EFL learners’ confidence and fluency communication

Research Method Major Assignment Autumn Term

Design for my own research project


The topic area of this research is EFL learners’ confidence and fluency communication when they speak English. This research will especially focus on East Asian EFL learners. I learned English several times with people who are from all over the world. As an EFL learner I found that East Asian learners are generally less confident about speaking English though their other skills are very well. This event became a good opportunity that I started having an interest in this topic. My assumptions about why East Asian EFL learners are less confident and fluent in speaking English are probably due to what they were taught at school, the influence of L1, social, or cultural issues. In fact, Wang (2014: 110) says that Chinese EFL learners might not be able to speak fluently and accurately because of ‘cognitive, linguistic and affective factors’. Matsuda and Gobel (2003) report that leaners who have overseas experience are self-confident of speaking English. MacIntyre et al. (1998: 545) indicate that ‘linguistic, communicative and social psychological variables’ might be the factors which influence EFL learners’ willingness to communicate (WTC). In 2020, Japanese university entrance exam system is going to be changed from the governmental exam that measures 2 skills; listening and reading, to the seven types of private-sector exams like TOEIC and TOEFL etc. that measure 4 skills; listening, reading, writing and speaking. Although the new system is controversial, it could be also obvious that Japanese society has started to focus on wider skills in English language learning especially communication skills. Some people claim that measuring four language skills would improve students’ usable English competence and especially adding speaking skills would give a big influence on it (Abe, 2018). That is why I think that to research Japanese speaking skill is beneficial to Japanese society.

The research question

I would like to find whether or not East Asian postgraduate students at University of Roehampton are confident and fluent in speaking English inside the classroom and the factors which promote/inhibit their confidence and fluency. More than half a year has already passed since the postgraduate students came to the UK, so now they might have got used to speaking English much more than when they first came to the UK. In order to investigate EFL learners who do not live in English speaking countries on a long-term basis, the setting I will find the answers of this research question should be defined as the students’ first month in the UK. Therefore, the research questions would be the following:

were East Asian postgraduate students at University of Roehampton confident and fluent in speaking English in their first month in the UK inside the classroom? and

what factors promoted/inhibited their confidence and fluency in speaking English?

Confident inside the classroom means the number of students’ brank and filler when they speak, the number of words in their utterance, the frequency that they speak, volume of their voice, and situation when they speak. Yashima (2002: 59-60) defines confidence in L2 communication as ‘anxiety’ and ‘perceived communicative competence’. She also indicates that anxiety can be measured with the way developed by MacIntyre and Clément (1996, cited in Yashima, 2002) and competence can be measured the one by MacIntyre and Charos (1996, cited in Yashima, 2002). For instance, the students rate how much they feel nervous or competent from 0 to 100 in a particular situation and with a particular person.

The data

I will conduct semi-structured interviews which are often used in applied linguistic field. In the semi-structured interviews, I will be able to prepare interview questions in advance, but also I could change the way of asking like changing the order or words for each person (Dörnyei, 2011). From the interviews, two types of data should be able to be collected: ‘Description of research event’ which focuses on participants’ speech and behaviour in interview and ‘account’ which is a report of what the participants actually wrote or spoke to the researcher (Holliday, 2010: 100). Therefore, during the interviews I will observe the participants and take notes. However, it would not be possible that I take notes with listening interviewees’ answers because I do not have experience to conduct interviews. Thus, recording the interviews would be very useful. I will record the voice at the same time I take notes, then make the transcription after the interviews. It will help to analyse what the interviewees said. I will ask the participants these questions made by following the question types that Dörnyei (2011) indicates:

Simple questions about personal experience when they first came to the UK (e.g. since when have you been here? Is it first time you study in the UK? etc.).

Have you been said ‘speak loudly’, ‘speak more’ or something like similar request?

Do you think you were confident and fluent to speak English when you first came to the UK?

How did you feel about your speaking in English when you first came to the UK?

Did you been taught grammar more than speaking at school in your country?

