Research Paper Final Version
Chapter I: introduction
1. Rationale Over the centuries, there has been a great deal of research proving the strong organic interconnection between language and culture. Language is rooted in culture and culture is reflected and passed on by language from one generation to the next (Emmitt & Pollock 1997). In other words, language is the cover of culture expressed by ideas or words. They are entwined so deeply that one cannot survive without the other. From this, we can infer that learning a new language requires learning a new culture.
Derived from that objective, the teachers of English Department, Hanoi University of Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University, compiled and applied the course book General Geography of the U.K. and the U.S. to teaching languages. It is considered the first step of teaching and studying English for specific purposes, towards teaching and studying specialized subjects in next semesters, such as British Studies and American Studies. This subject has changed our first glance that we might think studying geography somehow unexciting when just memorize the names of countries, cities, places or signs on a map. However, geography is much more than that. While history studies events through time, geography illustrates the relationship between human beings and their environment through location and distinctive features, which is a premise for us to study further about culture.
The book General Geography of the U.K and the U.S is the prescribed text used in the course for second-year students. It not only systematically provides learners with basic knowledge about human and physical geography of the U.K. and the U.S. but also offers students opportunities to widen vocabulary, train language skills, especially reading and speaking, practice pronunciation as well as to improve elementary cultural awareness and critical thinking.
In fact, in the studying and teaching process, a great number of problems have occurred to students, involving the material, method and attitude. Nonetheless, these problems have not been taken seriously, with little research on the same topic about studying General Geography of the U.K and the U.S. That inspires us to carry out scientific research more specifically on the difficulties in studying General Geography of the U.K. and the U.S. and students attitudes towards this subject.
2. Scope and aims
After the first year studying HULIS-VNU, the students in Department of Anglo-American Languages and Cultures have the chance to study General Geography of the U.K. and U.S.. During one semester studying the subject, they often have many troubles, thus, we do this research for them about their difficulties appearing in materials and method of studying. The course book named General geography of the U.K. and the U.S., the compulsory material for learners and the skills required for studying method like language skills, searching or synthesis skills are what we analyze in the research. Besides, we think learners attitude towards any subject is one key factor that strongly influences the amount of knowledge they get from the subject. Consequently, we started analyzing the attitude of the second year students towards General Geography.
Doing this research, we hope to give our general and critical view on the situation of studying General Geography among the second year students of HULIS-VNU. Beyond that, we aim at giving some suggestions for them to overcome the difficulties in studying the subject and get better results in more specialized subjects such as British Studies, American Studies, and Cross Cultural Communication3. Study method
The Literature Review was built by referred from some other research and journals. Then the survey questionnaire survey was designed and issued to targeted students. The data analysis and discussion were processed then some suggestions was come up to. Finally, the conclusion was made.
4. Design of the research
The research is divided into six chapters. Chapter I, Introduction, includes Rationale, Aims and scope of the study, Study method and Design of the study. Chapter II contained Definition, Characteristics of the subject and Previous research. Chapter III is the Methodology in which Data collection instruments, data analysis an interview are presented. In chapter IV, Results and discussion includes Materials for General Geography, Method of studying General Geography and Attitudes toward General Geography. Chapter V, Suggestions, is the suggestions for better studying General Geography. The last chapter, Conclusion, mentions Summary, Research Limitation and Suggestion for further researchChapter II: literature review1. DefinitionAccording to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), Geography is the science which treats of the world and its inhabitants; a description of the earth, or a portion of the earth, including its structure, features, products, political divisions, and the people by whom it is inhabited.Thralls (1958) stated that Geography is the physical-social science which describes, maps, and seeks to explain the interrelations between man and his physical environment.The two definitions above means Geography is the science that describes, analyzes and explains the earth as the home of human beings and specially emphasizes on physical and social environment However, beyond the surface meanings of knowledge, Geography assists to develop peoples cultural awareness.
Then, as a course, General geography of the U.S. and U.K. basically introducing the rudimentary knowledge of physical and social environment of U.K. and U.S. for students of English. Thereof, the advantage of this subject for those students are supposed to be obvious.
2. Characteristics of the subject
From the definitions, the physical and human elements are inter related, and the interpretation of that interrelationship gives distinctive characteristics to the subject of geography.
Some highlighted characteristics of General Geography possibly named are acquisition of locations and their names, the typical features of the locations such as their symbols and meanings, topography, weather and climate, etc. Moreover, this course provides the large amount of reading passages for each unit that students need to proofread; consequently, requires comprehension and summary ability from students, which infers to the language skills, mainly reading and speaking. In addition, the subject is characterized by the various extended general knowledge about human geography, i.e. politics, economics, laws but in the most humble way.
