University of Cambridge

Avoidance Behaviour in Efl Learning: a Study of Undergraduates

Introduction
When speaking or writing an L2, the learner is often found to try to avoid using difficult words or structures, and use some simpler words or structures instead. This phenomenon in L2 learning/acquisition is termed ‘avoidance behaviour’ first brought to light by Schachter (1974). According to Kleinmann (1977, 1978), avoidance behabiour is a strategy that the L2 learner may resort to when, with the knowledge of a target language word or structure, he/she perceives that it is difficult to produce. To investigate whether the L2 learner adopts avoidance strategy, why he/she adopts this strategy and how this strategy affects performance in an L2 is momentous since both the L2 forms consistently avoided by the learner and those actually produced by him/her are two important aspects of a developmental manifestation of interlanguage from avoidance to nonavoidance (Liao and Fukuya 2004).
Though the literature on avoidance behabiour in L2 learning/acquisition is still inadequate, it is evident that avoidance behabiour exists in and has some sort of influence on L2 performance. Schachter (1974) conducted a study with some native speakers of Japanese, Chinese, Arabian and Persian learners of English as a foreign language. The investigation reveals that the difficulty of relative clauses for Chinese and Japanese learners manifests itself not in the number of errors committed by these two groups of learners, but in the number of relative clauses produced. And the number is considerably smaller than that produced by the Arabian and Persian learners. The study concludes that if a learner finds some particular construction in the target language difficult to understand it is likely that he/she tries to avoid using or producing it. Kleinmann (1977, 1978) examined four English grammatical structures– passive, present progressive, infinitive complement and direct-object pronoun– produced by a group of Arabic speaking as well as a group of Spanish and Portuguese speaking intermediate-level learners learning English as an L2. The findings show the existence of an avoidance pattern in accordance with difficulty predictions made by contrastive analysis, and lend support to Schachter’s (1974) point that avoidance can be predicted by the structural differences between the first and the second/foreign language. Dagut and Laufer (1985) looked at advanced Israeli learners’ use of English phrasal verbs, a lexico-syntactic form with no formal equivalent in Hebrew. The results of the study show that a majority of the learners avoid using the phrasal verbs because of the structural differences between the L1 and L2. Hulstijn and Marchena (1989) conducted a study with Dutch learners of the English language. This investigation also exhibits the existence of avoidance behaviour, but implies that avoidance does not result from the structural differences between the first and the second language alone. Moreover, Laufer and Eliasson (1993) carried out a study with advanced Swedish learners of English. The results of the study discover the existence of avoidance behaviour basically caused by the differences between the L1 and L2. It is thus seen that avoidance behaviour more or less exists in L2 learning/acquisition, but results from varied causes related to types of learners and settings as well as the similarities and dissimilarities between the L1 and L2.
As the existing studies of avoidance behaviour in second/foreign language learning/acquisition are quite limited and their findings are sometimes inconsistent, and since I am not aware of such an investigation thus far conducted with Bengali speaking learners learning EFL, this study was designed to investigate three research questions:

RQ 1: Do the learners adopt avoidance behaviour?
RQ 2: If yes, why do they adopt avoidance behaviour?
RQ 3: If yes, does their avoidance behaviour affect their performance in EFL?

Method

Subjects
Seventy five Bengali speaking first year BA (Hons) students studying English language and literature in the Department of English at Jahangirnagar University took part in the study. The subjects had already had twelve years of formal instruction in EFL at the rate of about four hours per week and studied throughout in the Bangla medium.

Instrumentation
Both quantitative and qualitative methods including a questionnaire and interviews were employed to answer the research questions of this study. To ascertain the adoption, causes of adoption and effects of avoidance behaviour in EFL learning by the undergraduate students, the present researcher designed a questionnaire in the light of his own teaching experience and his experience of the previous studies (Schachter 1974, Dagut and Laufer 1985, Kleinmann 1977, 1978, Hulstijn and Marchena 1989, Liao and Fukuya 2004, etc) as well.
The questionnaire (see the appendix) comprises eighteen items related to the adoption, causes of adoption and effects of avoidance behaviour in EFL. The items numbered 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 and 17 are concerned with the question “Do the learners adopt avoidance behaviour?”. Items 2, 5, 9, 12, 14 and 18 are related to the question “If yes, why do they adopt avoidance behaviour?”. Finally, the items bearing numbers 4, 7, 8, 11, 13 and 16 have relations to the question “If yes, does their avoidance behaviour affect their performance in EFL?”.

