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Recent developments in the field of learning English as a foreign language have shown an increased interest in learning strategy and acquisition of the four skills, which refers to reading, writing, listening and speaking. While considerable research efforts have been devoted to understanding these four skills, significantly less attention has been paid to attribution which also affects the improvement in learner’s English proficiency. However, this state of affairs is rapidly changing as attribution is fast becoming one of the favorite topics among learners and teachers as they look for reasons for their successes and failures. Attribution is generally regarded as an important factor which influences learner’s success and failure (Graham, 1994). The usage of the term attribution matured with the publication in 1992 of Weiner’s influential book which gave a general description of the attribution theory. According to his book, Weiner divided all the attributions in three ways, which were; internal vs. external, stable vs. unstable, and controllable vs. uncontrollable. Matthew (2009) used Weiner’s idea about the character of attribution to conduct his experiment. In this essay, I shall perform a critical analysis of the study by Matthew on “Attribution and learning English as a foreign language”. I shall then offer my opinions on what I observed to be the strengths and the limitations of the study.
The purpose of the study was to investigate both learner and teacher’s attribution and to examine them from different perspectives which include; gender, EFL proficiency, and academic discipline. To carry out the research, interviews were used to explore the origins of attribution. In the study, Matthew (2009) adopted Weiner’s three variations on attribution to examine the participants who included undergraduate students and EFL teachers. In total, there were 545 participants who included 505 undergraduate students and 40 EFL teachers. 60 percent of students were from the field of Sciences, whereas others were humanities; just over half the sample (56%) was male, and the remaining 44% were female. All of the participants were from the City University of Hong Kong. This research investigated the attributions among these people and the connections between attribution and gender, proficiency, and academic discipline. Furthermore, the research sought to examine the origin of student attributions.
To begin with, 60 students of mixed gender and academic disciplines were interviewed to assess their attribution for success and failure at the first stage of the research. They indicated 26 common attributions including 15 for success and 11 for failure. The author then conducted a questionnaire with these 26 attributes placed in a randomized manner and using a five-point scale. Secondly, students were asked to do the questionnaire and put their number on it in order to examine the relationship between proficiency and attribution. In this case, student proficiency was obtained from the results of their Standard Year 1 test. Once the students had completed their questionnaires, a modified questionnaire was handed out to EFL teachers. Finally, follow-up interviews investigated the origins of attributions. The level of reliability of the questionnaire was 0.76 for the students and the teachers’ questionnaire was at 0.85.
The results from Matthew’s study showed that teachers strongly attributed student’s success to effort and failure to anxiety and lack of confidence while students attribute both to luck and their own efforts. More female students attributed their success to individual effort than did male students. Sciences students attribute their success to good luck and easy tests and their failure to bad luck whereas humanities students attributed their successes to their love of English, teacher’s encouragement and their own efforts. More proficient students attributed success to their own efforts while less proficient ones attributed their success to easy tests. Most common opinions on the origin of attributions were personal experience, for example: “I’m not talented in language”. Also, students affirmed that being told something positive and encouraging for example by their family could positively encourage them to learn English. The third observation was that some students attributed their success or failure to the success or failure of other people around them.
After reviewing this research on learner and teacher’s attribution, it is in my opinion that there are some limitations to the method employed. The goal of research was to examine student attributions towards teachers’ and also to test the attribution from different aspects including gender, academic discipline, and EFL proficiency. For the first purpose, the author failed to state clearly the difference between students’ questionnaire and teachers’. Matthew (2009) states that, “we modified the questionnaire to collect EFL teacher opinions. The questionnaire listed the same items and asked to what teachers attribute student success and failure“. While this points out that there were differences between the two sets of questionnaires, the differences need to be described in more detail in order to help the reader better understand how different these two attributions are.
Secondly, the author compared the different attributions on the basis of gender; unfortunately there is no statistical evidence or lists of male attributions showing the differences between genders. In addition to that, the attributions from low proficiency students have not been presented in the journal article. As a researcher or educator, teaching should not only focus on students who have higher English proficiency but also needs to find out the useful learning strategy, the way to stimulate student’s motivation and enhance student’s attribution as well. Thirdly, this journal article did not contain the interview questions in it. Different way of asking questions or using particular words in the questions would somewhat affect the answers given. Finally, the author stated that further research like “what attributions are prevalent elsewhere?” ought to be undertaken (Matthew, 2009). According to Leyser (2002), teachers were less likely to modify teaching strategies for children. As such, it is my personal opinion that teacher’s attitudes, beliefs and teaching strategies would be a more significant further research topic to see if these are other important factors in student’s attribution or not.
In conclusion, while this research contained some limitations, it still offered us some insight into learner attribution. From the answers given in the questionnaires, we could realize more not only about learner and teacher’s attributions but also the differences between the different classifications of gender, academic discipline, and language proficiency. This investigation by Matthew (2009) greatly highlighted the importance of attribution. It is my hope that this review will stimulate others to contribute to research more knowledge about the area of attribution.
Leyser, Y. (2002). Choices of Instructional Practices and Efficacy Beliefs of Israeli General and Special Educators: A Cross-Cultural Research Initiative. Teacher Education and Special Education, 25(2), 154-167.
Matthew P. (2009). Attribution and Learning English as a Foreign Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.