Reasons of students’ inability to learn English at the secondary level in Bangladesh: A study based on five schools in Dhaka city.

1. Introduction:

1.1 Background of the study:

English is the lingua franca, that is, English language is frequently chosen as a medium of communication by the speakers of other languages across the globe. So, it is clear that English has gained its status as the most important international language. However, there is a confusion regarding the status of English in Bangladesh because there is no mention in our constitution whether English has been given the status of second language or foreign language. Whatever the status is, we cannot deny the increasing importance and use of English in our country. Because of the growing demand of English, we are taught and learnt this language as a compulsory subject in our country. Our journey of learning English begins at the primary level and its inclusion continues till the tertiary level of education. Regardless of this fact, we find it difficult to acquire English language towards a desired goal. Our effort to learn English is slowed down by various small problems.

Except for English, the medium of instruction for other subjects is Bangla in the educational institutions in Bangladesh. In order to pass the Secondary School Certificate (S.S.C) examination, we have to study English as a compulsory subject for ten years. However, from class six to ten is called secondary level of education. To do this research, I have chosen level of class ten, including both students and teachers, as sample. So, in this study, students belong to class ten have been referred to as Secondary level students because they are at the last stage of the Secondary level and they have entire knowledge to go under that level. They are considered adult enough to express themselves through verbally as well as to assess and convey their views about their education. The aim of this research is to identify the possible reasons that act as hindrance in learning English for the students at the secondary level in Bangladesh.

1.2 Literary review:

It is sad but true that we cannot acquire English language properly despite studying it as a subject for almost 16 years. This problem becomes visible when students do not get a job even after completing graduation because of their lack of English skill. Taking advantage of this situation, some organizations, such as coaching centers are doing business providing different package courses with the duration of at least three months to one year. Instead of solving problems, these package courses lead the learners to frustration when they cannot progress. There are many reasons which not only make Secondary level students unable to learn English but also create barriers in the learning process.

Related to the fact above, the researcher has given his best effort to make an intensive review of similar kind of literature. A number of researches on the similar type of topic were conducted both at home and abroad. Researchers in developing as well as developed countries have given several explanations regarding tenth grade students’ failure to learn English in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, very few studies related to this topic have been carried out, thus requiring further investigation to find out the causes concerning students’ inability to learn English at Secondary level in Bangladesh. However, in most of the studies done in developing countries, school factors got more priority than family factors. The reasons are as follows-

Shortage of skilled and trained English language teachers is one of the most important factors that affect students’ ability to learn English language in Secondary schools of our country (Sa’ad and Usman2012). To fill up the deficiency, in some schools, English language classes are taken by other subject teachers, who do not even have the ability to speak and write in English properly. So, these non-trained teachers cannot teach efficiently and therefore provide poor performances from their products. To support the previous statement, Roger (2003) states that there are some so called English language teachers who do not have academic qualification to teach the subject and as they are not specialist in the field of study, they are not good teachers.

Compared to non-trained teachers, trained teachers are more effective in English language classroom at the Secondary level (Golam 2012). Knowing grammar rules, word meanings and doing repeated drills cannot ensure that a learner will become able to acquire any language. Stephen Krashen in his “Theory of Second Language Acquisition” (2017) said, “Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.” However, the linguist points out six hypotheses. One of the hypotheses is ‘affective filter’ that is influenced by the change of emotions, such as anxiety, self-confidence, motivation, and stress, because of which language acquisition part of the brain stops receiving input.

Another key reason is the dominance of first language or mother-tongue because of which students fail to learn English at the Secondary level (Habib 2012). It is believed that because of the influence of mother tongue, students’English achievement at the Secondary level in Bangladesh gets interrupted. Students find English language hard to be learned because it is not their mother tongue. In Bangladesh, learners habitually use native language in their everyday activities and the use of English is limited only within the four walls of the classrooms. So, it can be said that English language practice starts and ends in the classroom. In some schools, English language class is conducted by less proficient teachers who make use of mother tongue as a medium of instruction. This situation illustrates the dominance of local language which affects English achievement at the Secondary level.

If we look at the neighboring country India then we can see that there are a total number of 1652 different languages spoken as mother tongues. Of these, only 150 languages have fairly large speaking population and among them, only 22 languages have been made official languages. In this complex linguistic situation, students first learn their state or local language for internal communication then Hindi as the national language and after that English for cross-state communication. David Crystal (2003) has given the historical context of English in his book, English as a Global Language, where it has been shown that in India, the disagreement between the supporters of English, Hindi and regional languages in the 1960s led to the creation of ‘three-language formula’, in which English was used as the main alternative to the local state language. English is given the status of official language in India whereas in Bangladesh, there is no mention about the status that will be given to English. That is why, People living in India have a good command over English language. From the above discussion, it is clear that government policy which recommends the use of mother tongue both at education and job sectors is responsible for students’ inability to learn English language.

