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International Students Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision: A Socio-Dynamic Perspective

International Students Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision: A Socio-Dynamic Perspective

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International Students Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision: A Socio-Dynamic Perspective

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Dec 5, 2018


Study abroad is now both an international industry and an experience that can have a deep impact on students’ linguistic, cultural and personal development. This book explores ‘the social turn’ in the fields of study abroad and language learning strategies. The longitudinal qualitative study reported in this volume investigates the international educational experiences of Arab university students from diverse countries (Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates) and represents one of the few empirical studies to capture an in-depth understanding of the study abroad experiences of newly-arrived international students in higher education. Particular attention is paid to their changing learning goals, underlying motivations and strategy uses during their attendance on both short and long academic programmes in a study abroad context. It also examines their past language learning experiences in their homelands retrospectively. Readers will gain a better understanding of international students’ study abroad experiences in terms of their expectations, aspirations, diverse difficulties and the strategies they deploy to deal with these difficulties.

Lançado em:
Dec 5, 2018

Sobre o autor

Anas Hajar is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR. His research interests include language learning strategies from sociocultural perspectives, L2 motivation and identity and higher education.

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International Students Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision - Anas Hajar

International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision


Series Editors: Professor David Singleton, University of Pannonia, Hungary and Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and Associate Professor Simone E. Pfenninger, University of Salzburg, Austria

This series brings together titles dealing with a variety of aspects of language acquisition and processing in situations where a language or languages other than the native language is involved. Second language is thus interpreted in its broadest possible sense. The volumes included in the series all offer in their different ways, on the one hand, exposition and discussion of empirical findings and, on the other, some degree of theoretical reflection. In this latter connection, no particular theoretical stance is privileged in the series; nor is any relevant perspective – sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic, etc. – deemed out of place. The intended readership of the series includes final-year undergraduates working on second language acquisition projects, postgraduate students involved in second language acquisition research, and researchers, teachers and policy-makers in general whose interests include a second language acquisition component.

All books in this series are externally peer-reviewed.

Full details of all the books in this series and of all our other publications can be found on http://www.multilingual-matters.com, or by writing to Multilingual Matters, St Nicholas House, 31-34 High Street, Bristol BS1 2AW, UK.


International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision

A Socio-Dynamic Perspective

Anas Hajar


Bristol • Blue Ridge Summit

DOI https://doi.org/10.21832/HAJAR2234

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

Names: Hajar, Anas, 1985- author.

Title: International Students’ Challenges, Strategies and Future Vision: A Socio-Dynamic Perspective/Anas Hajar.

Description: Bristol, UK; Blue Ridge Summit, PA: Multilingual Matters, [2019] | Series: Second Language Acquisition: 129 | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018031323| ISBN 9781788922234 (hbk : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781788922241 (pdf) | ISBN 9781788922265 (kindle)

Subjects: LCSH: Students, Foreign—Great Britain. | Education, Higher—Great Britain. | Foreign study—Social aspects—Great Britain.

Classification: LCC LB2376.6.G7 H35 2019 | DDC 378.1/9826910941—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018031323

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue entry for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN-13: 978-1-78892-223-4 (hbk)

Multilingual Matters

UK: St Nicholas House, 31-34 High Street, Bristol BS1 2AW, UK.

USA: NBN, Blue Ridge Summit, PA, USA.

Website: www.multilingual-matters.com

Twitter: Multi_Ling_Mat

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/multilingualmatters

Blog: www.channelviewpublications.wordpress.com

Copyright © 2019 Anas Hajar.

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.

The policy of Multilingual Matters/Channel View Publications is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products, made from wood grown in sustainable forests. In the manufacturing process of our books, and to further support our policy, preference is given to printers that have FSC and PEFC Chain of Custody certification. The FSC and/or PEFC logos will appear on those books where full certification has been granted to the printer concerned.

Typeset by Deanta Global Publishing Services Limited.

Printed and bound in the UK by the CPI Books Group Ltd.

Printed and bound in the US by Thomson-Shore, Inc.

To my parents

Who have always been the backbone to my achievement and always in my corner.

To my fabulous siblings

My brother, Mahmoud, and my sister, Yasmine

Who have always believed in their youngest brother and been there whenever I need them.


