June 2006 Foreword

Welcome to the June 2006 edition of the Asian EFL Journal. Again we present a broad variety of papers both in topic and geographical origin. In this issue we also introduce two book reviews into the quarterly issue for the first time. We hope to make this a regular feature from now on and welcome our first contributions from Dr. Wendy Y.K. Lam of The Hong Kong Institute of Education and Nashwa Ezzat Badr/ Mai Amin Hassan of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

As a young but expanding journal, our aim is to be become a leading voice in the international arena and we are increasingly looking for papers that may be very relevant locally, but also have applications and insights well beyond the contexts in which they were written. Many of the June authors have been through our new and more demanding review system, which we are still making efforts to improve. We thank our authors for their patience and persistence and the expanding editorial team of volunteers who work behind the scenes. In this issue we have a balance between experienced and well-published authors and authors who are publishing for the first time in an International Journal.

In the first paper, Reima al-Jarf (Cross-cultural Communication: Saudi, Ukrainian, and Russian Students Online) provides us with the kind of international input that we welcome, describing an innovative cross-cultural writing project involving three EFL college instructors in Ukraine, Russia and Saudi Arabia and their undergraduate students who crossed borders virtually in order to break down communication barriers. Naturally Asian EFL authors and editors have become used to making friends and having meaningful professional relationships online, yet those of us who have physically crossed cultures frequently may still wonder about the claim that “second language (L2) students no longer need to leave their homes or travel to meet people from other countries and learn about their culture”. Al-Jarf’s pioneering effort aims at more than just language improvement and importantly students felt they developed “a global perspective as well as language and communication skills”.

EFL topics are infinitely varied. After Al-Jarf’s humanistic global concerns that are always of interest to language teachers, Hu Ying-hui (An Investigation into the Task Features Affecting EFL Listening Comprehension Test Performance) grapples with the highly specialized complexities of testing listening, focusing on the role of text variables in predicting item difficulty. Ying-hui’s findings indicate that “text-by-item interaction variables contribute significantly to item difficulty, thereby providing evidence favoring the construct validity of CET listening tests.”

An important feature of Jason Miin-Hwa Lim’s study from Malaysia, (Associating Interference with Strategy Instruction: An Investigation into the Learning of the Present Continuous) is the ability of the author to relate theory to classroom practice and to provide interesting pedagogical suggestions that seem relevant beyond the research context. Lim discusses the relationship between interlingual and intralingual interference in relation to the teaching of the present continuous tense concluding that “interference that caused a large portion of the errors may be both intralingual and interlingual in nature”.

In our applied linguistic field, it is often difficult to come up with the kind of “scientific” quantifiable evidence that provide absolute confidence in research results. However, Lilian Chen’s study (The Effect Of The Use Of L1 In a Multimedia Tutorial On Grammar Learning: An Error Analysis Of Taiwanese Beginning EFL Learners’ English Essays) shows that finding no statistical evidence for the impact of an approach is not an insignificant result. In her study aimed at discovering whether an L1 computer assisted instruction tutorial program had an impact on the grammar skills of beginning EFL language learners, Chen reports that “no significant statistical difference between the control group and the experimental group could be identified”. The discussion goes on to assess qualitative evidence and concludes that L1 still plays a role in the process of beginning EFL learners’ writing in English. This paper is published here as a useful contribution to an important area of research that clearly requires further investigation.

In our fifth paper, Ming-chung Yu (On the Teaching and Learning of L2 Sociolinguistic Competence in Classroom Settings) reports “an investigation of classroom practice and its effects on the learner’s development of sociolinguistic competence” in Taiwan. She concludes that little is done to develop pragmatic ability and identifies the need for more flexibility “toward and tolerant of cross-cultural variations” pointing out that even when teachers or students decide not to conform to other cultural norms, “they will at least be able to identify the sources of possible misunderstandings”. Such conclusions from the field are interesting in an age where we clearly need to keep questioning the meaning of “competence” when English is used in international communication.

Another important issue is raised in relation to intercultural competence by Derrick Nault (“Using World Literatures to Promote Intercultural Competence In Asian EFL Learners”). While traditional University “language” majors tended to study little but literature, we are now experiencing a situation in many contexts in which literature is hardly taught at all. This seems difficult to justify when one aim of many language-based courses is the study and understanding of culture. Nault points out that “at a time when communicative skills are a major concern in EFL programs, literature may seem to be a frivolous addition to language classes. By putting texts at the center of lessons, the English instructor using literature might be accused of neglecting speaking, listening and practical reading skills.” Nault outlines a convincing intercultural approach pointing out that this “can improve … general English reading and discussion skills as well as enhance … intercultural competence.” Two invaluable outcomes of using literary texts identified by Nault are both emotional and intellectual enrichment, establishing important humanistic educational goals.

Farood Sepassi examines another topic of relevance across cultures (“Age-related Variations in E.F.L Learners’ Attentiveness to Prosodic vs. Syntactic Cues of Sentence Structure”). Sepassi investigates the relationship between the age of Iranian E.F.L learners and strategy use in the interpretation of sentences. Sepassi concludes that “comparison of the different age groups’ performance on the task revealed that younger learners were more inclined to follow prosodic cues and older learners were more inclined to follow syntactic ones.” Sepassi suggests that one conclusion might be a need to focus courses more on phonology for older learners.

Nehir Sert (“EFL Student Teachers’ Learning Autonomy”) investigates English language learning autonomy among EFL student teachers in Turkey. His study finds that “they lack the capacity for self-assessment in monitoring their own language learning process”. He concludes “that increased awareness of autonomous learning and its benefits will enhance their own self-governing capacity which may, in turn, contribute to higher achievement and motivation.” Naturally better self-awareness of autonomous learning by teachers themselves is a prerequisite to teaching any form of learner independence to students. This would be an interesting study to replicate in other contexts.

Eva Bernat (Assessing EAP learners’ beliefs about language learning in the Australian context) also focuses on the learners’ perspective. She reports on beliefs held by EAP language learners at an Australian University and compares the findings with an American study of EAP learners. The results show that beliefs about language learning were similar, leading to an interesting discussion about the extent to which beliefs about EAP language learning vary according to contextual setting.

Asako Uchibori, Kiyomi Chujo and Shuji Hasegawa (Towards Better Grammar Instruction: Bridging the Gap between High School Textbooks and TOEIC) address the problem of the gap between high school English education and the requirements of higher education: a theme that is relevant beyond Japan, however unique the Japanese situation may appear. They discuss grammatical features and structures needed to both enhance students’ classroom learning and their ability to cope with tests like the TOEIC, which claim to measure proficiency in international English communication. Naturally this depends on the assumption that such tests do actually measure international communication proficiency. Again this is clearly an important area for further thinking and research.

Dr. Roger Nunn,
Senior Associate Editor