For many years now, linguists and researchers have examined the impact of English language proficiency on various fields like academic success and employability. While early researches suggested that English proficiency does not dictate high academic rating and employment aptitude, evidences are now showing that proficiency of the English language is a cutting-edge asset in areas of academic success and employment in a highly-competitive and demanding industries in Medicine and Fitness, Information Technology, and the Business Process Outsourcing. In the Philippines, for example, where there is an increasing demand of call center workers year after year, fluency of the English language should be a topmost priority among schools.
It is on this ground that the issue of how English language proficiency relates to academic achievement and employability is clearly relevant to the educational development of bilingual and trilingual students.
This issue has been a widely debated topics not only in the Philippines, but also around some parts of the United States and Europe.
Underlying these issues, the question of what English proficiency means and how it relates to academic achievement and employability should be addressed. Central to the understanding of English language proficiency is J. Cummins’s Theory of Language Proficiency. To be proficient in a second language (English, for Filipinos), both basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) need to be developed. The latter is the basis for students’ academic success but may take from 5-7 years or longer to master. The former, in contrast, is usually attained within the first two years of exposure to the second language and is characterized by superficial oral language skills.
Language proficiency, furthermore, develops along these two continuums: from context-embedded to context-reduced communication, and from cognitively less-demanding to cognitively-demanding tasks. Then how do we measure English language proficiency? Canale provided a set of criteria he termed communicative competence to assess proficiency in the language as follows: grammatical competence which encompasses knowledge in lexical items and rules of morphology, syntax, sentence, grammar, semantics, and phonology; discourse competence which is the ability to connect sentences in stretches of discourse and form a meaningful whole out of a series of utterances; sociolinguistic competence which involves knowledge of socio-cultural rules of language; and strategic competence which is the verbal and nonverbal communication strategies that may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or due to insufficient competence.
Summing it up, English language proficiency is competence in basic mechanics, manipulation and ability to use words, phrases, and sentences, distinction of appropriate function of the language, and compensation or remediation for a lack in some language areas. These have been the basis for myriad of researches on the relationship of English language proficiency to academic achievement and employability. At present, researches have turned their attention to the broad cognitive development of language among students. These researches have found an increasing evidence for positive relation between English language proficiency and reasoning abilities including “nonverbal problem-solving skills, divergent thinking skills, and field dependence”. Research has also indicated that additive-bilingual students who have high proficiency in English outperform their monolingual counterparts who have low proficiency in English on tasks requiring high levels of cognitive control.
The positive relation between proficiency in English among students and exceptional nonverbal ability in with-in group analyses has also been observed. Results of these studies revealed that students who are proficient in English are superior to their counterparts in the area of “general cognition development”, “academic achievement”, “and “linguistic competence”. The series of studies by J. Cummins in 1979, 1981, 1989, and 1992, respectively, have shown that proficiency in the acquired language must be obtained in order for the students’ cognitive abilities to be properly incited. In short, academic achievement is only attained through literacy and proficiency of English. Additionally, the more proficient one is in English, the quicker one is to amass knowledge. For a student to be academically competent in areas like Mathematics, Science, Humanities, Arts, and even Character Education, focus on “linguistic structures, functions, and mechanics”14, should be considered first.
Thus, culturally diverse students must make the transition from using only concrete language style to a more contextualized language. Systematically selecting language activities along the oral-proficiency continuum and facilitating the development of the students’ narrative abilities prove to be effective in promoting academic achievement as well. Furthermore, Wallach and Miller noted that “the shift from utterance-based communication to text-based communication means that students engage in the manipulation of language topics, forms, and functions”, which is very crucial in attaining academic success. According to the researches of Wallach and Butler, and of Simon, there is an existing relationship between English language proficiency and academic achievement, and becoming academically good involves proficiency in English. Thomas and Collier suggested that sustained instruction in English enhances students’ academic success in later years, as shown in their research study on high school students.
And with the booming call center industry in the Philippines, the need for English fluency and academic mastery should be addressed through effective academic instructions in schools. Every quarter, the industry opens more than 1000 seats to college and high school graduates alike, provided that they have the acceptable and standard language competence to deliver their highly demanding functions in a highly competitive environment. The quality of our graduates in terms of academic and English competence is determined by the passing rate of call center applicants. For the record, the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines admitted that only 9 out of the 100 entry-level applicants are deemed-fit for the call center job, while 20 to 40 applicants would need to undergo skills-based training in language and technology, and the rest failed to get the cut.
The Call Center Association of the Philippines pointed out several reasons for the low passing rate. Aside from the lack of call center experience, the applicants do not have the entry-level skills to be considered for the job. Such entry-level skills include verbal conversations, technology know-how, and decision-making, which can be addressed through effective academic preparation in schools. While most vocational schools offer short-term call center courses, nothing beats a well-grounded academic training in schools.
