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Iranian Non-English Majors' Language Learning
Preferences: The Role of Language Institutes
by Azam Noora
- 1

Abstract

For effective language learning and teaching , both learner skills and assumptions should be given due attention. In promoting this idea, students should be provided with the opportunity to clarify and assess their preferences and perspectives .The reality is that many Iranian non-English major university students, attend language institutes due to the deficiency of universities in satisfying their ever-increasing desire to learn English communicatively. To investigate whether the experience of attending language institutes has any role in shaping non-English majors' college language learning preferences, we asked 192 undergraduate non-English major students with or without the experience of attending language institutes, to state their views as to how they prefer learning English in the “General English “ class . By 28.3% of the subjects had the experience of attending language institutes . The results of the Chi-square test indicate that students with or without the experience of attending language institutes, are different regarding preferred teaching method, the most important language skill and their motivational orientations. The results have implications for syllabus and material design and classroom practice.

Introduction:

Insights from nearly two decades of research in second and foreign language development in natural as well as formal setting have made us aware that language learning is primarily a learner and learning -oriented activity ( Brown, 2001; Nunan, 1988; Wright, 1990). Consequently, in recent years there have been more emphases on the role of the learner in the language learning process. Learners' beliefs about language learning is one of the more recently discussed learner variables in the field.

In curricula based on a learner-centered approach, learners have greater roles in teaching/learning processes, and this can result in the promotion of their interests and preferences toward language learning (Makarova, 1997). Moreover, Rifkin (2000) asserts that learners' beliefs (including their preferences) about the learning process are "of critical importance to the success or failure of any student's efforts to master a foreign language" (p. 394). According to Nunan (1988, p. 177), "no curriculum can claim to be truly learner-centered unless the learner's subjective needs and perceptions relating to the processes of learning are taken into account." Unfortunately, as Allwright (1984) says, "very many teachers seem to find it difficult to accept their learners as people with a positive contribution to make to the instructional process" (p. 167).

Based on Bada and Okan (2000), many teachers acknowledge the need to understand learners' preferences, but they may not actually consult learners in conducting language activities. Teachers may believe that learners are not capable of expressing what they want or need to learn and how they want to learn. However researchers like Block (1994, 1996) claim that learners do have an awareness of what goes on in classes and that teachers should therefore make an attempt to align their task orientation to that of learners. Breen (cited in Block, 1996) showed that students were able to identify specific techniques adopted by the teacher that they preferred and believed that it helped them with understanding the new language. Nunan (1989) describes two Australian studies that show learners favor traditional learning activities over more communicative activity types. Some students want more opportunities to participate in free conversation, expressing their wish towards a more communicatively oriented approach. On the other hand, there are those who would prefer more emphasis on grammar teaching ( Bada and Okan, 2000).

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