Data collection and analysis
The data for the investigation were collected from a population of seventy five undergraduates. The questionnaire on the adoption, causes of adoption and effects of avoidance behaviour in EFL learning was administered after an explanation of the purpose of the study and preliminary instructions. The data collected were scored by hand.
The subjects were also interviewed one by one and asked if they avoided using some words, sentence structures, idioms, phrasal verbs, and so forth in speaking and writing in English. They were moreover asked about the causes of their avoidance behaviour and the effects of their avoidance on their performance in EFL. The interviews were recorded and then summarized.

Results of the study

Questionnaire
The table on pages 4, and 5 demonstrates that 97.25% of the subjects avoided using some words in speaking and 89.25% of them in writing. 95.50% of the learners avoided using some structures, such as relative clauses, passive, present progressive, infinitive complement in speaking and 90.45% of them in writing. Again, 97.75% of the population avoided using some idioms and phrasal verbs in speaking and 85.50% in writing. Thus, a huge majority of the subjects, that is, more than 90% on average adopted avoidance behaviour in their learning of and performance in EFL.

1. Do you avoid using some words while you speak English?
Yes 97.25%
No 02.75%
2. Do you avoid using some words in speaking due to difficulty in pronunciation?
Yes 94.50%
No 05.50%
3. Do you avoid using some words while you write in English?
Yes 89.25%
No 10.75%
4. Does avoidance of words hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes 84.25%
No 15.75%
5. Do you avoid using some sentence structures in speaking due to difficulty?
Yes 82.25%
No 17.75%
6. Do you avoid using some structures, such as relative clauses, passive, present progressive, infinitive complement while you speak English?
Yes 95.50%
No 04.50%
7. Does avoidance of words reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of your writing in English?
Yes 73.00%
No 27.00%
8. Does avoidance of structures hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes 93.25%
No 06.75%
9. Do you avoid using some words in speaking due to difficulty in use?
Yes 88.50%
No 11.50%
10. Do you avoid using some structures, such as relative clauses, passive, present progressive, infinitive complement while you write in English?
Yes 90.45%
No 09.55%
11. Does avoidance of structures reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of writing in English?
Yes 78.25%
No 21.75%
12. Do you avoid using some words and sentence structures in writing due to difficulty in use?
Yes 74.25%
No 24.75%
13. Does avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes 72.75%
No 27.25%
14. Do you avoid using some structures in speaking as they are absent from my L1?
Yes 63.00%
No 37.00%
15. Do you avoid using some idioms and phrasal verbs while you speak English?
Yes 97.75%
No 02.25%
16. Does avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of writing in English?
Yes 68.50%
No 31.50%
17. Do you avoid using some idioms and phrasal verbs while you write in English?
Yes 85.50%
No 14.50%
18. Do you avoid using some sentence structures in writing as they are absent from my L1?
Yes 69.25%
No 30.75%

Table: Results of the questionnaire on the adoption, causes of adoption and effects of avoidance behaviour in EFL learning

The table next exhibits that 94.50% of the learners avoided using some words in speaking due to difficult pronunciation, 88.50% avoided some words is speaking due to difficult use, and 82.25% avoided some sentence structures in speaking due to difficulty. And, 74.25% of them avoided some words and sentence structures in writing due to difficulty in use. Besides, 63% of the subjects avoided using some structures in speaking as they were not in the L1 and 69.25% avoided some sentence structures in writing for the same reason. That is, the causes of avoidance behaviour for a great majority of the population include difficulty and dissimilarities in the L1 and L2.
The table moreover displays 84.25% of the subjects admitted that avoidance of words, 93.25% said that avoidance of structures and 72.75% disclosed that avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs hampered fluency and spontaneity of their speaking in English. Further, 73% of the sample thought avoidance of words, 78.25% said avoidance of structures and 68.50% admitted avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs reduced their ability and hampered spontaneity of their writing in EFL. That is to say, avoidance behaviour is a significant predictor of L2 learning and performance in the L2.

Interviews
The seventy five subjects who responded to the questionnaire were invited to an interview in a free and friendly situation. 91% of them admitted that they avoided some difficult words, idioms, phrasal verbs and sentence structures both in speaking and writing while the rest were found to be unaware of the issue in question. Again, 87.25% said that they avoided using some words, idioms, phrasal verbs and sentence structures mainly because the items appeared to them to be very difficult to use correctly and appropriately both in speaking and writing whereas the remaining subjects did not say anything considerable. Furthermore, 83% subjects admitted that their avoidance of some words, idioms, phrasal verbs and sentence structures really functioned as resistance to their learning of and actual performance in EFL, but 17% of the interviewees said something insignificant. Hence, the results of the interviews were consistent with those of the questionnaire.

