ISSUES ON LANGUAGE LEARNING AND TEACHING A SOCIO-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE

 M. Bahri Arifin, Herdiansyah, Ibrahim, Suciati

FKIP Borneo University

Abstract

The present paper concern with some socio-cultural issues on language-learner/-teacher, the issues to take into account in establishing policy and/or formulating goals of language learning/teaching. Hence the discussion pertains to the work of planning and designing language program, more particularly the preparatory work in the form of information gathering and fact-finding. Such a preparatory work is essential before initiating a new language program.The socio-cultural variables involve in the investigation are those advocated by Dubin & Olshtain (1986): the language setting, pattern of language use in society, political and national context, and group and individual attitudes. The present paper arbitrarily takes the first two variables, the language setting and patterns of language use in society, to put into discussion.

In Indonesian setting, English is recognized as a foreign language (EFL) as opposed to the other types of setting where English is also the language of a wider communication, often called English as a second language (ESL). The role of English in Indonesia as EFL goes parallel with the goals of English language learning/teaching which are closely related to the community’s overall process of modernization. Grounded by the EFL/ESL distinction, English in Indonesia earns the status of a major foreign language which has been decided to be compulsory and highly valued as a prestige subject in the curriculum of junior secondary schools up to universities, and even more recently, of elementary schools. Discussion on patterns of language (English) use in Indonesia examined three major areas: (i) the role of English in education, (ii) the role of English in the labor market, and (iii) the role of English in furthering the process of modernization.The role of English in the process of modernization was indicated by the fact that English is an LWC. Almost all aspects of life and culture involve English as medium of communication.

INTRODUCTION

The present paper concern with some socio-cultural issues on language-learner/-teacher, the issues to take into account in establishing policy and/or formulating goals of language learning/teaching. Hence the discussion pertains to the work of planning and designing language program, more particularly the preparatory work in the form of information gathering and fact-finding. Such a preparatory work is essential before initiating a new language program.

This fact-finding stage provides answers to the key questions in any program: Who are the learners? Who are the teachers? Why is the program necessary? Where will the program be implemented? How will be implemented (Dubin & Olshtain 1986). The answer to these questions becomes the basis for the said establishing policy or formulating goals.

It is these questions that concern the present paper whose aim is at providing information and facts with regard to the questions with special reference to the learning and teaching of English as a foreign language in Indonesia. The sociocultural variables involve in the investigation are those advocated by Dubin & Olshtain (1986): the language setting, pattern of language use in society, political and national context, and group and individual attitudes. The present paper arbitrarily takes the first two variables, the language setting and patterns of language use in society, to put into discussion.

Presented at International Seminar on Education: “Sharing Best Practices in Education among Borneo’s Neighbouring Countries” held by Faculty of Teacher Training and Education, University of Borneo Tarakan, North Kalimantan, Indonesia.

THE LANGUAGE SETTING

By language setting we refer to the “totality of communication role”(Gumperz) in any speech community. The language setting may either provide support for or raise constrains to the learning of TL. There are number of basic ways of characterizing language setting. One important distinction derives from the role of the TL in the society (Dubin & Olshtain 1986).

In Indonesian setting, English is recognized as a foreign language (EFL) as opposed to the other types of setting where English is also the language of a wider communication, often called English as a second language (ESL). Indonesian people are in fact multilingual in character whose L1 are vernacular languages and L2 is the Bahasa Indonesia (BI) or other way round. Accordingly, instead of being as the language of a wider communication, English in Indonesia is spoken by small portion of Indonesian people with a variety of proficiency levels, most notably those who are living in big cities whose communication, for whatever reason, often requires English.

The role of English in Indonesia as EFL goes parallel with the goals of English language learning/teaching which are closely related to the community’s overall process of modernization. On the contrary, the goals of English in the setting where English is as a second language are “often associated with the overall acculturation process (Schumann 1978) of new immigrants, migrants workers or foreigners who spend a limited amount of time in the country (Dubin & Olshtain 1986).

Grounded by the EFL/ESL distinction, English in Indonesia earns the status of a major foreign language which has been decided to be compulsory and highly valued as a prestige subject in the curriculum of junior secondary schools up to universities, and even more recently, of elementary schools. Other status of English, to make a comparison, in different countries are (i) one of two or more official languages spoken natively by at least part of the population (Canada, South Africa, etc); (ii) the only official language but is not the native language (Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, etc); (iii) neither national nor official language but special status because of historical factor or because of social economic reasons (Malaysia and others) (Fishman et al 1977).

According to Dubin & Olshtain (1986), the degree of support the language learner can find in the immediate environment (the language setting) is indicated by the position and role of the TL in a particular language setting. ”highest level of support is, of course, available in an English speaking setting while the least is in the case where English is no more than a school subject” (Dubin & Olshtain 1986:8).

Although Indonesia is typically a non-English speaking setting for the learning of English, it will be quite safe to hypothesize that socioculturally, the language setting typical of Indonesia provides strong support for the learning of English. Nevertheless, learners affective factors such as shyness, anxiety, self-underestimate, motivation, etc. call for further comprehensive understanding, and, more importantly, practical encounter both psychologically and pedagogically.

PATTERNS OF LANGUAGE USE IN SOCIETY

Investigation on the patterns of language (English) use in the society is made possible by the evidence that English plays the role of a language of wider communication (LWC) in both the English and non-English speaking setting. Such an investigation (following Dubin & Olshtain 1986) must examine three major areas: (i) the role of English in education, (ii) the role of English in the labour market, and (iii) the role of English in furthering the process of modernization.

