Sustained effects of socioeconomic status on proficiency and academic writing in English as a foreign language

Document Type : Original Article


University of Kashan



Research on teaching and learning English as a foreign language (EFL) at the undergraduate level has largely overlooked the significance of learners' socioeconomic backgrounds. This important variable is also missing in discussions of individual differences in second language acquisition. This study examined the socioeconomic status (SES) of 196 English-major undergraduate learners of English in relation to their general proficiency and academic writing ability. All the 196 participants provided survey data on their socioeconomic backgrounds, took a proficiency test, and performed an argumentative writing task that was evaluated by two independent expert raters on the dimensions of content, organization, vocabulary, language use, and mechanics. In spite of their similar background formal literacy experiences, the participants showed significant differences in both proficiency level and academic writing ability. Based on the analyses of variance, learners from high socioeconomic backgrounds significantly outperformed those from average and low socioeconomic backgrounds both in their proficiency test results (df= 2, 193; F=3.769; Sig=.025) and in their performance on argumentative academic writing(df= 2, 193; F=3.632; Sig= .028). The findings of the study and the related analyses clearly imply that learners bring with themselves the sustained effects of socioeconomic backgrounds to English classes at the undergraduate level. Stressing increased awareness of English language learners' socioeconomic influences (instead of encouraging their total neglect in EFL instruction for possible risks of class and race determinism) is the major contribution of the findings of this study. Based on the results and discussions some remedial pedagogical measures in accounting for these differences for the benefit of the less advantaged learners are suggested.