Discussion of the results
Based on the results of the study presented above, a huge majority of the subjects, more than 90% on average, admitted both in the questionnaire and the interviews that they adopted avoidance behaviour in their learning of and performance in EFL. Therefore, the first research question “Do the learners adopt avoidance behaviour?” is positively answered. The finding lends support to the conclusion of the investigations carried out by Schachter 1974, Dagut and Laufer 1985, Kleinmann 1977, 1978, Hulstijn and Marchena 1989, and Liao and Fukuya 2004, and may be considered to be a common or ‘universal’ phenomenon of second/foreign learning.
To respond to the items in the questionnaire related to the second question of this study “If yes, why do they adopt avoidance behaviour?” as well as in the interviews, a great majority of the population identified difficulty and differences in the first language and target language as the causes of avoiding using some words, sentence structures, idioms and phrasal verbs both in speaking and writing. This result is also consistent with the results of the studies conducted by Schachter 1974, Dagut and Laufer 1985, Kleinmann 1977, 1978, Hulstijn and Marchena 1989, and Liao and Fukuya 2004, and can be attributed to the subjects’ mechanical learning resulted from the teaching through the grammar-translation method which fails to help learners bring theories into practice and use forms in communicating meaning. Moreover, the learners may have lacked self-confidence and ‘facilitating anxiety’ that enhance learning and performance; rather, they may have had ‘debilitating anxiety’ that blocks learning and reduces performance, as Scovel (1978:139) maintains –

Facilitating anxiety motivates the learner to ‘fight’ the new learning task; it gears the learner emotionally for approach behaviour. Debilitating anxiety, in contrast, motivates the learner to ‘flee’ the new learning task; it stimulates the individual emotionally to adopt avoidance behaviour.

The responses of more than two-thirds subjects on average to the third question “If yes, does their avoidance behaviour affect their performance?” show that avoidance behaviour conspicuously reduces and hampers the learners’ ability, fluency and spontaneity of speaking and writing in the target language. The finding is not substantiated by the existing studies, and hence further investigation is clearly warranted. Nonetheless, this result can be explained by pointing to the fact that when a learner hesitates to use some words and structures his/her performance will automatically be affected negatively.

Conclusion and suggestions
The current study revealed three important factors of Bengali speaking undergraduate learners learning EFL. Firstly, like Chinese, Arabian, Persian, Israeli, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese and Spanish learners, Bengali learners adopt avoidance behaviour in their learning of and performance in EFL. Secondly, the present subjects adopt avoidance behabiour mainly because of difficulty and differences between the L1 and L2. Thirdly, the learners find the adoption of avoidance behaviour as resistance to their performance in both speaking and writing.
In the light of the conclusion of the findings of the study, some suggestions for ways of reducing avoidance behaviour and at the same time enhancing learning of and performance in the L2 can be put forward:
a. The syllabus has to be constructed in such a way that it incorporates what the learner wants and needs to communicate in his/her real life situations. That is, the vocabulary items and the sentence structures to be taught have to be selected on the basis of the needs analysis of the learner. Hence, the syllabus is a semantic one in which meaning is paramount, and the communicative competence is the desired goal.
b. The sequencing of the teaching/learning items, such as words, grammar rules, idioms, phrasal verbs, and so on should be determined by any consideration of content, function and/or meaning that maintains the learner’s interest.
c. The teaching of linguistic items has to conform to a strategy which encourages the learner to encounter and solve problems in communication since the target linguistic system is best learned through the process of struggling to communicate in authentic situations (Richards and Rodgers 1986).
d. The difficulty level of vocabulary items and sentence structures has to be considered in both ordering and teaching. It is effective if easier items are taught first and more difficult ones later. When needed, correct and comprehensible pronunciations of words, clear and interesting explanations of uses of words and grammar items can be given in terms of feedback, even in limited and judicious use of the L1, as Maniruzzaman (2003: 54 -55) contends –

… the teacher should use the learner’s mother tongue so as to give instructions, define new and complicated words, phrases and expressions, explain complex grammatical rules, difficult concepts and unfamiliar contexts, and train complex pronunciations of the target language.

e. Similarities and dissimilarities between the L1 and L2 should be considered and disclosed to the learner so that he/she can pay special attention to them. Materials and classroom activities embodying the similarities and dissimilarities between the L1 and L2 can discourage and decrease the learner’s avoidance tendency.
f. Finally, the teacher has to help the learner reduce debilitating anxiety, gain self-confidence and feel motivated to work with the target language.

