A Profile of Dumindi - Sri Lankan Learner
by Sharon Buddemeier
Table of Contents
The First Certificate in English Exam and Learner Samples
Analysis of Data
• General Findings
References and Sources Cited
References to Learner Objectives (Exercises and Activities)
• Appendix 1 Individual Speaking Tasks (FCE Paper 5)
Learner Background and Candidacy
Dumindi is an 18-year-old Sri Lankan student studying for her ‘A’ levels. She lives in Nugegoda, just outside Colombo, with her parents; she is an only child. Her father works for the UN as an engineer and her mother works for the Colombo Police Commission. Her father speaks English and he and Dumindi sometimes communicate in English at home; her mother only speaks Singhalese.
Dumindi has studied English in school since she was six years old. All of her current classes, with the exception of a twice-weekly English language class, are in Singhalese. She studies seven days a week, including twice a week at the British Council, Colombo. She has taken two out of four 10-week (45 hours) FCE preparation classes and is now following a pre-Advanced course. She uses the self-access centre at the British Council about once a week and usually does listening practice.
I first met Dumindi outside of the British Council library where we had a very interesting conversation in which she told me that she wished she had a ‘personal English trainer.’ We discussed why she was learning English and her future plans, and continued to run into each other around school over the following weeks. So, when the time came for me to start this assignment, she came quickly to mind. She was very keen to participate in the project and get detailed personal feedback that would help her attain her short-term goal of passing the First Certificate in English exam (FCE).
Learner Needs and Motivation
During our first ‘official’ meeting, Dumindi and I discussed her needs and motivation. They are inevitably linked to one another, and yet in Dumindi’s case, they are quite complex. Her short-term needs are exam-based and her life goals are at the heart of why she is learning English. She wants to be a navy doctor, and the first step on the path to achieving her goal is to get admitted to an appropriate university.
Her preference is to attend a university in Colombo, but places are scarce and the competition is fierce. She therefore feels there is a high probability that she will not be accepted for immediate entry. It is common for students in Sri Lanka to be admitted to a university, but to have to wait one to two years before a space becomes available for them to actually begin their course of study. Dumindi, and moreover her parents, feel that such a long waiting period is unacceptable and so if she does not receive immediate placement, she will go abroad to study. Dumindi shared that both of her parents “strongly encourage” her to study English so that she will be prepared if and when she must go abroad. To do this, her goals over the next two years are to pass the FCE exam, to pass the CAE exam in 2009, and to score high enough on the IELTS exam to gain admittance to a UK university program in 2010.
Her motivation, therefore, is both extrinsic and intrinsic. Dumindi comes from a culture and a family background where obedience and filial piety don’t end when you reach a certain age. Williams (1999), writing about motivation, asserts, “from a cognitive perspective, one factor that is of central importance is choice” (p.3). It is essential to remember that ‘choice’ has very different connotations in different cultures. In many cultures, including Dumindi’s, parental approval and obedience are far more central to one’s life than personal wants and private ambitions.
As a result, her reason for studying English has what Gardener (1985) calls an instrumental orientation because her motivation arises from the external goals of passing exams that will, eventually, lead to a successful career. She very much wants to please her parents, and although she personally would prefer to wait and attend a local university, she won’t consider delaying her education and disappointing her mother and father. That said, she is definitely willing to go abroad and her parents do accept her goal of becoming a doctor in the navy.
Dumindi completed Ellis and Sinclair’s quiz “What sort of language learner are you?” (Appendix 6) as well as Nunan and Lockwood’s (1991) student questionnaire (Appendix 7). She scored ‘18’ on the quiz which means that she has a mixture of both analytical and relaxed learning styles. The most revealing points on the Nunan questionnaire and during the follow-up discussion showed that she is generally more relaxed than analytical. From Nunan it was discovered, “It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand every word,” “I [don’t] plan what I am going to say before I speak,” “Out of class I always try and practice my English,” and “It doesn’t bother me if I make mistakes.”
