Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

ICMAP Students’ Problems and Solutions in Learning English

Written By

Listyani Listyani and Indriretno Setyaningrahayu

Submitted: 03 July 2022 Reviewed: 10 August 2022 Published: 22 September 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.107038

Second Language Acquisition - Learning Theories and Recent Approaches IntechOpen
Second Language Acquisition - Learning Theories and Recent Approa... Edited by Tabassum Maqbool

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Nowadays, learning English has become very important, especially for students taking international programs. English is the language of instruction and medium of communication in those programs. It is also the case for economics students at a private university in Central Java, Indonesia. In their language-learning journey, they surely face many problems. Therefore, they have to struggle and find the solutions for their learning process to go well and succeed. Due to the urgency of this problem, this research was then conducted with the hope that this research can shed light on the teaching of English to non-English Department students. The research was done on 23 ICMAP students in Semester II, 2021–-2022 academic year. Data were collected through questionnaires and interviews with two students. Results showed that these students had problems with grammar, vocabulary, reading, lack of practice, no sparing partners, TOEFL tests, and inadequate learning facilities. This research is hopefully useful as an additional reference in the field of SLA as well as EAP. It is also hoped that both Academic Writing and TOEFL Preparation teachers and students find this research useful.


  • economics students
  • problems
  • solutions
  • learning English
  • ESP
  • EAP

1. Introduction

There is no doubt that English has gained a worldwide acknowledgment as an international language. Its importance and role have been recognized all around the globe. English has become a necessity to learn. Ilyosovna [1] mentioned that around 1 billion people in the world speak the language. There are 67 countries that have English as their official language and 27 countries that position English as the secondary official language. There are a big number of people who speaks this international language; over 350 million people speak it as their first language. Other 430 million people speak it as a second language. English has been the prima donna of languages.

Nowadays, there has been a rising awareness to learn English. It is not only a language for communication across countries and cultures. It has also become a language of international business, education, medicine, engineering, and some other aspects. People learn English due to its necessity and importance. In many countries, English has been taught as a subject even since the pre-school or kindergarten level. This is an effort to prepare the young generations to get to know, like, and love learning this international language. Knowing the fact that English is a foreign language, and there are people living in an expanding circle, we have to understand that it is not easy to learn and acquire English as a foreign language [2]. These people may probably lack exposure, sparring partners to practice and communicate, and sometimes the surrounding environment does not support our learning.

Other problems are mentioned by Sari, Asiyah, Mustikawati, and Maghfiroh [3]. They are inadequate confidence, lack of motivation, improper pronunciation, and inadequate vocabulary. The list of problems may continue, and learners need to anticipate their problems by finding the right solutions. Sari et al. [3] further mentioned that individuals have to find ways or strategies to overcome the challenges that they face. At the same time, they have to try their best to communicate in English, regardless of the difficulties they face. Sari et al. [3], citing Rahmaniah and Asbah (2018) further stated that ESP often refers to teaching for “utilitarian purposes”. It means that English is learned in different situations according to the learners’ professions.

In learning this internationally used language, things are not always smooth and easy. There may be even many obstacles faced by non-English-speaking students. Those who come from countries, in which English is not the first or a second language, may find it difficult. In the expanding circle, many students taking non-English majors are struggling to learn the language. Students learning in fields such as medicine, tourism, engineering, and some other study fields need to deal with learning English for the specific knowledge, known as ESP (English for Specific Purposes).

Sari, Asiyah, Mustikawati, and Maghfiroh [3] mentioned that individuals have to find ways or strategies to overcome the challenges that they face while attempting to communicate in English, regardless of the difficulties they face. Sari et al. [3], citing Rahmaniah and Asbah (2018) further stated that ESP often refers to teaching for “utilitarian purposes”. It means that English is learned in different situations according to the learners’ professions.

Students in all areas of study should be equipped with the ability to speak and write in English so that they can compete in this industrial era 4.0. Besides that, students need to be facilitated so that they can have creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, decision-making, and learning to compete well in this globalization era [4]. Problem-solving abilities are concerned with creative solutions that learners have in facing their problems.

For students of economics, learning English is a necessary thing, especially for students taking international programs. English is the language of instruction and medium of communication in those programs. There is an international program for students of economics at a private university in Central Java. These students are learning English. In their language-learning journey, they surely face many problems. However, they have to struggle and find the solutions to their problems so that their learning process can go well. Due to the urgency of this problem, this research was then conducted with the hope that this research can shed a light on the teaching of English to non-English Department students.

Taking an international program where English is the medium of instruction means more English exposure for ICMAP students. However, exposure alone is not enough in the EFL context as many students seem to face challenges with the language, especially in the Intermediate English and Advanced English classes. The fact that the students are in the international economics program doubles their burden. They are not only required to master the language, English, but also the economics content in English. This research attempts to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the problems faced by ICMAP students in learning English?

