English as a distant language: An investigation of teachers’ understanding


Gaffney, Richard. (2013). English as a distant language: An investigation of teachers’ understanding [Thesis]. https://doi.org/10.4226/66/5a9632d2c68ad
AuthorsGaffney, Richard
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Indigenous students living in Traditional language communities in countries such as Australia and Papua New Guinea, where English is the language of education, attend primary schools where they learn using English. This study is an investigation of how teachers understand the English environment experience of Indigenous students who live in Traditional language communities and the requirements for their successful learning in English. Most of the research on Indigenous students has concentrated on Indigenous students in general rather than the specific language and learning context of those who live in Traditional language communities. The unique nature of these communities’ English language and learning experience requires a specific understanding, rather than a general understanding, for the understanding to be valid and the learning of Traditional language students to be successful. This study uses grounded theory to investigate teachers’ understanding. The process involved the teachers themselves sharing their understanding during interviews, focus groups and critical groups. Most of the teachers who participated in this study were interviewed in the Traditional language communities where they live and work. The majority of the participants were teachers working in schools in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea and the desert region of north-west Australia. The teachers, without exception, observed that the English environment had a very minimal presence in their students’ communities and consequently in the lives of their students. They also appreciated the impact of the low profile of English on the learning of their students in school. This study has defined these students’ experience of an English environment as an experience of English as a distant language. While teachers had a partial and some shared understanding, there was no comprehensive, collective understanding of the English environment experienced by their students and the requirement for their successful learning in English. The reporting and coding of the results revealed themes on which these results were based. These themes were used to analyse and discuss the results and the relevant literature. From this discussion, elements emerged for understanding the ways in which students in Traditional language communities experience English as a distant language. The relationships and connections identified between these elements were discerned as threads to tie these elements together, and to develop a framework for understanding English as a distant language. The development of this framework was an unanticipated outcome of this study. The new understanding in this framework has implications for all those involved in the education of Indigenous students in Traditional language communities. It not only provides the basis for informed understanding, but for the development of strategies that will improve the learning success of Indigenous students attending primary schools in Traditional language communities.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.4226/66/5a9632d2c68ad
Research GroupSchool of Education
Final version
Publication dates01 Mar 2013
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