Input and achievement in an acquisition poor environment : varying levels of L2 proficiency among pre-puberty Mauritian learners of English
The aim of this study is to explore the factors leading to variation in English language proficiency levels in Mauritius, an island situated in the Indian Ocean and where English is the official language spoken along with a French-based Mauritian Creole and another second language, French. The impetus for the study were the increasingly lower scores on exit tests, namely the Certificate of Primary Education (the last examination at the end of the Primary cycle), the Cambridge School Certificate (SC) and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) examination since the introduction of universal secondary education in 1976. The study seeks to characterize and compare learners in rural and urban contexts in Mauritius in terms of the extent to which these settings provide opportunities for English language learning. The chief contention of this study is that there exist different kinds of conditions inside and outside the classroom which make available differential opportunities for English language learning. The central concern of this study is, therefore, to find out to what extent and in what ways the nature of classroom and extra-classroom interaction such as home language use other than English differs in rural and urban classes, and the nature of the conditions for language learning that become available as a result of these differences in classroom and extra-classroom interaction. Taking these exposure factors into account, the study then considers what the variation in achievement actually involves in terms of morpho-syntactic competence. The language sub-systems investigated are pluralization, adverb placement, tense formation, passivization, relativization and WH movement. The informants are French-based Creole speakers at three levels of education from six different English-medium schools in Mauritius. The method of investigation used for this study was observation and analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) of the interaction inside and outside English classes in both rural and urban settings, hi order to develop a framework for observation and analysis of classroom and extra-classroom interaction in terms of the language learning conditions, research literature on first and second language acquisition was examined - this led to a description of the conditions considered necessary for language learning to take place. The investigation into the problem began with the observations in different types of schools in Mauritius, three in a rural setting and three m an urban setting. The home factors, including further exposure to English and the learners' French literacy were also explored. This study led to the hypothesis that the conditions prevailing in the urban classes are more conducive to language learning than the conditions available in the rural classes. The classes in these schools were then compared in terms of the language learning conditions available in each setting. This comparison indicated that there are marked differences between the rural and urban contexts in terms of the nature of the opportunities for exposure to language input, the extent of the opportunities available for learners to participate in interaction in English and the nature of the learning environment available inside and outside the school, at home and in the community. There exist opportunities for acquisition beyond the curriculum for urban learners, while for their rural counterparts, there is not much beyond the learning-based curriculum. These observations led to the hypothesis that the conditions for language learning available in the urban schools are more conducive to language learning than those available in the rural schools. The findings of the study indicate that my morpho- syntactic achievement measurement confirms this hypothesis.