  2. How do the students deal with the problems they face in learning English?

As this research aims to reveal the problems that economics students face and the possible solutions for them, it will navigate English lecturers in mapping the difficulties their students may face and develop strategies to help students deal with the problems. As for the ICMAP students, this research can offer possible learning strategies to manage learning challenges. In addition, this research can also contribute to the study of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), especially for the undergraduate international economics program. There have been quite a lot of studies on ESP, but only a few focus on EAP, especially the international economics program.

Information about the problems of ICMAP (International Class of Management and Accounting Program) students in learning English help both the English lecturers and students better equip themselves with the possible solutions. In developing the course, lecturers can consider their students’ problems and tailor the possible solution to the materials, teaching methods, and strategies. Informed about the potential problems among ICMAP students, lecturers can map the needs of their students, which is crucial in the ESP context.

Some students may be aware of their problems and seek ways to deal with them. Meanwhile, some others may not be aware of the problems they face, or even if they are aware, they may not have any solutions to deal with the challenges they face. The information about possible problems they may face and the possible solutions will equip and prepare them better. Knowing the problems that may be faced by the students and the possible solutions will also help students to deal with their problems on their own and develop the best solutions. In this way, students are encouraged to develop autonomy in English learning. This learning autonomy will help students master the language better because, according to Pawlak [5], autonomous learning is vital to mastery.


2. Theoretical foundation

2.1 The rising awareness of the importance of English

There is an inspirational statement from Frank Smith [6], “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” It shows the importance of learning foreign languages. English is one of the languages that many people in the world want to learn and master. Welianto [7], citing from Encyclopaedia Britannica (2015), mentioned that English is a dominant language that comes from the United Kingdom and is spoken all over the world. In the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and many countries in the Caribbean ocean as well as the Pacific Ocean, English is the dominant and formal language.

Throughout world history, English was not a language that was common to be used in 1900. At that time, the language that was commonly used was German. In 1917, there was an anti-Germany movement. Most American citizens mastered German. German was considered the language of criminals in 23 countries. People could not speak freely in public using German, in the radio broadcast, or in teaching students at school. As a result, not many world scientists now mastered foreign languages [7]. Since then, American sciences started to rule the world. English has then been used as a language across sciences. It has grown its reputation as an international language up to now.

The Industrial Revolution in the UK in the year 1800 also influenced the rising status of English. People who wanted to export machines from the UK to their countries had to learn English in order to use them. Besides that, the victory of the US after the World War I also made people compete to do some trading with this powerful country. That is why the US has a big influence on the world [8].

2.2 The three circles of English

The theory of the three circles of English was first proposed by Kachru in the 1980s [9]. It was proposed that there are three circles in English: the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle [2, 10]. The inner circle are countries in which English is the mother tongue or the first language. English is a native language in those countries. These countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.

Al-Mutairi [10] further explained that the next circle is called the outer circle. The outer circle consists of countries that used to be British colonies and English is used in social life as well as government aspects. These include India, Malaysia, Singapore, and some others. In these countries, English has been positioned as a second language. The last circle, the expanding circle, refers to countries in which English is a foreign language. Since the position is a foreign language, it is commonly taught at schools and universities. Examples of these countries are Japan, China, Indonesia, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries.

Kachru’s model of the three circles of English, however, has been criticized. One of them is Mollin (2006), as cited in Al-Mutairi [10], stating that the categorization was useful. Nonetheless, the model did not present the rise of English as a lingua franca among speakers in the both outer and expanding Circles. Kachru’s model of categorization seems very rigid in its borders of the circles. The categorization was formerly based on colonial power and history. The second argument is the model tends to emphasize the native speakers’ fluency in international English. Widdowson (1998), in Al-Mutairi [10] claimed that how English is developed is not a matter of American or British native speakers or native speakers from anywhere else. It is not a possession, which is lent to others. Other people also own the language. This concept then led to the concept of world Englishes.

Despite the controversies, living in the expanding circle is indeed challenging for foreign language learners. Many kinds of problems can be found in these countries such as lack of exposure, lack of motivation, lack of grammar knowledge, lack of vocabulary, low self-image, and lack of self-confidence. In this circle, English is extensively used as a medium of instruction at schools. Nepal is one of the countries. Seel et al. (2015) in Kirkpatrick [11] mentioned that in Nepal, lack of books and materials, or lack of competent teachers who speak English, does not affect the rising trend of the use of English as the medium of instruction at schools.

