English Tutoring; A Rough Guide to Language Awareness

James M. Bourke
A Rough Guide to Language Awareness
For teachers of a second lan- guage (L2), the role of grammar instruction in the classroom has been a perennial subject of debate and has undergone many changes over the years. For example, the once well-respected traditional methods that relied on extensive drilling and memorization of grammar evoked a backlash in the 1970s, which resulted in new methods that excluded gram- mar instruction in favor of “natu- ral” communication in the classroom. Nevertheless, the topic of grammar remained a live issue, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, research in the classroom reported positive results for grammar instruction. Even so, the communicative methods had an enduring effect, and the traditional methods of teaching grammar did not return; instead, techniques were developed whereby students would be able to “notice” grammar, often spontaneously in the course of a com- municative lesson, and especially if the grammatical problem impeded comprehension. In this way, learners would notice and learn the pattern
of grammatical rules for themselves. This new way of looking at grammar instruction has come to be known as language awareness, among other des- ignations. This article will discuss the background and rationale of language awareness, and will introduce a few of the techniques that teachers can use to help students discover grammatical relationships and improve their learn- ing of English.
The demise of traditional grammar instruction
Traditional grammar instruction, as it was commonly called, was criticized for its long-winded teacher explana- tions, its drills and drudgery, and its boring and banal exercises. In the 1970s, new teaching methods appeared that replaced grammar exer- cises with meaningful communicative environments. In general, the goal was to mirror the way a person learned his or her first language, an approach that was derived from the linguistic theories of Chomsky (1965), who pointed out that humans are endowed with a lan- guage acquisition device that enables
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that enables them to acquire whatever lan- guage they are exposed to. According to Chomsky (1965, 36), our “organ of language” extracts the rules of the target language from the data of performance, and this innate sche- ma comprises “linguistic universals,” which are part of our genetic inheritance.
Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the field of linguistics, and had a dramatic impact on language teaching as well. The basic assumption underpinning the communicative approach is that language is made in the mind and is internal, a process that generates what Chomsky (1986) refers to as I-language. This suggests that language cannot be acquired by putting learners through a series of linguistic hoops, which is the approach found in the traditional grammar book, and what Chom- sky calls E-language, language external to the learner.
Based on Chomsky’s theories, “nativists,” including Krashen (1981), Prabhu (1987), and others, argued against explicit grammatical instruction in favor of the naturalistic “discov- ery” of the target language’s rule system. In the early 1980s, Krashen (1981) proclaimed that exposure to comprehensible input in a stress- free environment was the primary condition for successful L2 acquisition. However, at the same time this was being propagated, a num- ber of researchers were investigating the effect of formal instruction on L2 acquisition. Long (1983), for instance, in an extensive review of the empirical research, found that certain types of instruction did make a significant difference and hence one could no longer accept the nativist argument that the effects of grammar teaching appear to be peripheral and fragile.
The reincarnation of grammar instruction
In spite of the reaction against direct gram- mar instruction, many researchers and practi- tioners continued to strongly advocate for the role of conscious learning and have produced a number of studies concluding that syntax can and should be taught, and that formal instruction makes a difference. However, even though these researchers supported grammar teaching, they also recognized that interven- tion by means of traditional exercises such as drills and slot-filling exercises, are much less effective than the communicative techniques that supplanted it.
The result was a number of do-it-yourself strategies devised by second language teachers to enable learners to analyze and internalize language rules and systems. These various tools and techniques differ considerably in their specific aims and in the manner in which they are implemented, but they all have a common purpose, which is to raise learners’ awareness of important linguistic features, to see what attributes these features share, to notice how they differ from other related fea- tures, and, in time, to help learners construct their own grammar from personal exploration and trial-and-error tasks.
Language awareness defined
Language awareness fits into this new paradigm, and is defined as “the development in learners of an enhanced consciousness of and sensitivity to the forms and functions of language” (Carter 2003, 64). Since the early 1990s, an impressive body of research shows that conscious learning (especially the kind one would characterize as language aware- ness) also builds interlanguage, one’s interim grammar in the mind. Interlanguage has to grow and develop; otherwise, fossilization sets in and learners may exhibit the all-too-famil- iar symptoms of a “grammar gap” (Bourke 1989, 21). Many learners seem to experience this gap and need remedial work in order to eradicate fossilized errors. For this reason, the present author refers to language awareness as linguistic problem-solving (Bourke 1992).
Other definitions that are similar to lan- guage awareness include consciousness-raising (Rutherford 1987; Schmidt 1990; Fotos 1993; Sharwood Smith 1993); focus on form (Long 1991; Doughty and Williams 1998); grammar interpretation tasks (Ellis 1995); and form-focused instruction (Ellis 2001; Hinkel and Fotos 2002).
It should be noted that James (1998) makes a fine distinction between language awareness and consciousness-raising (CR). He suggests that language awareness is a learned ability to analyze one’s internalized language, be it the first language or that part of the L2 that one has acquired so far. In other words, it is about making implicit knowledge explicit. On the other hand, CR refers to getting explicit insight into what one does not yet know implicitly of the L2. James (1998, 260)
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concludes: Language awareness “is for know- ers and CR is for learners.” Rightly or wrong- ly, however, most applied linguists nowadays regard the two terms as synonymous.
Language awareness does differ from some of the above definitions in that it is wider in scope, including not only grammatical aware- ness but also lexical awareness, phonological awareness, and discourse awareness. In order to simplify matters, I shall refer to all of these approaches as language awareness (LA), as they have much in common and differ from traditional grammar teaching in a number of significant ways.