Figures and Tables



Foreword by Jane Jackson

1 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Book

1.2 A Personal Perspective

1.3 An Outline of the Present Study

1.4 Audience

1.5 Structure of the Book

Part 1: Theoretical Considerations

2 Has Language Learning Strategy Research Come to an End?

2.1 Introduction

2.2 Definitional Issues

2.3 Issues of Categorisation

2.4 Issues in Research Methodology

2.5 Movements towards Self-Regulation

2.6 A Response to Calls to Move Away from Language Learning Strategy Research

2.7 Conclusion

Resources for Further Reading

3 Towards a Socio-Dynamic Perspective on Language Learning Strategy Research

3.1 Introduction

3.2 ‘Good Language Learner’ Strategies: Criticism and Insights

3.3 The Shifting Language Learning Research Landscape

3.4 Socio-Dynamic Perspectives and Empirical Language Learning Strategy Research

3.5 Framework for Understanding the Intersection between Learning Motivations, Strategy Use and Future Visions: A Socio-Dynamic Perspective

3.6 Conclusion

Resources for Further Reading

Part 2: Language Learning Strategy Research in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Contexts

4 Impact of Household Members on EFL Students’ Strategic Language Learning and Future Vision

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Importance of Understanding Individuals’ Language Learning Experiences beyond the Classroom

4.3 Examining the Mediating Role of Household Members

4.4 Role of Learner Agency

4.5 Conclusion and Pedagogical Implications

Resources for Further Reading

5 Impacts of Mainstream Schooling and ‘Shadow Education’ on EFL Students’ Strategic Language Learning and Development

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Participants’ Language Motivation Orientation and Strategy Use in Their Homelands

5.3 Impact of Mainstream Schooling

5.4 The Mediating Role of Assessment Practices

5.5 English Private Tutoring and ‘Shadow Education’

5.6 Conclusion and Implications

Resources for Further Reading

Part 3: Learning Strategy Research in a Study Abroad Context

6 Social Interaction, Strategy Use and Future Vision on Pre-Sessional English Programmes

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Study Abroad and Pre-Sessional English Programmes

6.3 Relationships with Home Citizens and Future Visions During a Pre-Sessional English Programme

6.4 Social Interaction with Co-National and Multinational Networks on a Pre-Sessional English Programme

6.5 Perspectives on Native Speakers as Models for English Teaching on a Pre-Sessional English Programme

6.6 Effects of Assessment Modes in the Pre-Sessional English Programmes on Strategy Use

6.7 Conclusion and Implications

Resources for Further Reading

7 Social Connectedness, Learning Strategy Use and Future Vision during Master’s Programmes

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Impact of Social Agents

7.3 Academic Studies in the Medium of English

7.4 Participants’ Motivational Orientations and Strategy Use after Joining Their MA Programme

7.5 Conclusion and Implications

Resources for Further Reading

8 The Challenges of Writing a Master’s Dissertation, Learning Strategy Use and Future Vision: Perspectives of International Students

8.1 Introduction

8.2 The Importance of Demystifying International Students’ Situated Experiences of Master’s Supervision

8.3 Impact of Dissertation Supervisors’ Practices on Supervisees’ Strategic Learning Efforts and Future Vision

8.4 Dealing with Insecurities

8.5 Recommendations for Improving the Effectiveness and Quality of Master’s Dissertation Supervision

Resources for Further Reading

Epilogue by Carol Griffiths


Appendix 1: Biographical Vignettes of the Participants in This Research

Appendix 2: Indicative Interview Protocol

Appendix 3: Prompts for Initial Essay



Figures and Tables





Many people and institutions in various ways made this book possible. First and foremost, I am deeply indebted to the students who took part in the research and shared their experiences with me. I would also like to express my sincerest gratitude for the substantial assistance and support I received from the Higher Institute of Languages at Aleppo University in Syria, the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong SAR, Warwick and Canterbury Christ Church universities in the United Kingdom and Cara (the Council for At-Risk Academics) in the United Kingdom. My profound gratitude is extended to Professor Jane Jackson and Dr Carol Griffiths for their generous contributions to this book, including reading chapters, writing the foreword and epilogue parts and sharing their expert knowledge with me. I would also like to thank Professor David Wray, Dr Gerard Sharpling and Ms Doreen du Boulay for their constructive feedback on my research. Finally, abundant appreciation goes to the energetic and supportive Multilingual Matters family for their recommendations throughout the preparation of this book. Special thanks are due to Ms Laura Longworth, the editor, for her prompt and friendly answers to all my queries.