2.3 English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) is one of the broadly adopted English language teaching approaches at the university level. One of ESP’s characteristics is attention to theory and practice [12]. It means that teachers need to develop grounded language and learning principles and provide enough opportunity for students to practice them. One of the ways to offer an opportunity to practice is to design collaborative learning. Collaborative learning in the ESP context provides more time for students to enhance their communicative skills as they have more time to practice speaking skills with less anxiety and develop a more positive attitude toward the learning [13].

Needs analysis is the starting point of any ESP course, and the rest of the ESP pillars are geared toward it [12]. Anthony [12] explains that needs analysis includes the identification of learners’ necessities, lacks, wants, and learning environments. Therefore, understanding the problems learners face in English learning is crucial to identifying their needs. According to Dudley-Evans [14], since ESP courses are designed for intermediate or advanced learners, most courses require learners to master Basic English knowledge. Concerning this, Suzani, Yarmohammadi, and Yamini [15] reveal that ESP learners are not ready for ESP due to the lack of compatibility between the previous general English course the learners took and the ESP materials.

ESP approach in tertiary education offers English for Academic Purposes helping learners to meet the required English proficiency level to succeed in their learning. However, Fedorova [16] questions the EAP course’s effectiveness in helping students develop necessary skills. She points out that EAP’s ineffectiveness is due to the lack of grammar inclusion in the curriculum, even though learners consider grammar an essential aspect of their academic study [16].

2.4 English for Economics

Stefanova [17] conducted a needs analysis among economics learners at the University of National and World Economy (UNWE) in Bulgaria. Her pilot research results indicate that, even though the respondents are fluent in English, they want to improve their grammar to be more accurate in professional communication and regard style and register in business communication as necessary. The respondents also indicate that the most challenging skill to master is speaking (42%), followed by writing (27.1%), listening (24.3%), and reading (8.5%).

Similarly, Jaya [18] conducted a needs analysis on Economics students studying ESP at State College of Islamic Studies (STAIN) Pekalongan. He distributed open and closed questionnaires to 41 respondents, most of whom (75.6%) were of Basic English level, with only one person of advanced level. The open questionnaire results indicate that the most common problems faced by the students are vocabulary (42.0%), material (22.0%), and grammar (12.0%). Likewise, the closed questionnaire suggests that the most common difficulties faced by the respondents are vocabulary (40.0%), followed by language skills (24.4%), boring classes (14.4%), and materials that do not suit their needs (7.8%).

2.5 EFL students’ problems in learning English in the Indonesian context

Problems commonly faced by Indonesians in learning English have been highlighted by Listyani [19]. In Indonesia, there are more than 700 languages spoken [20]. There are around 1.340 ethnic groups in this archipelago [7]. Based on some information from EFKids [21], Indonesia falls into the classification of 50 countries with the lowest abilities in English language mastery in the world. Indonesia was in the 32nd rank among 72 other countries in 2016. In 2020, Indonesia was in the 13th position out of 25 Asian countries in English mastery. Surprisingly, this rank is still far below the average abilities of Vietnamese or Japanese people. Vietnam and Japan are in fact still far behind our neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

Januli (2019), as cited in [22], also mentioned that Indonesia is included in the group of countries with low English mastery. Among 80 international countries, Indonesia is ranked at 51. The status of English in Indonesia is a foreign language. According to Kholid [23], in an Indonesian context, motivating students is still a challenge, which is not easy. There are many policies on the English language at schools. Though there have been many efforts to respond to the existing weaknesses, these efforts cannot be realized as programs, which motivate students [19].

In Indonesia, there are several problems in teaching English as a foreign language [24]. The first is a lack of motivation. Secondly, there is a lack of time scheduled for teaching this international language. The next problem, inadequate human resources, and materials follow the second problem. Besides that, the excessive number of students in every classroom also becomes an obstacle for teachers in teaching English as a foreign language. Another sad fact is that students who have abilities in English language skills are very limited, perhaps only 10% of all students. These problems still exist in Indonesia up to this moment. Many Indonesians are still struggling in learning and master English language skills. Although we are living in a global world with intense exposure to mass media in English, still, it is not our mother tongue nor is it our second language.

The ideal condition is for all learners to be highly motivated so that teachers do not have any serious problems in teaching. Also, all schools should be well facilitated. Thus, the English language teaching-learning process will be enhanced. However, the reality is different. Looking at the gap between the ideal condition and the reality, the researchers thus conducted this case study.

2.6 Solutions to solve the problems

Collaborative learning is suggested to guarantee the attention to theory and practice in ESP class [13]. Group work exposes the students more to language use. It gives them more chances to speak the language, reduces communication anxiety, and improves engagement in the lesson. ESP classes often host students with diverse English abilities, which often create challenges for the teachers [25, 26]. Teachers often have to strictly follow the course materials with limited time to attend to each individual’s needs [16]. As a result, some students’ needs may not be met. Therefore, teachers need to help students develop autonomous learning. Learning autonomy encourages learners to take charge of their learning, including creatively finding a way to meet their needs.

