom (Dietz, 2009).
The ways in which foreign descent English learners differ from those raised in Western society create a cultural gap that is difficult to close. However, if those who are responsible for assisting the foreign descents into integration with the society understood something more about their traditions, they could be treated with the ways that made them feel the most comfortable with keeping their culture while interacting with another culture.
Something as simple as a pamphlet aimed at educators would begin the process of creating an understanding between Western English language educators and the foreign descent learners (Amedeo, Golledge & Stimson, 2009).
In attempting to learn English, the initial problem is a communication gap, therefore explaining anything about their beliefs is difficult. In order for the foreign descent English learners to develop an interest in learning English, the ESL programs initially could be conducted in foreign descent-only class rooms and use materials that suit their level of understanding of the English language (Brown, Malmkjaer & Williams, 2002).
Through education, members of the Western culture can begin to more fully understand foreign descent traditions and perhaps in understanding, find an acceptance. Therefore, through dissemination of information, foreign descent English learners can find a place to learn that does not make them feel as though they are being ridiculed (Phan, 2008).
Through qualitative research, this paper established that cultural variances, natural fear of ridicule, and late introduction to English language were the main challenges that learners and users of English as a second language faced in using English in communication.
Among the key recommendations for addressing these challenges include establishment of special English learning centers for this group and production of simple education material that would made the learning process less demanding.
Amedeo, D., Golledge, R. G., & Stimson, R. J. (2009). Person-environment-behavior research: Investigating activities and experiences in spaces and environments. NY: Guilford Press.
Brown, G., Malmkjaer, K., & Williams, J. (2002). Performance and competence in second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dietz, G. (2009). Multiculturalism, interculturality and diversity in education: An anthropological approach. Munster: Waxxman.
Phan, L. H. (2008). Teaching English as an international language: Identity, resistance and negotiation (149-204). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
- Name, age, school, descent
- How long have you stayed in America?
- When was the first time you interacted with English Language?
- Do you have challenges in learning and communicating in English language?
- What are the causes of these challenges?
- What would you recommend to address these challenges?