Formulaic language in Malaysian university students

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Chapter 1: Introduction

  1. Background of the study

English has long been recognised as the second language in Malaysia. It is a compulsory subject both at school and tertiary levels. Despite learning this language for more than 13 years, most Malaysian graduates are still not proficient; neither in speaking skill, nor in writing. Research into learner language in Malaysia found that Malaysian learners lack the confidence to communicate in this language; either because they are conscious of their grammar error or due to vocabulary shortage in their lexicon. In short, Malaysian learners are afraid that they do not sound native-like, which can actually be achieved if they acquire formulaic language (FL).

  1. Problem Statement

Malaysian students rarely use FL. Even university students who obtained excellent results in their English language paper use very few formulaic languages in their writing and speaking activities (Kamarudin, 2013). Thus, it is very frustrating to know that learners are not able to deal with FLs appropriately when one knows how important they are in speaking and writing. Meanwhile, as far as research into FLs is concerned, there is not much attention given to this language form in Malaysia (KamarudiN 2013, Asyraf , and ). In fact, there are only few studies conducted locally that specifically focused on the type and function of FLs in order to understand the problems faced by students, and the possible factors in the non- standard use of this language form.

  1. Research Aims

This research aims to build up a link between individuals’ attitudes in teaching and learning of FL to the learner corpus of Malaysian students’ writing; in order to find a new way to tackle the problems related to FL among Malaysians.

  1. Research Objectives

1. To investigate lecturers’ attitude towards FL in their teaching.

2. To investigate students’ attitude towards FL in their learning.

3. To identify the main patterns of FL structures in Malaysian students’ writing.

4. To identify the functions of the FL in the writings.

  1. Research Questions
  1. What is the attitude of lecturers towards FL in their teaching?
  2. What is the attitude of students towards FL in their learning?
  3. What are the main patterns of FL structures found in Malaysian students’ writing?
  4. What are the functions of the FLs in these writing?
  1. Significance of the Study

It is hoped that the findings of the present study will be useful to everyone involved in the teaching and learning of the English language in Malaysia, and increase the awareness among students, teachers, curriculum designers and reference materials providers of the general neglect of vocabulary teaching, and the teaching of MWUs like FLs in particular, which are an important language form for learners to gain fluency in English, the target language. Hence, appropriate measures can be taken to improve the present scenario of vocabulary learning in Malaysian universities, particularly with respect to the teaching and learning of FLs. Language teachers and students in particular will be made more aware of the importance of this language feature for a more effective and efficient communication. Lecturers may encourage students to use this language form more frequently and perhaps can adopt better pedagogical approaches so that students will experience more meaningful and successful learning of FLs.

  1. Scope of Study

This study is based only on data gathered from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan. The linguistic aspect is only focusing on FL among the selected participants. It does not represent the whole Malaysian university students.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

2.1. Corpus Linguistics in Malaysia

2.2. Formulaic Language

Language is made up of not only individual words, but also a great deal of formulaic language. Formulaic language has been defined in a number of ways (e.g. Wray 2002, 2008), but in essence, most definitions indicate that individual formulaic sequences behave much the same as individual words, matching a single meaning or function to a form, although that form consists of multiple orthographic or phonological words (Martinez R and Schmitt 2012). There are as many as 40 labels for formulaic language; among them are lexical phrases, prefabricated language and set phrases.

Formulaic language is widely recognized to be of central importance to fluent and idiomatic language use. This happens as it provides a “ready-made” piece of correct language, which leads to more speed and hence allows speaker to sound “native-like” (Wood ). However, when Second Language (L2) students make productions in a target language, their performance may be perceived as non-native like due to their limited command of acceptable formulaic language. They often confine themselves to a limited range of familiar vocabulary, or produce expressions that sound odd, unidiomatic, or unintentionally amusing; and they are likely to be hesitant, to speak more slowly and write less volubly than natives do (Miyakoshi 2009). In short, formulaic language assists in quick and efficient communication.

Because it plays an important role in the coherence and cohesion of language which lead to overall mastery of L2, there is a strong need to look deeper into the problem of formulaic language in EFL/ESL learning. Despite its importance, formulaic language is not given much priority in L2 education ( ). Teachers are not integrating it in their lessons due to many reasons. For instance, the teachers themselves are not confident with their own knowledge of formulaic language,

Chapter 3: Methodology

3.1. Introduction

This study is focusing on four aspects of language studies; the attitudes of lecturers towards FL in their teaching, the attitudes of students towards FL learning, and building learner language corpus to study the patterns and functions of FLs in Malaysian students’ writing.

3.2. Research Design

This study uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches. The former is employed to answer research Question 1 and 2, as it will give rich data from the respondents perspectives ( ) . Meanwhile the latter is employed to answer Research Question 3 and 4 as it is important in revealing the major patterns in language (Conrad, 1999).

3.3. Population and Sampling

Purposive sampling will be employed. All participants for this study are from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan. Lecturers that will be interviewed are those teaching English subject from the Centre for Language Studies and Generic Development. The students who answer the questionnaire will be from those contributing their essays for the learner corpus.

3.4. Instrumentation

There are three instruments for this study. To get the lecturers’ feedback on their attitude towards FL in their teaching, interview via chat will be employed. Meanwhile, to gauge the learners’ attitude, questionnaire will be distributed to the students. The final instrument is Compilation of Learner Corpus, where 100 essays will be collected. The word files will be converted into text files and stored as a database ready to be analyzed.

3.5. Data Collection

As all the participants of this study are from Universiti Malaysia Kelantan, permission to conduct the interview, to distribute questionnaire and to build the learner corpus will be obtained by this particular institution.

3.6. Data Analysis

3.6.1. Analysis procedure for interview

Content analysis will be employed as it enables the data to be categorized and thematised.

3.6.2. Analysis procedure for questionnaire

Content analysis will be used in order to reduce the data to a manageable size, to identify patterns as well as to categorize into meaningful themes.

3.6.3. Corpus Analysis Methodology

Participants’ writing sample collections will be analyzed using AntConc 3.2.3 to extract formulaic expressions.