Several studies indicate that motivation leads to learners’ autonomy [27, 28, 29]. Therefore, teachers need to grow learners’ motivation to nurture students’ learning autonomy. To do this, teachers can help students become aware of the importance of English, enhance learners’ interest in English, and develop their self-confidence (Liu and Huang, 2010, as cited in Al Nakhalah [30]).


3. Research methodology

3.1 Research design

This research is qualitative. Cresswell [31] recommended five approaches to qualitative inquiry. They are narrative, phenomenology, ethnography, case study, and grounded theory. This study is narrative and it reveals the participants’ phenomena, that is, problems and solutions of English language learners, through open-ended questionnaires and in-depth interviews.

Cresswell [32] further stated that qualitative research happens in a natural setting. It means that the researcher does not bring the respondents to a laboratory or another place. The research takes place in the site where the respondents do their activities in their setting. The qualitative researcher gathers the information directly. Data gathering is done by talking to the participants and seeing them behave and act naturally. Qualitative researchers often have face-to-face interactions. The interaction is often extended over some time.

3.2 Research setting

This study was conducted in a private university in Central Java, Indonesia. Data were collected in Semester II, 2021–2022 academic year.

3.3 Participants

The study involved 23 Intermediate and Advanced English students in ICMAP UKSW. Those taking the Intermediate classes had taken Basic English, EAP, and Pre-Intermediate classes. After finishing the Intermediate English class, the students took an Advanced English class. Therefore, all participants had gone through several English classes starting from the Basic level.

The English courses in ICMAP are tailored as enrichment programs worth 0 credit. In all enrichment classes, except Academic Writing, students need to get a minimum score of a C (60) if they want to pass. Nevertheless, they can take the following enrichment classes even if they do not pass the former enrichment class. For example, a student can take an Advanced English class even though he/she does not pass the Intermediate English course. Before the students take the Thesis, they need to ensure that they have passed all enrichment classes, so they need to repeat any enrichment courses they have not passed. As for the materials, the faculty has set the handbooks and the course objectives, so the lecturers only develop the syllabus based on the predetermined books and set course objectives. However, lecturers have the freedom to add materials from different sources.

3.4 Data collection procedures

Before the study was started, approval from the course coordinator was requested at the beginning of Semester II, 2021–2022 academic year. Approval was given soon after the request was sent through email. ICMAP students were then asked to be the research participants, and all of them agreed. Data were collected via questionnaires that were distributed to 38 students on February 6, 2022. Interviews with 2 students were conducted on May 9 (Participant 16) and 13, 2022 (Participant 18).

3.5 Data collection instruments

Data were gathered through questionnaires and unstructured interviews. The questionnaire was in the form of a G-Form consisting of several questions about the students’ feelings toward learning English, the problems they faced, and how they dealt with them. The unstructured interview aimed to get in-depth information regarding the responses to the questionnaire.

3.6 Data analysis procedures

This is the analysis of the data. Questionnaire results and transcribed interviews were analyzed. They were categorized and classified according to the similar answers that came from the respondents. Emerging themes then were drawn. The percentage used in this study was not 100%, since one student might have more than one answer.


4. Findings and discussion

Three questions about the participants’ feelings about learning English, the problems they face in learning English, and what they did to deal with the problems were asked to 23 participants. Thirteen participants stated that learning English was fun regarding their feelings about learning English. However, from the 13 participants, two students added that it was also challenging, and one student commented on its importance. The rest of the students said that learning English was just ok (6) and important (3). One student did not answer the question.

To deal with the problems they faced, the participants mentioned various solutions. The solutions were then grouped into several themes. The most common theme mentioned by the participants (10 participants) was doing independent-speaking practice. The rest of the solutions mentioned by the participants were doing independent practice (five participants), seeking help from the Internet (three participants), reading English texts (three participants), learning from movies (three participants), using dictionary (three participants), peer tutoring (three participants), watching Tik Tok videos (one participant), playing online games (one participant), learning from songs (one participant), joining an English course (one participant), and buying skill-specific English materials (one participant).

4.1 ICMAP students’ problems in learning English

From the data gathered from 23 respondents, it was revealed that the participants experienced various problems. The participants of this study were ICMAP students, from the Faculty of Economics and Business, in a private university in Central Java. ICMAP is a special program under the Accountancy and Management Study Program. The problems that the students encountered are discussed as follows. Out of 23 students, 17 students (73.91%) mentioned that they experienced problems with English grammar.

