Learning Mathematics in English for Indonesian Students
: An Investigation into Code-switching Practices, Obstacles and Attitudes

  • Wahyu Setyaningrum

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Previous studies have found that learning mathematics in English, where English is a non-native language for students is challenging. Most of the studies have been conducted in countries where English was either a native or second language. Few studies have been conducted in countries where English is a foreign language. More specifically, investigations on aspects of code-switching practice, obstacles and attitudes in learning mathematics in English are still limited. This study attempts to provide evidence on learning mathematics in English as a foreign language by focusing on these three main aspects. The current study was conducted in Indonesian International Standard Schools (ISS), where mathematics is learned in English.

    A mixed-methods approach was adopted in this study by employing an explanatory research design, sequentially performing surveys, classroom observations and interviews. The survey was distributed to 214 grade-seven students to ask about mathematical term challenges and attitudes towards learning mathematics in English. The classroom observations and interviews with 34 students were conducted in order to compare and contrast survey findings, explore code switching practices, identify the source of challenges for students and discover the resultant impact on attitudes.

    This study reveals several novel findings. Firstly, code switching by students exists in the ISS context in order to maintain the communication in both informal and formal academic conversations. This practice is influenced by cognitive, affective and social factors. While previous literature found that code-switching is a common feature in learning mathematics in a second language, the findings of the current study found that code switching also exists when students learn mathematics in a foreign language. Secondly, three main sources of difficulty were identified for students when learning mathematics in English: the characteristics of mathematical terms, the complexity of mathematical concepts, and the status of English as a foreign language. Limited English competencies appear to be the main source of difficulty in mastering concepts and mathematical terms. Finally, students in ISS schools in Indonesia have positive attitudes towards learning mathematics in English. These positive attitudes are mostly influenced by code-switching and their beliefs in the value of English.

    In conclusion, the current study identified (i) the importance of code-switching practices in learning mathematics in a foreign language, (ii) the potential sources of obstacles and (iii) the significant contribution of students’ attitudes have on overcoming these obstacles. An important practical implication is that code switching by students is to be encouraged when learning mathematics in a foreign language. Such practice increases students communication in the classroom and facilitates their understanding of mathematical concepts and terms. This practice also influences their attitudes because it can diminish their anxiety in learning mathematics in English. In terms of future research, the relationship between code switching and students’ attitudes needs to be investigated across Indonesia as well as in other non-English speaking countries. Studies with larger sample sizes across different countries would also enable corroboration and generalization of findings.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsMinistry of Research, Technology and Higher Education of the Republic of Indonesia
    SupervisorIan Barron (Supervisor), Sheila Henderson (Supervisor) & Brian Hudson (Supervisor)

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