In the follow-up discussion about her learning style, she said, “I have to [spend more time thinking and practicing grammar] because I never take much time to correct my faults” (see Appendix 8) for a complete transcript of our discussion). She also clarified her rankings in regard to the question “How and where do you like learning?” on the Nunan survey. She had ranked ‘learning at home by yourself’ number one, but explained that this was true for her in general, but not true for learning English. She said “In class listening to the teacher” and “In class working in groups” were most important because of the immediate feedback and error correction from the teacher and classmates.
Overall, she feels that her communication skills are good but she struggles with range and accuracy. After numerous meetings and observing her in class for a total of three hours, I believe that her self-awareness will help her immensely in improving her English.
The First Certificate in English Exam and Learner Samples
The FCE exam was chosen as the primary assessment tool because it fits with Dumindi’s needs and level. After completing the third and final portion of the upper-intermediate level course at the British Council, Dumindi took two classes in preparation for the FCE exam. This follows the center’s recommendation for learners at her level. She has a definitive plan to take the exam this year and passing the exam is her current priority as it is the first hurdle she must cross in order to reach her goal of entering a UK university.
The most important consideration when choosing a test is that it is useful for the purpose for which it is intended. The FCE exam is particularly useful to Dumindi because she must pass it in order to achieve her goals. Because the results of the exam will have a significant impact on her life, beneficial backwash was one reason that it was chosen. The exam is also useful for me because I am familiar with it having been both the Assessor and the Interrogator for many FCE speaking tests over the last two years. The fact that the test covers the four skill areas and includes language systems is useful for both of us because it allows me to pinpoint areas for Dumindi to work on. The analysis of these areas has allowed me to prioritize and enumerate clear objectives for her short-term study goals.
When further considering the usefulness of the test, I will look at the qualities of reliability, validity, authenticity, and practicality. The entire exam takes just under 5 hours of ‘testing time’ to complete and there are 5 sections to the exam: Reading (paper 1), Writing (paper 2), Use of English (paper 3), Listening (paper 4), and Speaking (paper 5). I will look at these sections together when evaluating the usefulness of the exam, making reference to particularities of certain sections where applicable.
Reliability is achieved in all sections by having specific marking criteria for assessment and by making the learner aware of these criteria. The exam gives clear instructions and allows for totally objective scoring in Papers 1, 3, and 4. Papers 2 and 5 are marked somewhat subjectively, but using qualified, trained examiners and having detailed marking criteria ensures their reliability. There is discreet item testing in Paper 3, and all of the papers have a number of texts and topics. This gives the learner the opportunity to re-focus and attempt each area with a fresh start.
Validity is achieved by ensuring that the tasks are authentic, integrative, and communicative. The reading texts are authentic and of different genres (3 articles from different types of publications and an interview) and the writing tasks and topics are relevant to EFL learners and are not particularly culturally biased (letters to friends, food, family). Paper 3 tests a wide range of grammatical systems that a learner at this level should be able to use with some degree of success. The number of structures that it tests allows me to identify and analyze particular areas that Dumindi needs to work on. Similarly, Paper 4 tests a number of listening skill areas through use of very different genres such as two friends talking and a radio program.
The examinees can choose the person that they want to do the communicative speaking paper with and the subjects discussed are again relevant and neutral. The level of lexis is appropriate to each task, and the skills and systems are integrated. For example, listening and speaking in Paper 5, and reading and writing in Paper 2, Part 1. Cross-analysis of the data will help to show areas in need of improvement as well.
The speaking samples have been transcribed and comprise Appendices 1 (individual speaking tasks) and 2 (interactive speaking task) but the line numbering is continuous to avoid confusion when referring to examples in the analysis.
The entire original test can be found in Appendix 5. These appendices will be referred to as necessary in the analysis.
Analysis of Data
According to the FCE marking criteria on the Cambridge ESOL website, a pass grade (C) “corresponds to about 60% of the total marks.” Dumindi scored 66% in Reading, 52% in Use of English, and 77% in Listening. One of her writing papers fulfilled the requirements of the task to a satisfactory level, but one did not. Her speaking paper was quite reasonably effective overall; as an FCE oral examiner and I would give her a ‘global achievement’ score of ‘3.5’ which is a pass. All of these areas are analyzed in much greater detail below.
