Author: Dr Nadja Mifka-Profozić
Published on 7 September 2016
Corrective feedback (CF) has been one of the most frequently debated topics related to language teaching and learning. No doubt, it is of great interest for teachers and learners alike. It has also been a hot issue in theoretical discussions on both first and second language learning. Is CF needed at all? Is it helpful? If it is helpful, in what ways it may benefit language learning? Furthermore, there is more than one type of CF, and each type may affect language learning in a different way.
Starting with some definitions, let us first say that the term corrective feedback is used interchangeably with the term negative feedback, depending on the different authors’ theoretical positions, and generally it assumes feedback on grammatical errors. An equivalent term, error correction or error treatment is usually employed when referring to teaching practice. One of the first definitions was offered by Chaudron (1977), who suggested that CF is “any reaction of the teacher which clearly transforms, disapprovingly refers to, or demands improvement of the learner utterance” (p. 31).
Depending on the mode in which it is provided, CF can be written and oral. Written feedback usually takes a direct or an indirect form. Direct feedback in writing provides the learner with a target form without explanation, whereas indirect feedback only points to the problem by underlining the error and indicting its source (grammar, spelling, etc.) so that the learner is required to self-correct. Writing experts tend to underscore the fact that providing indirect feedback is more effective because it engages learners in problem-solving activities (e.g. thinking about the error, thinking about a possible correction, replacing the error with the target form). Some researchers (e.g. Truscott, 1996) contend that grammar correction in written texts is useless and may be even counter-productive. Rather than correcting grammar, teachers should focus on teaching learners how to improve the content and the global structure of their writing. In contrast, many other researchers (e.g. Ferris, 2006) argue that providing feedback on grammar in student writing can be effective and useful.
As far as oral feedback is concerned, it can be classified as implicit or explicit. In general terms, implicit CF refers to such forms of feedback where it is only implied indirectly that an error has been committed, while with explicit CF a learner is explicitly told that there was an error which should be repaired. Recasts, clarification requests and repetitions are considered as implicit types of oral CF, whereas explicit forms include explicit correction, metalinguistic explanation, elicitation and paralinguistic (nonverbal) signal (Sheen & Ellis, 2011). The following examples illustrate these CF techniques:
Learner: Women are kind than men.
Learner: Why does he taking the flowers?
Learner: Mrs Jones travel a lot last year.
Teacher: Mrs Jones travel a lot last year?
Learner: I’m late yesterday.
Teacher: You should say “I was late”, not “I’m late”.
Learner: He kiss her.
Teacher: You need past tense.
Learner: Once upon a time, there lives a poor girl…
Teacher: Once upon a time, there……
(examples from Sheen, 2011, p. 3–4)
Numerous studies have been conducted with the aim to examine the effectiveness of CF. Recasts have received much attention for various reasons, which are all stemming from the fact that recasts are special among different feedback techniques: they simultaneously provide input (the target word or expression) by reformulating an erroneous utterance and indicate implicitly that there was an error. As “the hallmark of adult-child discourse” (Saxton, 2010, p. 94) and used successfully in first language speech therapy, recasts seem to be the most natural, spontaneous reaction to learners’ errors. That is probably the reason why teachers use them more frequently than some other types of CF. Long (1996, 2007) values recasts as a particularly effective technique, which may help learners to increase their linguistic accuracy while focusing on meaning and when language is used as a tool, not as an object. There is a long list of studies that support this claim (e.g. Doughty & Varela, 1998; Goo, 2012; Révész, 2012). On the other hand, some researchers (e.g. Lyster & Ranta, 1997) have argued that recasts may be ambiguous, particularly in classroom settings, where they found that teachers’ recasts were not followed by students’ uptake (repetition of the correct target utterance). Later research has clearly established that uptake is an optional move and is not an indication of learning (Long, 2007).
Some experimental classroom studies show that explicit feedback is more effective than recasts. However, it is questionable how explicit feedback can be handled, especially in classrooms, if the teachers’ aim is to encourage their students to communicate freely in order to develop fluency. Explicit feedback may sound threatening and may cause anxiety. Although some researchers argued that recasts might also cause anxiety, there are strong reasons to believe, based on considerable empirical evidence and insights into cognitive processing, that recasts do promote language learning if provided with care and unobtrusively. As with anything else, a common sense, balance, and even intuition may be helpful when decisions about CF are being made.