I will avoid leading questions and using vague and linguistic terms. These questions are reasonable because they are followed by the interview guide and Dörnyei (2011) emphasizes the essentiality of it. The answers of these questions would be self-report, but it would help to make sure about my theory that East Asian students are less confident and fluent in speaking English. However, I will ask questions of which contents are same as I ask students to the teachers as well, so I will get more objective answers. In order to confirm my theory, measuring the time they take to answer the questions and counting the filler or blank in their utterances would be another possible way to find their degree of confidence and fluency. Thus, I need to record the interviews to make sure how they spoke in the interviews. It is more important than getting the result of specific data (Dörnyei, 2011). Dörnyei (2011) also claims that semi-structured interviews should be recorded because note taking process during the interviews is not enough to catch everything what the interviewee said and it might interrupt the interviews. Besides, he indicates a technical issue of recording voice by using a dictaphone, microphone or cassettes (e.g. the case we fail to record it or lose the recordings). However, I will use my smartphone and laptop computer, the issues he suggests would not be so significant.

The research sample

In my research, as a sample, I will choose East Asian postgraduate students at Roehampton University who have not continuously lived in English speaking countries for more than one year. They will be my old classmates when I took pre-sessional course at this university together. I am also going to ask teachers who have taught English to East Asian students to be interviewees. Regarding the sample of qualitative research, Dörnyei (2011) says that it is important to get sample from individuals who can give a researcher useful and various information and make him/her realize much more about the topic of research. Hence, for this reason, the sample I will choose would work well in my research. Both my classmates and teachers will give me great idea as well as information because they must be English learners and teachers for long time and give me interesting viewpoints about learning English. Moreover, in qualitative research, ‘the transferability of results’ (i.e. whether or not researcher’s findings ‘can be applied to another context’) is also important rather than deducing from a sample (Laher & Botha, 2012: 94). My findings using the sample which is East Asian postgraduate students and the teachers in the UK could be applied to another countries’ ESL learners, another levels of learners, or in another counties. Therefore, it can be said that this sample would lead me to ‘the transferability of results’ (Laher & Botha, 2012: 94). I will choose a few people first and conduct the interview then after analysing the data of first people’s interviews, I will interview other people. This iterative process would work effectively because I could recognise which issues most become the topic of the interview question by getting ‘repetitive data’ (Laher & Botha, 2012: 89). Regarding the contact with the interviewees, the sample I will interview is my old classmates and teachers as I mentioned above, so it is possible to contact them easily because we are in the same place. I will use ‘purposive sampling’ which is one of ‘non-probability sampling’ when I choose sample from East Asian postgraduate students at University of Roehampton and their teachers (Laher & Botha, 2012: 92-93). This sample would not take so much time and money unlike ‘probability sampling’ (Laher & Botha, 2012: 89). In addition, in order to collect ‘purposive sampling’, I would judge individuals based on my experience to decide who would be the best and who would annoy me as a sample(Laher & Botha, 2012: 93). Dörnyei (2011) says that interviews are a practicable way even for a beginner researcher, but it is also time-consuming. Besides, it might be difficult to deal with each participants characters. For example, some interviewees might be too shy and they cannot tell me useful data. Others might talk too much though most of their data is useless. However, these problems would unlikely happen by using ‘purposive sampling’ (Laher & Botha, 2012: 93). Another possible consideration of this sample is that the interviewees are postgraduate students who have been lived in the UK for more than 6 month. If I conduct interviews to the beginner EFL learners or to the postgraduate students soon after they came to the UK, the answers will be different.


I would like to find East Asian postgraduate students’ attitude towards speaking English when they first came to the UK and the factors why they had/did not have confidence or felt/did not feel that they speak English fluently. By getting data from two sides East Asian students themselves and their teachers, I will be able to analyse them objectively. Thematic analysis and discourse analysis will be possible to analyse data in this research.

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According to Kawulich and Holland (2012), thematic analysis is a popular way when researchers analyse qualitative data. The qualitative data show the researchers ‘themes or patterns’ (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 231), so I could get what is the main subject in my research and what particular way is happening when East Asian students speak English. In thematic analysis, after I interviewed and made a transcription of the interview, I will read the transcription many times to ‘identify a unit of analysis’ such as ‘a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a couple of sentences’ (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 231). Then I will ‘identify the topic’ of the unit (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 231) for example, education, culture, society, personality etc. in the analysis of my research. Next, I will label the unit of analysis with a code by using ‘a coding scheme’ (i.e. ‘the constant comparative method’) (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 231). ‘The constant comparative method’ like checking a code, comparing codes and repeating coding constantly will help me realize the patterns of what each interviewee said. Hence, this iterative process will be effective when I analyse data as well as when I collect samples. Lastly, I will categorize the codes based on meanings (i.e. ‘label segments’) (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 232). In this step, I will be able to develop the themes from codes by finding similarities in terms of meanings. Therefore, thematic analysis would be useful for understanding data and classifying them clearly. Besides, using thematic analysis would be reasonable for analysis of this research. The research by Holtman et al. (2011, cited in Kawulich & Holland, 2012) as an example of thematic analysis could be a good reference because it resembles my research in terms of  the type of research question and factors they want to find in their research.