This book comes at a time when the number of students who are choosing to study outside their home country for all or part of their tertiary education is on the rise. Annually, nearly 5 million are now gaining some form of international educational experience, up from 1.3 ­million in 1990 (http://monitor.icef.com/2015/11/the-state-of-international-student-mobility-in-2015/; https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Project-Atlas/Explore-Data/Current-Infographics).

As in any field, within the context of international education, scholars may define key terms differently. Within the United States, for example, study abroad generally refers to ‘a subtype of Education Abroad that results in progress toward an academic degree at a student’s home institution’, excluding ‘the pursuit of a full academic degree at a foreign institution’ (Forum on Education Abroad, 2011: 12). In European contexts, this form of education abroad is generally known as ‘credit mobility’ (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/library/publications/erasmus-stat-2012-13_en.pdf). For this volume, Dr Hajar has adopted Benson et al.’s (2013: 3) broader conception of study abroad, which encompasses ‘any period spent overseas, for which study is part of the purpose’.

While many edited collections and monographs centre on the experiences of short-term student sojourners (e.g. international exchange students, summer language immersion students), this unique volume presents the developmental trajectories of second language students who were pursuing a full postgraduate degree at a university in the UK. Many previous publications have tracked the language and (inter)cultural learning of American, European or Chinese students in a second language study abroad context. Refreshingly, drawing on a sociocultural language learning framework and, more specifically, a socio-dynamic orientation towards language learning strategy research, Dr Hajar explores the international educational experiences of Arab university students from diverse countries (Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates). His work offers valuable insight into the multifarious factors, both internal and external, that can influence language learning in both an English as a foreign language (EFL) context and the host speech community.

After explaining the theoretical framework and methodological approach that he adopted in his study, through a retrospective lens, in the first part of the volume, Dr Hajar paints a vivid picture of the participants’ language learning journeys in their home countries. In the process, he highlights multiple individual variables that appeared to affect their language learning motivation and strategy use outside the classroom (e.g. agency, parental mediation) as well as in formal mainstream schooling, ‘shadow education’ or private tutoring (e.g. peer influence, teacher mediation). Drawing on his findings, he offers useful, practical suggestions to better support the language learning of EFL students both in and out of the classroom (e.g. strategy use).

The next part of the volume shifts to the international educational experiences of the participants as they adjusted to an unfamiliar linguistic and cultural environment. After providing essential details about their master’s degree programme of studies in the UK, Dr Hajar offers a window into the barriers and affordances that impacted their language learning and cross-cultural adjustment both in and outside the academic arena. In his exploration, he discovered that social networks and strategy use played a vital role in their language and intercultural development. As the students were writing a master’s dissertation during his investigation, Dr Hajar was able to incorporate findings related to this element, which is another valuable feature of this book. In particular, this aspect of his study shed light on the complexity and significance of the student–supervisor relationship, including the various ways in which supervisors can help or hinder the adjustment and learning of second language students who are new to higher education in that context. Through the analysis of rich qualitative data, Dr Hajar was able to distil key elements that resulted in different learning trajectories and outcomes. Drawing on a careful analysis of the data, he offers sound recommendations for ways to enhance the effectiveness and quality of postgraduate dissertation supervision. As the number of second language speakers undertaking research-oriented studies continues to grow exponentially, this is another important contribution of this study.

This volume has certainly been enhanced by the author’s reflection on his own journey from an EFL context (Syria) to international educational settings (e.g. the pursuit of master’s and PhD degrees at an institution of higher education in the UK). In fact, his own experiences and observations of the struggles and triumphs of other EFL learners and international students compelled him to carry out this research. It is evident that his background helped him to develop a rapport with the participants. An empathetic stance and the ability to conduct interviews in their first language, if they desired, enabled him to gain deeper insight into their perspectives and experiences. While there is always the potential for personal biases in studies of this nature, it is evident that Dr Hajar made a concerted effort to present an ‘emic’ or insider’s perspective as much as possible and not impose his views on the interviewees. Appropriately, a critical, ‘etic’ or researcher’s perspective is also evident in this volume. In addition to problematising developments in language learner strategy research, Dr Hajar has scrutinised how his own background and perspectives might have impacted his study.