Acknowledgements
This paper is a reviewed version of an article presented at BELTA’s 3rd international conference on ELT in Context: Future Directions held at The British Council Auditorium, Dhaka from 14 to 16 September 2005. I am grateful to the enthusiastic audience for their interesting questions and constructive observations contributing to the revision of the article. Special thanks go to my colleague at BUBT, Professor Abu Taher Mojumder, who gave generously of his rime and expertise whenever I needed it. He proved again to me how helpful it is for a writer to have friends who listen, read, and give suggestions.

Works cited
Dagut, M. and B. Laufer. ‘Avoidance of phrasal verbs: a case for contrastive analysis.’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 7, 1985: 73 – 79.
Hulstijn, J. H. and E. Marchena. ‘Avoidance: grammatical or semantic causes?’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 11, 1989: 241 – 255.
Kleinmann, H. H. ‘Avoidance behaviour in adult second language acquisition.’ Language Learning, 27, 1977: 93 – 107.
Kleinmann, H. H. ‘The strategy of avoidance in adult second language acquisition.’ In W. C. Ritchie (ed.), Second Language Acquisition Research: Issues and Implications. New York: Academic Press, 1978.
Laufer, B. and S. Eliasson. ‘What causes avoidance in L2 learning: L1- L2 difference, L1- L2 similarity, or L2 complexity?’ Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 1993: 35- 48.
Liao, Y. and Y. J. Fukuya. ‘Avoidance of phrasal verbs: the case of Chinese learners of English.’ Language Learning, 54, 2004: 193 – 226.
Maniruzzaman, M. ‘The use of the mother tongue in the EFL classroom: learners’ reaction.’ Harvest: Jahangirnagar Studies in Language and Literature, 18, 2003: 43 – 58.
Richards, J. C. and T. E. Rodgers. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching: A Description and Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1986.
Schachter, J. ‘An error in error analysis.’ Language Learning, 24, 1974: 205 – 214.
Scovel, T. ‘ The effect of affect on foreign language learning: a review of the anxiety research.’ Language Learning, 28, 1978:129- 142.

APPENDIX
Learner Questionnaire on the Adoption, Causes of Adoption
and Effects of Avoidance Behaviour in EFL Learning

You are being asked to complete this questionnaire as part of a research to investigate your adoption, the causes and effects of your adoption of avoidance behaviour in EFL learning. For the results of the survey to be meaningful, it is important that you be as accurate as possible in your answers. Remember that this questionnaire will not be seen by any of your teachers and classmates. Each of the statements bellow is followed by more than one answer. Please circle only one of them that best expresses your feeling and/or state.
If you have any queries while you are answering the questions, please do not hesitate to raise your hand.
Thank you very much for your cooperation.

1. Do you avoid using some words while you speak English?
Yes No
2. Do you avoid using some words in speaking due to difficulty in pronunciation?
Yes No
3. Do you avoid using some words while you write in English?
Yes No
4. Does avoidance of words hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes No
5. Do you avoid using some sentence structures in speaking due to difficulty?
Yes No
6. Do you avoid using some structures, such as relative clauses, passive, present progressive, infinitive complement while you speak English?
Yes No
7. Does avoidance of words reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of your writing in English?
Yes No
8. Does avoidance of structures hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes No
9. Do you avoid using some words in speaking due to difficulty in use?
Yes No
10. Do you avoid using some structures, such as relative clauses, passive, present progressive, infinitive complement while you write in English?
Yes No
11. Does avoidance of structures reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of writing in English?
Yes No
12. Do you avoid using some words and sentence structures in writing due to difficulty in use?
Yes No
13. Does avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs hamper fluency and spontaneity of your speaking in English?
Yes No
14. Do you avoid using some structures in speaking as they are absent from my L1?
Yes No
15. Do you avoid using some idioms and phrasal verbs while you speak English?
Yes No
16. Does avoidance of idioms and phrasal verbs reduce your ability and hamper spontaneity of writing in English?
Yes No
17. Do you avoid using some idioms and phrasal verbs while you write in English?
Yes No
18. Do you avoid using some sentence structures in writing as they are absent from my L1?
Yes No

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