Overall strengths include comprehensible pronunciation including tone softening, a wide variety of lexical chunks including multiword verbs, good interactive communication skills such as responding and turn-taking, and the quality and extent of her ideas when speaking.
Prominent weaknesses are problems with modality that obscure meaning, the lack of grammatical cohesion in both spoken and written discourse, grammatical accuracy for her needs and level, and frequent repetition even though her range is clearly evident at times.
A different type of interference
English is one of the official languages in Sri Lanka and so ‘mother tongue’ interference is two-fold when analyzing errors. In addition to ‘normal’ L1 interference, there is also Sri Lankan English. While the errors originally came from the mother tongue, they have become accepted in the Sri Lankan English. ‘Errors’ can be found in newspapers, official documents, and in English textbooks like Dumindi’s.
Differences include certain uses of present continuous, use of present and past perfect, use of some modal verbs, and the appearance of antiquated and excessively formal language. Hence, some errors were systematically fossilized at a young age as she was taught them at home and in school. Specific examples are noted in the detailed analysis of these and other errors while strengths are primarily just referred to by line number in order to respect word limit.
The following criteria were used to assess Dumindi’s speaking:
* Reminder: the following line numbers are from Appendices 1 and 2
• Some range of verb tenses:
• Range and use of multiword verbs such as advised to, keep her eye on (6, 23, 41, 45, 48)
• Use of adj + prep: interested in (4), good for (25)
• Use of direct speech to talk about her parents scolding her (21-22).
• Use of ‘like’ to mean ‘for example’ (23).
Systematic errors. Her father told me that Dumindi really wants to attend Colombo University but they “must not let her in” [probably will not].
• Errors with present continuous are confusing and strain the listener:
(L1/Sri Lankan English interference; also grammar of say/tell)
• over-generalizes ‘made by’ + pronoun to ‘made by’ + noun (10, 12)
Range, accuracy, and appropriacy of lexis
• Wide range and variety of lexis:
• inability to substitute pronouns or allow the listener to infer through use of ellipses leads to frequent repetition (dressing, 23-24) and elders (35, 36, 37).
• repetition of ‘good’ (27), perfectly (26, 29) and ‘suitable’ (18, 20, 21, 22, 30, 32) are evidence of a lack of range of adjectives.
• Misuse of vocabulary:
Discourse management (coherence, extent, relevance)
• Extends responses appropriately:
• Relevant and mature ideas:
• able to sustain a long turn without major pauses
• able to self correct- no one can say . . . no one can recognize (19)
• problems with grammatical cohesion:
Pronunciation (stress and rhythm, intonation, individual sounds)
• Utterances are almost always understandable so communication is not impeded.
• Problems with staccato rhythm combined with and ‘sing song’ intonation rarely interfere with meaning or listener comprehension because she speaks and she puts the primary stress in the correct place on words and puts stronger emphasis (although not with the appropriate tone) on the important parts of the sentences.
• Speech is often ‘sing song’ (4, 13, 42, 44) due to mother tongue being syllable-timed as opposed to stress-timed. Also lack of weak forms and contractions.
• some words which caused difficulty were ‘personality’ (25), deceives (28), and misjudge (38) due to uncertainty of stress placement. Also, ‘interviewers’ (34) because of the /v/ and /w/ sounds being so close together, and ‘through’ (45) because of the consonant cluster /?r/.
Interactive communication (initiating and responding, hesitation, turn-taking)
• Appropriate responses and ability to politely soften her tone when expressing disagreement.
• Appropriate turn-taking and interaction particularly evident when she helps Asha to complete her thought when she couldn’t find the right words (43).
• Many brief but noticeable hesitations in the form of ‘uh’ even in short utterances sometimes put a strain on the listener. This may related to stress-timing as many of the ‘hesitations’ appear to be put in to create a rhythm that feels right to her.
The following criteria will be used in assessing Dumindi’s writing:
The two writing samples are of similar genres, but are written with very different purposes and styles. The first is a formal letter with the primary purpose of giving directions, and the second is an informal letter to a friend with the purpose of giving instructions for a recipe.
