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Students, especially female students from some developing countries of Asia, South America, and Africa, whose native language is not English, often suffer from poor communication and are not able to participate effectively in the class. This results in poor performance of some such students and they may be reticent in the class and show poor performance in the academic year. The paper would discuss factors such as experience, gender, and social distance that may affect the classroom participation of students from Vietnam and Sal Salvador. The paper also provides some recommendations that would help such students to get over their shyness and participate more effectively in the classroom.
Obstacles to Classroom Participation
Meyerhoff (2006) speaks of the problems faced by students from developing countries and studying in the US and Europe. These students do not have English as their native language and have a different social culture in the schools and the open atmosphere of colleges in the developed countries often make them develop an inferiority complex that acts as a barrier for such students. While these students give the desired performance in the reading, vocabulary, and writing, grammar class, their participation in the listening and speaking class is poor. A few of the main reasons for this difference are discussed in this section.
Education in their native Countries
Countries such as Vietnam, China, El Salvador, and others have different education patterns. In these societies, the educational environment is transmissive and the teacher is the supreme authority and giver of education. The idea of learning is to listen to what the teacher says, understand it, and not ask too many questions. Asking a question is often interpreted as the student is not a good learner and has difficulties. In the education system in developed countries is that the teacher plays the role of a ringmaster and students are expected to listen quietly. In developed countries, students are supposed to speak and interact. This creates a conflict as the students from developing countries would regard the speech of other students as of no value and their perception of taking the course is changed to negative. For such students, listening to other students speak and themselves speaking are not regarded as learning activities. These students have to be shown that speaking in front of a class builds confidence and would help them in their future lives (Meyerhoff, 2006).
Social Culture and Distance
Hofstede (2003) has created a framework to assess different natural cultures and the framework can be used to understand and predict the behavior of cultures and with a high level of persistency over a time period. The author conducted research among a large number of IBM employees and the study covered about 70 countries. He identified five primary dimensions Power Distance – PDI, Masculinity – MAS, Individualism – IDV, Uncertainty Avoidance – UAI, and Long-Term Orientation – LTO, and each dimension was given an index value on a 1 to 100 scale. The indices can be used to assess and predict the national culture and behavior but they cannot be used to assess an individual. As per the ratings given by Hofstede, El Salvador and Vietnam have a score of PDI 70, IDV 23, MAS 42, and UAI 90. This means that people from this culture are tolerant of changes and are willing to accept uncertainty a With a PDI of 70, students would expect a large distance between the teacher and the students, and inequality is acceptable. With an IDV of 23, it means that there is a tendency to form close cultural groups and communities and individual roles are rather muted. Students would like to be seen as a collective group and would refrain from doing anything that would get their attention. With a MAS of 42, it means that feminine roles are subjugated and females are ready to accept less individualism. So female students are particularly very shy and ready to accept authority and ready to accept a dominant figure and would not speak back. With a UAI score of 90, it means that the students would be willing to accept strict rules of conduct and would like order in their lives. Such students would not willingly break any rules and are often punctual in attendance though they may never participate actively. So the culture of El Salvador and Vietnam would tend to create students who are subjugated to authority, would not display individualism, remain silent in the class and female students would be particularly shy and reticent. As a comparison, the scores for US students in PDI 37, IDV 90, MAS 67, and UAI 52. Such students who are outspoken would raise questions and speak in the class, attempt to outshine and stand out and female students would not like to be dominated.
Students from developing countries have limited interaction with the teachers and students typically face two main difficulties: the perceived role of the teacher and unfamiliarity with the teaching methods. They would have spent their formative years in schools where the teacher would begin the lectures and expect students to understand what he was saying. So when the lecture turns into a discussion in developed countries and students are expected to give their thoughts and impressions, feelings of anxiety overtake Vietnam and El Salvador students (Meyerhoff, 2006).