Differences between language awareness and traditional grammar
Language awareness does not use the same traditional techniques used to teach grammar that one finds in structural grammar books like Stannard Allen’s (1974) famous Living English Structure, Thompson and Martinet’s (1980) A Practical English Grammar, or Grav- er’s (1986) Advanced English Practice. In addi- tion, the practice that LA supports is different in kind from the exercises in traditional gram- mar books like Azar (1989), Murphy (1997), and Willis and Wright (1995).
Language awareness also contrasts sharply with the Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP) instructional cycle, another traditional way of teaching grammar in the L2 classroom where the main focus is on controlled practice in the form of drills and various contextualized grammar exercises. The PPP cycle is based on a simplistic theory of language acquisition, namely “implanting through practice.” In contrast, the LA model is more concerned with input processing and comprehension than with practice with drills and repetition. LA is different in that it involves learners, indi- vidually or in groups, in exploratory tasks, very often on bits of language that need repair.
The differences between LA and tradi- tional grammar teaching may be summarized as follows:
• LA is not a body of established facts about grammar, and it differs fun- damentally from the repertoire of structures and functions found in an itemized syllabus. Several researchers, notably Long (1991) and Spada (1997), regard this distinction as crucial. LA is
the sum of the enabling strategies one uses to get a handle on the language system. It employs cognitive strategies, such as noticing, hypothesis testing, problem-solving, and restructuring.
• LA comes out of an initial focus on meaning. The objective is to investigate which forms are available in English to realize certain meanings, notions, and language functions. Whereas traditional grammar was a grammar of classes, LA is a grammar of meanings, functions, and form-function mapping.
• The aim of LA is to develop in the learner an awareness of and sensitivity to form, and not just to learn a long list of grammatical items. Learners have to explore structured input and develop an awareness of particular linguistic fea- tures by performing certain operations. According to Schmidt (1995), there can be learning without intention, but there can be no learning without attention.
• LA occurs by means of certain types of formal instruction or task-based learn- ing, where learners do grammar tasks in groups. It can come in many differ- ent forms and vary greatly in degree of explicitness and elaboration. It is not the same thing as practice. It is about input processing, noticing certain pat- terns or relationships, discovering rules, and noticing the difference between one’s current interlanguage and the target language system and as a result subconsciously restructuring one’s still evolving grammar system. As Schmidt (1993, 4) says, noticing is “the necessary and sufficient condition for the conver- sion of input into intake.”
• LA is multi-faceted. It goes beyond the raising of grammatical consciousness to include all linguistic components— vocabulary, morphology, phonology, and discourse. However, most of the published examples of LA relate to grammatical and lexical problems, such as exploring the grammatical devices used to express the concept of futurity, looking at the difference between the standard passive (The book was lost by Sally) and the “get” passive (I got lost),
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making sense of modal verbs, examin- ing collocation or redundancy, and other features of English.
• LA is data driven. Learners are not told the rule, but are given a set of data from which they infer the rule or generaliza- tion in their own way. They check their tentative rule against other sets of data and then see if it still holds in a number of contexts of use. Here again, by notic- ing the gap between their production and the correct target form, learners may restructure or fine-tune their con- clusion. Rules in English are seldom clear-cut, and a lot of work needs to be done on the gray areas.
Certainly, the concept of LA and related approaches have become a major new trend in second language learning. There is now extensive literature on the subject, including excellent summaries in Doughty and Williams (1998), Ellis (2001), Carter (2003), Hinkel and Fotos (2002), and Bolitho et al. (2003). The key concept of noticing is explained by Batstone (1996), and some ways to implement LA in the classroom are found in Hawkins (1984), James and Garrett (1992), Wright and Bolitho (1993), Wright (1994), and Ellis (2006).
The rational for language awareness
One way to think about language aware- ness is that everyone is a learner, since even teachers have to continue to explore language systems—a lifelong process. It is therefore use- ful to look at the following two complemen- tary aspects of LA in the context of learning a second language.
1. The personal exploration of the L2 helps the learner find out how language works and thereby enriches and extends one’s knowledge of the language. Here, one is talking about a focus on language itself. Everyone has a subconscious knowledge of the language they use, but not everyone has managed to make that internalized language explicit, by noticing and reflecting on the linguistic data all around them.
2. The other aspect of language aware- ness is the applied perspective, which for teachers means helping learners
effectively explore, internalize, and gain greater understanding of the target lan- guage. The basic assumption here is that all learners have to be actively involved in discovering features of the language. They are not given the rule, but rather work inductively from struc- tured input to arrive at their own understandings. It is a process-oriented approach, which includes steps of dis- covery, investigation, and understand- ing, which contrasts markedly with the traditional product-oriented approach in which one is told the rules and has to drill and memorize them, a method found even in recent grammar books for teaching purposes.
Integrating language awareness into task-based learning
There are probably dozens of effective activities in the literature that teachers can use to facilitate LA in the classroom. These activities enable the teacher to “problematize” instruction, and they allow learners to actively engage in the learning process. For this reason, they are referred to as “enabling tasks” (Bourke 2002). According to Estaire and Zanon (1994, 15), “enabling tasks act as a support for com- munication tasks. Their purpose is to provide students with the necessary linguistic tools to carry out a communication task.” This view- point ties LA to task-based learning, another major paradigm shift in the way second language is experienced in the classroom. In Willis’ (1996, 101–116) task based learning model “language focus” is the last phase in the framework. Upon completing a communica- tive/interactive task, students have the oppor- tunity to explore points of language arising out of the task cycle. The language focus may consist of analysis or practice activities. Analy- sis consists of consciousness raising activities in which students analyze texts, transcripts, and sets of examples in order to notice specific language points, such as:
1. Semantic concepts related to themes, notions, functions (e.g., Find and clas- sify all the phrases referring to time.)
