Laith Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Hana Abbas Mohammed
Mahsa University, Faculty of Dentistry (MALAYSIA)

Foreign languages were used to teach primary, secondary and tertiary levels’ students in many
countries. Many factors influence the adoption of this context like people’s cultural and social
environments, people motivations, political idiom, and more. The technical and psychological barriers
are main factors that support or weaken this aim. In primary and secondary school levels, most
countries implement their national language in education. However, some use foreign language for
teaching of mathematics and physics strictly. Many researches have been set to compare the impact
and benefit of using native, national or foreign languages. In addition, some researches linked
student‘s performance and learning outcome to the language used in teaching. In many countries, the
medium of teaching is English especially in medical and dental disciplines. However, the learner’s
opinion may be diverged. The aim of this study was to explore students’ attitude and preference in
private dental faculty toward using their native, national or foreign languages in learning, examinations
at different levels of study and some other related information. The data were collected after a simply
designed questionnaire had been distributed among 285 dental students in a private dental faculty.
The information to answer included participant’s age, ethnicity, native and national and foreign
languages proficiency, nationality, language preference in studying and the wish list of language/s that
students like to learn in addition to language preference use in lecture, briefing and summative
examinations. The results demonstrated that the mean student age was 23.8±1.16 years. The
students were mainly Malaysian citizens mixed with some foreigners. They composed of Malays,
Chinese, Indians and other indigenous minority and some foreigners from Maldives and Middle East
regions. Bahasa Malayu, Chinese, Hindi and English were the most usable languages during their
secondary schools. The majority of students believed that dental sciences should be taught in English;
however, some of them found briefing in their native language would be very helpful for
comprehensive understanding of the practical work. Part of the contributors preferred the translated
questions in national language beside the English during examinations. The most important
conclusions of this study were that internationally oriented institution should adopt widely used
international language especially at third cycle level. However, locally oriented institutions can follow
their national policy in enhancing the use of their language. National language should be part of the
nation heritage in live details besides developing the people potential and conscience for the
importance of learning new international language.
Keywords: Language preference, native language in teaching, student’s attitude, teaching and
learning language preference.

As stated by Vygotsky [1], “language accommodates a medium for learning and is a tool to construct a
way of thinking. Learning takes place in a social context through language and students need to
internalize knowledge in a related context using language. If students are not competent in that
language, they may come up with misconceptions in understanding”. Thus, the results of this study
are consistent with several studies [2],[3],[4],[5] conducted in the field in terms of the effect of teaching
in a foreign language on conceptual understanding in science courses. Teaching the main courses
such as mathematics and sciences through a foreign language may lead to misconceptions in
understanding. For example, Catalonia has a four decades long tradition of an explicit university
language policy, associated with processes of planned change of language use, promoted and leaded
by the universities and the government. In the second half of the seventies of the twentieth century,
the Catalan universities approved linguistic standardization plans, the objective was to promote the
use of Catalan as a common language at the university, in an environment where the Spanish had
been the only language formally recognized. In a parallel manner, the legal frame was developed that
made Catalan the official and own language of Catalonia and the Spanish the second official language

Proceedings of INTED2015 Conference ISBN: 978-84-606-5763-7
2nd-4th March 2015, Madrid, Spain 0527
too. In this frame, Catalan language with specific terms in different fields of knowledge was created.
Since 1985, the Catalan frame has published more than 600 multilingual dictionaries, which include
300,000 concepts. Definitely, the absence of terminology wouldn’t be the reason why teachers don’t
use native language when teaching. In some countries, they consider increasing use of international
languages at the universities is not being seen a threat, but an advantage. It allows students from all
over the world to come to the national universities and also provides the completion of the studies in
international language to the local students, which consequently gives them the opportunity to find a
job in foreign countries. For that reason, every initiative that can foster international language is
perceived not only as positive but also as a necessity. The language plans are tools of the universities
to manage multilingualism: the language model is agreed on and the transverse goals and actions are
set to extend the knowledge, use, quality and interaction of languages that are in use at the university
[6]. In Senegal, there is tremendous wastage through high dropout due to language incompetence.
French remains the language of the elite, and the masses partake but sparingly of its fruits while
clinging to a dream of equality [7]. When the numerous variables are considered, usefulness emerges
as the most important factor in predicting whether a choice of learning instruction medium will be
successful. The perception of the usefulness may be different, however: useful for national unity and
technological progress, as seen from a top-down perspective; or useful for reading and writing in one's
daily life and for job opportunities, as seen from a bottom-up perspective [7]. The ideal of teaching in
the mother tongue in order to enhance global language proficiency and preserve native cultural
values, must take into account that there are numerous practical problems to be dealt with and many
sources of resistance. In multicultural community or in internationally oriented schools, selecting
international language becomes the first step of establishment rules toward the globalization and
international integration between different nations. The purpose of this study was to explore students’
attitude and preference in private dental faculty toward using their native, national or foreign
languages in learning, examinations at different levels of study and some other related information.