Role of English in Education

Two major aspect, according to Dubin & Olshtain (1986), to be considered when patterns of language use in education concern us in any setting where English is not the native language of most members in the community (e. g. Indonesia). (1) The role of English as a means for furthering one’s education, and (2) the effectiveness of the existing curriculum and teaching materials.

If the role of English in the process of furthering one’s education is indicated by the use of English as the medium of instruction, as Dubin & Olshtain (1986) proposed, it would be clear enough that English does fairly little since, in Indonesian setting, it is not used as medium of instruction except in the classes at the college level where the learners are majoring in English.

Anyhow, the available textbooks and other teaching materials are mostly in English, especially those that are used in the tertiary education. Moreover, graduate studies program set a considerable command of English as a requirement for both entrance to and completion of the program. It happens that although English is not the medium of instruction in most learning-teaching interaction for all levels of education, yet English remains have considerable importance in the process of furthering one’s education, or better, the major requirement one has to meet to enable him/her gets access to further education.

As far as the effectiveness of the existing curriculum is concerned, a number of factors need to be carefully evaluated. It happens that there is a serious gap between the result of the existing program and the needs of learners for English. It has been long claimed that the learning and teaching of English in Indonesia fail to meet the objectives set in the curriculum. Many variables have been speculated in recent studies as to cause the phenomena, and the teacher qualification, both methodological/pedagogical reason and content-area command, is a variable on which some studies have been speculating.

In relation to content-area command of the teachers, there exist enough reason for the importance to evaluate the teachers’ knowledge and ability to use English. The reason is addressable partly to the fact that the teachers are not native speakers of English, and partly to the evidence that the present teachers are the product of the same existing program.

An indication that a language program fails to meet the learner’s objective is often signaled by the existence of flourishing schools and courses outside the official education system (Dubin & Olshtain 1986), a phenomenon best characterizes the picture of learning and teaching of English in Indonesia. In many particular places in Indonesia, in big cities, one may easily find private English course soon before going through a distance from his residence where he can find graduates of formal school System enroll themselves “because they fell that they lack the level of proficiency needed on their job” Dubin & Olshtain (1986).

Some colleges and universities even offer and administer special programs from those who need advancement in their English proficiency, notably English for special/specific purposes (ESP) for the betterment of their achievement in their jobs or career, and English for academic purposes (EAP) for the betterment of their academic performance and/or furthering their education abroad.

Such a situation illustrated above indicates a sharp discrepancy between the achievement of the English instructional program and the actual societal needs of English in Indonesia.

The labor market

Since the present paper did not carry out prior formal survey, data of the labour market cannot be accurately presented. Governmental and other labour agencies are in fact good sources of such the required data as: Which professions require knowledge of English and to what extent? To what extent do the people seeking employment have the required knowledge of English?

For a comparison, Arifin (2007) presented data derived from newspaper advertisement column on employment offering published in three randomly-chosen January 2007 edition of Kompas. The employment offering in the three editions were amounting to 78 vacancies. Of the total 78 vacancies offered, 41 vacancies (52%) set English proficiency of the applicants as a must. A total of 22 vacancies (28%) were even  issued in English, while the rest 56 vacancies (72%) were in Bahasa Indonesia. The proportion of vacancies requiring English, as indicated by the figures, is bigger than those of non-English requirements. This evidence leads to a hypothesis that the labour market provides strong support to the learning and teaching of English in Indonesia. Meanwhile, specification of vacancies requiring English would become a worth information for the sake of preparatory work in deciding policy and designing programs of learning/teaching of English in Indonesia.

The process of modernization

It happens that English is an LWC. Being as an LWC makes English used in almost all aspects of life and culture and so doing, the medium of modernization thus becomes its inherently-possessed role. Many (if not most) technological and scientific journals available in Indonesia are written in English. Similarly, printed materials such as instruction and catalogues accompanying modern machinery are written in English. It goes without saying that textbooks and literature for most study subjects are in English among which a very small number have been translated into Bahasa Indonesia.

Many professionals, for whatever reasons, go and receive their training abroad annually. Governmental agencies, colleges and universities, as well as non-governmental organizations send their staff members for either short-term or long-term courses and trainings abroad. Just the opposite, foreign experts and professionals come to Indonesia for a variety of reasons. English as an LWC are spoken by those who go abroad and those who come to Indonesia, and hence the transfer of science and technology takes place by the medium of English.

Once we take technological and scientific advancement as the variable indicating modernization, then it would soon be apparent that English is the medium of modernization in Indonesia.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Based on the discussion on the two socio-cultural variables of the learning and teaching of English in Indonesia, the present paper comes out with two major hypotheses.

First, the language setting typical of Indonesia provides strong support for the learning and teaching of English in Indonesia. Second, patterns of language (English) use in Indonesia establish the role of English as an LWC in education, in the labor market, and in furthering the process of modernization in Indonesia. The two hypotheses call for comprehensive studies for their either justification or rejection.

REFERENCE

Arifin, M.B., 2007. Socio-cultural Background of Issues on Language Learner and Teacher. Paper presented at International Conference on Bilingual Education. Makassar. Conducted by The State University of Makassar in collaboration with Victoria University Australia.

Dubin, F. & E. Olshtain,1986. Course Design. Developing Programs and Materials for Language Learning. Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, Jeremy, 1991. The Practice of Language Teaching. New York, Longman.

Yalden, Janice,1987. Principles of Course Design for Language Teaching. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

 

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