2. Words or parts of a word (e.g., When do we use the word any? What does it mean? Study the examples in the text.)
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3. Categories of meaning or use (e.g., The word will has four categories of mean- ing in the text. What are they? Give an example of each category.)
Practice activities may consist of one or more of the following (Willis 1996, 110– 113):
1. Unpacking and repacking a sentence
2. Repeating, reading, or completing phrases
3. Making a concordance
4. Progressive deletion from board
5. Gapped transcript
6. Dictionary work and reporting back
7. Looking up a point of grammar in a reference grammar and reporting back
8. Computer games
9. Language games
10. C-text restoration activity and follow- up discussion
The idea behind LA is that learners them- selves construct their own grammar from their own language experience, and thereby either consciously or subconsciously restruc- ture their emerging interlanguage. They need access to negative evidence, which in LA is provided by means of corrective feedback from the teacher or by looking up the prob- lem point in a comprehensible reference grammar or dictionary.
Implementing language awareness techniques
Many other techniques, in addition to the task-based ones mentioned above, can raise learners’ consciousness of the form and function of targeted grammatical items. The techniques listed below may be classed as LA and have been found to be especially useful, user-friendly, and effective. Where possible, these techniques should be sequenced as follows:
1. The student is exposed to oral or writ- ten structured input where the initial focus is on the meaning of the text.
2. The student notices the target struc- ture and the context in which it
occurs; this can include observation of syntactic patterning, judgments and discriminations, and the articulation of rules.
3. The student checks that the rule holds against further data and, if not, revises the rule.
4. The student uses the structure in a short production task.
Technique 1: Linguistic problem-solving
Any piece of language can be targeted for exploration. For instance, Hall and Foley (1990) present topics such as tense contrasts, modal verbs, conditionals, infini- tive versus gerund, verb patterns, adjectives and adverbs, prepositions, and articles and determiners.
Analysis may take place at the input stage or the output stage. The task is often presented by means of “perceptual frames,” i.e., a short dialogue, narrative, or expository text. The “input frames” provide a meaning- ful context to focus on the new language item, and sufficient data to enable the learner to make a tentative induction as to the rule or generalization. Progress along that route is speeded up by exposure to “enhanced input” and the application of cognitive strategies. Further frames/data are then presented and the initial hypothesis is either confirmed or rejected. The problem-solving procedure involves a simple recursion, comprising three moves:
1. Read the next frame
2. Form a hypothesis
3. Test, and if necessary, revise your hypothesis
The input frames are seeded with pertinent data and are carefully sequenced to address different aspects of the problem under study. For example, in presenting the article system in English, one might look at a series of binary contrasts:
1. count vs. mass nouns 2. a versus an
3. the versus a / an
4. article versus no article
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The a versus an problem might be pre- sented to a beginning class as follows:
of fossilized error in a systematic manner through language awareness activities.
Technique 3: Restoring C-texts
The use of C-texts for measuring general language proficiency has by now become quite common. The standard C-text consists of four to six short texts which have been altered by deleting the second half of every second word and replacing it with a blank. The task is to restore the missing pieces by using a variety of conscious strategies, such as contextual infer- encing and analogy, among others.
The advantages of C-texts are numerous, some of the main ones being the following:
• They prime learners to discuss points of grammar or lexis on which they miscue, and thus remove some of the roadblocks to correct usage.
• Working on a C-text is like doing a puzzle—it is an enjoyable and challeng- ing activity. (Students generally respond well to problem-solving tasks.)
• C-texts can lead learners to become aware of target language forms.
• C-texts are easy to construct and they can be calibrated quite precisely to learners’ abilities.
• Learners can self-correct the C-text and thus benefit from immediate feedback.
• C-texts sample a wide range of gram-
matical categories.
• C-texts are objective, easy to adminis-
ter, and score.
Technique 4: Cloze procedure
The basic fixed-ratio Cloze procedure involves the systematic deletion of words from a text (such as every fifth word) for students to fill in (Oller 1973). This creates an awareness of word order, collocation, and dependency relations between elements. It is a problem-solving exercise in which the learner has to exploit linguistic clues on many fronts, not only in the linguistic context, but also in the wider context of situation. Impor- tantly, the Cloze can be used to focus atten- tion on specific language items if selected function words (such as pronouns, articles, and conjunctions) or inflectional morphemes (such as the past tense marker -ed or the pro- gressive tense marker -ing) are deleted. The Cloze procedure is often used for language testing; as such, it is not without its critics,
Problem: Why are some nouns pre- ceded by a and others by an?
Instructions: Read the passage below and underline all nouns preceded by a or an. Enter the underlined nouns in the cor- rect column.
Passage (with solution): Molly is an awful cat. She sleeps on a mat and never catches a mouse. She eats five times a day. She often sits in an armchair for an hour or more without making a sound. Some people say she’s a horrid cat, but I think she’s an old rascal.
This technique allows the learner to notice syntactic patterning and make judgments and discriminations about a rule. In this case, the fact that not only the nouns but intervening adjectives take indefinite articles may help the learner “notice” that the rule is based on sound.
Technique 2: Error detection and correction
Noticing is also a key process in analyzing output and is essential for error detection and correction. Making errors and having them corrected is a normal part of learning. We are told “there is no learning without making errors.” However, it is pointless to tell students to edit their work if they do not know how to edit. In many cases, they do not know the rules; if they did, there would not be errors. Student errors are a very good source of reme- dial work, which may focus on one particular problem, or on a number of related problems, such as looking at the form and function of narrative tenses in a piece of writing.
