Students, Profs Differ Widely Over Language Competency

Post-secondary students with English as an additional language and their instructors may agree on what’s important when it comes to language skills for an academic life, but they differ widely when it comes to assessing those skills.
       “There’s a dramatic difference between the students’ assessment of their abilities and that of their instructors,” says UVic applied linguist and Learning and Teaching Centre Scholar-in-Residence Li-Shih Huang in her new study published this month in the journal Language Teaching Research.
Huang says most students assess their needs within their zones of “unconscious incompetence” and instructors can use the information gained through this study to learn how to guide students to a better awareness of their skills and abilities, what she calls “conscious incompetence.”
       “For example, only 12 per cent of undergraduate students indicated that they need help developing their ability to organize writing in order to convey major and supporting ideas, while 64 per cent of instructors indicated that their students need help,” says Huang. “There was not a ‘conscious’ awareness of that need among students.”
        Huang was part of a working group that established UVic’s Writing Centre in 2007 to assist students with their writing skills. Over 430 students and 90 instructors participated in her study.
        Huang learned that students and instructors also differ significantly over which skills need development. “Being able to participate fully in their academic programs is at the heart of learning in higher education,” she says. “We need to continue questioning learners’ needs so instructors can better determine students’ levels and prioritize what they teach.”
        Huang has recently completed a first-of-its-kind assessment of writing centre outcomes and has been awarded two Social Sciences and the Humanities Research Council grants to develop methods and tools that all universities can use to improve the outcomes of their academic language programs for students with English as an additional language.
        Read Huang’s study at


Media contacts

Shih Huang (Linguistics) at 250-721-4665 or

Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7656 or

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Keywords: students, profs, differ, widely, language, competency

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