Difficulties in understanding English grammar were stated by seven participants (73.91%). They were Participants 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21. Difficulties dealing with English vocabulary or diction were experienced by 11 participants (47.83%). Students who encountered lexical problems were Participants 1, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19, 22, and 23. Eleven participants also admitted that they had problems in practice. To be more specific, they admitted that they did make have adequate practice outside the class. These participants were Participants 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 15, 16, 18, and 19.

Ten participants further said that they had difficulties finding sparing partners to practice English with. These were Participant 4, 5, 8, 9, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, and 23. Two participants (8.7%), Participant 7 and Participant 13, asserted that they had difficulties understanding texts in English. Another participant, Participant 21, mentioned having difficulties in facilities such as good internet connection and good gadgets to support his/her study. This is a special case that should not have happened to ICMAP students. After checking with the administrators of the study program, this student might be a scholarship beneficiary.

ICMAP is an international program with tuition fee, which is more expensive than regular programs. Students studying in this program ideally are prepared for this special rate. It was assumed that all students of this program are from well-to-do families. In general, the students come from families with good economical backgrounds. Since this student, Participant 21, did not leave any identity like their name or mobile phone number, it was assumed that this student was a scholarship student with limited funding for his/her tuition.

As a whole, the problems faced by the ICMAP students cover the language and non-language aspects (practice and facilities). Based on the participants’ responses, the most common problems faced by ICMAP students were grammar, vocabulary, and lack of practice. The three problems are common among Indonesian EFL students. Alisha, Safitri, and Santoso [33] and Toba, Noor, and Sanu [34] indicate that grammar, vocabulary, and lack of practice are the common problems faced by Indonesian students in writing. Fitriani and Zulkarnain [35] and Susanti, Aini, and Puspitasari [36] also suggest that grammar is one of the common problems Indonesian students face in speaking.

Most participants indicated more than one problem in learning English. However, Participant 16 indicated that he had problems with all the aspects listed in the option, plus one problem he added, TOEFL. During the interview with the participant, he revealed that he felt inferior to his friends. He felt that his English ability was not as good as his friends’. Participant 16 seemed to have low self-confidence. This problem is one of the psychological problems faced by Indonesian students learning English [37].

4.2 Problems with grammar or sentence patterns

From the findings on ICMAP students’ problems in learning English, it was found that 17 students found difficulties with grammar or sentence structures. Indonesian and English grammars are different. According to Al-Mekhlafi and Nagartnam [38], in many cases, any discussion about grammar can cause moments of uneasiness and even terror. Many teachers have struggled to make the teaching of grammar an activity, which is comfortable, imaginative, and fruitful. Haudeck (1996), in Al-Mekhlafi and Nagartnam [38] mentioned that many learners have difficulty in internalizing grammar rules, although these have been taught intensively.

D. Kurniawan [39], a lecturer of grammar in a private university in Indonesia, also said that in general, the basics of Indonesian students’ grammar are not strong at both primary and secondary levels. Also, explicit and intensive teaching of grammar has been decreasing. Now is a time when many teachers are using the communicative approach. Besides that, students’ comprehension of grammar is not strong yet, even for Indonesian grammar. Grammar is often considered as a set of rules; it is just “formulas” to be memorized. Though grammar teaching has been explicit, sometimes students could not see the relevance of appropriate uses in sentences. Students would be more confused when the aspects of grammar are mixed, or when there is more than one point in a sentence. Kurniawan [39] further stated that two other things that influence students’ understanding of English grammar are lack of exposure and lack of motivation to learn more about the grammar points that they have learned. Most of the time, they do not practice what they have learned at school or on campus.

This is what Participant 16 experienced in his study. In an interview conducted on May 9, 2022, he mentioned that he did not get adequate time to learn English from kindergarten to primary school.

Extract 1:

English lessons from kindergarten till primary school were far from adequate. I felt that I was late in learning English. My friends were better at their English than I. I felt inferior and lacked self-confidence in English (Interview with Participant 16, May 9, 2022).

Participant 16 felt unconfident with his English. Different from Participant 16, Participant 18 felt that he was very confident with his English, though he still found vocabulary and grammar difficult to learn. His mother used to be a student in an English Language Education Program. Participant 18’s mother often spoke to him in English when he was still a child. In spoken English, Participant 18 did not have any problem. In writing, he admitted that he had problems with vocabulary and grammar. “I have no problem with my spoken English. My problem is in writing. I am still confused about the grammar and vocabulary,” Participant 18 explained in an online interview on May 13, 2022.

