Too cool for school? Sources of English language acquisition, attitudes, and academic reading ability among Norwegian university students
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Norwegians have some of the highest levels of English language proficiency in Europe (Bonnet, 2004), and are expected to read textbooks and articles in English at university. However, students may not be prepared for this, with some studies showing that two-thirds of Norwegian students entering university would not pass the language requirements of an English-speaking university (Hellekjær, 2005). This study aimed to investigate whether it was the style of the language used in academia that was causing this discrepancy, because, for the most part, Norwegians are exposed to English through the media and popular culture rather than academic studies. The study compared reading times, comprehension and vocabulary knowledge of Norwegian students with native English speaking students. It was found that Norwegian students are more likely to have a native speaker-like proficiency in general-language English proficiency than they are in academic language English, particularly with regard to vocabulary comprehension. Norwegian students also take significantly longer to read in English than native speakers do. Additionally, students were asked about their attitudes to and experiences of reading English. They reported feeling that English language media and popular culture were more important than school lessons as a source of their knowledge of English. They also reported that they found the style of writing was more important for ease of understanding than whether it was in English or Norwegian. The results from this study indicate that students may benefit from additional training in reading and understanding academic English.