Understandably, the course General geography of the U.K. and the U.S. is an enthralling subject yet challenging. The main challenges originated from both the shortcomings of the course and the students.
3. Previous researchWe have surfed on the Internet and other sources of information for other research that share the similar aims with ours, but we failed to find any relevant one.
Most of them deal with problems and solutions of studying General Geography for students in their own languages, which means language is no more barrier for learners. A sample journal: World Regional Geography and Problem-Based Learning: Using Collaborative Learning Groups in an Introductory-Level World Geography Course, Fournier, Eric J., The Journal of General Education - Volume 51, Number 4, 2002, pp. 293-305.Other research built up the method of studying and teaching General Geography of the U.K. and U.S. for students of foreign languages. However, they did not provide us with main obstacles and attitudes towards the subject of students. A sample study: Using visual aids to study General Geography of the U.K. and the U.S., Nguyen Thi Lai (2006) Realizing the situation, we have decided to venture our research to this intriguing topic.Chapter III: methodology1. Data collection instrumentIn order to achieve our objectives, a survey questionnaire was designed. Then it was copied and distributed to the sample of 128 students including 120 second year students of mainstream and 8 second year students of fast-track program in Department of Anglo-American Languages and Cultures, Hanoi University of International Languages and Studies, VNU.
The questionnaire was divided into three parts. Part I, Materials for General Geography, includes 4 questions concerning the materials to study General Geography. Part II is Method of studying General Geography which elaborates the methods students use to study General Geography with 5 questions. Finally, Part III is Attitudes towards General Geography with 3 questions which determine students thinking and expectation of the subject.
2. Data analysis After being collected, the copies of questionnaire were counted and synthesized by statistical method. Then they were presented by tables and charts and added comments by researchers.
3. InterviewIn the end, an interview was conducted to check the validity and reliability of the questionnaire. 24 students who did the survey were randomly chosen to involve in the interview. Chapter IV:
results and discussion We did a survey among 128 second-year students of HULIS, VNU (eight students of fast-track groups and 120 students of mainstream groups) and an interview among 24 students involved in the survey questionnaire and received the results as follows:1. Materials
Question 1: What do you think about the amount of information in the course book General Geography of the U.K and the U.S (GG)?
C. Too much40.5%
Although 52.5% of the second year students found the amount of information of the course book enough for them, there are still a large percentage of them (40.5%) reflecting that the amount of information was too much. Some units of the book provided so much information that they had difficulties in memorizing it. For example, when counting the number of A4 pages filled with words (except for lead-in, follow-up and comprehension check parts), we saw that the information of unit 8 covered 10 pages, unit 11 covered 13 pages and unit 13 covered 14 pages. Not to mention reading the content of those units, just by counting the pages like that, we can realize the large amount of information the learners have to remember. More importantly, memorizing it as much as possible is the key factor that leads to the success of the end-term test. This can explain why in the final examination of General Geography in 2008, there were 209/435 (48.5%) of the students getting marks under 6.
Question 2: How do you find the wording of the course book?
A. Simple and comprehensible13.3%
B. Complicated but comprehensible75.8%
C. Complicated and incomprehensible10.9%
For this question, the number of students who found the wording of the course book complicated overwhelms the number of those who found it simple. In total, there are 86.7% choosing answer B and C, which means 86.7% agreed that complication is the feature of the wording. Although only 10.9% thought that it was difficult to understand the content of the course book, it is worthy to find out the reasons for the wording to be considered incomprehensible and the solution to this problem. Beside those students limited ability, the wording of the course book has its own drawbacks. One of the factors leading the students to feel hard to understand the content of the book is numerous new words and terminologies. For example, in the second paragraph of page 180, in the first sub-part named Local history, part B. Washington, D.C., unit 11, there are many new words and terminologies, which appear constantly within 159 words: prominence, executive, legislative, ratify, intersection, grid, etc.
After interviewing some students, we discovered one of the reasons causing them difficulties in memorizing the information of the course book is that geographical subjects and social or economic ones are mentioned at the same time without division. For instance, in page 167, there are eight paragraphs about different aspects of Megalopolis, which are typography, economy, and population. If only those eight paragraphs were arranged into three main parts with the titles like three aspects above, readers could easily follow and remember the information in such a page filled with words. This drawback of the book also had a bad influence on the quality of the learners summation of many units in the book (summarizing important units is a compulsory task for them). Dang Thanh Diem, a student in class E1K41, Department of Anglo-American Languages and Cultures, HULIS-VNU said that it had been a trouble for her to sum up some units fairly as in which geographical and cultural matters are cited alternately and she knew that her summary was not excellent.