Another reason for which students fail to learn English at the Secondary level in Bangladesh is the inappropriate use of teaching method (Alam 2014). It is evident that successful teaching and learning depends on the teachers’ right selection of teaching methods. Selection of teaching methods differentiates the trained teachers from the untrained teachers. Having lack of adequate knowledge and proper use of instructional strategies, the untrained teachers go after the conventional teaching method, such as Grammar-Translation Method (GTM), and also they discourage students to ask questions. They do not prepare the lesson plan before the class and do not use additional teaching aids except the traditional chalk, duster, blackboard and textbook. In some cases, they take the help of maps, charts and posters to demonstrate the lessons. Teachers just read out from the textbook and do not provide sufficient explanation of the text (Ahmed 2005). Some teachers give students home work or insist them to learn at home. Lack of multiple instructional activities and inadequate use of teaching aids make the classes boring for the students, and it creates an obstacle for students to learn English language at the classroom.

In our country, textbooks are designed by National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) on the basis of communicative approach, which is also known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). This method is based on the idea that learning a second language is possible only when learners will be involved in real communication. It gives equal importance to all four skills- Reading, writing, speaking and listening. The bitter truth is that only two skills- reading and writing- are emphasized and practiced in the classroom by the teacher so that students can pass the examination. However, speaking and listening skills are neglected because students do not have to give test for them (Rasheed 2015).

Because of these existing problems in our education system, most of the students in Bangla medium schools cannot reach the Secondary English language competencies.

1.3 Statement of Research Question:

Depending on the background given above, the researcher prepares theresearch questions as follows:

  1. What are the reasons that affect students’ ability to learn English at the Secondary level in Bangladesh?
  2. What is their actual level of English language proficiency?
  • What initiatives can be taken to enhance students’ skills and abilities of English language?

1.4 Objectives of the Research:

The main purpose of this study is to answer the aforementioned research questions and to examine them in order to find out the solutions. Besides, this thesis has also its objectives. Related to the research questions stated above, other objectives of this research are as follows:

  1. To find out the actual reasons of students’ inability to learn English at the Secondary level in Bangladesh.
  2. To study and compare the dissimilarities of the English education achievement between the schools of government and non-government.
  • To show the ways of developing Secondary level students’ learning of English language in school.
  1. To demonstrate the impact of poor English proficiency both in education and job sectors.

1.5 Significance of the Research:

The necessity of learning English cannot be denied in an increasingly integrated global economy. In a broad sense, globalization requires the learners of non-English-speaking countries to have good command over English for different purposes- firstly, to enter into mainstream English speaking countries as an immigrant, secondly, to get job in international markets and regions, and thirdly, to get scholarship for higher studies. Mohammed Farashuddin, the former Governor of Bangladesh Bank, said (Golam,2017, P-4), “Proficiency in English is a must for the nation to abolish poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and indignity.” The intention of this research is to develop the quality of English education in Secondary schools in Bangladesh.This study has tried to recommend a way of how to improve English language learning with the development of the teaching techniques by explaining the reasons that affect students’ability to learn English.

The results of this research are expected to play a vital role for different purposes. The source of information collecting from this research can be beneficial for teacher-trainers, educational administrators, policy makers, researchers and teachers in Bangladesh to identify the probable reasons that may help improve students’ English language skill. Moreover, this study will attempt to reveal a few areas where important steps may be taken to develop the condition of English teaching and learning in Bangladesh, surrounding the Secondary level students in Dhaka city.

1.6 Limitation of the study:

The researcher will have to go through some difficulties while conducting this research. The first thing he will face is the lack of cooperation from the educational institutions because they will not permit him to investigate and survey even though he will try his best to make them understand. As a part of the study, five Secondary level schools will be visited by the researcher in order to take interviews, handover questionnaires and observe the classrooms in line with the research topic. To collect data from the field, either survey questionnaire or tape recorder will be used. Because of the limited time, data will have to be collected hurriedly. In addition, people who will fill up the survey questionnaire may not be able to understand few questions. That is why, there is a doubt of its 100% authenticity. Moreover, the results of the research cannot be considered as the whole depiction of the Secondary English education in Dhaka city because the study will be carried out in some selected schools.

Regardless of these difficulties, the quality of the research will be maintained by the researcher focusing on accuracy and validity, therefore every detail is provided. However, data could be increased by approaching more schools, but due to limited time, it was not possible for the researcher.