* Reminder: the following line numbers are from Appendices 3 and 4; Sample 1= (S1) and Sample 2 = (S2)
Task achievement and content
• she gives the origin of the dish, it is clearly described, and can easily follow the recipe (S1)
• she has a very friendly way of writing and including the reader: your mouth will be watering (36), as you know (28), I am very happy to give you (26)
• all of the information in S2 is clear, necessary, and nothing major is omitted.
• The apology is clear and is repeated. Because of her correct use of polite language in both the introduction and the conclusion, the reader is likely to understand that she doesn’t mean to be rude (S2)- [see weaknesses under appropriacy]
• Task not achieved in S1:
o Unable to choose useful and relevant subject matter: just the bus number, the number of stops and/or a landmark, how to meet her
o She includes a lot of unnecessary/illogical information see highlights (5-9)
o She exceeds the word count in both samples, and will struggle to be succinct when she takes the exam.
Appropriacy of organization, style and genre
• Both samples are in the correct format including proper paragraphing, closing, and signature
o Good use of sequencers (S2) and control over usage of capital letters and full stops, and appropriate use of commas make the texts easy to read.
• Appropriate use of good language for an informal letter (highlighted in analysis)
• Inappropriate language (S1) evidence of lack of awareness of register differences in
Range and complexity of language
• Good range of:
• Language for giving directions:
• repetition of ‘then’ (33, 34, 35, 37, 38) instead of substituting ‘after that’ or ‘next’ makes S1 a bit boring to read; she also uses ‘then’ in (10, 11, 14).
Accuracy of language (including lexis, spelling, and grammar)
• Spelling is very good and never causes miscommunication or strain on the reader.
Accuracy for the level is a problem as evidenced by her writing and the low score on Paper 3. Like many students in Sri Lanka, she has been pushed through the system too quickly due to her communicative competence and listening skills at the expense of accuracy.
• Unable to use her range of phrases for giving directions accurately to create meaningful discourse [see task achievement].
• modality and other verb tenses:
o When you arrived at the station call a taxi and asked the driver (7)
• Use of articles causes confusion because she only uses the definite article (the) in lines 10-12 and so the reader doesn’t know which junction is being referred to.
• Use of prepositions such as reach to (5, 6)
• Failure to use contractions in S2 makes text overly formal
Dumindi’s told me that she loves reading and often reads books in English that she has previously read in Singhalese; she rarely reads newspapers and magazines. This admission may help to explain her strengths and weaknesses in that she often reads for detail and specific information, but she doesn’t read text that lends itself to gist reading.
• reading for detail and specific information
Improvements can be made in reading for gist and deducing meaning from context, but overall she’s a strong reader.
• understanding global meaning and main points
Areas to work on, but not particular weaknesses:
• understanding dialogues, particularly those that include lots of pronoun references when more than one topic is discussed simultaneously
Primary areas to focus on over the next two terms (20 weeks):
1) improve oral fluency
To improve oral fluency:
• Record herself speaking alone (describing pictures) and with a partner (about a topic from an FCE practice exam). Then listen and notice the number of times she hesitates and/or repeats. After she has gained an awareness, she can work on removing them from her speech.
• She is confident in her speaking ability, so she could ask a classmate to signal her when she hesitates or repeats herself in a task during class.
• Use the tapescripts in her coursebook and circle the contractions. Practice reading the text using the contractions.
• Attend Speaking Club on Wednesdays.
To improve grammatical accuracy:
- Set a schedule to work through English Grammar in Use to review and consolidate grammar that she must be in control of at her level. (1)
- Review notes and exercises from your FCE class, focusing on ‘Use of English’ sections.
- Modal verbs (3, 9, 12, 15, 21, 26) and Present continuous (11, 17, 21, 26)
- Articles 2, 13, 21, 25
- Prepositions 5, 15, 21, 25
To extend and build lexis to improve discourse:
- Begin a vocabulary notebook of new lexis and spend time reviewing possible word class and various use of items. Try recording in categories, collocations, and spidergrams and see what works best. Work on building word families. 17, 19, 20
- Continue reading novels and check out the graded readers in the library. Look for magazines in the school library that may be of interest such as Reader’s Digest. Record useful expressions and language in vocabulary notebook.