The data were gathered using questionnaires distributed among 285 students of private dental faculty
that claims it’s internationally oriented teaching institute. The participants were composed of first,
second, third, fourth and final years dental degree program. A questionnaire form was set to include
the most important concerns of students at secondary and tertiary teaching level [Fig. 1]. The
students’ attitude and preference to use their native, national or foreign languages in learning,
examinations at different levels of study and in different subjects in secondary school and in private
dental faculty later plus some other related information. The questions to answer included participant’s
age, ethnicity, native, national and foreign languages knowledge, nationality, language preference in
learning and the wish list of language/s that students like to learn in addition to language preference
use in lecture, briefing and summative examinations. Data were analysed using descriptive analysis,
Kolmogorov-Smirnova test for normality of distribution, and chai square to check the difference
between 2-3 factors by SPSS version 17.0 software.

Fig.1 The image of the questionnaire form.


3.1 Descriptive Analysis of the Sample
The sample was evenly distributed and more details regarding the sample’s features and mean age of
students in each year can be seen in (Table 1).

Table.1 Descriptive results of the sample.

Year N Mean age SD Stat DF Significance

1 76 19.447 0.681 .363 76 0.00

2 68 20.411 0.651 .354 68 0.00

3 68 21.382 0.962 .287 68 0.00

4 43 22.465 1.031 .232 43 0.00

5 30 23.866 1.167 .238 30 0.00

Total 285 23.8 1.16

3.2 Ethnic Components of the Sample
The participants in this investigation were mainly Chinese (64.9%), Malays (18.9%), and Indians
(8.1%). The rest formed of variables cultural minorities like indigenous people, some expats like
Arabas, different ethnicity and nationalities in very limited number “ Fig. 2 ”.

Fig. 2 Ethnic components.

3.3 Nationalities Components of the Students
The main citizens were Malaysians and represent 93.7% while the expat students represents only
6.3% “ Fig. 3”.

Fig. 3 Nationality of the students.

3.4 Language Proficiency of the students
Multicultural society is characterized by multiple language use. Most Malaysian students are proficient
in Bahasa Malayu, English, and Chinese followed by Bahasa Malayu and English, then Chinese and
English “Fig. 4”.

Fig. 4 Frequency of students’ language proficiency.

3.5 Secondary Level Teaching Language
In secondary school, the most usable language in a multicultural society is the English (38.9%),
followed by Bahasa Malayu (30.6%) and to less percentage English and Chinese languages “Fig. 5”.

Fig. 5 Secondary school most usable languages.

3.6 The use of national language in studying dentistry
Most of the students preferred the English language over their national or native language for learning
dentistry because they think that their native language cannot support medical and dental
vocabularies like English language (Z-Score= 20.356, p = 0.00), ”Fig. 6”.

Fig. 6 English dental vocabularies compared to native ones.

3.7 Language Preference in Briefing of Practical and Technical Sessions
Generally, students preferred that the briefing of technical and practical training is given using English
language and to lesser degree by integrated native and English languages (X = 294, DF=2, p=0.00,
“Fig. 7”.

Fig.7 The briefing preference of the students.

3.8 Language Preference of Some Basic Sciences
The basic lessons like mathematics, physics, biology, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology were
preferred by the majority of students to be taught using English language “Fig.8”.

Fig.8 The students’ opinion regarding basic subject language preference.

3.9 Preferred Language Use in Some Dental Clinical Topics
Dental students including the first, second, and third years preferred using English language during
applied clinical training of some medical and dental subjects like microbiology, pathology,
pharmacology, dental materials, operative dentistry, prosthetic dentistry, orthodontics, oral surgery,
and oral radiology “Fig. 9”.