1.7 Hypothesis:

Students at Secondary level cannot acquire English language successfully because of their anxiety towards learning the language. They consider English as a foreign language and as a result, they find it hard to learn. As there is not much use of English language in our country, some people do not see any benefit in learning it. Their only target is to get the pass mark, thus they become unable to learn it. This kind of attitude causes poor performance in English language at the Secondary level. The hypotheses of this research are formulated as follows- (1) there is a remarkable improvement of the Secondary level students’ ability to learn English, (2) teaching and learning of English has become easier after solving the problems that did not let students to become skilled in that particular language.

1.8 Definitions of Key Terms:

While going through the research, readers will come across some difficult terms. So that readers can understand the terms and can relate them with the study, operational definitions of these terms are provided. These terms with adequate explanations are given below-

  1. Focus Group Discussion (FGD): It is one of the most popular ways of data collection using commonly in qualitative research. It is actually a group discussion in which people of similar backgrounds or experiences exchange knowledge, ideas and opinions about a specific topic. The group of participants is guided by the moderator who provides topic or questions from the prepared interview guidelines. The survey is carried out in several groups consisting of 6 to 12 persons selected in accordance with the research aims.
  2. Students’ Inability: The synonyms of the word ‘Inability’ are ‘failure’, ‘incapacity’, ‘lack of ability’, ‘ineligibility’, ‘being unable’ etc. According to the definition of Merriam-Webster,‘inability’ indicates the condition of not being able to do something. So, from this definition, it can be said that students’ inability actually means their state of being unable to do or learn something. The only duty of a student is to study, but because of the classroom environment or complexity of the lessons, they cannot become able to learn it. So, it can be considered as obstacle, which does not let the students to become able to learn something.
  3. Language Learning Skills: For learning a language, one needs to master four skills, namely: speaking, listening, reading and writing. These four skills can be divided into two categories- receptive and productive. ‘Receptive’ skills consist of listening and reading while speaking and writing fall under the category of ‘productive’ skills. Based on these four skills, languages are taught and evaluated. To become expert in any particular language, the learners will have to develop these four skills.

2. Research Design:

In this chapter, the design and procedures of data collection for this research are described. Though the main objective of this study is to identify the reasons of students’ inability to learn English at the Secondary level, its consequence in education and job sectors and procedures to develop students’ English language skills are also the key issues of this study. Moreover, this study shows the main causes of poor performance in English language among Bangla medium students. The first section of this chapter includes the method applied in this study, and the research design; the second section talks about the participants taken part in the study; the third section shows a list of instruments used in the study and justifies their use in the study; the fourth section gives an elaborate description of how all the important information have been gathered and time spent on each segment by following specific procedures of data collection and timeline. Finally, the fifth section details about how collected data is analyzed.

2.1 Methodology of the Research:

Taking the nature and purpose of this study into consideration, qualitative research method will be applied by the researcher to depict the problems Secondary level students face while learning English language. Compared to the quantitative research, qualitative research is more effective when it comes to do the field work to collect data. This kind of research lets the researcher investigate small sample and later simplify the findings to the whole population. In this study, three research techniques- survey study, interview and observation of L2 classes, will be used by the researcher. Therefore, various ways of data collection involved in the study can be designed as follows-

1) Students’ questionnaire survey, 2) Students’ interview, 3) Teachers’ questionnaire survey,

4) Teachers’ interview, 5) Classroom observation.

By following the aforesaid methods, the researcher can be directly connected with his source of information thus leading him to generate ideas for this study.

To support the findings of the research, the researcher will collect data from different sources by taking the help of different methods. To be more specific, all three methods- questionnaire survey, interview and observation, will be used by the investigator to maintain the triangulation as well as to increase the accuracy, authenticity, validity and reliability of the data collected.

2.2 Participants:

This study will take place in five secondary schools in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The English teachers and students of 10th grade English class are the participants of the study. Five English language teachers in Bangla medium schools will be interviewed by the researcher. The interview questionnaire for teacher will be made keeping in relation with the study. This questionnaire is expected to have 15 questions, including 10 closed and 5 open ended. Three FGDs (Focus Group Discussion) will be conducted based on 10 questions related to the topic. Each FGD is supposed to have10 students. A totalof 30 students from English language class will take part in these FGD sessions. Because this study is aimed at finding the causes of Bangla medium students’ failure to learn English, they will be the targeted people for this study. Then, five English classes will be carefully observed to write down the overall classroom activities, especially to find out the reasons behind their failure to learn English, its impact in their academic results and the motivation given by their teachers to solve the problem. In order to collect all data in details during observations, an observation check list with nine criteria will be used.