- Work on avoiding repetition by practicing referencing and substitution activities. 7, 21, 22
To improve writing skills:
- Review process writing and focus on the different stages, particularly selecting relevant information to include, and reference markers. Ask questions in class when you discuss writing.
- Keep a writing diary and try to incorporate newly acquired lexis. Check past writing focusing on problematic grammatical areas.
- Practice use of text organizers. 2, 14, 18, 21
- Read examples of formal and informal letters and note differences in register and practice re-writing informal text to make it formal. 6, 14, 16, 18
To prepare for the FCE exam (to take in December):
- Continue to use the practice tests in the computer room and practice at home: http://www.examenglish.com/FCE/Use_of_English.htm
- Always list ideas and select the best, do an outline, and check the word count before writing.
- Organize a ‘speaking time’ with Aisha where you practice the interactive task and give each other feedback. Review language for giving directions then do these activities. 23, 24
A look to the future
Dumindi will need to work more on her pronunciation as well as her reading and listening skills in future, but her immediate focus is the FCE exam and her level in these areas is enough for her needs. Many exercises and tasks listed here integrate all of the skills and the areas listed above must take priority.
References and Sources Consulted
Ellis, G. and Sinclair, B., Learning to Learn English, Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Gardener, R.C., Social Psychology and Language Learning: the role of attitudes and motivation, Edward Arnold, 1985.
Nunan, D. & Lockwood, J. The Australian English course, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Williams, M. ‘Motivation in language learning.’ English Teaching Professional, Issue 13, October 1999.
Williams, M. and Burden, R., Psychology for Language Teachers: a Social Constructivist Approach, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Bachman, L. & Palmer, A. Language Testing in Practice, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Carne, P. et al. Cambridge Practice Tests for First Certificate, Student’s Book 1 & 2 (Book 1, Test 4), Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Figueras, N. Testing, testing, everywhere, and not a while to think, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, Volume 59/1, January 2005.
Taylor, L. Washback and impact, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, Volume 59/2, April 2005.
Tomlinson, B. Testing to Learn: a personal view to language testing, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, Volume, 2003.
Tomlinson, B. A response to Neus Figueras. ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, Volume 59/1, January 2005.
Analysis and Objectives:
Batstone, R. Grammar, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Bolitho, R. & Tomlinson, B. Discover English, Heinemann, 2002 .
Bygate, M. Speaking, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Cook, G. Discourse, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Corder, S. P. Error Analysis & Interlanguage, Oxford University Press, 1982.
Ellis, R. The Study of Second Language Acquisition, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Fowle, C. Vocabulary Notebooks: Implementation and Outcomes, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, Volume 56/4, October 2002.
Gairns, R. and Redman, S. Working with Words, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Hedge, T. Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Leech, Geoffrey N. Meaning and the English Verb, Second Edition, Longman, 1987.
McCarthy, M. Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Meyler, M. A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English, 2007.
Norrish, J. Language Learners and their Errors, MacMillian, 1983.
Parrott, M. Grammar for English Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Richards, J. C. Error Analysis: Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition, Longman, 1974.
Shackle, C. ‘Speakers of Indian languages,’ in Swan and Smith’s Learner English: A teacher’s guide to interference and other problems, Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Swan, M. Practical English Usage, Oxford University Press, 2005.
1) Murphy, R. English Grammar in Use, CUP, 1985.
Appendix 1: Individual speaking tasks
Speaking: FCE Paper 5
Individual task 1
Sharon: Are you studying English for any special purpose?
1) I am studying English for my higher studies. I am hoping to go abroad after I am
Asha: (responds to same question)
A: (responds to the same question.)
A: (responds to the same question.)
S: … Compare and contrast these two pictures of houses saying how you’d feel living in each of those places….
S: Asha, which of those two houses would you prefer?
S: Ok. Thank you . . . Now, do you think it’s important to dress smartly for work?
S: Have you ever had any problems with your teachers or your parents about the clothes you wear, Dumindi?
A: (responds to the same question.)
S: And how important is if for you to dress fashionably?