Discourse analysis (DA) would also be a suitable way for my research because it can analyse people’s behaviour and culture. I will interview to investigate the factors why East Asian students do not have confidence in speaking English and so far I assume that it might be because of education and cultural or social issues. An interview is one of communication between two people; interviewer and interviewee(i.e. discourse). Moreover, DA uses ‘a cultural perspective’ because cultural issues would be a key to understand the situation (Kawulich & Holland, 2012: 241). Thus, the fact that I am an East Asian student as same as samples that I am going to interview would provide a positive effect in the interview. What the interviewees say would be understandable because my culture is similar to them.

The Possible implication of the findings for English teaching

I would like to adopt my findings towards the field of English education in Japan. For example, they should be used for the instruction at schools, learners’ self-regulated study, the policy of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and companies which publish teaching and learning materials. As I mentioned above, Japanese university entrance exam system is going to be changed and writing and speaking exams will be added to the new one. This shift in exams will affect actual education inside the classroom especially at high school where students strictly prepare for the exams. Thus, it is sure that teaching at high school will be more focused on improving students’ writing and speaking skills. MacIntyre et al. (1998) studied willingness to communicate (WTC) to pursue the reasons why some learners do not communicate well even though they have enough competence of the language. They concluded that the concept of WTC which happens on personal occasions would also be possible to use practically and pedagogically. Moreover, as their model of WTC can carry theoretical and practical implication for L2 learning, the findings of my research of which topic includes WTC would also suggest pedagogical implication from two perspectives; theoretically and practically. For instance, theoretically I would find the differences of communication competence between students and its reasons, and practically I would find the communication instruction which could be useful inside the classroom or ways that Japanese could conquer their weakness when they communicate in English. Consequently, the investigation about East Asian students’ psychological issues of speaking English would be adoptable as one of EFL pedagogy of communication instruction, especially instruction for speaking skill. I also believe that, as I mentioned in sampling section, my findings should be adopted in other English education contexts such as English education in other countries, Asian students who are studying in English speaking countries, or other non-native English speakers except East Asian.

Ethical issues and other matters

The sample of this research is all adult, so to ask permission for the parents or protectors is not needed and everything is decided by the participants themselves. However, the informed consent must be prepared. Seliger and Shohamy (1989: 196) says that it is contrary to ethics if the researchers collect data from the participants or observe them ‘without appropriate permission’. Besides, informed consent should be suitable one for the cultural background (e.g. the extent of formalness and understanding) (Holliday, 2010). Thus, the informed consent in this research would be made in accordance with East Asian culture. For example, it would be formal as their culture is so and use plain English because they are not native English speakers. One more important thing is that I cannot refuse the participants’ request for stopping the participation in this research (Seliger & Shohamy, 1989). It might be challenging or even impossible to let the participants have interests about the research, but if some of them leave the research, I would try to find another person. Another consideration is that this research is investigate the past event. Therefore, it is not certain that whether or not the participants remember it accurately and also the validity of information from them.


Abe M. (2018) The Ill-Considered Reform of Japanese University Entrance Exams. Nippon.com, 13 July. Available at: https://www.nippon.com/en/currents/d00413/ (Accessed: 29 December 2018).

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Holliday, A. (2010) Analysing Qualitative data. In: Paltridge, B. and Phakiti, A. (eds.) Continuum Companion to Research Methods in Applied Linguistics. London: Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 98-110.

Kawulich, B. and Holland, L. (2012) Qualitative Data Analysis. In: Wagner, C., Kawulich, B. and Garner, M. (eds.) Doing Social Research: A global context. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 228-245.

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