As the call center business continue to offer an attractive working climate, some sectors express concerns about the overall English and academic competence level of the potential new hires. Due to the high-level language proficiency and socio-linguistic skills requirement of the job, certain call center companies may have not filled in the expected seats from the foreign clients, especially for high-end accounts like banking and finance and telecommunications which demand a higher-order thinking and analytical skills. In a study conducted by the John F. Kennedy Center Foundation – Philippines in 2006, it was revealed that the declining supply of qualified call center workers could arrest the projected growth of the industry. The JFKCF-P mentioned that one solution is to “adequately prepare graduates by providing them quality training in English proficiency.”
The general perception of a “declining English competence” of our students and graduates has been constantly talked about by industry insiders, media practitioners, and educators. Has there been a decline of English competence that we have a relatively low passing rate in the call center job? If there is, what measures are currently in place to ensure academic and language success in schools? Does proficiency in the English language ensure good academic standing? What other factors contribute to language proficiency and academic performance in relation to employability? Background of the Study
The academic achievement of bilingual and/or trilingual students has long been a major educational concern. It has been said that before these students are confronted with academically challenging tasks in any discipline, they should be masters of the English language first. But the question here is: how do these learners acquire the standard of English proficiency? There are several factors that affect or inhibit learners in attaining mastery of English; thus, attaining academic success is near to impossible. Such factors include age and/or level of maturity, first language proficiency, and attitude and individual differences. Age and/or level of maturity here refer to the preparedness or readiness of the learners to acquire competence in the language. Collier said that “for academic achievement, it does not matter when second language begins, as long as cognitive development continues at least through age 12.”
First language proficiency is also a major factor, as what was noted by researchers that it may inhibit the development of the second language. Attitude and individual differences refer to language learning styles and behavior of the learners towards the language. It is on this premise that this research study is geared to prove or disprove the validity of the said effects of English language proficiency on academic achievement and employability. Sufficient data are then gathered to supplement the research study and to aid the researcher with the proper procedures in conducting the study. These data are grouped according to relevance and importance and on the degree of reference. The interest of the research study started as a practical observation in the call center setting. It has been observed that those who have the ability, in whatever level of proficiency, in the English language have the competitive advantage over those who are less or no ability to use English in terms of academic performance, employability, and even job promotion. The interest was then broadened into a real research work. Theoretical Framework | Conceptual Framework
This study is anchored on Jim Cummins’s Theory on Second Language Acquisition, where five stages of acquisition are discussed in relation to students’ capacity or readiness to achieve academic proficiency. The five stages are as follows: Stage 1: The Silent/Receptive or Preproduction Stage, which can last from ten hours to six months. Here, the students often have up to 500 hundred words that they can understand, but they may not be comfortable using; Stage 2: The Early Production Stage, which can last additional six months after the initial stage. At this stage, students have usually developed close to 1,000 receptive or active words; Stage 3: The Speech Emergence Stage, which can last up to another year. Students in this stage have usually developed approximately 3,000 words and can use short phrases and simple sentences to communicate;
Stage 4: The Intermediate Language Proficiency Stage, which may take up to another year after speech emergence. Students have typically developed close to 6,000 words and are beginning to make complex statements, state opinions, ask for clarification, share their thoughts, and speak at greater length; Stage 5: The Advanced Language Proficiency Stage, which typically takes from five to seven years. By this stage, students have already developed some specialized content-area vocabulary and can participate fully in conversations that require great fluency similar to that of native speakers. In relation to these stages, the achievement level of the students in their academics depends on what stage their proficiency of English is into.
Another theory of Jim Cummins is that of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and that of Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). This theory states that the “average student can develop conversational fluency within two to five years, but that developing fluency is more technical, academic language can take from four to seven years depending on many variables such as language proficiency level, and the degree of support for achieving academic proficiency.” The paradigm shown on the next page features the concept of this study. The continuous cycle begins with English language proficiency first, and after achieving proficiency in the language, students will be able to correctly manipulate language forms and patterns for easy understanding of academic lessons presented in English. This results to high academic performance, which will also augment students’ proficiency in the language. The more proficient one is in English, the more academically good one becomes and the more one achieves academically, the more one becomes proficient in English.
Paradigm: The continuous flow of English language proficiency to manipulation of language forms and patterns to academic achievement and then back to English language proficiency.
