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Foreign language, foreign culture: the effect of cultural integration on language learning

Svenja Adolphs (School of English Studies).

With an increasing number of international students pursuing a qualification at the University of Nottingham there is growing pressure to provide high quality English language teaching facilities. However, the main language learning context remains in the daily interaction with native speakers of English. Yet, many international students feel isolated in the University environment and do not have regular contact with native speakers. Findings suggest that students belong to three separate and distinct social networks: monocultural (with co-nationals), bicultural (with significant host nationals) and multicultural (with other international students). To some extent, each of these networks, described as the ‘functional friendship model’ is significant to the psychological well-being of the student.

This presentation reports on a study of the effect of different levels of socio-cultural integration on language learning. Using a semi-structured interview technique two international students have been interviewed at the point of arrival in England and again eight months later to ascertain their level of socio-cultural integration. One of these students integrated more easily into the host environment while the other faced difficulties with the cultural adjustment process. Their interview data has been analysed with a view to assess language development over this period. The methodology used for this study is based on a quantitative corpus analysis which compares the language production of the international students with a five million word corpus of native speaker English and calculates an ‘approximation index’ between the two. The use of this particular quantitative methodology allows for a comparison of individual lexical items and lexical structures but is unable to provide any analysis of the appropriateness of such usage in a particular context. This limitation of the study can be explored in future research to include context-specific annotation of the learner language data.

The study also reports on the kinds of native speaker language that students are unlikely to encounter in formal classroom teaching but which they need in order to communicate in the host culture environment. Such language is characterised by informal grammar, certain direct and indirect speech acts, discourse management and signals of active listenership. These features are derived from a five million word database of transcribed native speaker English. The study explores the extent to which such discourse features are covered in current English Language Teaching classes at the University of Nottingham and makes recommendations as to the kinds of discourse features that students may need to be taught in order to be able to actively participate in the academic community. These recommendations include the teaching of a list of phrases and grammatical structures that are used by native speakers in non-academic environments (e.g. in service encounters or travel agents). Further recommendations relate to awareness raising of the importance of cultural integration for language learning purposes in induction seminars for international students.

Resource 99 of 284
Paper presented at the University's Sixth Learning & Teaching conference (January, 2005).
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