In recent years, researchers have started to address the under-researched issues of academic oral language development. However, up to now, there is still little research exploring the longitudinal oral academic language development of Chinese graduate students who pursue their studies at the post-secondary level in the Unites States. Representing the largest number of international students who learn English as a foreign language, Chinese students find themselves facing a significant challenge when English becomes the medium of instruction in their new academic community, not only for written but also for spoken tasks, the performance of which decides their academic success.
By focusing on one particular oral activity—oral presentations—this study explores how Chinese graduate students are socialized into the academic community of which they are to become members, what language difficulties these students have, and how these students improve their language use during this discourse socialization process. This study is framed in language socialization theory, according to which, novices and children learn the culture of a community through its language, and they also learn to use the language appropriately in this process.
Following a qualitative case study design, data were obtained on 9 students from multiple sources including interviews, documents, and presentation video samples over a course of a year to explore this continuous and dynamic process.
Results indicated that Chinese graduate students’ prior academic experience did not prepare them for this particular activity of oral presentations; and participants were socialized into the academic community through observations, peer support, expert assistance and practice. However, the socialization process for individual participants varied greatly depending on both their individual agency and assistance available to them. Oral presentations, as a complex activity, require the participants to learn the relevant culture embedded within it and to learn the appropriate language to perform the task.
The study contributes to the language socialization theory by focusing on the Chinese graduate students in the United States context and contributes to the language socialization research methodology by employing systemic functional linguistics approach (SFL) as an analysis tool for longitudinal linguistic development. The findings will inform second language curriculum and instruction, particularly oral language instruction.