Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Student language resources and e-learning opportunities

My students have asked me to recommend some online English language development resources that would be useful for them. Are there any websites that provide links to such resources, or which provide e-learning opportunities?

A:

There are many such websites. One useful one is the English Language Growth Resource. Curtin University’s UniEnglish website also lists external resources. In addition, students can explore the publicly available e-learning opportunities offered by most of Australia’s universities simply by clicking on the e-learning hyperlinks in the Database of University on this website. Some particularly good examples are listed in the Good Practice pages of the website.

Q: English language entry requirements and PELA

Our students have already met the university’s English language entry requirement. Why should they have to do a post-entry English language assessment (PELA)?

A:

A university’s English language entry requirement is a measure used to indicate the current proficiency level of an incoming student. A PELA is used to identify students’ future language development needs.

Q: Best type of PELA

There seem to be many different kinds of post-entry English language assessment (PELA). Which one is best?

A:

There is no single ‘best’ PELA, since the kind of instrument a university decides to use will depend on many factors. However, the most important consideration is whether the PELA is serving its intended purpose. For more information on selecting or designing a PELA, visit the Post Entry Language Assessment pages on this website.

Q: Student proficiency and provision of development opportunities

Why do we need English language development activities at all? Surely students should only be allowed to enrol if they are proficient in English?

A:

Students’ academic entry requirements are considered sufficient for them to commence their degree course, but not to graduate – and their degree program is intended to develop their knowledge and understanding to graduate level. Similarly, students who are accepted by a university are acknowledged as having a sufficient level of English language proficiency to commence their studies, but it is expected and intended that they should have a higher level on graduation.

Q: Involving discipline-based staff in language development

How can I get academic staff involved in developing student English language proficiency?

A:

Academic staff who are encouraged to feel that their disciplinary expertise is valued and acknowledged will be more likely to engage with ideas for developing student language proficiency. There are many examples of how student language development has been successfully embedded into disciplinary studies. For some of these, have a look at the references on the Common Challenges and Issues page on our website.

Q: Length of time to improve English

How long does it take a student to become sufficiently proficient in English?

A:

It is not possible to provide a general guide as there are multiple factors that contribute to the rate at which any individual will acquire language or increase levels of academic literacy. Factors to take into account include age, language background, previous language learning experience, extent of exposure to the target language, motivation, personality and available time to study. Some studies have examined how long it may take students to increase proficiency as measured by, for example, an IELTS score, but the samples are usually small and results variable. One interesting study is O’Loughlin, K., & Arkoudis, S. (2009). Investigating IELTS score gains in higher education. IELTS Research Reports Volume 10, Report 3. http://www.ielts.org/researchers/research.aspx

Q: Best way of improving English

What’s the best way for students to improve their English?

A:

No single approach is optimally effective for all students, which is why it is advisable for an institution to offer a range of different activities and processes to facilitate and promote student English language proficiency. The many development opportunities offered across Australia’s universities are described in the Database on this website, as well as in the Language Development Strategies pages.

Q: Evaluating the success of developmental activities

How do we know whether a particular development strategy has been successful?

A:

Evaluation of the educational effectiveness of a specific language development activity is almost impossible to conduct, because of the many other variables that are likely to play a role in any progress made by a student. For this reason, individual strategies are often evaluated using survey research, focus groups, interviews or correlational studies. For more information, visit the Evaluation of Strategies pages on this website.

Q: Authority for overseeing student language development

Where does the authority lie for English language development in a university?

A:

There are different models in place in different institutions. One of the more common barriers to the introduction of a coherent and cohesive approach to student language development is the clash between different providers of English language related activities at a single university. The most unsuccessful institutions are those where responsibility is dissipated across a number of areas with no overarching coordinating authority. The majority of universities in Australia have established a specialised area such as a learning centre, study skills centre or communication skills unit, which provides a range of post-entry learning-related services for students and sometimes staff. This area usually drives language development changes. Whichever area is selected to drive or manage the process, it is important that the staff should be qualified to a level commensurate with the work they undertake, have a sound theoretical understanding of the field, and have knowledge of the university systems and culture.