Investigating students attitudes and preferences towards learning English at Kuwait University.
Article Type:
College students (Surveys)
English as a second language (Study and teaching)
Motivation in education (Management)
Second languages (Study and teaching)
Second languages (Curricula)
Al-Bustan, Suad Ahmed
Al-Bustan, Lamees
Pub Date:
Name: College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Project Innovation (Alabama) ISSN: 0146-3934
Date: June, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 2
Event Code: 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product Code: E197500 Students, College
Organization: Kuwait University
Geographic Scope: Kuwait Geographic Code: 7KUWA Kuwait

Accession Number:
Full Text:
This study is performed by conducting a survey analysis to investigate students' attitudes and preferences towards learning English at Kuwait University in non-English major ESL students. The sample size will be roughly 21-22% of a total of 4950 college level English Language Learners at Kuwait University where specific English courses are part of the required University curriculum.

The results of this survey will thus enable us to review some causes that may have hindered University English learning in the past, and focus on students" perspectives about learning English.

One of the by--product of this study will be to illustrate students academic preference within the Language process in which in return will assist us as educators to promote learning motivation. Researchers, ESL teachers and administrators need to consider the fact that they need to have keys for knowing their students' attitudes and preferences towards learning English for motivation purposes. This research, will provide are some of the most significant keys available.


Though much research focusing on language teaching, learning theories, teaching materials, teaching approaches.... etc, is being conducted, regularly, much of it has been constrained by western cultural assumption. Little research has been directed towards the topic of how the local education / teaching environment has influenced students' learning where the students are not English majors but studying English as non-majors due to educational requirements and professional needs.

This fact may at least lead to the conclusion that local English learning obstacles remain unsolved for long periods of time. Plainly, the obstacles to learning English as a second language at the university level far exceeds the limits imposed by the students ability and background.

Methodologies established in the past do not often take the reality of the importance of the learners willingness to study a language. There must be some facts that require re-examination at a more fundamental level.

Understanding the many reasons why students avoid hard work is important but understanding alone is insufficient to alter the situation. Other steps must be taken. The expectancy to learn a language and succeed depends on what individuals attribute their past and present success or failure to, whether to stable factors such as ability, and / or to less stable factors such as learning attitudes, learning preferences, past experience, task difficulty.

Language teaching is most often illustrated and discussed from the point of view of scholars or/and teachers. "However while learning is the goal of teaching, it is not necessarily the mirror image of teaching. Learners, too, bring to learning their own beliefs, goals and attitudes, and decisions, which influence how they approach their learning" (Richards, 1995, p52).

Generally speaking, people tend to have certain beliefs and preference in their approaches to learning tasks. Various researches suggests that most of us learn best when information is presented in the way that matches our learning preferences.

In this paper we will examine some causes that may have hindered the effects of English learning for university students in Kuwait, and to a wider extent the Arabian Gulf, since the role of English in the education systems across the Gulf area are highly similar. Through survey data analysis, students' perspectives about English learning and the fears of learning English that may have grown out of previous experiences are documented.

This project has involved 787 ESL students who declared their preferred certain language skills while learning English on the basis of a questionnaire, which has so far raised many interesting issues. Two main points of consideration have promoted the authors to start investigating English learner's learning preferences.

First, it would be very beneficial and valuable to investigate the students' preference and attitude in the language learning.

Second, the results of this study will help us as teachers and educators to accommodate our teaching methodology skills and curriculum accordingly to promote student motivation.

This paper will discuss and highlight the following issues:

1. What are the university students' preferences in learning a language.

2. How can this information be adapted in the classroom and have a positively affect and change students' motivation.

Review of Related Literature

No research has been undertaken regarding the ESL university students' learning attitudes in the process of learning in Kuwait. Positive attitudes and accommodating students preferences in learning, will by no doubt lead to more successful learning. Research suggests that 'Positive Learning Attitudes' can lead to active learning. Active learning, in return, which involves reading, writing, discussions and engagement in solving problems, can have a positive impact upon students' learning (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2005).

Research suggests that active learning can have a positive impact upon students learning. Students are more engaged in learning when they are active and have some choice (regarding their learning preferences) over the learning process and related interests (Adnderman and Midgley, 1998).

It is the authors' belief that a better understanding of language learner's preferences and learning attitudes can have a beneficial effect on the process of helping and assisting language learner's in learning English as a foreign language.

