Investigating Medical Students’ Perspectives toward University Teachers’ Talking Features in English as a Foreign Language Context in Urmia, Iran
Abstract — This study aimed to investigate medical students’ attitudes toward some teachers’ talking features regarding their gender in Iranian context. To do so, 60 male and 60 female medical students of Urmia University of Medical Sciences (UMSU) participated in the research. A researcher made Likert-type questionnaire which was initially piloted was used to gather the data. Comparing the four different factors regarding the features of teacher talk, it was revealed that visual and extra-linguistic information factor, lexical and syntactic familiarity, speed of speech, and the use of Persian language had the highest to the lowest mean score, respectively. It was also indicated that female students rather than male students were significantly more in favor of speed of speech and lexical and syntactic familiarity.
Keywords — Attitude, Gender, Medical student, Teacher talk.
Classroom is a typical context in which students face with foreign language features. Accordingly, foreign language (FL) learners have little or no direct contact with the target language, the people, or the culture outside of classroom .FL Learners only contact with teachers’ talk in their foreign language classrooms. The kind of language used by the teacher for instruction in the classroom is known as teacher talk (TT) Richards and Schmidt . Allwright and Bailey  claim that “talk is one of the major ways that teachers convey information to learners, and it is also one of the primary means of controlling learner behavior” (p. 139). Therefore, TT phenomenon is a very important behavior in foreign language learning, and it is a main source of language exposure in language learning classroom; therefore, teachers should use more comprehensible speech during their instructions . Nunan  confirms that “Teacher talk is of crucial importance, not only for the organization of the classroom but also for the processes of acquisition” (p, 189). Teachers can use their talk and make it useful through a controlled utilization of their talk.
The current research was an attempt to investigate the attitudes of medical students toward teacher talk behavior in UMSU. The first objective of the study was to find out the main factors in medical students’ attitudes toward some features of teacher talk phenomenon. The second objective aimed to investigate male and female students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk in order to see differences. This study intends to explore such helpful insights by examining four major features of English teacher talk from medical students' perspectives including (a) rate of speech, (b) lexical and syntactic familiarity, (c) visual and extra-linguistic information, and (d) the use of Persian language.
In the past, most of the researches on teacher talk , -  have merely worked on the analysis of various phenomena about teacher talk and its characters and structures. There is no research relating to the attitudes of students about teacher talk in Iranian context. Due to the importance of teacher talk in language classes, the present study aims to investigate Medical students’ attitudes toward some features of teacher talk in EFL context regarding their gender
II. Literature review
Scientific studies on TT phenomenon started in the early mid of 1980s. These studies were inspired by different findings from ‘caretaker speech’ studies in first language development, and ‘foreigner talk’ research in natural second language acquisition ,.Park  illustrated that “foreigner talk is used as a general term for the modified language that native speakers use with non-native speakers” (p. 19). ‘Caretaker speech’ register is a discourse utilized by adults when speaking with babies or young children who do not have full adult competence in the language ,.
TT research evolved partly because of the theory of instructed second language acquisition proposed by Krashen and Terrell . Krashen and Terrell  argue that TT is an indispensable source of comprehensible input in the second language classroom. They also emphasized that TT may be considered, in a sense, as ‘caretaker speech’ or ‘foreigner talk’ in the second language classroom. Teacher Talk is the language typically utilized by foreign language instructors during the time spent instructing. According to Park  Teacher talk is considered as “the systematic simplification such as lexical, phonological, and grammatical modifications” (p. 21).Long and Porter  also confirms that teacher talk includes features such as reduced, simplified forms, and less complex syntactic and idiomatic expressions mainly in EFL context.
EFL is an acronym for English as a Foreign Language, and is studied by individuals who live in a context where the target language (in this case English) is not the language of communication in the society. Accordingly, English is considered as a foreign language for Iranian students. Regarding the learning of English language in EFL context, the classroom is a main place where most learning process of English language occurs for the foreign language learners all around the world. Oral input is the main instructional process that is presented by teachers in the classroom. So teachers talk is an important part of target language instruction. Teachers undertake a vital part in shaping classroom talk and in expanding chances for learning ,. Therefore, the language of instruction and its features in classroom context is a significant phenomenon since it is intended for language learning to take place in the most effective way. Regarding the importance of language learning, it is also significant to know students’ perspectives toward TT phenomenon in four main features including (a) rate of speech, (b) lexical and syntactic familiarity, (c) visual and extra-linguistic information, and (d) the use of Persian language in EFL context.
The current study was conducted in Urmia University of Medical Sciences, in Iran. A total of 120 medical students (60 males and 60 females) mostly between the ages of 18 and 22 were selected as the sample participants of this study. The participations were in their first and second year of their studies in UMSU, and were nonnative speakers in EFL context. The nation language of all students in Iran is Persian language. The participants were chosen randomly by the researchers, mainly based on students’ willingness to spend time to fill out the questionnaires.
