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The article under review is about the correlation between the language proficiency and learner autonomy of English students in China. The study is founded on the idea that skills necessary to make learning a life-long process is more important than simply producing students who have mastered a particular set of skills that are significant to just one industry or work.
The findings show that students' learner autonomy is significantly affected if the English proficiency levels are remarkably varied to begin with. Thus, if the variation in proficiently levels were not so significant, the learner autonomy of the respondents was not significantly different as well. The researcher used a two-tiered process for data collection, namely interviews and self-administered survey questionnaires among the 129 respondents. The chosen participants were students at a teacher college in China. Statistical analyses using SPSS were employed in order to arrive at the data results.
The concept of learner autonomy took a while to take root and progress in language education, mostly because prior theories on language learning concentrated heavily on the student's need to passively assimilate the skills and information being taught, without making any real connection between the lessons and the real world. Today, however, the need to develop learner autonomy has been widely accepted as a legitimate language teaching strategy, especially for L2 learners. While learner autonomy is now being lauded within academic circles, there is al lack of empirical evidence to actually back up the theoretical claim that self autonomy and effective learning go together, especially within language education.
Strengths, positive points, and advantages
The need to emphasize learner autonomy in learning areas such as foreign languages becomes more apparent when we see that this is not just a skill that can be assimilated through rote learning-it needs constant use and grounding in the social and personal life of the learner in order to become truly effective and significant for him. Helping the learner to make strong connections between his language use and his personal and social circumstances is a way for the L2 teacher to encourage self-motivation and learner autonomy, two key ingredients that can ensure the learner's lifelong ability to actively use his language skills.
The key strength of this research was its ability to actually translate theoretical concepts into verifiable empirical data that support the idea that learner autonomy is indeed an important ingredient in effective L2 learning. The present study can be linked to the recent developments in teaching methods in the L2 classroom, particularly the use of communicative language teaching or CLT as the new framework for the L2 teacher (Richards 2005). CLT is the latest approach to language education and provides that a teacher should strive to create positive social experiences for the students that will allow them to actually use and explore the limits of their communication skills within the target language.
By encouraging closer interaction between the L2 learner and the target language, stronger links between the lesson and real life experiences are likewise forged. This technique is especially useful because it allows the learner to understand and apply the language on a more intimate level (Galloway 1993).
Weaknesses, disadvantages and shortcomings
The most apparent and readily observed shortcoming in this study is the lack of an independent measure of proficiency level among the participant students. The researcher merely adopted the test scores of the students from a previous government-issued proficiency exam and used these as the indicators of the respondents' proficiency levels.
While this method certainly saves time and effort for the researcher, the test results cannot be regarded as 100% valid for this study because it may have measured and conceptualized proficiency in terms different from how the same was applied in the study. A new and more recent Therefore, the chosen framework for testing proficiency levels among the respondents is already quite suspect.
The researcher also failed to delineate the notion of self-autonomy from that of motivation in the review of related literature. Motivation certainly is an important concept in this area of foreign language learning because it is intricately linked with the learner's ability and willingness to learn the language on his own and in such a way that helps him maximize all opportunities for assimilating the lessons in class. It allows the learner to learn for the sake of learning instead of learning in pursuit of specific objective goals (Lile 2002).
A more thorough review of relevant studies about motivational techniques within the realm of foreign language education would have been more adequate for this study, if only for the purpose of distinguishing self-autonomy from intrinsic motivation or the learner's state of mind that compels him to learn the target language because he wants to. Put simply, the reader wonders out loud which comes first: motivation or self-autonomy? Leaving this conceptual gap open means that the reader is confused as to whether or not self-autonomy is ultimately a state of mind or a technique that the L2 teacher can apply to encourage more intimate and effective learning on the part of the L2 student.
This study also seemed to parrot earlier research about the non-causal relationship between proficiency levels within a particular language and the level of self-autonomy of the learner. Because the question of the validity of the measure for proficiency level was already raised, there is now some doubt as to the actual relationship between the learner's proficiency level and his or her level of self-autonomy. The former is the efficient cause of the latter, for want of a better term.
The study was not able to offer new insights into how self-autonomy can actually be developed within the students. It would have been more productive for the researcher to have focused on teaching strategies that encourage self-autonomy among L2 students instead of confirming the findings of past research on the topic. While there is currently want of empirical data on the issue of language proficiency vis-a-vis the learner's self-autonomy, more information could have been generated by taking the abovementioned approach. In this manner, new and more concrete recommendations will be available both to L2 learners and teachers, helping them develop self-autonomy within the L2 classroom.