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Lao, "A study of English competence: An investigation of academic English and conversational English among the Chinese (People's Republic of China) graduate students at USC," 1993

USC Dissertation in Education.
August 26, 2009

Christy Ying Lao, Ph.D.

Abstract (Summary)
A common phenomenon is that international students in English-speaking countries have well-developed competence in academic language, but have deficiencies in conversational language. The major purposes of the study were to establish some baseline data on perception of Academic and Conversational English Competence held by Chinese graduate students, to determine whether Chinese graduate students perceived that there was a difference in their competence in academic English as distinct from that in conversational English, to probe students' personal hypotheses of their conversational English acquisition, to examine to what extent these personal theories agreed with what they actually practiced, and to identify the barriers to the development of conversational English.

Data were collected from 224 graduate students from the People's Republic of China enrolled at the University of Southern California who responded to a questionnaire. Responses to the questionnaire confirmed that Chinese graduate students perceived that they had higher Academic English Competence but lower Conversational English Competence, and more difficulty reading fiction in English than professional literature. Students' personal theories agreed with published literature. They perceived that interaction with native English speakers and input gained through TV were the two most effective ways of facilitating their conversational English acquisition and that formal language instruction was the least effective. Nevertheless, there was a mismatch between students' personal theories regarding conversational English acquisition and their actual practice for such acquisition. Students did not interact much with native speakers, and no relationship was found between valuing interaction and actual interaction engaged in. The majority of them failed to interact much with native English speakers, to watch extensive English TV programs, and to do light reading.

It was concluded, based on data analysis, that a major barrier to the development of conversational ability for Chinese graduate students was the lack of exposure to conversational English even when they were studying in an English-speaking country. It is recommended that interacting with native speakers, watching TV, and doing light reading would be the answers to the problem. (Copies available exclusively from Micrographics Department, Doheny Library, USC, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0182.)

Advisor: Rideout, William M., Jr.