It is no easy task to eradicate persistent grave errors which have fossilized over many years. It may be necessary to target each case
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even though, as Barnwell (1987) notes, work is still in progress on Cloze variations. As a result, some language teachers prefer to use the C-text for language testing and the Cloze text for language teaching (Khoo 2002). Whatever its role as a testing tool, the Cloze procedure, and especially the selective Cloze variation, seems to possess certain merits as a teaching tool and can help learners consoli- date and restructure their grammar.
Technique 5: Paraphrase
Paraphrasing is a very powerful pedagogi- cal tool for syntactic and lexical exploitation. Moreover, it can be employed at different levels of L2 proficiency. For example, hav- ing analyzed the form and function of the present perfect tense in English, one might devise various stimulus sentences related to a current task to elicit this tense, as in this example:
Instruction: Rewrite each sentence so that it means the same, or nearly the same, as the given sentence.
Tom no longer lives in Kuching. He________________ [Answer: He has
left Kuching.]
There isn’t any food left.
Abu________________ [Answer: Abu has eaten it all.]
Technique 6: Propositional cluster
Rutherford (1987, 167) defines a “proposi- tional cluster” as a skeletal sentence consisting of an unmarked verb and its associated noun- phrases. The learner is given the discourse set- ting, and the task is to arrange the cluster into a well-formed sentence and to do so within the context indicated. For example:
Round the corner came a boy. ride – he (boy) – bicycle
The most natural realization of this cluster would be:
He was riding a bicycle.
The learner has to figure out which noun phrase is selected as grammatical subject, the form it takes, and the most likely type of ver- bal form and complementation.
Technique 7: Sentence combining
The issue of sentence combining as a teach- ing tool is discussed by James (1994) and Zamel (1980). Sentence combining has been and still is extensively used as a pre-writing task. It is a very effective way of raising students’ con- sciousness of cohesion. Some learners tend to write a string of loosely-connected sentences. For instance, in lower primary grades, one often finds a lot of redundancy in composition writing, as in the following example:
I have a cat. My cat is black. She has white paws. My cat has green eyes.
These four sentences can be more eco- nomically expressed in a single sentence:
I have a black cat with white paws and green eyes.
Sentence combining helps students to become aware of the structural changes that come into play when two or more simple sentences are combined. It covers an enormous area of English grammar, ranging from coordi- nation to subordination and the various types of sentence connectives that signal a wide range of semantic relationships. One LA activity in this area is known as “packing” and “unpacking” sentences, which is combining two or more sentences into one, or extracting the embedded propositions from a complex sentence.
Technique 8: Grammaring
Teachers teach grammar, but learners need grammaring, which is the ability to access and use grammatical devices to make meaning. Thornbury (2001, 1) makes a distinction between making an omelette (or “omelet- ting”) and an omelette. Likewise, he distin- guishes between doing grammar (or “gram- maring”) and grammar. The same idea is found in Rutherford (1987), but he refers to the process of exploiting grammatical devices as “grammaticization.”
In order to demonstrate the various ways in which a single concept is expressed, learners may be given a set of propositions and asked to indicate the many ways in which they can be “grammared.” For instance, in English the language function “contrast” is expressed in a number of ways.
A [but]
A; [however,] A [whereas]
B. [simple conjunction] B. [sentence connector] B. [subordinator]
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The focus here is to build procedural knowledge by sensitizing learners to the forms available and enabling them to select the most appropriate form for a particular context of use. Thus, in casual conversation the but option is most likely, while in formal writing the whereas option is more appropriate. (The range of options available would not be given as above, but would be inferred from a text or several texts.)
Grammaring tasks require learners to make decisions as to which grammatical devices are most appropriate to express their intended meaning. They have to ask themselves ques- tions such as:
• “Shall I use the active or passive?”
• “Shall I use any narrative tenses, and if
so, which one, and why?”
• “Shall I use coordination or
Thornbury (2001, 81–99) offers a selec- tion of photocopiable grammaring materials. Many of these are lexical clusters to which grammar has to be added. For example:
boy blue suit Carlos
One possible way of grammaring this set of lexical items is as follows:
The boy in the blue suit is Carlos.
Technique 9: Dictogloss
Dictogloss or Grammar Dictation is a tech- nique that involves the teacher and students in communicative interaction, text reconstruc- tion, and error analysis. There are four stages in the procedure:
1. Preparation—the learner finds out about the topic of the text and is pre- pared for some of the vocabulary.
2. Dictation—the learner hears the text and takes fragmentary notes. The text is dictated at a speed which allows only key words to be noted.
3. Reconstruction—students in pairs or small groups pool their resources to reconstruct their own version of the original text.
4. Analysis and correction—learners ana- lyze and correct their texts.
Dictogloss is a fairly severe test of grammar- ing. It involves all the four skills and develops awareness of language items (in particular
grammar and vocabulary) but also raises the learner’s consciousness of textual organization.
Technique 10: Language games
All language learners enjoy an element of fun and inventiveness, and language games have long been part and parcel of second language teaching and learning (Rinvolucri 1984; Rinvolucri and Davis 1995). One can easily devise game-like activities to elicit and use a particular pattern. For instance, the pair- work games such Describe and Draw, Spot the Difference, and Board Rush are popular with young learners, while older learners seem to enjoy word games, puzzles, and problem-solv- ing scenarios. The same kind of game can be used in different ways to focus on language items, or real interaction. For example, an information-gap activity about zoo animals might focus on the present progressive (e.g., Abu is feeding the zebra), while a communica- tive version might require each participant to talk freely about the animals. One can find many stimulating games that focus on the language system, for instance, the discovery activities in Hall and Shepheard’s (1991) The Anti-grammar Grammar Book.