In sum, this volume makes a valuable contribution to the literature on international postgraduate education and applied linguistics, more broadly. In particular, it enriches our understanding of the complex ways in which learner strategy use and varying degrees of motivation can enhance or hinder second language learning and engagement both in the home environment and abroad. A welcome addition to the field, Dr Hajar’s volume has the potential to inspire scholars to investigate the developmental trajectories of EFL and international students, both postgraduate and undergraduates, in other parts of the world.

Professor Jane Jackson

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

1  Introduction

1.1 Background to the Book

This book is a new exploration of language learning strategies (LLSs) based on recent longitudinal research conducted with eight postgraduate Arab students from the date of their arrival in the UK till the end of their master’s degree (MA) courses, taking account of their previous language learning experiences in their homelands. The focus of this book is on international students whose first language is not English. In the UK, the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) reported that 310,575 international students from outside the EU had registered at UK universities for the academic year 2015/2016, and 127,440 students from other EU countries (UKCISA, 2018). UK higher education policy sees international students as potential customers who pay full-cost fees, thus student recruitment teams aim to recruit more of them every year. Benson et al. (2013: 3) point out that ‘study abroad’ refers to ‘any period spent overseas, for which study is part of the purpose’. Therefore, the purpose of study abroad is not limited to achieving academic qualifications, but can include personal and intercultural development. As Jackson and Oguro (2018: 4) suggest, the study abroad experience can be one of the most exciting events in students’ lives, because the experience can lead to ‘significant development in intercultural competence, second-language proficiency, global-mindedness, and personal growth’. International students thus need to be viewed as whole people with complete lives instead of separating their minds, bodies and social behaviour into separate domains of inquiry (Coleman, 2013; Jackson, 2018).

While international students from different backgrounds are often able to make outstanding contributions to their home countries, many encounter daunting linguistic and academic challenges during their overseas sojourn. As a result, a number of researchers (e.g. Chamot, 2001; Cohen, 1998; Ellis, 1994; Oxford, 1990; Wenden, 1987, 1998) have suggested that one possible way for individuals to deal with such a situation is for them to be efficient language learners in terms of strategy use, in the belief that variation in strategy use accounts for differences in language learners’ learning achievements. Interest in LLSs remains intense because of their apparent potential for fostering effective teaching and learning. This is evidenced by their ongoing presence in the research literature (e.g. Cohen, 2011; Grenfell & Harris, 2017; Griffiths, 2018; Oxford, 2017; Oxford & Amerstorfer, 2018; Trendak, 2015). However, LLS research has attracted vigorous debate due to the conceptual ambiguities of the term ‘learning strategy’, and the questionable results obtained from the survey methods used (Dörnyei, 2005, Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015; Gao, 2007; Wray & Hajar, 2015).

Some researchers, adopting socially oriented theoretical approaches, call for a shift in the theorising of LLSs together with other concepts, including language learners, learning and context (Gao, 2010; Hajar, 2016; Norton & Toohey, 2001; Palfreyman, 2006; Rose et al., 2018). They pinpoint a commensurate need for more qualitative, holistic perspectives in LLS research to capture the ‘lived experience of learners in real-life contexts’ (Palfreyman, 2003: 244). This has lent support to researching learning strategy studies informed by a sociocultural standpoint. These studies, however, are ‘still relatively rare’ (Mason, 2010: 647). The longitudinal, qualitative study reported in this book represents one of the few empirical studies to capture an in-depth understanding of the changing learning goals of eight Arabic-speaking students in higher education. Particular attention was paid to their underlying motivations and strategy use during their attendance on both short and long academic programmes (i.e. the pre-sessional language course and a postgraduate programme) in a study abroad context. The study also shows how these students’ dynamic strategic behaviour in a study abroad context is influenced by their past language learning experiences in their Arab countries. This is because the study abroad experience does not begin in the minds of individuals at the airport departure gate; how individuals see themselves and how they approach language learning in their homelands often influence the shape of their strategic learning efforts and personal study abroad goals (Irie & Ryan, 2014; Jackson, 2016).

