Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

“Let’s talk”: Effective English language learning for interacting successfully in study, life and work (#13)

Jennifer M Jones 1
  1. University of Auckland, Auckland, 1042, New Zealand

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

This paper showcases excellent practice in a university English Language Enrichment centre. It reports on a study undertaken with local English-speaking volunteers and international university students who speak English as an additional language (EAL) and attend one or both of two University of Auckland speaking groups: “Let’s talk” and “Let’s talk to Aucklanders” (LTTA). Both groups were started in response to the expressed needs of EAL students who experienced difficulty in finding opportunities to speak English (especially with first language speakers) and thus the chance to develop their speaking proficiency and listening comprehension. Students recognise the need to develop their language proficiency so that they can succeed in their studies and their lives and work beyond university. The two groups involve EAL students and a language advisor, and LTTA relies heavily on the involvement of a core group of local volunteers. The purpose of this study was to uncover the underlying reasons why involvement in the groups was perceived to be beneficial and to determine whether the aims of the groups were achieved. Data were collected through questionnaires, narrative frames, and focus group interviews and analysed inductively according to the research questions. Patterns in the themes were identified and interpretations made. The presentation will show that the speaking groups are perceived by students to be a very effective way of learning English because students are able to develop their English language proficiency and gain confidence in using English as well as learn more about New Zealand and other cultures, and gain life skills. These benefits not only mean that students are better prepared for life and work in a complex world, but also that they are better able to be responsive and adaptive professionals and more able to navigate uncertainty and complexity. Implications for similar contexts will also be explored.

The theme ‘educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals’ is clearly evident in this paper. The study found that students participate in the speaking groups because they recognise that they need to be able to respond in culturally appropriate ways through English while they are studying and in their future professional career. One participant (a doctoral candidate from Africa carrying out research in New Zealand), for example, regularly participated in ‘Let’s talk to Aucklanders’ because he felt unable to communicate appropriately with locals. He experienced challenges understanding the local English dialect, he lacked confidence in initiating conversations, and he was uncertain about how he should to respond. However, regular participation in ‘Let’s Talk to Aucklanders’ played a significant role in his ability to overcome the challenges he faced, and the skills he gained meant that he was able to carry out cross-cultural interviews in a confident and professional manner. These will stand him in good stead for his future life in a complex world.