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The perceived value of english: the case of tunisian university students

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par Mimoun Melliti
Faculté des lettres, arts, et humanités Manouba - Maitrise en Anglais 2008

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Ministry of Higher Education Scientific Research and Technology
University of Manouba
Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities
Department of English

The Perceived Value of English:

The Case of Tunisian University Students

End of Undergraduate Studies Research Paper

Submitted by
Mimoun Melliti

Supervised by
Dr. Faiza Derbel

May 2008


This study is an attempt to track certain issues related to the status of English among a cohort of Tunisian university students. It explores the value of English as perceived by university science students in five higher education institutions in Tunisia. The institutions visited were the Faculty of Medicine, the Engineering Preparatory Institute Tunis, the Higher Institute of Commerce, the Higher Institute of Commerce and Business Administration, and Faculty of science Tunis. A questionnaire was used to collect data from a sample of 100 students, who were asked to express their view about the value they attach to English and the use of it in their daily lives. The data analysis revealed that a considerable percentage of Tunisian university science students in the institutions visited claim to be proficient in English and indicated that they were aware of the importance of English for them as science and technology students in spite the fact that this awareness is not accompanied by any detectable measures to develop their mastery of it. Another finding of this research was that English was found to be slowly occupying areas of use usually occupied by French despite the fact that French was still their dominant language in research activity and entertainment. This study provides evidence that the importance of English is very much recognised by Tunisian university science students, which made the prospect of adopting it as the language of instruction in scientific disciplines favoured. Obviously, the situation of English in the Tunisian EFL context is gaining importance, which suggests that it is going to be an influencing factor in the future of Tunisia.


I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the following people without whom this work would not have been completed. First, I would like to thank my supervisor Dr. Faiza Derbel for her endless support. Second, I am grateful to my parents for their financial and moral support. Last but not least, many thanks go to my friends Besma Msekni, Walid Jawadi, and Badr Zoughlemi for their continuous encouragement.

Table of contents





Table of contents


List of acronyms and abbreviations


List of tables


List of figures


0. Introduction


0.1. Background to the study


0.2. Language in Tunisia


0.3. General aims


0.4. Research questions


0.5. Data collection


0.6. Organisation of the paper


Chapter One: English in the world 17

1.0.1. Introduction 17

1.1. Aspects of English spread worldwide 17

1.1.1. Landmarks in the history of English 17

1.1.2. The status of English around the world 19

1.1.3. Kachru's three concentric circles 21

2. Explanations of English spread worldwide 22

1.2.1. Historical reasons 22

1.2.2. Political reasons 23

1.2.3. Economic reasons 25

1.2.4. Practical reasons 26

1.3. Perspectives to the spread of English 29

1.3.1. Resistance to English spread 29

1.3.2. Supporters of English spread 30

1.3.3. Predictions about English in the future 32

1.4. English in Tunisia 33

1.4.1. The introduction phase: from independence until the end of the 1970s 34

1.4.2. The generalisation phase: from 1970s until 1984 35

1.4.3. The new promotion phase: from 1984 until 2000 36

1.4.4. The present phase from 2000 until 2007 37

Conclusion 37

Chapter Two: Methodology 39

2.0. Introduction 39

2.1. Research design 39

2.2. The participants 39

2.3. The data collection instrument 40

2.4. Data collection 43

2.5. Data handling 44

Chapter Three: Data analysis 45

3.0. Introduction 45

3.1. Science students' claimed proficiency in English 45

3.2. English in students' plans 47

3.3. Students experience with learning English: past experience, motivators, and

obstacles 48

3.3.1. Students' past experience with learning English 48

3.3.2. Motivation behind studying English 49

3.3.3. Obstacles to learning English 50

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