Many of the techniques outlined above have been around for the past 10 to 20 years. Some of them focus on input processing, while others focus on output processing. Lan- guage awareness is, therefore, any technique or combination of techniques that enable learners to understand how a piece of lan- guage works. Far from being a new concept, it is often a matter of putting old wine into new bottles.
One of the great challenges for second language teachers has been the implementa- tion of procedures that help learners process comprehensible input while at the same time giving them opportunities for language aware- ness. In other words, effective second language teaching requires input processing (acquisi- tion) combined with focus on form (learn- ing). It matters not whether we call the new process-oriented approach language aware- ness, or consciousness-raising, or linguistic problem-solving. Language is no longer seen as a fixed inventory of structures prescribed by an itemized syllabus that is presented in an atomistic and linear fashion. Rather, it is
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seen as a dynamic process in which learners themselves are actively involved. According to Nunan (1998, 140), an “organic” approach to language teaching:
• offers a set of choices
• provides opportunities for learners to
explore grammatical and discoursal
relationships in authentic data
• makes the form/function relationships
• encourages learners to become active
explorers of language
• encourages learners to explore relation-
ships between grammar and discourse
In summary, then, language awareness has to do with the raising of learners’ awareness of features of the target language. Its point of departure is input processing, exploring examples of language in context, noticing salient points and patterns, inferring a rule and testing it against further data. But that is only half the story. It is equally important to allow and require learners to outperform their newly acquired grammar, or as Nunan (1998, 108) says, “for learners to press their gram- matical resources into communicative use.”
Research on LA is still in its infancy, and it is probably too soon to say which forms may be most effective with different groups of learners. However, we now have a large body of empirical evidence supporting the inductive problem-solving route to linguistic knowledge. Hence, the teacher’s role is no longer that of “great guru”—or “all knowing one”—but that of the facilitator of learning.
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Rutherford, W. E. 1987. Second language grammar: Learning and teaching. London: Longman.
Schmidt, R. 1990. The role of consciousness in second language learning. Applied Linguistics 11 (2): 129–58.
—–. 1993. Awareness and second language acquisi- tion. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 13: 206–26.
—–. 1995. Consciousness and foreign language learning: A tutorial on the role of attention and awareness in learning. In Attention and aware- ness in foreign language learning, ed. R. Schmidt, 1–64. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
Sharwood Smith, M. 1993. Input enhancement in instructed SLA: Theoretical bases. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 15: 165–79.
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Willis, D., and J. Wright. 1995. Collins Cobuild
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James m. Bourke has worked in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Over the years he has been involved in teacher education (TESL); he is currently a senior lecturer in language education at the University of Brunei.
Answers to The LighTer Side New York City Word Search
English TEaching Forum | Number 1 2008 21

Using L1 in the English Classroom

Jinlan Tang
Using L1
in the English
THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CONTRADICTING VIEWS ABOUT WHETHER TO use the mother tongue of the students in the foreign language classroom. The monolingual approach suggests that the target language ought to be the sole medium of communication, implying the prohibition of the native language would maximize the effectiveness of learning the target language.

A proponent of the monolingual approach, Krashen has argued that people learning for- eign languages follow basically the same route as they acquire their mother tongue, hence the use of the mother tongue in the learning process should be minimized (1981).
Authors of some introductory books on teaching EFL, such as Haycraft (1978), Hub- bard et al. (1983), and Harmer (1997), do not address this issue or pay very little attention to it. This suggests either the mother tongue does not play an important role in foreign language teaching or the issue of native language use does not exist in the classrooms of these authors, since most of them are native speak- ers of English accustomed to working with multilingual groups of students (Dörnyei, per- sonal communication).
During the past 15 years, however, mono- lingual orthodoxy has lost its appeal. Medgyes considers this orthodoxy “untenable on any grounds, be they psychological, linguistic or pedagogical” (1994:66). It has been argued that exclusion of the mother tongue is a criti- cism of the mother tongue and renders it a sec- ond-class language. This degradation of the mother tongue has harmful psychological effects on learners (Nation 1990).
Professionals in second language acquisi- tion have become increasingly aware of the role the mother tongue plays in the EFL class- room. Nunan and Lamb (1996), for example, contend that EFL teachers working with monolingual students at lower levels of Eng- lish proficiency find prohibition of the moth- er tongue to be practically impossible. Dörnyei and Kormos (1998) find that the L1 is used by L2 learners as a communication strategy to compensate for deficiencies in the target language. Auerbuch (1993) not only acknowledges the positive role of the mother tongue in the classroom, but also identifies the following uses for it: classroom management, language analysis, presenting rules that govern grammar, discussing cross-cultural issues, giv- ing instructions or prompts, explaining errors, and checking for comprehension.
My personal experience as a learner and teacher of English as a foreign language has shown me that moderate and judicious use of the mother tongue can aid and facilitate the learning and teaching of the target language, a
view shared by many colleagues of mine. However, the value of using the mother tongue is a neglected topic in the TEFL methodology literature. This omission, together with the widely advocated principle that the native language should not be used in the foreign language classroom, makes most teachers, experienced or not, feel uneasy about using L1 or permitting its use in the class- room, even when there is a need to do so.
