Postgraduate Use of English at Dhurakij Pundit University/Introduction
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Postgraduate students in Thailand, like elsewhere, need to deal with changes and expectations from society: they are expected to participate in the academic discourse of the local academic community as well as the global one. Such the academic discourse often entails that they understand and use general and academic English. In short, they need to use it effectively.
For those who have spent some time doing their research in English speaking countries such as England, Australia, or the US, one common concern for them, among others, would be how to participate and function effectively within the new discourse community. In this case, the demand is obvious: they have to use academic English to carry out their research and report their findings.
Usually, program providers put in place academic support structure to assist postgraduate students in reaching their full potential and becoming leaders in the scholarly community. The University of Melbourne, for instance, has created an online course, a community of practice called Postgraduate Essentials (Brooks and Fyffe, 2004) as a community for new students to prepare themselves for their study. Today, program providers put in place support structures to help new students, enable them to engage effectively in a new community of practice (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). Postgraduate students such as MBA or DBA students, at local universities in Thailand are often required to conduct research in Thai and use Thai to report their findings and writing up their theses. Nevertheless, as novice academics, they often have to read a great number of English texts, as they are major sources of research information. They are expected by the society, including the academic community, to know English and use it appropriately. In short, they are required to possess certain levels of academic English skills. In addition, one of the admission requirements for postgraduate programs in Thailand is that the students demonstrate adequate levels of English proficiency, for example, a TOEFL / TU-GET / CU-TEP score of 550 or IELTS of 6.0 is a common requirement.
It can be said that English has become an integral part of Thailand’s postgraduate education. In other words, new members (budding academics) need to gain their membership through their English ability. Such a gate-keeping measure, a common practice among higher institutes, is a means to ensure that candidates are equipped with academic English skills ready to participate effectively in the academic community and beyond.
Thai academics are expected to have ‘sound knowledge’ of Thai and English, among other qualities such as critical thinking and IT skills. They possess certain dispositions, and one of which is the drive to search for truths. They are expected to function as active researchers, excel in administrative, teaching, and academic matters. In academic institutions, Thai scholars, moreover, need to earn their academic titles such as assistant professorship and associate professorship.
While recognizing the fact that English is important, it usually takes some time for learners to develop proficiency in English as a foreign language for academic purposes. From the socio-cultural perspective, those postgraduate students, as they are acquiring the language, are being socialized into the new community (Ochs, 2002). As we know, there are many discourse communities and different discourse communities have different ways of using English for their academic purposes. There are ‘technical terms’ to master; they are conventions of usage to follow such as the use of loan words and calques.
PURPOSES OF THE STUDY
The purposes of this study were to:
1) investigate the post-graduate students’ perceived English ability.
2) investigate the postgraduate students’ conception of the Thai academics and their perceived identities.
3) investigate the scope and extent of DPU postgraduate students’ use of English with other members of the Thai academic community.
4) identify the main problems arising from their use of English within the Thai academic community.
5) identify the students’ perceived coping ability.
6) investigate the relationship between the students’ personal factors, their perceptions, and the factors related to language use.
7) find out about the support they needed from the institution regarding the training of English.
The research asked the following questions:
- How did the post-graduate students perceive their own English ability?
- What were their conceptions of the Thai academics and their perception of their identity as Thai academics?
- Across the four skills, namely, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, what are the their levels of use with other members of the Thai academic community?
- What were their challenges or difficulties of English use?
- How well or effective could they cope with the problems?
- Were there any relationships between the students’ personal factors and their use of English, perceived English ability, and reported problems in language use?
- Was the support they receive from the university adequate?
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The significance of this study lies in its attempt to investigate the use of English among graduate students in business administration; it did so by perceiving them as novice or budding academics. Secondly, it attempts to identify the students’ perceived coping ability. Thirdly, it attempts to correlate their perception and their levels of English use.
As a result of the strong growth of postgraduate studies, there are now many research students in Thailand who are entering various discourse communities. These communities of practice, explicitly or implicitly, require that their members acquire and use academic English within and beyond their fields (Morita, 2004). The process of equipping the students with adequate academic English requires more than teaching them academic English as prescribed in the curriculum or textbooks. In the context of international students in English speaking countries such as in Australia, Adamson (1993, cited in Wilson 1997, p. 767) has argued that international students need academic, cultural, and linguistic competences to tackle university sstudy.
To be competent in the academic discourse requires their active participation in the academic discourse community over a certain period. This process of socialization is a complex process and is often non-linear. This developmental process, undoubtedly, requires ‘time’, as they need to engage in the academic English activities. In short, they need to learn the rules of ‘the market’ and adjust what Bourdieu called ‘habitus’ (Bourdieu, 1991). From this perspective, new members need to engage in the activities of the discourse community.