Question 3: How do you find the illustrations (maps, charts, or pictures, etc.) in the course book effective in supporting the content?
A. Effective 62.5%
B. Rather effective 28.9%
C. Ineffective 8.6%
Of the second year students, there are more than a quarter finding the illustrations in the course book rather ineffective and approximately one tenth finding it ineffective. This statistic is not really impressive but there still occurs a problem in the illustrations. Having much time analyzing the course book, we found out that in page 166, there was no notes under the map. Many students could not figure out what the map illustrated. Meanwhile, the paragraph beside the map included many proper names, which influenced readers to require explanation. While reading the sentence: Megalopolis is a heavily-populated area extending from southern Maine to southern Virginia, the students expected to see the illustration of Maine; however, no sign of Maine existed on the map.
Question 4: What sources do you find extra information for studying General Geography beside the course book? (You can choose more than one choice)
A. No sources24.2%
C. Books in the library12.5%
D. Others 1.6%
(learn from friends or slides teachers provide)
About a quarter of the students did not find extra information for studying General Geography except the course book. This situation can help us to infer that they did not have much enthusiasm for studying this subject. While reading the book, especially answering to many questions of Lead-in and Follow-up sections, they needed to find extra information as the Reading Text sections did not include the answers. The follow-up section of page 28, in which there were a table lacking statistics of Vietnameses population can be a bright example. Putting much attention to this part, students would have spent time looking for the statistics.
In comparison with the percentages of others, the percentage of the students selecting the answer B outnumbers. 67.2% of the students looked for new information from websites, which means the Internet is the most popular source of data. The small percentage of those who chose the answer C shows that library is not an ideal data bank to support their study of General Geography.
2. Methods of studying Question 5. How are you likely to deal with new words and terminologies? (Can choose more than one)
Look up in dictionary71.1%
In this question, while 26.56% of students tried to guess the meanings of words, based on the context, nearly 3 times as many as that number (71.1%) tended to look up in dictionary immediately. Just 4.69% of them chose answer C: skip them. In some cases, though it might be accepted but not a good way to study the book thoroughly.
Question 6. How often do you read the course book before class?
In question 6, only 3.1% learners chose the first alternative: never read the course book before class. The number of students answering always was not much, either. It accounted for 14.9% - an insignificant figure. The quantity choosing sometimes and usually was similar, which were relatively 40.6% and 41.4%.
Question 7. How often do you revise what you have learnt in class?
In question 7, there was a great difference among the answers. None of students surveyed always revised what they learned in-class. It was understandable when studying at university did not demand daily oral test as it did in high schools. Therefore, students focused on knowledge right before going to class or before exams, not at any time, at any place. The percentage of answer A never revise lessons was also small with 7.03%. It could be explicable. If one never revises lessons after class, he or she is more likely to fail in the exam. The number of students who said sometimes constituted 63.38%, almost tripled that of students who answer usually.
Question 8. In what way do you revise the knowledge in the course book? (Can choose more than one)
Read the course book52.34%
Do exercises in the course book73.43%
Summarize main points 37.5%
Read the slides from teachers55.47%
Others (specify)0.78% Discuss with friends
Study the students presentation
According to the data collected in the above table, the major of students were inclined to study by the traditional way: do exercise in the course book. Up to now, it has been still effective enough for learners. The number of people choosing reading lessons in books or on slides shared equivalent proportion (52.34% and 55.47%). A little bit smaller quantity agreed with summarize main points. This difference might be explained that each student found an appropriate method for himself or herself.
Question 9. Between the two activities in GG classes: discussions and lectures, which one do you prefer?
A. More lectures than discussions15.54%
B. More discussions than lectures20.86%
C. Balance between lectures and discussions63.78%
For this question, the most preferable method of studying in GG class was balance between lectures and discussions (63.78% students). The second most one was more discussions than lectures according to 20.86% students. However, 15.54% students wanted more lectures than discussions. To specify how balance the discussions and lectures should be, the interviewees were referred. Most of them found it reasonable for two thirds of lesson-time used for discussions. Question 10. Have you joined or are you interested in activities about American and British cultures such as meetings or festivals organized by British Embassy or American Center?
