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Learners' perception on language issues in urban adult basic education: A study of Chinese adult ESOL learners in a Boston community learning center

Fengju Zhang, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Adult literacy has become more important today. Nearly half of the millions who lack a high school education are non-English speaking adults in urban communities. Understanding the problems these adults confront in learning English is crucial to providing quality literacy services. Adult learners come to the learning tasks with fully developed cognitive capacity and life experiences. Learners' perception of the learning task affects the teaching and learning process. Despite many studies in L2 acquisition, very little is known about how adult L2 learners think about the process, particularly learners at the low literacy levels. In an attempt to find some commonality among Chinese adult ESOL learners, a survey was conducted in an urban community school. The study examined the perceptions of Chinese adult learners on the key issue in L2 learning, namely, L1 influence in learning L2 literacy skills. The study found that adult Chinese learners perceived L1 influence in learning English. Learners indicated positive L1 influence in some categories, but perceived significant negative L1 influence in more categories. Learners explained their perceptions in terms of similarities and differences between Chinese and English, the existence and non-existence of certain features in Chinese, their L1 learning experience and their learning philosophy. Their explanations also show different learner strategies and reflect the form of L1 education learners received. Learners also indicated preferred instructional approaches in their responses to the open-ended question. It is also indicated that learners perceive more L1 influence in superasegmental structures than in the segmental elements of the L2, even in places where L1 clearly affects the learning of the L2 segments. Among the four basic literacy skills, learning to speak English is the most difficult task as perceived by the Chinese adult learners. Listening is very difficult for most of the respondents. Writing is difficult for a significant number of learners while reading is perceived the least difficult by all learners. Areas for future research were pointed out. It is hoped that data from this study will serve as baseline information for future practitioner research in the adult literacy field.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Language arts|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Zhang, Fengju, "Learners' perception on language issues in urban adult basic education: A study of Chinese adult ESOL learners in a Boston community learning center" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809415.