B. Data Collection Instrument
The design of the study is a comparative survey based research. The study basically depends on quantitative data collection method. In order to evaluate medical students’ attitudes toward TT phenomenon, a researcher made descriptive questionnaire was conducted in the study. All the items of questionnaire were taken from the items of questionnaire designed by Matsumoto . The questionnaire for this study was initiated with the section for gathering background information of the participants including: their ages and gender. The second section of questionnaire was a 5-point Likert type scale with the 27 closed-ended items ranging from ‘1=strongly disagree’, ‘2=disagree’, ‘3=neutral’, ‘4=agree’, ‘5=strongly Agree’. The participants were asked to read each statement and indicate their level of agreement by choosing a number in the questionnaire regarding four features of TT phenomenon including speed of speech, lexical and syntactic complexity, the use of visual and extra-linguistic information, and the use of Persian language.
To determine the reliability of the instrument utilized in this study, the survey was piloted. A pilot study preceded the actual administration of the questionnaire. The questionnaire was piloted with a random sample of 30 medical students in UMSU. The present research can be said to be valid because it measured what it was designed to measure; that is, it was designed to measure the subjects' attitudes toward TT. This sort of validity is referred to as content validity. Every student completed the survey without any questions or problems, ensuring that the survey was valid for the respondents and the researcher. As a result, the survey was deemed to have ‘face validity’, too. The study effectively obtained sufficient and reliable quantitative information adequate to formulate a conclusion (r =0.71). There was sufficient data regarding students’ attitudes towards TT. The survey questions explicitly investigated participants’ attitudes towards TT. Good internal consistency for the total Questionnaire (0.85) and for subscales (Rate of Speech 0.70, lexical and syntactic familiarity 0.76, visual and extra-linguistic information 0.81, and the use of Persian language 0.78) was found using polychoric correlation.
C. Data Analysis
The present study can be described as exploratory in nature as the intent is to discover the perceptions of foreign language students. Quantitative research method was engaged in this project. Quantitative analysis attempts to ‘quantify’ results based on numbers. The data analysis for this quantitative study was through examining the answers of the questionnaires. Statistical procedures used to analyze all of the data included descriptive statistics including Mean and Standard Deviation, and inferential statistics including Exploratory Factor Analysis, One-way Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA) with groups being a between-subject factor and factors being a within-subject factor, and Independent sample t-test using SPSS software, version 23.
A. Descriptive Statistics
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Note: the standard error of skewness is 0.21; the standard error of kurtosis is 0.43
According to Table I, generally, most of the means were higher than 3.00. The mean for item 20 ("teachers should try to speak only English at least once a week") was the lowest mean and the mean for item 15 (visual and extra-linguistic information in teacher talk can make class interesting) was the highest one. Additionally, the results of descriptive statistics regarding the shape of normal distribution of data are reported in Table I. Skewness and Kurtosis values should be within the range ±2 to accept the shape of normal distribution of data. According to Table I, all skewness and Kurtosis values located in range between ±2. Therefore, the shapes of data distribution for all items were normal.
B. Evaluating main factors in medical students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk
To do so, it is needed to explore the factors related in students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk. To explore the factor structure of the questionnaire items, an exploratory factor analysis was performed. A principle axis factor analysis using a direct oblimin rotation procedure was performed on the 27 questionnaire items. Based on scree plot and the interpretability of the factor solution, a four factor solution was selected. Four factors were rotated. The pattern structure of the factor analysis and items loaded in each factor are presented in Table II.
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According to Table II, four factors emerged as the factor loading. The first factor contained seven items with factor loading above .40. This factor was labeled as speed of speech. The second factor contained nine items with factor loading above .40. This factor was labeled as lexical and syntactic familiarity. The third factor contained five with factor loading above .40. This factor was labeled as visual and extra-linguistic information. The fourth factor contained six items and labeled as the use of Persian language.
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Table III reveals that the mean of factor visual and extra-linguistic information was the highest and the mean of factor the use of Persian language was the lowest one. In addition, Table III showed the reliability coefficients of each factor as estimated by Cronbach's Alpha. The four factors had relatively high reliability coefficients of .69-.87.
C. Evaluating Students’ Attitudes Regarding Their Gender
To satisfy the purpose of these question which was to examine whether the four factors differ between male and female students, a one-way multivariate analysis of variance with groups (male and female) being a between-subject factor and attitudes factors being a within-subject factor were performed. The descriptive statistics are shown in Table IV.
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As the above table shows, there were differences in mean scores of attitudes factors in male and female students.
The results of one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) are shown in Table V.
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As Table V reveals, there were statistically significant difference for the main effect of groups (F (1,115) = 2.74, p = .02, Partial eta squared = .10), In other words, the results showed that there were significant differences in attitude factors between groups existed. Four independent t-tests were performed to evaluate the differences between two groups for each factor. With a Bonferoni adjustment, the alpha level was set at .0125 for each test. The results are presented in Table VI.
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Table VI shows that there were statistically significant difference between the two groups for speed of speech (t (188) = 2.85, p=.006, p<.05), and lexical and syntactic familiarity (t (188) = 2.76, p=.007, p<.05), whereas there were not any statistically significant differences between the two groups in Visual and extra-linguistic information (t (188) = 1.68, p=.095, p>.05), and the use of Persian language (t (188) = 0.04, p=.96, p>.05). According to Table IV female students rather than male had higher mean scores in speed of speech and lexical and syntactic familiarity.