This was an opening question and showed extroversion, involving extra-curriculum activities. It also reflected the activeness, creative dynamism, and self-motion of students. Approximately one third of them ticked yes. In contrast, the percentage answering no made up for 70.31%.
3. Attitudes towards General GeographyQuestion 11. Which description below is similar to you most in GG classes?
A. Only raise your voice when being called by teachers49/114 (43%)
B. Sometimes volunteers to raise your voice65/114 (56%)
C. Usually express your ideas or knowledge actively and enthusiastically9/114 (1%)
When being requested about the participation and enthusiasm in class, 43% students chose that they only raised their voice when being called. In regard of participation counting and marking, 56% sometimes volunteer to raise voice in class. However, it is only 1% that usually expressed their ideas or knowledge actively and enthusiastically. This situation presents the tend-to-negative attitude in studying of students. They hesitated to express ideas and knowledge in class. Among those whose did the interviews, two thirds claimed the hesitation in raising voice in class. One most supposed reason is the reckless preparation for the lessons, which decreased their confidence to answer teachers questions. Question 12. What do you expect after studying GG?
A. Improving language skills8/110 (7.27%)
B. Gaining knowledge about US & UK16/110 (14.55%)
C. Both improving language skills and gaining knowledge about US and UK75/110 (68.18%)
D. Just passing the exam9/110 (10%)
In question 12, the expectation of the majority of students (68.18%) when studying General Geography of the UK and US is both improving language skills and gaining knowledge about US and UK. The following expectation is only gaining geographical knowledge of 14.55% students while demand for improving language skills by this subject is of 7.27% students. It is notable that 10% students left studying General Geography was just for passing the exam. From the result above, the expectation of students mainly focuses on improving geographical knowledge and language skill, which revealed the trend of content-based language learning. Beside sharpening the language skill, the content while studying also importantly has influence on students. The process of learning content-based language is supposed to be doubly advantageous.
Chapter V: suggestions
After ascertaining the difficulties in studying General Geography of the UK & the US, we propose some suggestions, which hopefully help the second year students to get better studying achievement.
1. Suggestion for improving the quality of the course book
Firstly, for the illustrations of the book, more notes are required to specify the maps. These expectantly increase the effectiveness of the illustrations.
Another suggestion is about the format of the book. When many issues are mentioned such as geography, economy and population in the same part, we hope to see them being divided into different subparts so that learners can memorize the information more easily.
Beside the matter of the format, the quantity the information of the General Geography course book is quite large, thus, we hope that key issues are more emphasized rather than detailed ones. In some units such as unit 10, 11 and 13 as we analyzed previously in chapter IV, the amount of the information should be reduced. 2. Suggestion for methods of studying As for the very first problem students might face up with, handling strange words, we should guess what it means due to the context, the content of unit or find homonyms. When still cannot understand words, look them up in dictionary, especially specific dictionaries for geography. Skipping them is preferred in exams when we are under pressure of time, but when we read books for reference; we had better know them carefully.
For the revision, actually, it is not necessary for whole-day revision and day-by-day but Sometimes or usually is encouraged. In our opinion, depending on time management and own ability to absorb and remember knowledge, learners can choose by themselves the suitable time for review. Some interviewees said that they often use one or two hours per day per week to look over what they have received from class. Others only re-read lessons thoroughly before the coming exam but not during the whole studying process. It is also accepted since students at university suffer from workload. Nevertheless, it is advisable to study step by step, day by day, which will benefit them more.
For extracurricular activities, it is strongly recommended that our students need to participate in international organizations or culture-exploring programs more vivaciously. It is both useful for our academic studying and helpful for us to train life-skills. 3. Suggestions for students attitude toward the subject
In class, it is advisable for students to positively contribute to the lessons. Beside being called by teachers, students should raise their voices to ask or to add extra information which they may know to the lectures. It is a way to evaluate how knowledgeable both teachers and students are.Consequently, the lessons become more interesting and lively, which attracts and inspires students more. Especially, enthusiasm in class discussions has influence in the efficiency of lessons. Only when being deeply involved in discussion can students learn and remember knowledge better.
For every subject, motivation is indispensable for learners. Students, therefore, should find one for themselves to stimulate positive attitude toward the subject. For example, studying General Geography of the U.K. and the U.S. is the first stage to reach high award in some kinds of Cultural Exploring Contest; or with such knowledge, a person can relieve from cultural shock if there is any chance to visit those countries, etc.
