Topic: THE IMPACT OF AUTONOMOUS LEARNING ON GRADUATE STUDENTS’ PROFICIENY LEVEL IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING
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Student-centered learning has received much attention in the last few years, especially when research interest in foreignlearning language has changed from teacher centered instruction to the learner-centered perspective, whereby learner-related factors are being examined.Learner Autonomy has taken firm root in foreign language education in last few decades, particularly in relation to lifelong learning skills. It has served to transform old practices in the language classes and has heralded the origin of self-access language learning centers over the world. Such centers includes, to mention a few, the ASLLC within the Hong Kong Institute of Education, the SALC in Kanda University of International Studies in Japan, the SAC institute at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the ELSAC within theUniversity of Auckland. As a result of such institutions, language teaching is now being seen as language learning, andthey have endeavored to place the learner at the center of attention in language learning education.
There are several disputes about the precise definition of the term autonomous learning. Despite all the disputes, we can establish that the commonest and widely honored and quoted definition for this term was coined by Holec who viewed it as the capacity to take charge of an individual’s own learning. Dafei (2007) stresses specifically this definition’s implication. He states that autonomy is not just merely the act of learning by ones-self but more accurately the ability to do the learning. It therefore may not be relevant to be independently learning at the given time as to be able of doing it finally, Benson (2006). Fenne 2010, on the other hand, focuses above everything on the claim that autonomy is more of a philosophy or attitude than a mere method. According to the herein definitions, autonomous learning does not just require conscious initiatives, but also metacognitive strategies such as organizing, planning and reflecting on language-learning. Some researchers talks of autonomy learning as a complex process that requires affective and social factors such as learners’ attitudes towards the preferred language (Thanasoulas, 2000). This may also include political aspect since it allows the students to take much of the control of their lives as well as the added freedom of choice (Reinders, 2010)
The learner-centered practices focus on teachers showing students how to discriminate learning choices and to monitor both the negative and positive consequences of these choices. This may be a trial-and-error process which requires teacher support and encouragement. For instance, if a student shows interest in studying a particular topic as an English assignment, but finds out that he or she has a challenge of understanding it because of unfamiliar words used, the teacher should recommend a similar topic through a resource that has lower level vocabulary. The teacher can as well have the student create a list of the unfamiliar words and look up their meanings a dictionary.
The other element we need to understand is the term language proficiency. Brière (1972) defines this term language proficiency as the level or degree of competence or capability in a given language as demonstrated by an individual at a given time independent of a particular sourcebook, chapter in the book, or any pedagogical method. The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) (2011) defines the term proficiency as a person’s ability to function in the target foreign language despite the type of training him or she has had in that language. This definition implies that a considerable element of being proficient is to be able to function in real-life language situations.
Recently, some research has been carried out to study the language learning experiences among the international graduate students. It is so rewarding to listen to these students’ voices in their struggle to gain a better comprehension of their foreign-language-learning experiences and to help support as appropriate, their experiences while they study in foreign lands. What kind of language related learning experiences do international students need in order to enhance their second language proficiency? How do these foreign students relate with native speakers in the new culture they find themselves in? What kind of support do they need for successful adjustmentinto their new environment? These are some of the most critical questions that need to be answered concerning the language proficiency issues. In is in this desire to understand what factors affects linguistic proficiency that we look at the autonomous learning and its impact(George 1955).
Learner Autonomy in Linguistics
Learning languages other than one’s mother tongue requires a lot of motivation, without which learning may turn into an overburdening and tiresome process. A large volumeof research has been done to investigate the role of motivation in second language learning. According to Cook (2000), motivation,personality andare the prime factors affecting second language acquisition. Cook holds that, among the other many factors, motivation gets the most effective role. Furthermore, the role of teachers should be considered in motivating learners (Gömleksiz, 2001). In an EFL context, where there is limited access to the native language speakers, the interaction between the teacher and the learners gains an enormous importance. In Gömleksiz’s opinion, teachers’ success directly affects the learners’ success. Teaching strategies also have a remarkable effect on motivation. Walker (1997) suggests that teachers’ approach in teachingteaching will influence learners’ motivation(George 1955).
The pedagogical and theoretical rationale for implementation of more learner-centered approach to teaching is a well-developed scheme and dates back many decades ago. Starting from around 1950 and being under the influenced of the work of (George 1955) and other psychologists, there erupted an increased recognition of the significance of learners as active individuals who bring previous beliefs,experiences and preferences to their classroom. Instead of seeing the learners as passive persons to be entirely guided by their teachers, these humanist approaches viewed the learners as people who actively shape their learning experiences with the sole purpose of self-development as well as fulfillment (Atkinson 1993). At the same time, constructivism considers a more central stage to the learners by focusing little on the knowledge to be transferred. They also focus more on the process of reorganizing, constructing and sharing the knowledge gained. In order to gain success, learners should be made aware of their own learning capabilities as well as how to manage it (Lowes 1999).
Establishing autonomy in the graduate classroom is done by providing the learners with opportunities to make critical decisions and choices about their learning in an informed way (Nunan, 2003). This means that the learners have a say in how and what they learn. The teacher encourages scheme by giving these learners opportunities and tools necessary to make informed decisions concerning their learning. This normally applies to both choosing proper material and learning strategies. However, giving choices and options to the learners is a change that shouldbe made gradually,taking into consideration how much of the responsibility they are used to (Lowes & Target, 1999).
The teachers’ duty in an autonomous graduate language classroom is to help the learners learn by exposing them to the foreign language and providing chances for them to practice the language in class as well as away from class (Lowes 1999). Teachers who are aiming at fostering learner autonomy among the graduates also have to be aware of the significance of differentiation. Differentiating instruction refers to the idea of accommodating the various ways in which the learners learn. This helps him to design the lessons in a way which is relevant to learners’ needs and differences within the classroom(Lowes 1999).
Autonomous learning has always been considered to be more effective than non-autonomous learning. Simply stated, the development of autonomy in learningimplies better language mastery. This is one of the three major hypotheses on which researches in the field of autonomy are founded on. Benson (2001) stated that many advocates for autonomy are focusing primarily in the ability of the learners to learn effectively in terms of personal goals. The many researches that has been carried out in the field of learner autonomy has not yet established a stronger relationship with the proficiency aspect. There istherefore a dire need for research that will explore this relationship between the development of autonomy and the development of language proficiency. From practicalstandpoints of Professional Teaching Articles November 2007, such research will help to validate the various forms of practice that aims to establish autonomy in view of language-learning merits.From theoretical point, it can help the stakeholders to test and expound on the theoretical hypothesis that autonomy in linguistic learning is equaled to efficientlanguage learning(Zhe2009).
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