Educators have long acknowledged the power of learners' voice in improving teaching and learning (Fullan and Stiegel Bauer, S. 1991). When such voice is recognized for its significant impact on L2 learners, L2 teachers will have a better understanding to the learners unique frame of learning preferences and attitudes while learning English. Meeting these preferences can increase, the motivation to learn English. In this concept, students will have higher performance in the second language if they exhibit the desire to learn English.

Motivation has been identified as the learners' orientation with regard to the goal and beliefs of learning a second language (Crooks and Schmidt, 1991). It is thought that students who are most successful when learning a second language are those who possess motivation in learning. Students motivation strongly influences to their desire to participate in the learning process.

Many theorists and researches have found the significance of recognizing the construct of motivation not as a single entity but as a multifactorial one. Oxford and Shearin (1994), have analyzed several motivational theories on models and six factors that impact motivation in learning language:

* Attitudes (i.e. sentiments towards the target language).

* Beliefs about self (i.e. expectations about one's attitudes to succeed, self-efficiency, and anxiety).

* Goals (perceived clarity and relevance of learning goals as reasons for learning).

* Involvement (i.e. extent to which the learner actively and consciously participates in the learning process).

* Environmental support (i.e. extent of teacher and peer support).

* Personnel attributes (i.e. aptitude, and language learning experience).

This highlights the importance of our research for both the teachers and the L2 learners in which specific questions were chosen and developed since awareness of how students' attitudes, preferences and beliefs about learning can develop what facilitates learning for its own sake and can assist educators in reducing student apathy, and can reduce anxiety. In addition, realizing these factors can help to promote student motivation and students' will become more active participants in learning process.

Methodology and Statistical Analysis

The Study:

Before proceeding to present and analyze the data gathered by the survey it is necessary to give an account of the process by which the survey itself was designed. The object of this survey was to investigate:

1. Some causes that may have influenced the effect of English learning for students at Kuwait University

2. Perspectives about English learning among non-English majors in Kuwait. The study was conducted by questionnaire method which has proved to be a "useful way(s) of gathering information about affective dimensions of teaching and learning such as beliefs, attitudes, motivation and preferences, and enable teachers to collect a large amount of information." (Richards, 1995)


The questionnaire used in the study was in English. The Questionnaire consisted of

1. General information was concerned with gathering information on the subjects.

2. Twenty-Three closed ended questions.

3. Two open-ended questions.

The survey was piloted in non-English major students' at the faculty of Engineering in the first academic year 2005/2006. It was piloted in early December, 2006. It was then distributed to different faculties with English language units to teach English for non-English major students. The survey was distributed to students on their last teaching class of the first academic year 2005/2006. The questionnaire was completed in class and collected immediately. The survey's first/ section was concerned with gathering general information on the students' college as well as their academic background.

The second section, consisted of general informative questions in which participants were asked to answer with "yes", "no" or "I don't know", and examined students awareness regarding the importance of learning English and their perspectives about English learning. In addition, this section focused on causes that may have influenced students English learning. The third section examined specific learning preferences, where they were asked to answer with (1) strongly agree (2) slightly agree (3) I don't know (4) disagree (5) strongly disagree.

This paper focuses on the results from the second and third section of the survey.


Participants were selected randomly from non-English major students from different faculties in Kuwait University. However, the Faculty of Medicine and Allied Health were excluded from the study due to their different nature, educational system and acceptance requirements.

Students from the following faculties were included in the survey:

A total of 1000 questionnaires were distributed in which the actual number of students registered in English (Non English Major) was 4950 for the first academic year of 2005/2006. (The Language Center The survey was distributed to English learning students from different majors of faculties mentioned above at the University of Kuwait. All participants had studied English formally for 8 years in junior and senior high school or / 12 years in elementary, junior and senior high schools. All participants had taken English admission exam prior to their acceptance at the university. Their ages ranged from 16 to 23 and in rare cases to 30 years old.

By January 2006 the last questionnaires had been collected. In total, 787 replies were received out of the 1000, which were distributed, a favorably 78.7% response.

Data Analysis

Section One:

The first section developed for this survey gives us the preliminary basic information regarding the 787 students who participated in this study. These students were from different faculties and from various years of their graduation process.

There were several students who did not answer the entire question in the survey. However, the following table (2) shows the break up of the students according to their year in college.

Section Two:

This section consisted of 12 questions formed to investigate the students awareness of the importance of learning English and their attitudes towards learning this language. We aimed also to find the dependencies of various factors that contribute to the effort made by the students to learn English.