Chaudron, C. (1977). A descriptive model of discourse in the corrective treatment of learners’ errors. Language Learning, 27(1), 29–46.
Doughty, C. i Varela, E. (1998). Communicative focus on form. U C. Doughty i J. Williams (Ur.), Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition (str. 114–138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ferris, D. (2006). Does error feedback help student writers? New evidence of the short- and long-term effects of written error correction. U K. Hyland i F. Hyland (Ur.), Feedback in second language writing: Context and issues (str. 81–104). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goo, J. (2012). Corrective feedback and working memory capacity in interaction-driven L2 learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 34(3), 445–474.
Long, M. H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. U W. C. Ritchie i T. K. Bhatia (Ur.), Handbook of second language acquisition (str. 413–468). San Diego: Academic Press.
Long, M. H. (2007). Problems in SLA. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lyster, R. i Ranta, L. (1997). Corrective feedback and learner uptake. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19(1), 37–66.
Révész, A. (2012). Working memory and the observed effectiveness of recasts on different L2 outcome measures. Language Learning, 62(1), 93–132.
Saxton, M. (2010). Child language: Acquisition and development. Los Angeles; London: SAGE.
Sheen, Y. (2011). Corrective feedback, individual differences and second language learning. Dordrecht; New York: Springer.
Sheen, Y. i Ellis, R. (2011). Corrective feedback in language teaching. U E. Hinkel (Ur.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (sv. 2, str. 593–610). New York: Routledge.
Truscott, J. (1996). The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes. Language Learning, 46(2), 327–369.
Teaching foreign languages to young children
Author: Diana Predrag
Published on 17 December 2015
Teaching foreign languages to young children is a great challenge for teachers in kindergartens and elementary schools. As parts of their teaching programs, teachers have to actively work on developing psychological, linguistic and cultural preparedness of children (BOEN, 1989). Psychological preparedness means that the key task in working with young learners is to support and encourage their will to learn, linguistic preparedness refers to the need of developing elementary communicative competences (Doyé & Hurrel, 1997), while cultural preparedness refers to development of intercultural awareness, that is, development of positive attitudes towards other languages, speakers and their cultures.
It once used to be believed that young children should not be taught foreign languages, which resulted in the lack of foreign language programs in preschool institutions and early elementary teaching (Vos, 2008). In contrast, today, the accepted opinion is that young children acquire foreign languages more easily than older children, which prompted the rise of foreign language teaching programs in kindergartens and elementary schools. Additionally, recent studies on bilingual education of young children (e.g. ELIAS – Early Language and Intercultural Acquisition Studies) indicate that children can successfully acquire the foreign language in preschool and early school context. It is important to point out that age is only one of the factors influencing the success rate of foreign language acquisition – other factors include the level of motivation and self-confidence, personality traits, quality and length of teaching, teaching materials and other.
When adults learn a foreign language, they are usually guided by clearly defined reasons, goals and ambitions that affect their motivation, such as a job prospect or schooling in a foreign country. Unlike them, young children do not have such goals and their endeavor in learning a foreign language is usually prompted by desires of their parents. Apart from motivation, children differ from adults in other ways: they are full of energy, physically active, have a wide range of emotional needs and are easily excited, among others. They are also still in the process of learning their first language, they forget more quickly and are easily bored. On the other hand, when they find the presented content interesting, they are able to maintain concentration for a long time and can be very enthusiastic and great imitators (Brewster, Ellis, & Girard, 2004). These characteristics, along with differences in learning styles and types of intelligence, should be taken into consideration when teaching young children.
Some of the most common approaches used in teaching children include the audio-lingual approach, the communicative approach, the storytelling-based methodology and the task-based language teaching (Brewster, Ellis, & Girard, 2004). Younger children need more physical activity and should be motivated to use all their senses in the course of the learning process. One popular method that takes into account children’s needs is TPR – Total Physical Response, a method based on coordination of language and physical movement that consists of two basic components: listening and reacting through movement. Using this method in language teaching simultaneously achieves two goals: the method is a means of fast recognition of meaning in the language that is being taught, and it serves, at the same time, as a means of passive learning of language structures.