A different viewpoint about grammar was proposed by Murtisari [40]. She was also a grammar lecturer at a private university in Central Java, Indonesia. She mentioned that in terms of grammar, Indonesian and English are similar. However, there are many differences as well. The analytical abilities of the students also became a contributing factor. However, the main factors lie in pedagogical problems and the setting of EFL. Grammar is often neglected and considered less important than vocabulary. Both should get the same amount of attention.

Among the problems indicated by the ICMAP students, grammar topped the list. Seventeen (17) out of 23 participants mentioned that they had problems with grammar in their learning. It is different from Jaya’s [18] study stating that vocabulary was a more common problem than grammar. However, it is in line with Fedorova’s [16] study pointing out that grammar is the main reason for EAP ineffectiveness due to the limited amount of time dedicated to its teaching. Pawlak [5] added that grammar is problematic because of its complexity and multidimensionality. The diverse level of grammar mastery of ICMAP students and the limited time for grammar discussion lead to weak grammar mastery. Because, in the ICMAP context, all materials and communication are in English, weakness in grammar influences the ICMAP students’ success in the English subject and other subjects [41].

4.3 Problems with vocabulary or diction

Difficulties dealing with English vocabulary or diction were experienced by 11 participants (47.83%). It is well known that for people learning foreign languages like English, vocabulary learning is very essential for people who learn English both as a foreign language and as a second language [42]. Vocabulary is an important aspect of learning a language. Without adequate vocabulary, learners would find it difficult to learn a second language successfully.

Several factors might trigger the difficulties. In her research, Rohmatillah [42] found that her respondents, the students of the first semester of the English Education Department at IAIN who took vocabulary class faced some difficulties. The first difficulty faced by the students was difficulty pronouncing the words. The second problem was about how to write and spell. The next difficulty faced was different grammatical forms called inflections. Fourth, the students found difficulties in choosing the appropriate meaning of the words. The next problem was confusion in using the word based on the context. The sixth one was confusion when they found words or expressions that were idiomatic.

A. Kurniawan [43] added that some problems hindered students’ vocabulary learning. Those problems are lack of vocabulary due to lack of exposure and the amount of time learning English, which is not adequate during high school years. The next problem is students are mostly taught words in isolation when they are in high school. The last problem is that the texts that Indonesian students learn are not frequently used words. Thus, these words will not stay long in their memory.

In the EAP context, vocabulary is a common problem. The studies by Khodabakhshi, Daroonshad, and Moini [44] and Siregar [45] highlight that the vocabulary knowledge of EAP students is still low. Siregar [45] adds that EAP students’ previous learning does not prepare them for the vocabulary they need in EAP contexts. Out of 12 participants having problems with vocabulary, only two found difficulties understanding texts. It suggests that even though vocabulary impacts reading comprehension performance [46], the impact may not be substantial. It is in line with Dong, Tang, Chow, Wang, and Dong [47] who point out that the correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension decreases since secondary school.

4.4 Problems of understanding a text

Regarding the problems of understanding a text, two participants (8.7%), Participant 7 and Participant 13, asserted that they had difficulties understanding texts in English. Understanding texts is an essential aspect of reading comprehension. Satriani [48] researched the difficulties in reading comprehension. Her respondents were the first-semester students in FKIP UIR, Pekanbaru. She found several problems that caused students difficulties. Lack of motivation in reading became the major reason. These students read little or nothing. Another cause was students’ low-reading skills.

The respondents in Satriani’s [48] research also mentioned two other things. Difficult and unfamiliar materials also became a problem. The last two problems were related to syntactic and lexical aspects. Complicated sentences and new words are among them. In line with Satriani [48], Al-Jarrah and Ismail [49] also asserted that the importance of reading as a language skill should never be underestimated. It is one of the essential means to obtain information for educational purposes. Reading functions as one of the most commonly used language proficiency skills around the world. In addition, a lack of reading ability results in poor academic performance among students. Only four of 23 participants found difficulties with understanding texts. It may be because most of the participants had spent more than a year in the department when the research took place. Besides, they had dealt a lot with English texts in almost all of the subjects they take. As they were exposed more to reading texts, they developed their reading competence.

4.5 Having no partner to practice and facilities

Having no partners to practice with is another problem faced by ICMAP students. This is closely related to the status of English as a foreign language in Indonesia. Since English is a foreign language in this country, English is not used in daily life like what happens in the inner or outer circle. Exposure to this international language is thus far from adequate.

From the statistical data of the English Proficiency Index (EPI) released by EF, in terms of English language mastery, Indonesia is in the 80th rank [50], out of 112 countries in the world. It means that in more than 70% of the countries in the world, the people have better mastery than Indonesians. Indonesian EPI in 2021 was 453. This number was still below the global EPI, which was 503. This is something that we all cannot deny. Language learners in the expanding circle where English is foreign language have to struggle to reach proficiency in English.