Statistical analysis showed that 97.05% of the students irrespective of their gender agreed that it is very important to learn English. They also realize the importance of the English language for professional advancement. 51% of the sample agreed that they feel comfortable studying English.

Among the other students, a significant correlation is shown with (r = 0.289, p.value 0.000) with a chi square (14.25 p-value <0.05) that showed students had a negative experience from English teachers at high school which resulted negatively and effected their attitudes towards learning the languages. Detailed analysis also showed that among the female students the negative attitude towards learning has a significant relation with the high school teachers who taught them English and caused them to hate the language. (p-value < 0.05).


However, such negative attitude was not found within male students who participated in this study.

In addition, the female students response also showed a dependency of rejection of the language and a negative attitude towards learning it has significant relation to the fact that they:

a) Find English at the University different of that at High School,

b) They don't use English in their major course which obliges them to prefer to be silent in English Courses Conversation.

Section Three:

Again some specific learning preferences were studied. The difficulty in listening, reading, speaking and writing in English was studied.

We can observe from the figure that most of them disagree to the statement in the questionnaire that they are having difficulty in listening, reading, speaking and writing in English. But those who slightly agree to the fact are equally high. The significance value (<0.05) showed that that they get worried when they make mistakes and find it difficult to listen, read, speak and write in English in class. Among the four activities, the percent of students facing difficulty in reading is 44% and speaking is 39% while 34%of them are facing problem in listening and writing

All the activities are inter-correlated significantly as shown in table (4).

Certain questions were included to find the most preferred way of teaching the language. An attempt is made to see how the students respond to the focus on grammar, use of multi media, computers, discussions, recording the lectures, improving vocabulary and reading newspapers. The following table (5) shows the students preferred means in learning. They are illustrated below in accordance to their importance from the students point of view.

As can be seen from the table (6) the majority of the students preferred to learn by having discussion with their teachers and to learn by the use of computers and multimedia. Further we will attempt to find whether this depends on the college in which they are studying.

From the table (7) it is clear that only the techniques of using computers, multi media and discussions depends on the college. Other options are accepted irrespective of the college.

Regarding correlation with these techniques:

The interest of the students to compete with the classmates and participate in the discussions (survey question Nb.21) was compared with whether this was related to fact that the student was on the honor list. The chi square analysis gave a (p value >0.05) which showed that there is no relation between them.

Among the questions which were framed to find how the students want to be trained by their teachers, almost 68 % of the students responded to this questions and the results are summarized below (Table 8). For all the questions the most prominent answer was that they agree to those facts strongly.

Apart from these analyses, further studies on some of the factors in the questionnaire which can be of interest are the correlation between:

a) English course level * not to study English in university The chi square test showed that there no relation between the level of course in which the student is studying with the non acceptance of English at the university. (p value >O.05)

b) Honor student * Very important to learn English Again the test showed a high p-value indicating that they have no relation.

c) I never use English in major course * like major teachers to teach in English

The p value < 0.05 with Chi square value = 24.59 indicates that never using English in the major courses is related to the fact that students would prefer teachers to teach in English. However, the low negative correlation coefficient (-0.058) showed that this relation is not so significant.

The fact that teachers don't use English in other major courses showed a significant relation with the negative attitude towards English language and even they prefer to be silent in the discussions. The significance value showed that students get worried when they make mistakes and find it difficult to listen, read, speak and write in English in class.

Conclusion and Summary

In this study we investigated students' English learning attitudes and perspectives about English learning and how, if, this is affected by their past English learning process. We aimed to examine their preferences while learning for the purpose of promoting learning motivation' while trying to meet such preferences. What this investigating has found is the following:

1) The majority of the samples do realize the importance of learning English.

2) There is a relationship between the negative past high school English learning with the negative attitude of female students towards learning English.

3) Most participants slightly agreed that they found difficulty in four English skills (Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing).

4) Students preferred learning mainly through discussions, multimedia and computers. They also preferred that language teachers would train them more in English fluency.

Accommodating students' learning preferences will by no doubt lead to students learning motivation which is an important variable for a success in Second Language Learning.

"High motivated students retain information and are less likely to need remedial courses". (Dev, 1997)

To achieve such motivation this study has clearly revealed the fact that the majority of our students learning style is visual learning. They prefer visual displays in the process of learning. They tend to think in pictures and need creative vivid mental images to retain information.


