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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 Background to the Study Many people would agree that English is the international language of the era and it is a widely recognized medium of communication in international arena with specific reference to business, science, politics, and academics. As the mostly utilized lingua franca, English has gained a prominent role and status worldwide, and undoubtedly Turkey is no exception to this case. Today the role and status English has gained in Turkey, especially in the field of education, is outstanding. In Brutt-Griffler’s (2002) model of the spread of English, the current situation in Turkey is described as an EFL case (English as a Foreign Language). Brutt-Griffler defines two other cases in which English has established itself: English as a National Language (ENL), where English spread by speaker migration and has become the dominant and national language, and English as a Second Language (ESL) where English has ascended as the national lingua franca along with the native language, mainly due to colonial ties in the history, and is used as a medium of education in domains such as government, law and education. The last case, ESL, would illustrate the pre-1960 situation in Cyprus, where Turkish and Greek Cypriots were under the British rule. After its takeover by the British Empire from the Ottoman rule in 1878, Cyprus had been under British sovereign for almost a hundred years until 1960, when the island was handed over to the Turkish and Greek under the republic of Cyprus. In British-governed Cyprus, English was one of the official languages alongside Greek and Turkish. Therefore, English use among people was very common, especially in formal and official settings with British officials, and between Greeks and Turks who did not know one of the languages. In education, too, English had a very important place. During colonial times, English-medium secondary schools and colleges were regarded as the gate to


privilege, power, and job opportunities at the government offices and institutions (Feridun 2000; Demirciler 2003). Yet, except for a few wealthy elite, it was difficult for the most Turkish Cypriots to access these opportunities. The British administration in Cyprus provided limited budget and support for education of the masses and left the primary school education to the hands of the local authorities. Similar to the policies followed in colonial India that British governors recommended English schools should not exceed one per province (Powell, 2002), there was only one English School in Cyprus that offered English and English-medium education to a few fee-paying elite. The English School was founded in 1901 by Canon Newham (Feridun, 2000). Each year, 30 Turkish and 60 Greek Cypriot students were accepted into the school after completing their primary schooling and passing a test administered in their own language. The Greek and Turkish students were placed in different classes for the first two years and were instructed in their own language except for the 14-hour-a-week intensive English study. Starting at the eighth grade, the students were placed in mixed groups and started receiving English-only instruction. The other alternative for those who could not afford the English school was the Moslem school, the only secondary school that provided secondary education for Turkish Cypriots on the island. The education in the Moslem School was Turkishmedium; for those who wanted to continue their higher education or apply for a job at the government offices, the school offered preparation courses for the ordinary and distinction level English proficiency tests at the final two years. However, the preparation courses offered at the school were limited due to the limited resources and staff (Feridun, 2000). In colonial Cyprus, the options for a few Turkish Cypriots who could attend and finish high school were as follows: a job at government offices for the ones who can pass the required English proficiency tests, the English-medium teachers’ college which trained primary school teachers, or higher education in Turkey or Britain. In sum, in colonial Cyprus proficiency in


English was the gateway to all social and material benefits, while a small proportion of the population had the chance for formal education and access to English. This policy was of common practice in most colonies of the British Empire (Phillipson, 1992). The constitution of the new republic of Cyprus, after gaining independence from British rule in 1960, referred to Turkish as one of the official languages. However, due to the efforts of the Greek Cypriot administration to restrict the rights of Turkish Cypriots, Turkish was not treated as an official language; instead English was given priority and “took on the functions of Turkish in official matters” (Osam & Agazade, 2004). Although the Turkish community was able to control their education system within their local community chambers, the destruction of Turkish rights in 1963 resulted in denial of Turkish educators’ funds and of official recognition of Turkish in administration and education (Larbalastier, 1997). After 1974, after Turkey’s intervention to settle the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, clarified ‘de facto’ situation since 1963; that the two separate communities, Greeks and Turks, had their own administrations on Cyprus, as well as their own national and official languages. That is to say, after 1974, the status of English has gradually shifted from that of ESL to EFL. The last legacy of English form the colonial times that was recognized in the English-medium Maarif Koleji (state secondary schools lasting from the colonial teachers’ college structure) disappeared after these schools shifted to Turkish-medium in 2005. When the role of language in the construction of national communities and identities is considered (Wright, 2003), Turkish was one of the major binding forces bringing and keeping Turkish Cypriots together under Turkish identity throughout the history of Cyprus., and especially during the British reign and the conflicts with the Greek Cypriots. As is stated in the 1960 Constitution of the Republic, one of the main ethnic identities in Cyprus is Turkish Cypriots of mainland Turkish origin (p.1) whose national language is Turkish (p. 4). Turkish is still the national and official language of Turkish Cypriots who live in the independent state