This also happened to Participant 18. He admitted that he needed a sparring partner of his age even though his mother was good at English. He added that he was not close to his classmates; he considered himself introverted and did not socialize a lot. That is why he did not have any sparring partners. “I am introverted, and my circle is very limited. I don’t have many friends. That’s why I don’t have a sparring partner to practice my English,” Participant 18 stated in an interview on Friday, May 13, 2022.

Twelve ICMAP students mentioned the problem of lack of practice. It suggests that they were aware of the importance of practicing the language they learned. The importance of practice in second language acquisition has been highlighted in several language teaching methods such as PPP (Present-Practice-Produce) and skill acquisition theory [51]. Confirming it, Castilo Gallardo and Houde [52] highlighted the importance of practice in second language learning. They even suggest fostering practice in language classes.

Ortega [53] further argued that language practice in a social context leads to better second language acquisition. Therefore, practicing the language in a social context is essential to enhance learners’ language competence. The participants noticed the importance of practicing their learning in social contexts as 10 students raised the concern about finding sparing partners to practice speaking. During an interview with participant 18, it was revealed that the practice the students wanted was speaking practice outside the classroom.

The problem with facilities was mentioned by Participant 21. The participant listed Internet and device availability as examples of facility problems in the questionnaire. It is understandable because the participant spent 2 years learning online due to the pandemic. In an online setting, facilities play a vital role in learning. It was also might be due to the fact that this student was a scholarship beneficiary.

4.6 Solutions to the problems

4.6.1 Feelings about learning English

The responses to the questionnaire indicated that most of the participants had a positive attitude toward English. Learning English learning was fun (13 participants), so and so (3 participants), and important (3). No students indicated a negative feeling toward English learning. This positive attitude toward English learning may have motivated them to work on solutions to deal with their problems.

Most of the solutions the participant proposed, like independent practices and the initiative to learn from various sources, including their friends, were a form of autonomous learning, where students actively sought solutions to their learning problems. It suggested that participants’ motivation encouraged them to learn autonomously, and this is in line with Okumus Ceylan [27], Anitha Devi and Gandhimati [28], and Sawan’s [29] research proposing that motivation leads to learners’ autonomy (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Solutions to the participants’ problems.

From the 12 solutions indicated by the participants, the least-mentioned solutions are buying specific skills, joining an English course, learning from songs, playing online games, and watching Tik Tok videos. Each of those solutions was mentioned by only one participant. Participant 18 who mentioned taking an English course as a solution further explained that he joined the course to be able to speak with foreigners. Therefore, his goal was to have more chances to speak with native speakers to practice and improve his speaking skills.

Out of 23 participants, 2 participants claimed that learning from peers and using a dictionary helped them deal with the problem they faced in learning English. Participant 16 mentioned that whenever he had difficulties, he would ask his friends to explain things. It indicates that learning from peers offers flexibility in terms of time. Some research has highlighted the benefits of peer tutoring in EFL. Research by Murtisari [54], for example, suggests that peer tutoring is beneficial to EFL learners because of the more friendly atmosphere and opportunity to respond to offers. Concerning the use of a dictionary, the two students indicating it stated that it helped them deal with new/difficult vocabulary.

The second most common solution mentioned by the participants was independent practice. The ICMAP students initiatively dealt with their problems by practicing more. This solution along with the most mentioned solution, independent speaking practice, suggests that the students are fully aware of the importance of practice in learning a new language. However, because they understood that more practice could not be obtained in the class, they deliberately chose to practice themselves.

The most frequently mentioned solution, indicated by 10 out of 23 participants, was independent speaking practice. The interview reveals that the solution does not only help improve participants’ speaking skills, but also grammar. During the interview, Participant 18 stated that he learned more about grammar from the conversation he had with foreigners. It seems the participant chose to have inductive learning to deal with his grammar problem, where he learned and internalized the grammar pattern from what he heard and said.

The themes of movies, songs, online games, and conversation with native speakers in the solutions seem to indicate that the students also used their hobbies/what they like to improve their English skills. As students realized their learning problems, they tried to find solutions that would help them study in a more relaxed way, as indicated by participant 20. The participant stated that having a conversation with foreigners helped him/her learn grammar in a more relaxed way.

The solution themes suggest how creative ICMAP students were in solving their problems. They tried to meet their learning needs by devising what was around them. Rather than just relying on the teachers, they developed their survival mechanisms. In this way, ICMAP students practiced autonomous learning. In an EAP context where time constraint does not allow teachers to deal with various students’ needs [25, 2616], autonomous learning becomes crucial.

To improve learning, lecturers should incorporate the students’ solutions in the teaching and learning process. To do it, they can integrate collaborative learning in the class and autonomous learning in the curricula. Collaborative learning offers more chances for the students to practice their language, including allowing more speaking time, and reducing anxiety [13].