Chapter VI: conclusion1. Summary
To conclude, in this paper, we have studied the difficulties and attitudes of students when learning General Geography of the U.K and the U.S. The paper has shown problems of materials such as the large amount of information, the long and complicated expression, the unclear illustrations. Yet, it does not cause learners a great deal of trouble. What are the more considerable problems here are students methods of studying. The majority have not expressed or followed a scientific way. They have seemed to study passively and unconfidently. Without the great assiduousness, the intelligent vivaciousness, and the immense passion, they have not made use of this interesting book as well as this appealing subject. Hence, the result shown in the final exam is not as good as it should be. 2. Research limitations
Due to the limit of researchers understanding and time, the shortcomings in this research paper are inevitably unavoidable. According to the Aims, a critical view on the situation of studying General Geography among the second year students of HULIS-VNU would be presented; however, this view is incomprehensive since it is judged only from learners side. Besides, the data collection instrument and interview are limited. Questionnaire and interview assist to provide information to analyze and check results validity but the population is small so information needed is inadequate. In regard of suggestions, some are general and reluctant. There is a need for more practical and creative suggestions.
3. Suggestion for further research
Research on General Geography of the U.K and U.S for students of HULIS-VNU is a necessary and innovative work for those who concerns about Country Studies. In terms of attitude of students toward General Geography of the U.K and the U.S, it is interesting if the trend of content-based learning is researched more thoroughly. Moreover, beside questionnaire, interview should be conducted more carefully to ensure the reliability of result. Thereby, the studying of intercultural subjects could be better.AppendicesResearch questionnaire
We, Tran Kieu Hanh, Pham Hoai Thu, and Bui Thi Quynh Trang from E1K41, are now doing a research on
Difficulties in Studying General Geography of the UK & the US
and the Attitudes toward the Subject of 2nd year Students in HULIS-VNU.
Our aim is to help the second year students get better studying results of the subject. Thus, we wish you to answer our questions frankly. All of your information would be regarded as valuable contribution to our research.
Thank you for your cooperation!I. Materials for General Geography
1. What do you think about the amount of information in the course book General Geography of the U.K & the U.S (GG)?
C. too much
2. How do you find the wording of the course book?A. Simple and comprehensible
B. Complicated but comprehensible
C. Complicated and incomprehensible
3. How do you find the illustrations (maps, charts, or pictures, etc.) in the course book effective in supporting the content?
B. Rather ineffective
4. What sources do you find extra information for studying GG beside the course book?(You can choose more than one choice)
A. No sources
C. Books in the library
D. Others (Please specify: ...............................................................)
II. Method of studying General Geography
5. How are you likely to deal with new words and terminologies?
A. Look up in dictionary
6. How often do you read the course book before class?
7. How often do you revise what you have learnt in class?
8. How do you revise? (You can tick more than one choice for this question)A. Read the course book
B. Do exercises in the course book
C. Summarize the content of each unit in the course book
D. Read the slides teachers sent
E. Others (Please specify: .)
9. Between the two activities in GG classes: discussions and lectures, which one do you prefer?
A. More lectures than discussions
B. More discussions than lectures
C. Balance between lectures and discussion
10. Do you join activities about American and British cultures such as meetings or festivals organized by British Embassy or American Center? A. Yes
III. Attitudes towards General Geography
11. Which description below is similar to you most in GG classes?
A. Only raise your voice when being called by teachers
B. Sometimes volunteer to raise your voice
C. Usually express your ideas or knowledge actively and enthusiastically
12. What do you expect after studying GG?A. Improving language skills
B. Gaining knowledge about US and UK
C. Both A & B
D. Just passing the exams
Thank you again for your cooperation!
ReferencesThralls, Zoe Agnes. (1958). The Teaching of Geography. Appleton Century Crofts Fournier, Eric J. (2002). World Regional Geography and Problem-Based Learning: Using Collaborative Learning Groups in an Introductory-Level World Geography Course The Journal of General Education. Project MUSE The General Journal of Education. 2 March. 2009. Nguyen, Thi Lai. (2006). Using Visual Aids to study General Geography of the U.K. and the U.S. HULIS-VNU
Leveridge, Aubrey Neil. (Sept. 2008). The Relationship Between Language and Culture and the Implications to Language Teaching. TEFL. 26 Feb. 2009. University of Wisconsin. Why study Geography? 25 Feb. 2009. Ross, A. (2006). Citizenship Education: Europe and the World: Proceedings of the eighth Conference of the Childrens Identity and Citizenship in Europe Thematic Network,. CiCe (London). Careers in Geography, National Geographic Society. (1996).PAGE 28