Realizing that this process is complex, dynamic, and cultural, degree providers often put in place a series of academic interventions such as seminars and conferences for the novices to ‘transform’ themselves into experts. In other words, efforts are made to help the new students participate effectively in the new discourse community. Through the process, they will become legitimate participants within the periphery of the new discourse community (Wenger, 1998; Lemke, 2002). This process takes time. Academic support is thus a crucial element.
Novices in any field have many roles to play. They need to use academic English to gain membership and participate in many discourse communities, as there are many of them within the Thai academic community. Indeed, there are other discourse communities that focus on and communicate about particular disciplines, or domains of inquiry. For example, there are sets of rules for the field of accounting. These communities have their own professional organizations and publications within which group members communicate about topics of interest to scholars who are working in the same discipline. Again, they have their own conventions, rules, standards, assumptions, and ways of approaching topics. So, another task of the novices is to learn how to communicate appropriately and effectively within their own discipline and beyond. Moreover, among the scholar community, it is regarded that doctoral and master’s degree holders/candidates are novice scholars who should be capable of using English to debate a wide range of issues. In addition, most postgraduate candidates are required to demonstrate their competence in scholarly research, which often involves extensive use of English. In the process, for example, they are expected to work closely with faculty members whose interests are similar to their own. This demands their active participation and dedication (Benz, 1996).
This research aims to study the process of DPU postgraduate students’ engagement in the new discourse community. Even though the students are going to write their theses in Thai (L1), in the process, they have to read a great deal of English texts such as theses and articles. Moreover, they are expected to be able to participate successfully in the existing academic communities (disciplinary community, Thai academic community, and global community). One of the requirements is to use English effectively within their field of expertise. Thus, in order to participate in the new context, they are required to use English to penetrate the myriad of academic discourse communities, including establishing effective relationships with their instructors, classmates, peers, and scholars in their fields.
This study will investigate non-English speaking postgraduate students as they are being socialized into the new community of practice. The new discourse community they have entered at the beginning of their program can be termed the new academic community. This new community has its own standards, rules, assumptions, and expectations that govern communication within the community. An important part of joining the new community is learning how to communicate appropriately and effectively within it --- how to function within the new context. English is one aspect of their participation.
In conclusion, from a socio-cultural perspective, the postgraduate students are in the process of becoming new members who are expected to be able to cope with academic English within the Thai academic discourse. They are in the process of what Wenger (1998) calls legitimate peripheral participation, transforming their identity. An in-depth understanding of their participation process as well as factors influencing their participation and new identities is worth an in-depth investigation.
DEFINITIONS OF KEY TERMS
Below are the definitions of the terms used in this study.
- DPU refers to Dhurakij Pundit University, a private university located on the outskirts of Bangkok. The website is at www.dpu.ac.th
- English Academic Discourse Community refers to a Thai academic community where members (teachers, researchers, scholars, students) are connected to the academy in some way, individuals who also use academic English to communicate their shared ideas and feelings.
- Perceived Identity is defined as an individual student’s self-report of how he or she perceives him/herself as a postgraduate business student. A person’s identity is formed through his or her history of social engagement in a particular society. In this study, the student participants’ perceived identities are determined from their responses to the questionnaire.
- Level of Participation refers to an individual student’s self-report of his or her level of participation in the English academic discourse community. Their levels of participation will be assessed by the questionnaire.
- Perceived Coping Ability refer to students’ self-report of their methods of dealing with the demands of English use within the academic community. These strategies will be assessed by the questionnaire as well as the interview.
- Postgraduate Business Students refer to the MBA (Master of Business Administration) and DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) students of Dhurakij Pundit university for the academic year 2007.
- Personal Factors refer to a student’s age, sex, income, and educational background
This study only investigates DPU postgraduate students. It may not be generalizible to other contexts. This study was conducted in the Kingdom of Thailand, starting in June 2007 and will last until July 2008. The population is first year postgraduate students in the filed of business administration.
As it employs both quantitative and qualitative methods, it is expected that this research would create an in-depth understanding of how Thai postgraduate business students in L1 context engage and negotiate their identities in the new community of practice --- how “the new kid fits into the block”.
It is also expected that this insight will be useful for students as well as program providers, for they will be better informed of what, when, and where to put in place necessary support structure, especially the academic one. In addition, this study will shed some light on the practice of academic English discourse within the Thai academic community.
OUTLINE OF THE RESEARCH REPORT
This report is divided into five chapters. The first chapter, Chapter One, is the introduction. The topics include: Background of the Study, Purposes, Research Questions, Significance of the Study, Rationale, Definitions, Limitations, Expected Benefits, and Outline of the Research Report.
Chapter Two is the literature review. Topics include: The Use of English in Thailand, The Use of English within the Thai Academic Communities, The Characteristics of English Use Among the Thai Academics, and Literature on the Use of English among members of the Thai Academic Communities.
Chapter Three is the methodology.
Chapter Four presents the findings, followed by the discussions. The conclusions, implications, and recommendations of the research are presented in the last chapter, Chapter Five.