This study set out to investigate the medical students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk in EFL context in UMSU. The study had three separate but related aims. The first aim of the study was to find out male and female medical students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk in EFL context. The second aim of the study was to investigate whether attitudes of male and female medical students toward some features of teacher talk differ or not.
A. Students Attitudes toward some Features of Teacher Talk
Regarding the evaluation of main factors in medical students’ attitudes toward some features of teacher talk, the results of the present study showed that factors such as: speed of speech, lexical and syntactic familiarity, visual and extra-linguistic information, and the use of Persian language are related to their attitudes toward special features of teacher talk. Comparing this result with those of other studies, it should be mentioned that this result is consistent with the findings of Henzl  who presented characteristics of teacher talk as: 1) with regard to lexical items, teachers select vocabulary that the students already know; 2) With regard to grammar, they attempt to communicate with the students by using the structures that students know; 3) With regard to phonology they speak with the rate of speech that is adaptable for linguistic ability of the students; 4) With regard to speech features, they talk more slowly, and they use more gestures.
B. Male vs. Female Medical Students’ Attitudes toward Some Features of Teacher Talk
Regarding the differences between male and female medical students’ attitudes towards some features of teacher talk in EFL context, the statistical analyses revealed that female students in comparison to male students had higher mean scores in speed of speech and lexical and syntactic familiarity. Furthermore, the results of the present study demonstrated that the female students’ strongly desired for getting teacher talks’ natural speed of speech, and also expressed their willingness to be exposed to already known lexical and syntactic items through teacher talk. It seems that female medical students in UMSU more than male students are open to somewhat slowed-down (not too fast) teacher talk. Regarding the lexical and syntactic familiarity, female students more than male students were in favor of lexically and syntactically teacher talk that comprises some words and grammatical rules which were studied before. That is to say, there was a significant difference between male and female participants’ attitudes toward the speed of speech and lexical and syntactic familiarity of teacher talk.
This result of study matches with the findings of Chaudron  demonstrating the instructor's utilization of a more common, high frequency vocabulary when talking to non-native speakers. The result of the study was consistent with the result obtained by Kleifgen  who found that the teacher’s lexical items were less various when addressing non-native speakers while the teacher’s lexical items were more various when addressing native speakers. Henzl  discovered that when addressing nonnative speakers, native speakers had a tendency to adopt a slower rate of speech and utilize high frequency vocabularies. Larsen-Freeman and Long  found that in the case of phonology, the rate of teacher talk when addressing to children is slower nd new and difficult vocabularies are avoided. However, the result is in contrast with the findings of Blau  who conducted a study and measured the effect of speed of speech and syntactic complexity on learner comprehension. Contrary toKelch ,it was revealed that slowing the rate of speech and simplifying syntax did not help learner comprehension significantly. Furthermore, the result was in contrast with the findings of Kawaguchi  and Kozaki ,which conducted their studies to examine students’ attitudes toward Japanese as second language teachers’ use of various rates of speech. Results of both studies revealed that many students did not feel negative about fast speech rates.
This study was concerned with the attitudes of medical students toward some features of teacher talk phenomenon and the possible role of gender in this regard. As Walsh  states, since teacher talk is a crucial part of language teaching in an EFL context, and as it is also considered by communicative approaches as an effective factor that can lead to the reduction of students’ active participation if not appropriately adjusted to the context of teaching, it can be concluded that the results of this study can be of great importance in demonstrating their attitudes.
Based on the findings of the study it was revealed that the most and least important factor for the students regarding the teachers talk are visual and extra-linguistic information and the use of Persian language, respectively. The item analysis showed that item 15 (i.e. visual and extra-linguistic information in teacher talk can make class interesting ) was the most important perspective and had the highest score indicating that students believe adding visual and extra-linguistic information to teacher talk can facilitate and improve the process of learning and ultimately enhance comprehension and learning. Additionally, comparing the four different factors regarding the features of teacher talk, it was revealed that visual and extra-linguistic information factor, Lexical and syntactic familiarity, Speed of speech, and the use of Persian language had the highest to the lowest mean score respectively. It was also indicated that female students rather than male students were significantly more in favor of speed of speech and lexical and syntactic familiarity; accordingly, it can be concluded that teachers should adjust their TT according to the context and gender their learners. This implication can be supported by the claims of Gaies  and Chaudron  who state that successful teachers regularly make some changes in their rate of speech, lexicon, and syntax classroom speech and make some adjustments in order to augment and increase learners' comprehension. The comprehension will be hindered if teacher talk does not undergo these modifications and adjustments. Effective teacher talk is a challenge for foreign language teachers, so the results of the study can help foreign language teachers manage this difficulty. Teachers need to pay special attention to learners’ beliefs if they want to encourage better learning their students. They can provide their students with helpful teacher talk to help them promote their ability in language learning.
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