Fig. 9 Students’ language preference in learning applied and practical lessons.

3.10 Preferred Language Use in the Examination
The majority of dental students demonstrated the use of English language preference for preparing
the questions as well as to answer the examination papers ( χ =294, DF=2, ρ= 0.00), “Fig. 10”.

Fig.10 Examination paper and answer language.

3.11 Addition of Translation in Native language beside English during the
The study revealed that students like beside English questions, a translation in their national or native
language to enhance the comprehension of the questions posed and consequently the answers “Fig.
11”. The results of this questionnaire showed more than 62.4 % of the total faculty students chose the
addition of translated questions beside the original written in English ( Z-Score =5.948, ρ=0.00).

Fig. 11 Students’ preference for translated question beside English written.

3.12 Students’ Need of Translated Questions According to Study Level
Students’ desire for translated questions beside English in the examination seems to be proportional
with study level. In the first year of study, almost of the students desired question papers written in
their local language beside English. With the advancement of the study, the students gained more
practical experience and competency using English language which is represented by reduction of the
need for translation “Fig. 12”.

Χ = 30.5, DF = 4, ρ = 0.00
Fig.12 Translation requirements with study years.

3.13 Language Preference of Textbook or Speciality Book Language
The majority of the students (98.2%) preferred to study textbooks or scientific books written in English
language. On the other hand, very small group of the participants (1.8 %) chose to study scientific
books written in their native language (Z-Score= 20.356, p=0.00) “Fig. 13”.

Fig. 13 Scientific book language preference.

3.14 Desire for New Language Learning
The majority of students like to learn new foreign language. However, nearly third of the students were
not interested in learning new language. French followed by Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese
represented the most desirable foreign languages by the students. For less percentage, German,
Korean, Turkish, Latin and Greek, Italian languages were desired “Fig. 14”.

Fig.14 The frequency of students desire for learning new language.

Multicultural society is characterized by multiple languages use in addition to other cultural and
traditional values [8]. National language is normally used in almost countries until secondary education
level or sometimes it includes tertiary cycle also in some countries depending on the discipline.
Teaching foreign language plus national language has many advantages over teaching in unilingual.
Some of the advantages of international language learning are the increase opportunity for career
competition internationally, augments the prospect to continue postgraduate studies in highly
accredited education institutes, and promotes immediate social integration and mutual understanding
with expats[6], [9]. In this study, the participants’ majority was mainly Chinese Malaysians due to the
local nature of the institute even though; it accepts the enrolment of international students. Therefore,
the results might be more deviated toward similar vision and lack of diversity in opinion. The most
significant results of this study showed that major students’ preference was to translate the questions
into native language beside English. This finding might indicate that the students were not well
confident of their English language proficiency. In another answered field, the students desired English
in preparing the examination which is in controversy to what they desired previously. Variable number
of students showed little interest in learning new language, this attitude might be due to their English
school cultural background. One of the interesting findings is the presence of clear relation between
study level and students desire for translated questions. This explains the needs for better English
teaching in secondary and premedical studies to enhance the students English language proficiency.
National language should be given more attention over international language as a cultural
communication mean that reflects the values and cultural background of the nation. In addition, it is
the essential way to build and fortify the patriotism and maintain national cultures and morals.
Adoption of national or native language in as a main language in specialized sciences should be
supported by a national plan to introduce and define new vocabularies and teaching facilities at wide
range [6]. Attitude and motivation always interact each other and play an important role in language
learning [10], [11], [12], [13], just as Richards claimed “students’ attitude towards their language
course and their teacher can greatly affect their desire to learn and their classroom participation; their
attitudes towards the language itself can shape their reasons for learning and the strategies they use”

From the results of this research, the following can be concluded:
The students’ preference for English language was very high. However, some of the students like to
include the national or native language to ameliorate their performance in learning and gaining new

skills. The examination is better to be translated in native language beside the English. However, this
practice cannot be applied for international students from variable nationalities. Dental and medical
sciences should be taught using English language with some emphasis on native language for certain
items. Students preferred study of English scientific books. Many students showed reduced desire to
learn new language. As a final conclusion, in internationally oriented dental faculties, the
communication mean in teaching was accepted by almost the participants without regard to their
different nationalities.

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