The world is changing rapidly; people around the world are more interconnected than ever. They travel to all parts of the globe and communicate with each other for business, politics, social, academic and private purpose. Trade, ideas, knowledge, and technology flow from place to place, and a common language is essential to maintaining and improving the stream of communication (Nwaila 1997). All these trends have sparked great interest of second language learning all over the world. It seems that in this era, the mastery of a second language especially English as a Second Language, which is regarded as an international language in common use, is extraordinarily necessary. Based on this reality, many researches, aiming at finding the most efficient and effective way of learning English, have been conducted. Bilingualism has always been a hot topic in teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL) because bilinguals are present in every country of the world, in every social class and in all age groups.
While some groups, individual ESL, and bilingual students achieve significant academic success at school, there is evidence that many of these students continue to struggle academically (Cruickshank, 2002). The emotional climate of a classroom is of extreme importance in fostering academic progress. Another important determinant of language learning achievement is motivation (Dornyei, 1994). Dornyei defined motivation as the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favorable attitudes toward learning the language. Su (2003), Sue (2004), and Rueda & Chen (2005) used references to recent studies to advocate stimulating student’s motivation in order to increase their interest and achievement. These studies showed that “students with greater second/foreign language learning motivation, in most cases, receive higher grades and achieve better proficiency in the target language” (Rueda & Chen, 2005, p.210). Hsieh (2002) claimed that there is a positive relationship between the learning environment and student motivation. They stated the following four guiding principles to define an excellent learning environment:
1. A good learning environment helps to improve the learning outcome.
2. A good learning environment provides the learner with care and support.
3. A good learning environment inspires and boosts the learning spirit.
4. A good learning environment cultivates responsibility in the learner (p.34).
In addition, Dornyei (1990) also found second-language motivation strongly tied to the context or where the language is learned.
Various definitions of the learning environment exist in the literature. Smith Neisworth and Greer (1978) defined the learning environment as having five dimensions:
1. Physical environment, architecture, design and arrangement considerations for the school and particularly the instructional space.
2. Instructional arrangements, curriculum content and characteristics, teaching method, and materials and media for instruction.
3. Social situation, teacher-child, child-child, interactions, group dynamics, classroom, school and community social aspects.
4. Evaluation instruments and evaluative practices, placement, summative and formative devices and procedures used by school psychologist and others.
5. Supportive services, in-school (health, speech, counseling) and out-of-school (employment counseling, follow-up) facilities (p.11).
What are the Characteristics of Effective Learning Environment?
The learning environment should provide effective context that reflect the way the knowledge will be used in real life, provide essential activities and coaching by the teachers at critical times, support collaborative construction of knowledge, and promote reflection to enable abstractions to be formed. Also learning environment should embed acquisition processes as much as possible, using authentic context that have personal meaning for students, it should induce and support constructive, cumulative, and goal oriented acquisition processes in all learners through a good balance between discovery learning and personal exploration on the one hand, and systematic instruction and guidance on the other hand. Effectiveness goes far beyond language medium and language outcomes to embrace the full education of a student. It concerns what is deemed best for the child and not just a language. Some international researchers suggest some key factors in effective bilingual schools and classrooms.
First, it is important to repeat the distinction between teaching a language and teaching through a language. Language acquisition in the immersion, heritage and dual programs is mostly through a second language being used as a medium of instruction.
Second, close to the idea of two or more languages being used for instruction is the concept of language across the curriculum. In all curriculum areas, students learn skills, knowledge, concepts and attitudes mostly through language. Thus, every curriculum area develops language competence. All subject areas contribute to the growth of a child’s language or language competencies. At the same time, achievement in a particular curriculum area is partly depended on proficiency in the language of that area (Baker, 2006, p.292).
Language of Instruction
Rodriguez & Higgins (2005) stated that there are many different programs regarding use of first language in the classroom. The major distinction between these programs is the total use of L1 (p.240).
English Only Instruction
a) Submersion: This is also known as Sink or Swim Program. The only language used in the classroom is L2. No support is given to the students in L1. The goal of submersion is assimilation.
b) Canadian Style: L2 is used to teach most of the academic skills however the level is adjusted according to the students’ abilities. The goal of this style is bilingualism.
c) Sheltered Subject Matter: Only certain classes like arts and music are taught in L2 and about in two years the students are exited into English Immersion for all subjects.
d) Structured English Immersion: The instructions are given in English most of the time and level is adjusted to the students’ abilities. It uses students’ L1 as well (Rodriguez & Higgins, p.240).