Investigating Academic Literacy Challenges on Undergraduate Programmes: A Focus on Arabic-speaking Students in New Zealand
Junina, Ahmed Kamal
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The challenges facing non-native English-speaking students (NNESSs) in their attempts to adapt to the conventions of academic writing at tertiary level in English-medium institutions have been canvassed in scholarly research. Nonetheless, there does not appear to be a great deal of research that investigates the experiences of Arabic-speaking students with English academic writing across the disciplines in New Zealand. The main aim of the present study, therefore, is to explore the challenges Arabic-speaking undergraduate students in New Zealand encounter with English academic writing. In addition, the study aims at identifying some practical ways through which Arabic-speaking students could be better prepared for the demands of studying and writing in English. This study is informed by the academic literacies model as the theoretical framework which provides the basis for an examination of the contextual influences on the English academic literacy development of the Arabic-speaking students of the sample, such as their cultural and educational backgrounds and identities. The study adopts a constructivist-interpretive research paradigm. A mixed methods research design was utilised in this study, whereby three data collection methods were employed: focus groups, an online questionnaire, and semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis was applied to the qualitative data from the focus groups and interviews, which gave rise to the identification of emergent themes. The data from the quantitative instrument were analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) software. The study identified key factors that seem to influence Arabic-speaking undergraduate students’ ability to achieve proficiency in English academic writing. These factors include students’ past language learning experiences, some linguistic differences between students’ first language (L1) and English, institutional factors, and factors that are related to specific disciplines. Students’ narratives demonstrated that English tuition at public schools in the Arabic-speaking world does not seem to adequately prepare students for the demands of studying and writing in English. In addition, linguistic differences between Arabic and English seem to contribute to the challenges that Arabic-speaking undergraduate students encounter in English academic writing. The findings indicate that many students believe that the writing required to pass the International Language Testing System (IELTS) test is irrelevant at tertiary level. In contrast, the writing content in pathway courses in New Zealand was perceived by several students as more relevant to the writing they were asked to do for university courses. Furthermore, the study found that students at the undergraduate level felt that it is difficult for them to gauge what discipline lecturers require as far as academic writing is concerned. The study makes an original empirical contribution to research that investigates academic writing by providing an authentic account of the challenges Arabic-speaking students encounter in English academic writing and suggesting a practical model for better preparing students for the demands of academic writing in English. Therefore, it is hoped that the analysis could offer an empirical point of departure for teaching academic writing to Arabic-speaking students at tertiary level both in Arabic-speaking and English-speaking countries.