S: Now I’d like you to talk together. Here is a picture of a young woman. She’s going for a job interview tomorrow. She wants to get a job looking after elderly people. She wants your advice about her appearance. Talk together and discuss whether she should change her appearance and, if so, how….
A: Well, I don’t agree with you because the main thing is the personality and all. I don’t think her appearance effects for that badly.
A: Yes, that’s true but when we do… when we think about her side I don’t think she should change her appearance because she’s doing her job and if she do her job … did it correct and good…
A: I think that she could manage that herself because it’s her thing… it’s her… I don’t know what… she uh…
43) She’ll manage it together.
A: Yeah, she’ll manage anything to do because this is not a new thing for her.
44) Yeah, but she applied for … if the elder person is very sick and she has to
A: I think it’s not suitable for change her appearance. Better to be like who she is. That’s the best things….main things.
48) If she can take care of the elders and do whatever it is, her appearance won’t be 49) mind…
Writing: FCE Paper 2, Part 1
1) I’am Dumindi K------. I am the secretary of the History Society of Swansea
Writing: FCE Paper 2, Part 2, #2
24) Dear Sibborn,
Appendix 4: Notes and excerpts from a discussion about learner styles questionnaires.
D: Both of them have things which I have to make it…. Sometimes when I am speaking and make a mistake… If I say some grammar point are wrong I feel threat.
I don’t have enough time.
S: Are you very self-critical?
D: No, not really, but I think I have to be because I never take much time to correct my faults. I like learning but I don’t pay much attention to correcting my faults.
S: Do you have a memory of any particular positive experience?
D: I had said about my elocution exam I was successful. For all thing things I have got more than 85, so I feel confident about that. And at the British Council in my first term I did presentation and I got A for that. At that day I felt that I can do that.
S: So that was about a year ago then.
s: You wrote that at school sometime the teacher scold you. How do they scold you?
D: They scold that the grammar is bad. For students who are poor at English they feel very bad and don’t feel confident when they scold them like that way.
S: Did you get scolded a lot that way.
D: Yeah. I mean earlier like in that primary school they usually do that because I’m not that good in English but when I am about 11 years old I got a private tutor.
S: So after that there wasn’t any more scolding?
D: No, I never give a chance.
S: I want to talk about this question- where and how do you like learning. You wrote that you like learning at home by yourself and in class listening to the teacher. What do you like about those ways of learning?
D: I do like that but not in English but for other things that I am studying it is the best way.
S: So for learning English which way do you like best?
D: In class listening to the teacher.
S: Any others?
D: In class working in groups.
S: What do you like about that?
D: We get other students faults and we can correct that if we have that fault in our account we can also correct that one and get a large amount of knowledge.
S: So do you like learning English at home?
D: No, not really. In class. Because in the class I could ask but at home I can’t ask from anyone.
S: You wrote that you don’t like learning listening and grammar. What don’t you like?
D: In grammar I forget it every time. When I feel that thing is boring I never try to learn that and for listening it’s hard to focus what we have to write.
S: You mean the answers about the listening?
S: So what have you tried to do to improve your listening?
D: Yesterday I practiced about FCE. I take a work pack (from the English learning centre in the British Council library) and I practice one test. But I got not much marks for that.
S: Do you ever use the television or radio to help you learn? Do you think it’s a good way to practice your English?
D: Yeah. Watching movies probably. You know ArtTV? I am watching those home movies. I usually watch when I have free time. It’s in English with the Sinhala subtitles so I feel some difficulty I watch.. uh, read it. And I watch the English news- Channel ‘I’.
S: You wrote that you like to learn new words but that you always forget them. How do you learn new words.
D: If my teacher is saying a new word then I wrote it and the meaning in my language or in English. If I like the meaning or something like that I remember it, but usually no.
S: Do you look back over your notes and try to learn the words?
D: Yeah, if I got… If I’m writing something like a letter then I usually look at it and take it as point but I usually miss that.
S: Is the only time you speak English with you father or do you speak English with your friends or at your college?
D: At my college I usually don’t have enough chance because it’s a Buddhist school but sometimes if someone speaking to me English then I am speaking them English. But outside, on some public day, when someone is speaking English with me I speak in English to them.