As collaborative learning reduces anxiety, it also helps deal with the psychological problems faced by students like the one faced by participant 16. Learning autonomy integration in the curricula allows students to participate in deciding what materials they learn from and how they learn them. In this way, students learn autonomously both inside and outside the classroom and, in the end, promote their learning autonomy [55]. Since motivation leads to learners’ autonomy [27, 28, 29], lecturers need to motivate the students to learn English so that students are encouraged to learn autonomously.

It will also be helpful for teachers to consider students’ social class backgrounds. Young and Astarita [56] suggest that students’ social backgrounds inform their language learning practice. It is also reflected in the interview with Participant 18. It is what Participant 18 mentioned in an interview:

Extract 2:

When I was young, my parents often went abroad, and my family set the so-called "English day" in which we had to speak English. In addition, my mother is also an English lecturer. Therefore, my family emphasizes the importance of English. This motivates me to learn English. This motivation encourages me to improve my English continuously. I even join a conversation course with foreigners to improve my language competence. (Interview with Participant 18, May 13, 2022).

His social class allowed him to have access to more English exposure. Other students might not have the privilege of enough English exposure. As lecturers consider this in the teaching and learning process, they could incorporate strategies to meet the various needs of the students [56].


5. Conclusion

This study aimed to answer two research questions: (1) What are the problems faced by ICMAP students in learning English? and (2) How do the students deal with the problems they face in learning English? From the data collected, it was found that the participants, ICMAP students, still had difficulties in grammar, vocabulary, and some other aspects. From Table 1, it can be seen that the problem faced by most students was English grammar. Problems dealing with the TOEFL test and facilities were experienced by one student, respectively. It is summarized in Table 2.

Students’ InitialsProblems faced when learning English
1Difficult/new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice
2Grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice
3Lack of practice
4Grammar/sentence structures, no sparring partner to practice speaking
5Lack of practice, no sparring partner to practice speaking
6Lack of practice
7Difficult/ new vocabulary, understanding texts, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice
8Difficult/ new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, no sparring partner to practice speaking
9Grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice, no sparring partner to practice speaking
10Grammar/sentence structures
11Difficult/ new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures
12Difficult/ new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice
13Understanding texts, grammar/sentence structures, no sparring partner to practice speaking
14Grammar/sentence structures, no sparring partner to practice speaking
15Difficult/ new vocabulary, lack of practice
16Difficult/ new vocabulary, understanding texts, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice, no sparring partner to practice speaking
17Difficult/new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, no sparring partner to practice speaking
18Difficult/new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice
19Difficult/new vocabulary, grammar/sentence structures, lack of practice, no sparring partner to practice speaking
20Understanding texts, grammar/sentence structures
21Grammar/sentence structures, lack of facilities (good Internet connection, availability of devices, etc.)
22Difficult/new vocabulary
23Difficult/ new vocabulary, No sparring partner to practice speaking

Table 1.

ICMAP students’ problems in learning English.

Difficult aspectsNumber of studentsPercentages
No partner to practice1043.48%
Lack of practice939.13%

Table 2.

Problems faced by ICMAP students.

English teachers should have a role not only as teachers but also as facilitators and motivators. They should motivate and push these language learners so that they can develop their abilities and their potential to the fullest. After investigating the problems the ICMAP students faced in their English lessons and how they dealt with those problems, the researchers found that students faced both language and non-language problems. The most common problem faced by the students was grammar, followed by vocabulary, lack of practice, the need for sparring partners to practice speaking, and the problems with the facility. In dealing with the problems, the students tried to seek for some help outside the classroom setting, such as independently practicing their speaking skills, doing independent practice, searching additional resources from the Internet, learning from movies, reading English texts, seeking help from their peer, using the dictionary, joining English courses, learning from songs, buying specific-skill materials, watching Tik Tok videos, and playing online games.

All of the solutions shared by the ICMAP student are forms of autonomous learning. The students seemed to be encouraged to learn autonomously because most of them had a positive attitude toward learning English as revealed in the questionnaires. The positive attitude motivated them to learn and encouraged them to actively seek solutions to their problems.

To better support the students with the problems and accommodate their solutions, teachers are suggested to incorporate collaborative and autonomous learning in class. This will give them more opportunities to personalize their learning based on their needs. In addition, it is also helpful if teachers consider the students’ social class throughout the teaching and learning process to inform them about the learners’ language learning practices.


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Written By

Listyani Listyani and Indriretno Setyaningrahayu

Submitted: 03 July 2022 Reviewed: 10 August 2022 Published: 22 September 2022