of North Cyprus. The standard Turkish spoken in the mainland Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot dialect are the same, although there are some differences at the phonological, lexical, and syntactic level. (Vanci, 1990 & 2001). On the other hand, similar to the case in many third world countries, English is still viewed as a path to successful education and career among Turkish Cypriots (Demirciler, 2003). Both in Turkey and in North Cyprus, it is still a high priority for the government to provide students with English education. In Turkey, English has already been a required subject in secondary and most higher education, and it has recently made a required subject at primary education. In North Cyprus, English is a required subject in secondary and in most higher education schools. In order to enter many private secondary education schools students are required to take an English test. Moreover, upon completion of secondary education, students have to take another exam to enter an English-medium university. The only state, and most private universities in Cyprus offer English-medium education. Thus, considering these social and educational issues, the conventional division-line between ESL and EFL may be inadequate to explain the situation in Turkey and North Cyprus. That is, while English should only be a foreign language, it seems to have a “social stratificational function” (Phillipson 1992, p. 25); acting as a gate-keeper and playing a key role for educational and career prospects. The current situation vis-à-vis English-medium education at tertiary level education settings poses two serious issues. First, education in mother tongue is a constitutional right of the Turkish Cypriot citizens. However, most undergraduate and graduate course programs offered in the only state university of North Cyprus are in English-medium. Second, despite the growing interest in and positive attitude towards English, and despite the continuing policies on behalf of the government to support and encourage English-medium instruction (henceforth EMI) at secondary and higher education, learners’ academic success, mastery,


and proficiency over English has been a major issue of controversy. Referring to scholars like Cummins (1984) and Toukamaa and Skutnab-Kangas (1977), Osam (1998) suggests a long list of several risks involved in educating learners in a language other than their mother tongue. Osam proposes reasons why the medium of education should be in one’s mother tongue and highlights what negative consequences might occur when medium of education is through a foreign language. There has also been other research that investigated pros and cons of EMI at secondary and tertiary level schools across Turkey. The overall tendency in the results observed has been in disfavor of foreign language medium instruction (Akünal 1993; Erdem 1990; Görgülü 1995; Secondary Education General Directorate (Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı), 1997, Osam 1998; Somer 2001; Tarhan 2003; Zorlu 1991). In a study investigating students’ academic performances at a Turkish university’s Englishmedium academic program, Kırkgöz (1999, as cited in Kırkgöz 2005) reports that undergraduate students of economics have difficulty understanding main concepts in their subject area. Suggesting future research, Kırkgöz asks whether EMI disadvantages students in terms of acquisition of academic and professional knowledge.The same question can be asked for the situation at the state university in North Cyprus. The common observation at the Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU, an English-medium university) is that many students fail to succeed in coping with the requirements of English-medium courses. Their major weaknesses are in expressing themselves especially in speaking and writing. The English proficiency tests students have to pass in order to start their English-medium academic courses, and which are expected to foretell students’ academic success, fail to be an effective predictor (Gurtas, 2004). The common argument is that most students face the difficulties of living in a non-English speaking environment. Turkish being the native tongue, the contexts students are exposed to English are only the classrooms, therefore students cannot find many opportunities to be engaged in using and improving their English (as they


are fully exposed to Turkish outside class). Most Turkish speaking students find it difficult to express themselves in a foreign language in which they lack many required concepts, forms and lexis. Many students fail to express themselves adequately, especially in academic writing as they lack the required vocabulary, phrases, and structures. The assumption to be made here is that English-medium education may have failed to meet the intended overall aim of equipping students with the proficiency level required for spoken and written academic English demands of the business, academic, and scientific contexts. On the contrary, the present situation puts students whose native tongue is not English into difficulty. Many students find it difficult to express themselves within an academic environment using a foreign language, over which they do not have the sufficient mastery. Looking from another perspective, it would be hypothesized that students would feel more comfortable, and thus be more successful in performing their academic accomplishments in their native tongue. Depending on the needs, level and intensity of English requirement, different departments would decide to implement intensive English, or any other required foreign language education. Such an argument seems plausible when the fact is considered that the medium of instruction in most European higher education institutions is in their native tongue, with some programs offering EMI both for local and international students, although there has been serious problems in implementation of EMI such as inadequate language skills of local teaching staff and students, and ideological objections arising from a perceived threat to cultural identity and to the status of the native language as a language of science (Coleman, 2006). 1.2 Purpose of the Study Despite being a controversial issue of discussion in media and politics from time to time, there is very limited research in North Cyprus questioning students’, teachers’, and parents’ views and the possible reasons behind these views regarding the role and function of


English as a foreign language, and EMI. (Demirciler, 2003; Gurtas, 2004). To be able to observe and understand the actual impacts and influences of EMI in North Cyprus, it is important to gather a comprehensive data of the views and perceptions of students, teachers and parents, as they are the primary sources who have experienced the effects of EMI. What is more, different from Turkey, Cyprus has a history under British rule, and is also in a different position regarding its geographic and socio-political context; thus, in sociolinguistic terms, results of this study would be interesting to compare with those in Turkey. Therefore, the purpose of the study will be to determine perceptions of students, teachers and parents concerning English-medium instruction and their perceptions of English as a foreign language. The study will also examine these groups’ perceptions of and attitudes towards the role, function, and use of English-medium education, as well as the possible factors that may be leading to impeding students’ success within the context of English-medium education. 1.3 Research Questions The study will investigate the following three broad research questions: 1. What are the perceptions of students, teachers, and parents regarding English medium instruction at higher education? 2. According to the perceptions of students and teachers, does English-medium instruction influence the instructional process at university level courses? 3. What suggestions will arise according to the views of students and teachers regarding the instructional process? 1.4 Significance of the Study …The results of the study will be of importance for two reasons. First, it will be the first major survey of language attitudes in North Cyprus, with specific focus on English as a foreign language and English as a medium of education. Second, it will be the only major 7

survey of the educational needs of students, teachers and administrators, which would yield implications for educational language policy. Language policy is an issue of critical importance in the world today (Spolsky 2003), and language of education is of crucial importance, which requires a careful and wide-ranging planning (Osam 1998). 1.5 Definitions of Terms