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The language Center Statistical Report for the Academic Year 2005-2006, the Language Center--Kuwait. (Internet Resources added 12/2005)


English Language Unit College of Engineering and Petroleum Language Center) / Kuwait University


Department of English College of Arts / Kuwait University
It is noticeable that the Sharia and
   the College of social science is not
   showing any correlation with the latest
   techniques (Computers and

Table: 1

1. Administrative Sciences
2. Education
3. Law
4. Science
5. Social Sciences
6. Sharia
7. Women's College

Statistical Report, 2005)

Table 2: Number of students in each college responded for the survey

               Arts      Adm.      Education    Engineering    Science

Freshman      5.61%      1.31%       9.92%        22.09%        5.43%
Sophomore     6.36%      0.18%       2.62%         1.31%        8.23%
Junior        2.24%       --         2.81%         3.18%        0.75%
Senior 4-5    0.37%      0.37%       4.86%         1.31%        1.31%
                               Grand Total

              Sharia    Social        for          Total
                        Science      Women

Freshman        --       0.75%      18.35%        63.48%
Sophomore     0.18%       --         0.37%        19.28%
Junior          --        --          --           8.98%
Senior 4-5      --        --          --           8.26%
                             Grand Total            100%

Table 4: * indicates that the correlation is significant
(p-value< 0.05)

In class, I find
difficulty in [right arrow]   Listening   Reading   Speaking   Writing

Listening                     1.000       .575*     .530*      .502*
Reading                                   1.000     .540*      .533*
Speaking                                            1.000      .559*

Table 5: Preferred Methods of Learning

              I like to     In class,       In class, I    In class, I
              learn all     I like to         like to      always use
               English        learn            learn         English
             vocabulary      English          English        during
              and terms      by films        by using      discussions
             in my major    and videos     the computer      with my
               courses                                      teachers

   of         537 (68%)     574 (73%)        575 (73%)      576 (73%)

students         250           213              212            211

  Most        Strongly       Strongly        Strongly       Slightly
repeated        agree         agree            agree          agree
 answer         (49%)         (42%)            (39%)          (38%)

              I like to     I like the        I often
                learn        English      record English
             English by     course to     lectures of my
               reading       focus on        major and
               English       grammar      listen to them
             newspapers                     many times

   of        529% (67%)     567 (72%)        538 (68%)

students         258           220              249

  Most        Slightly       Slightly        Disagree
repeated        agree         agree            (25%)
 answer         (32%)         (30%)

Table 6: * indicates that the correlation is significant
(p-value< 0.05)

                               Films                     Discussions
                 Focus on       and                        with my
                 grammar       Videos       Computer      teachers

Coefficient       0.046       -.106 *       -.106 *        -.140 *

                  Record                    English
                 lectures    Vocabulary    Newspapers

Coefficient        .038         .001          .070

Table 7: * indicates that the correlation is significant

                                 Films                     Discussions
                    Focus on      and                        with my
                    grammar      Videos       Computer      teachers

Arts                  .024        .109 *        .127 *        .094 *
Admn. Sc             -.060       -.026         -.072          .028
Education            -.058        .038         -.002          .145 *
Engineering          -.011       -.058          .007         -.107 *
Science               .056        .021         -.002         -.130 *
Sharia               -.053       -.044         -.046         -.049
Social Sc.           -.009        .006         -.016         -.051
College of women      .027       -.078         -.085 *        .019

                     Record                    English
                    lectures    Vocabulary    Newspapers

Arts                 -.045        -.021         -.069
Admn. Sc             -.086 *      -.090 *        .030
Education            -.069         .115 *        .001
Engineering           .136 *      -.065         -.020
Science               .033        -.030          .001
Sharia               -.013        -.042         -.006
Social Sc.           -.040         .039         -.029
College of women     -.044         .035          .074

Table 8

             Training      attention     Training in        Talk
                in            to           correct          about
              English      spelling        logical           ms
              fluency      mistakes        writing        interests

Number       521 (66%)     537 (68%)      526 (67%)       523 (67%)

Number          266           250            261             264

Most         Strongly      Strongly        Strongly       Strongly
repeated       agree         agree          agree           agree
answer         (56%)         (52%)          (52%)           (51%)

                          Training to
                           identify        Homework
                            English      is important
                Get       sounds and        for my       Training in
             feedback      sentences       studies       summarizing

Number       528 (67%)    532 (68%))      534 (68%)       537 (68%)

Number          259           255            253             250

Most         Strongly      Strongly        Strongly       Strongly
repeated       agree         agree          agree           agree
answer         (45%)         (44%)          (42%)           (52%)
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