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This paper is a critical review of "sex differences in the acquisition of English as a second language" by Madu, B.N. and Kasanga.L.A. According to Archibald (1997), second language acquisition is the process of learning a second language after one has acquired at least one native language. Since the discipline of second language acquisition (hereinafter SLA) is an inter-disciplinary field, involving cognitive psychology, education and many other branches of linguistics, it is hard to tell the exact starting point of the study on SLA. However, in the present day and time, SLA has been enjoying a strong momentum for development as people are living in a "global village" with English as the official and most widely used communication tool. An increasing number of people, ranging from children to adults, have begun to study English as a second language. Then, various research on SLA, such as its concept, process and determining factors, are springing up in order to serve the practice of SLA in a more efficient and effective way. This article studies the impact of gender difference on learning English as a second language. In this essay, I will firstly summarize the article, then evaluate it from a critical perspective, finally bring out a conclusion, presenting my view on the investigation.
The article by Madu, B.N. and Kasanga.L.A investigates the influence of gender difference on the acquisition of English as a second language in South Africa by using a combination of questionnaires and documentary analysis. Based on the results of the experiment, the author concludes that "there is no significant difference between the performance of boys and girls with respect to English SLA" (Madu, B.N. , Kasanga.L.A 2005:450). In the summary, I am going to point out a few specific strong points of the investigation.
First of all, the author gives a full picture of various opinions on gender differences and second language learning, thus helping readers understand the whole story. Generally, opinions are divided by the author into three groups, with the first group claiming that females outperform males, the second stating that males outshine females and the third demonstrating that there is no significant difference between the performance of males and females on second language learning (2005). To be more specific, the author reviews various studies by different groups. The fact is people cannot reach a consensus on the influence of gender difference on SLA (2005). The descriptions of previous studies give audience a panoramic view on this issue, contributing to their deeper understanding of the impact of gender on second language learning and inspiring creative thoughts from readers.
Secondly, the procedures of the investigation are very prude and cautious. Researchers firstly asked permission from principals of the schools and parents of the student samples before the investigation (2005). Then, a pilot study was conducted in case that the specifically-constructed questions in the questionnaire were confusing to the students. This step is well-appreciated as it helps reduce errors caused by students' misunderstanding of the questions. In addition, to ensure the fluent going of the investigation, researchers are ready to any questions concerning the questionnaire. All of these tiny steps proved the validity and accuracy of this investigation.
Thirdly, the author employs a strict and scientific way to support his opinion. Similar to scientific study, this investigation followed the sequence of making a hypothesis, testing the hypothesis and reaching a conclusion. Especially the independent t-test accurately analysed the English examination results, able to support conclusion in a scientific way.
This article is well-organized and seems to achieve its goal, reaching a rather clear conclusion based on the investigation, however, flaws can still be found in it.
To begin with, the range of the student samples is too limited to support a convincing conclusion. The investigation covers only one hundred and twenty eight pupils from Grade 8 to 11 in four schools in the Polokwane Municipality in South Africa. The number of students participating in the investigation is too small and they are restricted to an area in South Africa, therefore it is not logical enough for researchers to draw a general conclusion applied to other situations based on a small sample. It seems that the author fails to take many other possibilities into account while selecting samples, such as the performance difference of male and female students from different areas or countries is not the same as that in the Polokwane Municipality. In addition, all of the student samples are from grade 8 to 11, aging roughly from 14 to 17. Again the age range is very limited since there is a possibility that male and female students' performance on English acquisition as a second language varies with the increase of age. According to several studies (Gorman, White and Brooks,1987; Gorman, White, Brooks, Maclure and KIspal,1988), girls perform better than boys at the beginning, however, from the age of 15 onwards, boys gain more advantages. In order to arrive at more persuasive conclusion, it is suggested the researchers investigate more students in different parts of the world, covering a wider range of age.
Secondly, the variable factor in the investigation is not one and single. In fact, for the student samples, the variable factors influencing their performance on SLA are so complex that it is very hard to determine whether gender difference influences SLA. It is well-recognised that second language learning is a complex process (Ellis, 1995) in that it concerns different mediating factors. Due to the fact that SLA is influenced by many factors, the principle of having only one variable factor in the research must be obeyed in order to get a clear and undisputable answer. However, in this investigation, the variables are too complicated. It can be seen from table 1 in the article that students' first languages are different, with Northern Sotho and Afrikaans being the first languages by the majority. Since it is possible that first language difference may exert an effect on SLA, some in a positive way, others in a negative way, the differences of students' first language perhaps influence their English learning. For the sake of accuracy, it is better to select students using the same first language. What is more, the author does not indicate whether students' English competence before the investigation is the same, which is a crucially determining factor of their English examination test scores at the end. If the chosen female students already performed better than their peer male students, then the final test scores that girls scored higher than boys values little to the investigation since there is a lack of comparability. Therefore, it is necessary to guarantee the English levels of the male and female students are the same before the investigation.
Thirdly, the design of the test and the criteria of assessment are not clear to readers. Whether the test is to evaluate students' overall English ability or some specific skills, such as listening skills and writing skills, will influence the final score since it is possible that male students are more specialised in listening skills and male students are better at comprehensive English skills. However, the researchers fail to introduce how the students are assessed.
Last but not the least, the questions presented in the questionnaire are too simplistic, not able to help the investigation in a more effective way. Since only gender, first language, class/grade and name of school (2005) were asked, the questionnaire, as a means to know more about the students, is wasted, to some extent, when more useful questions, like previous performance, interest in English and motivation, should had been covered.
To sum up, the article is well-organized and clearly presented, but the reasoning is not strong enough to support a convincing conclusion. It is too rash for the author to claim that no great difference exists between the performance of male and female students in second language learning (2005). Since the study of SLA is to serve second language learners better by adapting teaching methods accordingly, more accurate and logical studies are required to discover if males and females approach and learn the second language differently, if there is any difference, how they are different.