Should the students’ L1 be used in the EFL classroom? Though its use has been defended by some language teaching special- ists, little empirical research has been done to find out if it is an effective teaching and learning tool.
How do students and teachers look at this issue? Schweers (1999) conducted a study with EFL students and their teachers in a Spanish context to investigate their attitudes toward using L1 in the L2 classroom. His results indicate that the majority of students and teachers agreed that Spanish should be used in the EFL classroom (Schweers 1999).
Inspired by his research and driven by my own interest, I decided to carry out a similar study on the use of the native language in the Chinese context. However, differences exist between Schweer’s study and mine. Firstly, in Schweer’s study English was the official second language of his participants, while in mine English was a foreign language to the partici- pants. Secondly, the participants in my research were all first-year English major stu- dents and the classes observed were first-year reading classes. Thirdly, I used a variety of research methods, including classroom obser- vations, interviews, and a questionnaire.
Research design
This study aimed to answer the following questions: (1) Is Chinese as the L1 used in ter- tiary-level English classrooms in China? If so, how frequently is it used and for what purpos- es? (2) What are the attitudes of the students and teachers toward using Chinese in the EFL classroom?
The participants of this study were 100 first-year English major students attending a university in Beijing. Their English was at the intermediate level. The 20 teacher participants
were all faculty members at the same universi- ty, with their teaching experience ranging from one year to 30 years.
Methods and Procedures
Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were used, including classroom observations, interviews, and questionnaires.
Classroom Observations
Three randomly-selected first-year reading classes (of about 50 minutes in length) con- ducted by three teachers were observed and recorded to find out how frequently and on what occasions Chinese was used. To obtain more authentic classroom data, the teachers and students were not informed of the obser- vation purpose beforehand.
The three teachers whose classes were observed and recorded were interviewed and asked why they sometimes preferred using Chinese to English in their classes. The inter- views were recorded and summarized.
A questionnaire (see Appendix 1) was dis- tributed to 100 students, and another ques- tionnaire (see Appendix 2) to 20 teachers to discover their attitudes toward using Chinese in the English classroom. The questionnaire items focused on the subjects’ opinions toward the use of L1, the various occasions when they think L1 can be used, and the perceived effec- tiveness of L1 in their EFL classroom.
Classroom observations
Table 1 shows the number of times and
Table 1. Classroom observation results
occasions that Chinese was used in the three 50-minute reading classes.
The table shows that Chinese was used by the three teachers in the tertiary-level English reading classes to give instructions and to explain the meaning of words, complex ideas, and complex grammar points. The greatest use of Chinese, 13 times, was to explain the mean- ing of words. Teacher 1 used Chinese to explain the words steep, strain, scatter, fine, spout, terrain, melt, and beneficiary after her English explanations, which proved to be quite effective judging from the students’ responses. Teacher 2 used Chinese to explain the meanings of the words surge, high, and spell following her English explanations. In explaining the word high in the phrase a search for a ‘high’ that normal life does not supply, she came up with an appropriate and culturally- specific Chinese translation, and the students seemed to understand it quickly. One could conclude that the teachers use Chinese only when they explain abstract or culturally-spe- cific words. All three teachers first attempted to explain the words, grammar points, and meanings of complex ideas in English, but resorted to Chinese when they thought the students did not or could not understand their English explanations.
Teacher 3 used Chinese most frequently to give instructions. In the first five instances, the teacher used Chinese only after first giving instructions in English, apparently to ensure that every student was clear about what was said. Because it was quite noisy outside the classroom at the time, the teacher used Chi- nese instructions alone on four occasions to
hold the students’ attention and make them follow him.
These three class observations indicate that Chinese is used on occasions when English explanations fail to work, hence the L1 plays a supportive and facilitating role in the classroom.
After the classroom observations, the three teachers whose classes had been observed were interviewed about their occasional use of Chi- nese in the classroom and how they viewed the common criticism that using Chinese reduces the students’ exposure to English. Their answers are summarized as follows:
• Teacher 1: Firstly, I think using some Chi- nese is more effective and less time-con- suming. Occasionally, when you spend quite some time or use several English sen- tences to explain one word or idea, and the students still look confused, using one sim- ple Chinese word or idiom might solve the problem. Class time is limited; if using Chinese is helpful, why not do it? Second- ly, criticizing the use of Chinese on the grounds that the students’ exposure to Eng- lish will be reduced does not reflect the fact that students read the English text and still communicate in English with the teacher and other students in the classroom. The use of some Chinese in the class actually provides more time for students to practice their English and get exposure to English. Lastly, the amount of English used depends on the students’ language proficiency level. If their English is at an advanced level, I feel no need to use Chinese. All in all, I think that using some Chinese in the class- room is necessary and the advantages of doing so outweigh any disadvantages.
• Teacher 2: The main reason I use Chinese in the classroom is that sometimes stu- dents—because of their low proficiency level in English—fail to follow me when I only use English to explain the meaning of the text or to give instructions. Also, when I happen to know a very vivid and appropriate Chinese translation of an Eng- lish sentence, I will give it to students so they can immediately comprehend the meaning of the English sentence. This also helps them compare the word choices in the two languages.
• Teacher 3: I use Chinese to discuss the meaning of some difficult, abstract words and to explain the grammar and ideas expressed in long and complicated sen- tences. Sometimes when students look puzzled after my English explanation of certain points, I will use Chinese to rein- terpret them. Furthermore, when the class- room is noisy, using Chinese to keep order is more effective than using English.
As noted earlier, questionnaires were dis- tributed to students and teachers. Of the 100 given to students, 98 were returned. Of the 20 given to teachers, 18 were returned. The find- ings are presented in Table 2.