Statement of the Problem
This study determines and proves the significant correlation of English language proficiency to academic achievement of Grade 9 students of Calumpang High School for the school year 2014 – 2015. Specifically, it seeks to answer the following questions: 1. What is the profile of the respondents according to:
1.3. Birth Order;
1.4. Parents’ Educational Background; and
1.5. Socio-Economic Status?
2. What is the respondents’ level of English proficiency as a result of the English Proficiency Test? 3. What is the academic achievement of the respondents as reflected by their average grade in all subjects from their previous year? 4. What is the degree of the variability of the respondents’ grades and scores on the English Language Proficiency Test? 5. What is the correlation of English language proficiency to academic achievement? 6. Does a positive correlation between English language proficiency and academic performance dictate high level of passing rate in the call center industry? Hypothesis of the Study
For statistical testing and data interpretation, this hypothesis is considered: English language proficiency has no significant effect on academic achievement of the students; thus, no correlation can be made between the level of proficiency in English language and academic achievement. Scope and Delimitation of the Study
While there is a strong presence of the issue of bilingualism and trilingualism and second language acquisition, this study covers only the inherent and potential relationship of English language proficiency and academic achievement. The above two issues are excluded here although some aspects have been tackled because of some relevance and association with the main focus of this study. This study also adheres to its main objective, which is to determine whether or not the ability to correctly use the English language has an effect on the students’ academic achievement, and in turn get a very high employability rate in the Business Outsource Processing industry. Although results vary due to factors like age, gender, birth order, socio-economic status, and the like, any conclusions made in this study are solely based on one variable, English language proficiency. The term English language proficiency covers not only mastery of grammar and mechanics or sentence patterns, but more so on the mastery of the four macro skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Proficiency in this study refers to the ability of the students to read, write, speak, and listen in English. Any of these macro skills does not determine proficiency because proficiency means more that just the ability to read, write, speak, and listen. Rather, proficiency means the ability to correctly use these four macro skills in a given situation. In this study, the proficiency of the students in the English language is measured under these conditions. Academic achievement covers the school performance of the students through their grades from the previous academic year only. It includes academic subjects like Mathematics, Sciences, Language, Social Studies, Arts, and Livelihood Education. Academic achievement is measured here through the students’ grade from their previous year. The respondents of this study are enrolled Grade 9 students Calumpang High School of school year 2014–2015. Those who indicates in the survey questionnaire that they are foreigners and/or native speakers of English are excluded in the study. It is on these conditions where the results of this study can be concluded valid and reliable. Significance of the Study
The study on the relationship of English language proficiency and academic achievement has been the subject of many researches for decades now. Educators and school administrators promote the idea that language proficiency affects academic performance and language proficiency and academic performance affect employability. Although there are some who contradicted such idea, the impact of the results of these researches and studies proved to be interest-provoking and had alarmed those in the authority. That is why considerable number of similar researches is still conducted. The study on the significant effects of English language proficiency on academic achievement is the key factor in understanding learners’ diverse ways on acquiring mastery of the subject matters specially those that use English as medium of instruction.
The study alone may eliminate subjectivity on the part of the teachers in terms of assessing the academic performance of the students. In such ways, the teachers are given prior knowledge about the capacity of their students to use the English language and eventually make the necessary adjustments so that all students, in whatever level of English proficiency they have, shall learn effectively whatever the academic subject is. Additionally, understanding that the students are going through a predictable and sequential series of developmental stages in English language proficiency helps teachers predict and accept students’ current stage, while modifying their instruction to encourage progression to the next stage. This study can also help teachers develop appropriate instructional strategies and assessments that guide students along a continuum of language development.
This study will also benefit the students themselves. Having this background, they can already adjust to different academic tasks in the classroom. Also, this shall provide them with the necessary information on assessing their own competence in English and suit it to appropriate level of academic struggle. They will be given substantial help for them to understand their level of competencies in the language. In the case of those who are in the authority, they will be given enough background on the level of English proficiency and its effect to academic achievement of the students. With this, they shall have basis in future program implementation in relation to educational development.
Furthermore, this research study is an important area in English language education, perhaps an area that can be significantly studied more. This study will generate new ideas that can be used for future researches related to the topic. As a mere research study, this may not be the be-all and end-all in describing students’ academic learning styles, but this will be a starting point in analyzing the important role of English not only as an international language, but also as a language of academics.
Finally, understanding the concept of English language instruction and its impact to the overall academic performance of the students is a good bird’s eye view to course developers and educators of Call Center Programs in the K-12 curriculum. Identifying the areas of English our students are challenged with versus the English proficiency requirements of the call center job enables our school administrators to create skills-related teaching methodology to equip our students in their job application in the future. Moreover, it is imperative for the whole academe to understand the demands of the global market and the relevance of language proficiency and academic performance to marketability and self-worth. This research ultimately seeks answers to the unidentified reasons of the “declining English proficiency” and what effective programs and solutions can we implement to address such issues. Definition of Terms
Throughout the study, there are words and terms that are contextually and operationally used. This section includes clearly and concisely defined coined words and technical terms as follows: Academic Achievement. This refers to the school performance of the students through grades. Bilingualism. This term refers to the use of two languages, the first language and English, as a medium in communication. Call Center Industry. Also known as Business Process Outsourcing, this term refers to the large operations of foreign companies in the Philippines. Communicative Competence. This refers to the ability to communicate effectively in whatever forms of speaking and writing as well as the ability to get messages through listening and reading. English Language Proficiency. This term refers to the competence in using English in forms of written discourse and oral communication.
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