Throughout my academic and working life, I have always been interested in languages and cultures. I started my higher educational journey with a BA (1999) from SOAS, University of London, studying Swahili and African Studies which included a six-month period in the third year of my degree in Tanzania at the University of Dar es Salaam and Institute of Swahili in Zanzibar. After graduating, I completed a Certificate in Teaching English to Adults and joined Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) working in a Teachers College in Nanyang, Henan Province, China, where I taught spoken English to future middle school teachers, and where I also picked up intermediate Mandarin. After returning to the UK, I taught English and prepared overseas students for language tests in various locations in central London and at a college in Croydon. During this time I also completed a Certificate in Education from Croydon College (2007). I then completed an MA in International English Language Teaching and Applied Language Studies from London Metropolitan University (2008) during which I took a module in assessment and language testing. My dissertation was on the Adult ESOL Core Curriculum and the theme of integration. After the MA, I became Director of Studies and Teacher in a language school in Wimbledon. Reflecting on my career so far, I have had a lot of experience in preparing students for various language tests as well as sitting many myself, which has enabled me to see how important language assessment and testing are, and led to this Phd.
Large numbers of international students are now taking academic English language tests such as IELTS, TOEFL-iBT, PTE Academic, Trinity College Exams, (some of which may be termed by the Home Office as 'Secure English Language Tests' - SELTS), in order to study at UK universities and Higher Education (HE) institutions. There is a need to look at how students perform on these tests and to examine the relationship of this performance to their academic and linguistic performance on their chosen courses (predictive validity).
My study concerns student performance on the PTE Academic which was launched in 2009, and the performance and experiences of students in their first academic year in the UK. The students (participants) in my study come from 'outer circle' (Kachru, 1985) nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and India which form the present-day Commonwealth (largely former British colonies and overseas territories). In many multilingual and multicultural post-colonial states such as these, English is the medium of instruction from primary school through to tertiary education and often a lingua franca or indeed a first language for many students from those nations. There is a need to survey the predictive validity of the test for individuals from these backgrounds as the admissions process for students such as these can vary widely depending on the institution's own admissions policies. It is also my argument that students from the 'outer circle' occupy a position across the definitions of 'native speaker', 'English as a Second Language' user and 'English as a Foreign Language' user. Many outer circle students possess 'ownership' of English (Norton, 1997; Widdowson, 1994; Higgins, 2003), a 'functional nativeness' (Kachru, 1998) or can also be classified as 'native users' (Davies, 2013). The implications of this is that they may have a different score profile to that of students from expanding circle countries and may have different proficiency and academic issues at university.
In order to explore this predictive validity for outer circle students, I have quantitative test data in the form of the PTE Academic Score Reports which include overall scores and four communicative skills scores of a sample of students from a variety of outer circle and expanding circle countries from 2014. I run descriptive and inferential statistics (t-tests, ANOVA and Tukey tests) to uncover the mean averages and to determine any statistical significance between the mean scores of differing countries. This will allow me to see if there is any difference between and within the outer and expanding circle nations in terms of mean average test performance and indicators of proficiency.
Qualitatively, I conduct student tutorials over three terms in the students' first year at university, surveying their perspectives on their academic and linguistic performance together with documentary evidence in the form of the students' written assignments and scores. To help identify 'linguistic readiness' for academia I use CEFR descriptors for 'describing learner proficiency' and promoting 'self-assessment' (CUP, 2001). This qualitative and quantitative data will help to illustrate my participants' linguistic 'readiness' for academia in the UK. Interviews in the tutorials are transcribed and themed to uncover student reflections on their proficiency and academic performance and the variables that affect academic performance.
Studies such as mine aim to inform the way in which particular groups of students are supported in terms of language support and academic literacy as well as contributing to knowledge on the validity of academic English tests for the purposes to which they are used and the debates on admissions policies of universities.
My research is funded through the ESRC - the Economic and Social Research Council, The University of Warwick and Pearson and will end in the Autumn of 2016.
If you are a student from the Commonwealth currently studying in the UK and would like to participate in an online survey, please go here: Student Survey
Council of Europe (2001) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Language, Teaching, Assessment, Cambridge CUP
Davies, A. (2013) Native Speakers and Native Users: loss and gain, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Higgins, C. (2003) ' "Ownership" of English in the Outer Circle: An alternative to the NS-NNS Dichotomy' in TESOL QUARTERLY, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp.615-644.
Kachru, B. B. (1985) 'Standards, codification and socio-linguistic realism: the English language in the outer circle' in Quirk, R. & Widdowson, H.G. English in the World: Teaching and learning the language and literatures CUP, p.11-30
Kachru, B. B. (1998) 'English as an Asian Language' in Links and Letters, Volume 5, pp.89-108
Norton, B. (1997) 'Language, Identity and the Ownership of English', TESOL QUARTERLY, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp.409-429
Widdowson, H.G. (1994) 'The Ownership of English' in TESOL QUARTERLY, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp377-389