First Advisor

Marjorie Terdal

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages


Teaching English as a Second Language




Language arts (Higher) -- Oregon -- Portland, Academic achievement -- Oregon -- Portland, English language -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Oregon -- Portland -- Foreign speakers



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, vii, 153 p.)


The purpose of this study is to examine which language skills university professors believe are most essential for academic success in Portland State University classes. The study can shed light on a question for future research: Do current academic ESL classes at Portland State University teach the necessary skills to help international students maximize their second-language learning potential in university-level courses. Enrollment statistics for 1993 I 94 show 53 percent of the 815 international students declared majors in two programs: the school of Business Administration and the school of Engineering and Applied Science. This study asked 31 instructors from business and engineering to assess which language skills--reading, writing, listening or speaking--were most important to success in their undergraduate and graduate classes; how they used the language skills; how international students performed in their classes compared with native speaking students; and to describe any critical incidents which appeared to have been caused by lack of comprehension of orally-presented materials. Interview questions were designed to establish a profile of each class and assess the relationship between the amount of culturally-embedded vocabulary and the degree of difficulty experienced by non-native speaking students. Three patterns emerged from the research. First, the ranking of language skills followed results of earlier national surveys showing the importance of reading and listening. All faculty ranked reading the "most important" language skill; reading and listening were ranked equally "most important" by engineering faculty; and writing varied by level and discipline; and speaking was ranked "least important" by all faculty. Second, all faculty ranked textbooks the preferred use of reading skills; note taking was the most-used listening skill; and class discussion was the mostused speaking skill. Writing activities varied by level and discipline, although reports and essay answers were the most frequently mentioned uses. Third, faculty said international students performed better in quantitative than qualitative classes. Within both disciplines, classes which manipulated numbers were less problematic than those which manipulated language with culturally-embedded context or vocabulary. Implications for ESL curriculum design suggest emphasis on skills considered most important by academic faculty.


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