The participants in the current study came from several Arab countries. The modern history of the Arab world goes back to the post-World War I settlement (Rawaf & Hassounah, 2014: 138). At present, the Arab world comprises 22 countries. The Arab people have Semitics origin, living largely in Iraq, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, the Maghreb region of North Africa, Egypt and Mauritania (Al-Khatib, 2006). Arabs are united in their use of Arabic as their native tongue. A great Arab unifying force is Islam, the religion of 95% of all Arabs (Al-Khatib, 2006: 2). However, there are Arabs who are Christians, Jews and atheists. English as a foreign language (EFL) was introduced to the Arab world after World War I, the commencement of Western colonialism in the Arab world (Al-Khatib, 2006: 3). Van-den-Hoven (2014: 67–68) posits that during most of the 20th century, English was treated in the Arab world as ‘the language of a colonizing and bellicose West’. There was also a fear that learning more English could weaken the Arabic language, the language of the Quran. This, in turn, led to a delay in the introduction of English into the school curriculum, then confining English to the classroom, and accepting the fact that students entering university would have a poor command of English (El-Ezabi, 2014). Nonetheless, a few wealthy families in the Arab world sent their male children abroad for higher education as a means of maintaining their position above other social class groups (El-Ezabi, 2014).

By the end of the 20th century, the flourishing of business and communications technology ‘forced Arab states to reevaluate their positions’ towards the learning of foreign languages, especially English (Ridolfo, 2001: 915). English has become the world language of business, science, technology and communication. In this respect, many citizens in Arab countries recognise that ‘a high standard of proficiency in English is a critical requirement for effective education and for access to, and utilization of, new knowledge and new technology’ (El-Ezabi, 2014: x). English is currently regarded in the Arab world as the first foreign language to learn and is taught in Arab schools from an early stage, usually from the fourth grade at age 9. Moreover, almost all Arab countries have begun sending a number of students abroad, most often to English medium universities, at their government’s expense. Consequently, the task of upgrading their English language proficiency has recently been seen by many Arab students as a necessary precursor to academic success and professional development. One of the increasing concerns linked to learning and mastering English in the Arab world is the outflow of Arab students to overseas institutions (Malcolm, 2011: 206).

1.2 A Personal Perspective

In relation to international students’ growing interest in moving abroad to pursue English medium education, I myself experienced first-hand the phenomenon of international students pursuing their academic studies through the medium of English abroad as an MA, and subsequently, a doctoral student at one of the leading universities in the UK. My motivation for undertaking this research within the area of learning strategy research arose from my language learning experiences before and after my arrival in the UK. My English language learning started in Grade 7 in an intermediate state school in Syria when I was 12 years old. Although I was not explicitly introduced to the concept of LLSs during my stay in Syria, I was never without strategies. Throughout my school education, I used LLSs, mostly for classroom study and examinations. For example, I used to memorise the words and texts assigned by my English teachers, complete the exercises and check my answers in the back of the book, as well as ask one of my family members to help me prepare a lesson in advance so I could participate in class. Encouraged by my parents, I majored in English literature at Aleppo University in Syria. In my academic studies at university, memorising and repetition strategies remained my dominant language strategies, with the result that I could accomplish my ultimate vision of being one of the top students, able to win a scholarship to the UK. However, I was simultaneously cognisant of the need to actively create and seek language learning opportunities beyond the classroom in Syria. Therefore, I embraced three effective strategies: (1) I worked as a volunteer tourist guide to Aleppo landmarks during the summer vacations; (2) I subscribed to a weekly English newspaper; and (3) I met up with three classmates on Fridays to practise English together. Technology played a secondary role in improving my English before coming to the UK in 2009, because of its scarcity in public educational settings, the banning of some popular social networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook, slow internet connections and my inability to afford a smartphone. After graduating from university, I spent two years teaching English at Aleppo University before I pursued my higher degree in the UK.