Table 2 shows that a high percentage of the students (70 percent) and the teachers (72 per- cent) who participated in the study think that Chinese should be used in the classroom. The vast majority of students (97 percent) like it when their teachers use some Chinese. According to students, Chinese was most nec- essary to explain complex grammar points (72 percent) and to help define some new vocabu- lary items (69 percent). For teachers, Chinese was most necessary to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (56 percent) and to explain difficult concepts or ideas (44 per- cent). Only two teachers indicated that Chi- nese could be used to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively. In choosing the open-ended “Other” option about when it is necessary to use Chinese in the EFL class- room, a few students indicated that the L1 could be used to translate well-written para- graphs and to compare the two languages.
In explaining why they think the use of Chinese is necessary in EFL classes, the major- ity of student participants (69 percent) indi- cate that it helps them to understand difficult concepts better. Fewer than half of the stu- dents (42 percent) answered that Chinese was necessary to understand new vocabulary items better. Only six percent of the students responded that they felt less lost. This figure is significantly smaller than the corresponding student responses in Schweer’s study, in which 68.3 percent of the students preferred the use of the L1 in order to feel less lost (1999:8). A possible explanation for this difference is that the students’ English language proficiency level in my study was higher than in Schweer’s.
Table 2. Results of the questionnaires on the use of Chinese in the English classroom.
Note: Where participants could choose more than one answer to a question (items 3 and 4), totals add up to more than 100 percent.
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Students: yes 70% no 30% Teachers: yes 72% no 28%
2. Do you like your teacher to use Chinese in the class? (students only)
not at all 3% a little 45% sometimes 50% a lot 2%
3. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the English classroom?
a. to explain complex grammar points
b. to help define some new vocabulary items c. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
d. to practice the use of some phrases and
expressions 45% 56% e. to give instructions 6% 6% f. to give suggestions on how to learn more
effectively 4% 11%
4. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why? Students
a. It helps me to understand the difficult concepts better. 69% b. It helps me to understand the new vocabulary items better. 42% c. It makes me feel at ease, comfortable and less stressed. 8% d. I feel less lost. 6% Teachers
a. It aids comprehension greatly. 39% b. It is more effective. 44% c. It is less time-consuming. 28%
5. Do you think the use of Chinese in the classroom helps you learn this language? (students only)
no 3% alittle 69%
fairly much 22% a lot 6%
6. How often do you think Chinese should be used in the classroom? (students only)
never 0% very rarely 38%
sometimes 60% fairly frequently 2%
7. What percentage of time do you think Chinese should be used in the class? (students only)
Time 5% 10% 20% 30%
Response 38%
10% (No students answered higher than 30%.)
72% 39% 69% 39% 48% 44%
The few students who chose the open-ended “Other” option for why it is necessary to use the L1 indicated that Chinese could be used to understand jargon and to improve their trans- lation ability.
Concerning why the use of Chinese was necessary, teachers answered because “it is more effective” (44 percent) and “it aids com- prehension greatly” (39 percent). One teacher suggested that the use of L1 helps students become more aware of the differences and similarities between different cultures.
More than half of the students (60 percent) think Chinese should be used in the classroom “sometimes.” Concerning how much time Chinese should be used in the English class, 63 percent of the students answered the amount of Chinese used should range from 5 to 10 percent of class time, and 30 percent of the students answered it should be from 20 to 30 percent of class time.
The questionnaire results show that in the reading classes of first-year English majors, the use of Chinese is justified. It is especially use- ful for language tasks such as defining vocabu- lary items, practicing the use of phrases and expressions, and explaining grammar rules and some important ideas. This is in agree- ment with the classroom observation results (see Table 1). Students prefer the use of Chi- nese because it enhances their comprehension of new concepts and new vocabulary items; teachers think using Chinese is more effective and can aid comprehension.
The results of the present study on the use of the mother tongue in a Chinese EFL con- text bear many similarities to Schweer’s study in a Spanish context. Both studies indicate that the mother tongue was used by the majority of teachers investigated, and both students and teachers responded positively toward its use. Minor discrepancies exist con- cerning the occasions when the L1 should be used. Some of these differences can be accounted for by the participants’ different levels of L2 language proficiency.
The teachers participating in this study indicated that the translation of some words, complex ideas, or even whole passages is a good way to learn a foreign language. My observa- tion of the three classes suggests that without
translation, learners would be likely to make unguided and often incorrect translations.
This study also reveals that in the EFL classes observed Chinese plays only a support- ive and facilitating role. The chief medium of communication in the class is still English. As with any other classroom technique, the use of the mother tongue is only a means to the end of improving foreign language proficiency. I agree with the majority of student participants (about 63 percent combined) that no more than 10 percent of class time should be spent using Chinese. In my experience, this percent- age decreases as the students’ English profi- ciency increases. Of course, a translation course would be an exception.
Unlike Schweer’s student participants, the students in the present study are highly moti- vated to learn English. As English majors in the university, their English language profi- ciency is regarded as a symbol of their identity and a route to future academic and employ- ment opportunities. Few of them feel that English is imposed on them or regard the use of English as a threat to their identity. Instead, they generally prefer greater or exclusive use of English in the classroom. In their view, Chi- nese should be used only when necessary to help them learn English better.
The research seems to show that limited and judicious use of the mother tongue in the English classroom does not reduce students’ exposure to English, but rather can assist in the teaching and learning processes. This is not to overstate the role of the L1 or advocate greater use of L1 in the EFL classroom, but rather to clarify some misconceptions that have troubled foreign language teachers for years, such as whether they should use the mother tongue when there is a need for it and whether the often-mentioned principle of no native language in the classroom is justifiable. It is hoped that these findings will help make more people acknowledge the role of the native language in the foreign language class- room and stimulate further study in this area.
