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A Profile of Dumindi - Sri Lankan Learner
by Sharon Buddemeier
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Table of Contents

The Learner
• Learner Background and Candidacy
• Learner Needs and Motivation
• Learning Style

The First Certificate in English Exam and Learner Samples

• Rationale
• Testing Factors
• Samples

Analysis of Data

• General Findings
• Speaking
• Writing
• Reading
• Listening

Learner Objectives

References and Sources Cited

References to Learner Objectives (Exercises and Activities)

Appendices

• Appendix 1 Individual Speaking Tasks (FCE Paper 5)
• Appendix 2 Writing Sample One (FCE Paper 2, re-typed)
• Appendix 3 Writing Sample Two (FCE Paper 2, re-typed)
• Appendix 4 Transcript of Informal discussion with Dumindi

The Learner

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.

Learning Style

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.

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