During my stay abroad, I noticed an increasing number of international students, in particular from Asian countries, coming to the UK driven by a desire to attain better academic credentials and improve their English proficiency. Many of these students, including myself, had little or no prior travel experience. We had few ideas about how to cope with the different challenges in the new setting. In the first term of my MA programme, I tried out almost the same strategies that I had previously used when I was studying in Syria, such as reading every page of an article several times and trying to memorise some sentences by heart, along with checking the meaning of nearly every new word in a text. The use of these strategies in the UK led me to use up a lot of time, and sometimes I gave up socialising in non-academic settings to finish my postgraduate assignments. These were almost the only strategies that I knew of until I came across Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know by Rebecca Oxford (1990), as one of the set texts recommended by the module tutor in the second term of my MA programme. At that time, I recognised that I needed to use different strategies because many of the previous ones were no longer valid in the new learning setting with a learner-centred approach. My language learning experiences taught me a valuable lesson, namely that we need to develop sound strategies appropriate to the situation and the task at hand, to go alongside our changing learning goals. This is because there is almost nothing we cannot learn with sufficient effort and determination, although different contextual conditions (e.g. teachers’ teaching practices and parents’ level and manner of involvement) can leave their mark in this regard.

1.3 An Outline of the Present Study

Drawing on a sociocultural language learning research perspective, this book presents a longitudinal, multiple case study of eight Arab students as they endeavour to complete master’s degrees in a variety of disciplines through the medium of English, and are thus confronted with the issue of enhancing their English capability while dealing with the content of their degrees and attempting to build new social networks. The book addresses the dynamism and context sensitivity of the strategic learning efforts and future visions of these students from the date of their arrival in the UK till the end of their MA courses, taking account of their previous language learning experiences in their Arab homelands. Related to this, the participants’ constant interactions with a myriad of situated contextual realities (e.g. social agents, assessment modes and the availability of technological tools) were particularly examined.

Eight participants took part in the study: five male and three female. They were Arab Muslims, and Arabic was their native language. They came from the following Arab countries: Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, and their ages ranged between 23 and 28 years. None of them had lived outside the Arab region before their arrival in the UK. Moreover, all of the participants were unknown to me before the data collection stage. They came to pursue their postgraduate studies in the UK in the same area as their undergraduate specialisation. I gained initial access to the participants with help from the director of the pre-sessional preparatory English course that the students attended. The vignettes of each participant’s biography, constructed from their short written accounts of their past English learning experiences and their first interview data, are presented in Appendix 1. Due ethical procedures were followed to obtain the informed consent of the participants. At the beginning of each interview, the participants were reminded that their involvement was optional, and that they had the right to withdraw from the study at any point without any negative repercussions. They were also given the opportunity to raise any queries. The participants’ verbal permission to digitally record their speech for later transcription was also obtained and they were reminded of this at the start of each interview. The participants were given pseudonyms to protect their identities; their profiles are provided in Table 1.1.

Along with supplementary methods (i.e. email correspondence and written narratives), 13 to 15 in-depth, one-to-one interviews were conducted with each participant at different stages of their sojourn in the UK. The interviews took place face-to-face in public areas; namely, the university library and coffee shops. This was primarily because the participants came from conservative societies and some of them, especially the women, could feel uncomfortable being interviewed in private places. Each interview lasted 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (see Appendix 2 for sample interview questions at each research phase). All the interviews were conducted in the participants’ language of choice. While Zahra (the Iraqi participant) chose English, all the other interviews were conducted in Arabic to help the participants express their ideas more deeply and freely. The interview transcripts were translated into English by another researcher who came from an Arab background. This longitudinal research consisted of four phases, lasting over 17 months (5 July 2013 to 12 November 2014):

Table 1.1 Demographic data of the participants

Phase1: This phase dealt with the participants’ earlier language learning experiences in their Arab homelands in their different settings, the strategies they used and their future ambitions. The findings from this research phase are presented in the second part of this book (Chapters4 and 5). In this phase, the participants were first asked to write a short account about themselves and some of their English learning experiences along with the LLSs that they often employed in their Arab homelands. They were given a set of questions to help them to complete this written work (see Appendix3). There were four subsequent rounds of individual semi-structured interviews with open questions.

Phase2: This phase focused on the participants’ expectations, social networks and the academic and sociocultural challenges that confronted them from the moment they arrived in the UK to the end of the pre-sessional English course (i.e. the first three months of their stay in the UK). Phase2 also explored the participants’ strategic learning efforts and future visions. Chapter6 provides the findings from this research phase. Two research methods were used: email exchanges and four in-depth interviews. Email correspondence was used to arrange times for the interview meetings with the participants, to send the translated data to them to be verified and to ask them to comment on a few points that were mentioned in

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