Auerbach, E. 1993. Reexaming English only in the ESL classroom. TESOL Quarterly 27, 1, pp. 9–32.
Dörnyei, Z. and J. Kormos. 1998. Problem-solving mechanisms in L2 communication: A psy- cholinguistic perspective. Studies in Second Lan- guage Acquisition, 20, 3, pp. 349–385.
Harmer, J. 1997. The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
Haycraft, J. 1978. An introduction to English lan- guage teaching. London: Longman.
Hubbard, P., H. Jones, B. Thornton, and R. Wheeler. 1983. A training course for TEFL. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Krashen, S. 1981. Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford: Pergamon.
Medgyes, P. 1994. The non-native teacher. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Nation, I. S. P. 1990. Teaching and learning vocab- ulary. New York: Newbury House.
Nunan, D. and C. Lamb. 1996. The self-directed teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schweers, W. Jr. 1999. Using L1 in the L2 classroom. English Teaching Forum, 37, 2, pp. 6–9. z
JINLAN TANG is a lecturer in English at Beijing Foreign Studies University.
This questionnaire aims to find out your attitude toward using Chinese in the English classroom. Your answers will be used for research purposes only. Thank you for your cooperation!
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Yes No
2. Do you like your teacher to use Chinese in the class?
not at all a little sometimes a lot
3. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the English classroom?
a. to help define some new vocabulary items (e.g., some abstract words)
b. to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (e.g., doing translation
c. to explain complex grammar points
d. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
e. to give instructions
f. to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively g. other, please specify
4. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why?
a. It helps me to understand difficult concepts better.
b. It helps me to understand new vocabulary items better. c. It makes me feel at ease, comfortable and less stressed. d. I feel less lost.
e. other, please specify
5.Do you think the use of Chinese in the classroom helps you learn this language?
no a little fairly much a lot
6. How often do you think Chinese should be used in the classroom?
never very rarely sometimes fairly frequently
7. What percentage of the time do you think Chinese should be used in the class? Choose one.
5% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90%
“Where’s the Beef?”
Answer to the logic puzzle on inside back cover:
Reggie had the cola, cheeseburger with pickles, and French fries. The numbers in parentheses beside each person’s name indi- cate which facts applies for figuring out who ordered what.
Jane (6 & 10)
Diet cola, grilled chicken sandwich, and French fries Jack (4, 7 & 11)
Vanilla milkshake and two hot dogs
Jill (4, 5 & 11)
Cola and taco salad
Archie (6, 7 & 8)
Cola, plain hamburger, and French fries
Betty (5, 7 & 8)
Diet cola, fish sandwich, and onion rings
Reggie (5, 7, 8 & 9)
Cola, cheeseburger with pickles, and French fries
This questionnaire aims to find out your attitude toward using Chinese in the classroom. Your answers will be used for research purposes only. Thank you for your cooperation!
1. Should Chinese be used in the classroom?
Yes No
2. When do you think it is necessary to use Chinese in the classroom?
a. to help define some new vocabulary items (e.g., some abstract words)
b. to practice the use of some phrases and expressions (e.g., doing translation
c. to explain complex grammar points
d. to explain difficult concepts or ideas
e. to give instructions
f. to give suggestions on how to learn more effectively g. other, please specify
3. If you think the use of Chinese is necessary in the classroom, why?
a. It aids comprehension greatly. b. It is more effective.
c. It is less time-consuming.
d. other, please specify

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Acronyms and abbreviations in English Teaching

Acronyms and abbreviations in English Teaching

BE - Business English
EAL - English as an additional language. The use of this term is restricted to certain countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
EAP - English for academic purposes
EFL - English as a foreign language. English for use in a non-English-speaking region, by someone whose first language is not English. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
EIL - English as an international language (see main article at International English)
ELF - English as a lingua franca
ELL - English language learner. The use of this term is restricted to certain countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
ELT - English language teaching. The use of this term is restricted to certain countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
ESL - English as a second language. English for use in an English-speaking region, by someone whose first language is not English. The use of this term is restricted to certain countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
ESOL - English for speakers of other languages. This term is used differently in different countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
ESP - English for specific purposes, or English for special purposes (e.g. technical English, scientific English, English for medical professionals, English for waiters).
EST - English for science and technology (e.g. technical English, scientific English).
TEFL - Teaching English as a foreign language. This link is to a page about a subset of TEFL, namely travel-teaching. More generally, see the discussion in Terminology and types.
TESL - Teaching English as a second language. The use of this term is restricted to certain countries. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
TESOL - Teaching English to speakers of other languages, or Teaching English as a second or other language. See the discussion in Terminology and types.
TYLE - Teaching Young Learners English. Note that "Young Learners" can mean under 18, or much younger.

Other abbreviations
BULATS - Business Language Testing Services, a computer-based test of business English, produced by CambridgeEsol. The test also exists for French, German, and Spanish.
CELT - Certificate in English Language Teaching, certified by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (ACELS).
CELTA - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults
CELTYL - Certificate in English Language Teaching to Young Learners
DELTA - Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults
ECPE - Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English
IELTS - International English Language Testing System
LTE - London Tests of English by Pearson Language Tests
TOEFL - Test of English as a Foreign Language
TOEIC - Test of English for International Communication
UCLES - University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, an exam board

Source: Wikipedia

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