2.3 Instruments:

In this research, two types of data, quantitative data and qualitative data, will be used. Quantitative data will becollected from the results of the investigation. The instruments that will be used to collect these data are- 1) interviews of English language teachers, 2) FGDof the secondary level students and 3) classroom observations. The teacher interview questionnaire and the FGDs will have 15 and 10 questions respectively while 9 criteria will be maintained in the observation checklist. Teacher interviews will help to find out the background of English language teachers as well as real situation of English classes and students’ weaknesses. FGD is another instrument which will help the investigator to get information directly from the students. From the FGD sessions, the researcher will get answers of the questions- why they fail to learn English, how it affects them and how to overcome from it. Through open discussion related to the topic of the study, it will be possible to get almost all the information. While observing the classroom, an observation record sheet will be maintained to take down important notes. Through the use of this instrument, activities of the classroom and students’ responses will come to be known to the researcher. It will also help to identify why the students cannot achieve their proficiency level, what obstacles they face in learning English and how teachers’ motivation can develop their language skills in English language class.

2.4 Procedure and Timeline:

All three instruments will be used to collect the necessary data of 5 teacher interviews, 3 FGDs with the students of English classes and 5 classroom observations. Teachers from Bangla medium schools in Dhaka city will be interviewed. Interviews of English language teachers will be taken when they will be free from their works. With the use of recording device and survey questionnaire, all answers given by the teachers will be recorded by the researcher. Then, three FGD sessions will be organized in three English classrooms of the selected schools. While conducting the FGDs, students will be free and both male and female students will take part in it. During FGDs, students will be asked 10 questions one by one and their responses will be recorded by using recording devices and important notes will be written down. Finally, classrooms will be observed and data will be collected following nine criteria of the observation checklist.

It will take 10 days for the researcher to take interviews of the teachers and 5 days to analyze the data. Because of the limited amount of time, 10-15 minutes will be allotted for each teacher interview. However, 3 FGDs will beconducted in 3 different days with three groups of students consisted of both male and female students. All of their responses will be recorded by audio devices and noted down as well. It will take around 15-20 minutes to complete each FGD. Afterwards, total 5 classes will be observed in five days following the observation checklist, which will include 9 criteria. To collect data, the procedures described above will be followed by the researcher.

In this study, all the abovementioned instruments will be used to collect data. All instruments are very useful and important to collect all the possible information. Instead of relying on only one instrument, three instruments will be equally utilized to analyze the data and reach to the possible solutions.

2.5 Data Analysis:

In this study, qualitative research method will be used to analyze the data. First, to collect data, the interviews, FGDs and classroom observations will be accomplished in Bangla medium schools by using audio recording aids and survey questionnaire and also important notes will be taken down.

Second, the data obtained through the use of three instruments will be gathered. Then, data collecting from each instrument will be surveyed. Every note-taking and audio recording will be observed altogether. While conducting teacher interviews and FGDs, answers that will come most often will be taken down. In the same way, following nine criteria of the observation checklist, the regularly noticed class-room activities will be noted down. As a result, some interesting responses or activities may be highly emphasized. Because this research will be conducted through the use of qualitative method, the emphasis will be given to the participants’ responses instead of the number of participants. Finally, all the findings collecting from different instruments will be brought together and these will lead the researcher to the conclusion of the study.

3. Conclusion:

The findings of the study are likely to show the actual causes behind students’ inability to learn English at the Secondary level in Bangladesh. Hence, this study is expected to play a crucial role by making contributions towards the quality development of English education in Secondary schools in our country. This research is also expected to clarify the reasons affecting students’ ability to learn English and thus suggest a way by following which teaching techniques will be developed resulting the improvement of English language learning. It is also expected to help the teacher select suitable teaching method depending on the classroom environment, availability of teaching aids and students’ attitude towards English language. This study will also demonstrate some necessary steps a teacher will take in order to motivate the students in learning English and enhance their English skills. We may also get a comparative study regarding the condition of teachers and students between the government and non-government schools. In the end, we will find whether school factors are more responsible for students’ poor English achievement than family factors.


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Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language (2nd ed., p. 48). New York: Cambridge.

Habib, R. (2012). English Pronunciation in Policy and Practice at College Level in

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  1. I just have read the Intro and the final paragraphs. I am not expert but sometimes I feel if the electronic media (both the public and private TV channels of Bangladesh) would come forward to teach the students both primary and secondary level by telecasting role plays (done by students in the class room) in English (where the topic would be our common life) could help all the students who are lucky enough to watch television to improve their English speaking skill. Besides this media could telecast documentary, dramas where our school students speak in English. Media should promote these educational programs vastly through different social media thus it could aware the mass population around the country. For improving writing skill I hope Government & private companies (through sponsoring) should distribute children Bangla books translated in English around the country freely. The reading habit must be improved and the schools should allow enough time for this skill in the classrooms.

  2. The main impediment in learning English for Bangladeshi students is that our teachers do not start communicating with their students in the classroom situation and they do not motivate learners to communicate in English in their all daily activities.

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