Language and other Motivation Problems
Emic (2001) has pointed out that in many cases, students are not very fluent in spoken English and their language is very accented. They would have difficulty in framing the right words and explaining their thoughts. It may also happen that some students may laugh at the awkward manner of speaking and the victim then feels a sense of humiliation and shame and would not speak out in front of other people. While such issues cannot be avoided, it is up to the students to enroll in other courses so that their basic English speaking skills are improved. Countries such as El Salvador and Vietnam have good facilities for English speaking and students can very well enroll for some classes before entering college in the USA. All in all, such incidents serve to remove the motivation of the students who develop a fear of speaking in public and in front of other people.
Lack of Sufficient Knowledge
Some students would also have reservations about asking questions since it would mean that other students have understood the subject while only I have not. In some cases, fresher would face further problems when asked to speak about things that they are not aware of. As an example, female discrimination based on gender is an active topic and it would be expected that female students would be outspoken about such issues. But in all probability female students from El Salvador and Vietnam have grown up in a society that regards women as inferior and they have come to accept this discrimination. So when asked to speak against discrimination, they would not know what to say. When discussions move to topics of current issues, such students may not be well-read and again may not know what to say (Nikolas, 1997).
Classroom Recommendations to increase participation
Richard (2003) has suggested a number of ways in which participation from students can be increased. According to the author, creating the right environment that seems friendly is the first step in encouraging participation. These include making appropriate seating arrangements, establishing rules for discussion, creating small groups for discussions, providing visual aids, adopting a friendly manner in the discussion so that any feelings of hesitancy are removed, starting role-playing, giving motivational speech at the beginning are some of the methods.
Writing about the seating arrangement, the author notes that teachers often do not have the best classrooms available and have to manage with whatever facilities are at hand. Students should be seated in a circle or half circle, not very close but enough distance apart, and should be able to see each other. If any writing board is required, it should be provided and the teacher can stand near the board to write down the main points of the discussion. The author also recommends that students, particularly female students should be invited to stand near the board and write so that they get over their initial fears of participation. The seating should be such that it should be possible to pull back the chairs and form smaller groups a needed. The role of the teacher is important at this juncture and she should focus on making all students participate. Smiles and words of encouragement go a long way in building confidence and removing shyness (Richard, 2003).
Richard (2003) also points out that establishing ground rules is very important. avoiding hot arguments, allowing others to speak, not interrupting when another person speaks, focusing on the topic, and ensuring that one speaker does not dominate the discussion are some of the rules. These rules should be properly explained to all the students. The groups should be made self-regulatory so that if someone attempts to break the rules, the group members themselves point this out. When having fresh members who are reluctant to speak, it helps if other students of the same country are put together along with other students. This would allow the reticent and shy speaker to draw support from her fellow student and each would help to build the confidence of the other. It must be explained to the group that certain students from developing countries should be allowed to clarify among their own friends in their language and this would allow a more confident student to help her fellow student to understand what is being discussed. However, the clarification should not become a long-winded discussion that would leave out other students wondering what was going on.
Richard (2003) also suggests that such class participation is not meant to bring out how much one student knows about a topic but more of how well they can put out their ideas. So, some reference material or online links should be provided beforehand so that the students prepare themselves well and have some meaningful content to give.
The paper has examined the problems faced by female students from Vietnam and El Salvador when they show less participation in classroom activities during college. Factors such as the original educational background and teaching method, social culture, fluency in English are some of the factors that act as barriers. The paper has also examined methods by which such barriers can be removed to increase participation.
Emic. 2001. Asian Students’ Classroom Communication Patterns in U.S. Universities. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Hofstede. 2003. Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions. 2008. Web.
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Meyerhoff Miriam. 2006. Introducing Sociolinguistics, 1 edition. Routledge.
Nikolas Coupland. 1997. Sociolinguistics: A Reader. Palgrave Macmillan.
Richard-Amato Patricia A. 2003. Making It Happen: From Interactive to Participatory Language Teaching Theory and Practice, 3rd edition. Longman Publishing Group.