Volume 13, Issue 1 (2022)                   LRR 2022, 13(1): 129-166 | Back to browse issues page

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Abadikhah S, Valipour M. Assessing English Language Skills in Various Situations: A Case Study of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students at the University of Mazandaran. LRR 2022; 13 (1) :129-166
URL: http://lrr.modares.ac.ir/article-14-38287-en.html
1- Assistant professor of Applied Linguistics, Department of English Language & Literature, Faculty of Persian Literature and Foreign Languages, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran; , abadikhah@umz.ac.ir
2- English Language Instructor, Department of English Language & Literature, Faculty of Persian Literature and Foreign Languages, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran
Abstract:   (2298 Views)
The aim of this study was to evaluate language needs and identify the priority of using language skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) in different situations (private, academic, and professional). The research method is descriptive-analytic and the data collection tool is a questionnaire consisting of 49 items. The statistical population consisted of 199 students (73 males and 126 females) at BA (n = 69), MA (n =67) and Ph.D (n =63) at the University of Mazandaran. The responses of the participants were analyzed using SPSS software. In general, the results of the comparison of mean scores of language skills reavealed that with increasing educational level, students' needs to use language skills especially in academic domains increased steadily. Also, receptive skills (reading and hearing) have more usage than productive skills (speaking and writing) in all three groups. The results of data analysis through non-parametric tests showed that there were significant differences in reading skill among all groups, in writing skill between the Ph.D group and the two groups, and in speaking skill between the Ph.D and BA groups. In terms of language usage, while the needs of participants in the undergraduate level were related to their private life situations, doctoral students often expressed their needs in academic situations. There was no significant difference between different sections in the professional situation and listening skill. This study has implications for researchers, instructors, and learners of English language.

1. Introduction
Many scholars have stressed that the content of English courses do not correspond to the learners’ needs in a particular learning context. Therefore, before designing and implementing any curriculum for English for Academic Purposes (EAP), it is necessary to conduct a needs analysis to assess the language needs of language learners. This study attempts to identify the most important needs of university students as well as their preferences for using language skills in different academic, private and professional situations.
Research Questions:
The present study sought to provide a general analysis of the target language needs of the students in three educational levels. Therefore, the study sought to answer the following questions:
1. How do university students (undergraduate and postgraduate) compare in their needs for the use of language skills in different situations?
 2. Is there any significant difference in the needs to use language skills (reading, listening, writing and speaking) among BA, MA and PhD students?
3. Is there any significant difference in the needs to use language in different situations (private, academic and professional) among BA, MA and PhD students?

2. Literature Review
The principles underlying course design in most of the English language programs are not consistent with the language needs of the university students (Atai & Tahririan, 2003; Eslami, 2010). Jordan (1997) suggested that the academic curriculum of an EAP course, in which attempt is made to meet the needs of the students in advanced university level, must be academically-oriented and consider the learners’ literacy abilities. In this regard, the EAP curriculum is designed based on the students’ awareness towards a particular language of specialty and therefore particular methods of speaking, writing or reading academic texts are applied. Analysis of needs as a first step in the design of courses can confirm the validity of courses (Johns, 1991). Since teaching all aspects of language is not possible, all approaches should be focused as much as possible on that part of the language which is related to the future needs of students (Mackey,1995). According to Brown (1995), the needs are not absolute, and once identified, they must be continuously validated to ensure that they are real. Needs analysis not only reflects the needs of language learners, but also enables the process of prioritizing needs through highly effective and feasible advanced statistics (Čapková & Kroupová, 2017). Mohammadi Rakati et al. (2015) emphasize that the most important objective of the needs analysis is to collect information about learners' problems in language skills, familiarize themselves with the gap between current abilities and the needs of learners, and determine the success rate of programs and textbooks in meeting these needs.Conducting a need analysis not only facilitates the process of constructing course objectives, but also it will lead to learners’ assurance in achieving the expected learning outcome.

3. Methodology
Data were collected from 199 students (73 males and 126 females) studying in different fields of study, including basic sciences, humanities and social sciences. The age of the participants ranged from 19 to 42 years. The first language of all participants was Persian and none of the participants had the experience of living in a foreign country. In this descriptive inferential study, data were collected using a questionnaire adopted from Kormos et al. (2002), which used a combination of the existing questionnaires (Nunan, 1988; Richterch, 1980) and the framework presented by the Education Committee of the European Union (council of Europe, 2001). The questionnaire was piloted and validated by think-aloud interviews and its reliability was ensured (r > 0.7). It comprised 49 questions requiring the participants to answer on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “never” (value 1) to  “always” (value 5). For the purpose of analysis, the questions were divided into 3 major domains of language use situations: private (18 items), academic (14 items), and professional (17 items).  After administration of the questionnaire, the responses of the students were scored, tabulated and subjected to a series of statistical analyses.

4. Results
The study indicated that the students from different educational levels reported different levels of  using language skills and expressed different needs in private, academic and professional domains. The difference was particularly meaningful between PhD students with both BA and MA students. Findings related to the first research question indicated a significant difference between the linguistic needs of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the academic and professional domains. In order to determine the exact location of the differences, multiple comparisons from the three levels of study were performed. The results of the analysis indicated that there was a significant difference in academic domain of English language use between undergraduate and postgraduate groups of students (MA and PhD). Concerning the second research question, PhD and undergraduate students reported the highest and lowest application of language skills, respectively. Furthermore, the receptive skills (reading and listening) in general were more used than the productive skills of speaking and writing in all three groups. Considering the last question, there was a significant difference in academic domain of English language use between undergraduate students and the two other groups of students (MA and PhD). In addition, all three groups differred significantly from each other in the use of English in professional domain. 

5. Discussion
Findings of the study indicate that the students are in need of increasing their general language proficiency particularly the written mode (reading and writing). This result seems to be in line with the findings of the studies by Eslami Rasekh (2010) and Atai and Nazari (2010). Therefore, most of the attention should be drawn to the written mode of language skills in academic course design of the university, since this mode was shown to be more frequent in the situations in which students use the target language.Secondly, it was found that the situations for using English language in academic and also teaching and other professional domains were considerably different considering the level of education. But no significant difference in private domain was observed. This finding could be justifiable since the participants reside in a country that English is considered as a foreign language; therefore, they are not expected to use language on a daily basis. Findings of the current study have obvious implications for the curriculum development for English programs as well as Iranian EFL instructors and course designers. They can revise and restructure the present courses based on the students’ most frequent perceived needs.
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Article Type: مقالات علمی پژوهشی | Subject: language teaching
Published: 2022/03/21

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