Young children are not yet burdened by formalities and conventions and they very clearly show whether they like a particular topic or method. For that reason, teaching materials used in working with children must be diverse, interesting and adjusted to children’s needs; at the same time, they should be structured enough so that the purpose of teaching is carried out and flexible enough to allow children to learn the content in a way that is most suitable to them. Language programs often include songs and rhymes, loved by children due to their repetitive nature. Using such content enables adapted presentation of language, encourages repetition and recycling of structures and vocabulary, and helps in improving all aspects of pronunciation. Psychologically, songs and rhymes motivate children and help them build positive attitudes towards the foreign language, facilitate participation of shy children in joint activities, encourage the feeling of achievement and help in building of self-confidence.
Games are often used in working with children. They help maintain children’s interest, reduce formality of teaching and stimulate cooperation and communication among participants. Games can be complex or very simple and they do not require long planning and creation of complex materials. It is only important to maintain the teaching element as the purpose of the game and monitor interest and enthusiasm of children throughout the game.
One of the favorite ways to teach foreign languages to young children is telling stories. Educational value of reading and telling stories in widely accepted and teachers all around the world recognize it as a way of shaping ideal conditions for learning a language. While they listen to the story and participate in its creation, children identify with characters and, in that way, develop their creative capabilities. Stories facilitate introduction or repetition of vocabulary and language structures as well as presentation of information related to culture. Furthermore, as they listen to stories, children become more aware of the rhythm and develop learning strategies such as listening for a gist, predicting, guessing the meaning and formulating hypotheses (Brewster, Ellis, & Girard, 2004).
The role of teachers in teaching foreign languages to young children is very demanding: they have to develop motivation, maintain group control and discipline and carefully organize activities. When working with young learners, teachers must “put up a show” and simultaneously be actors, entertainers, friends and psychologists, multitaskers, people who presents content in new and interesting ways and maintain a constructive working atmosphere that will appear to children like a game. Through their approach, teachers must cultivate children’s independence but also encourage their cooperation and healthy competitiveness, teach in accordance with the level of children’s knowledge and avoid being overly ambitious and unrealistic (Brewster, Ellis, & Girard, 2004). Working with young children must keep the appearance of informality in order to maintain children’s interest. Before entering the classroom, a teacher must prepare additional activities in case the planned ones do not meet the satisfying reaction of children and must be ready to adapt instantly or completely change activities in order for them to be more successful.
Despite all challenges, teaching languages to young learners is a real joy. Their attitude toward language and learning is often very positive and unburdened. As opposed to many adults, they do not feel ashamed of what they sound like as they speak in a foreign language. What is more, children will not hold back their opinion of the teacher or of a specific task and will not hesitate to directly ask for changes in the approach to teaching. Working with young learners requires constant engagement, creativity and development, as well as communication with parents and meeting their, often high, expectations. Linguistically, psychologically and in life, in general, children are an inexhaustible source of entertainment, knowledge and hidden wisdom and teachers all around the world, in every class they hold, receive as much knowledge from the children as they try to pass on to them.
BOEN (Bulletin Officiel de l’Education Nationale) (1989). Experimentation contrôlée d’une langue vivante étrangère à l’école élémentaire. N. 11.
Brewster, J., Ellis, G., & Girard, D. (2004). The primary English teacher’s guide. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Doye, P., & Hurrell, A. (Eds). (1997). Foreign language learning in primary schools. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
Valcarel, M. (1997). The Spanish education reform system. In K. Karavas, K. Doukas, & P. Rea-Dickens (Eds.), Evaluating innovations and establishing research priorities: Proceedings of the Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in European Primary Schools. Warwick: University of Warwick Press.
Vos, J. (2008). Can preschool children be taught a second language?. Downloaded from: http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=60 (28 October 2015).
English-medium instruction: Benefits, challenges and prerequisites
Author: Dr Branka Drljača Margić
Published on 2 October 2015
The Bologna Process has increased student and staff mobility and laid the groundwork for the creation of the European Higher Education Area, which ensures the compatibility and coherence of European higher education systems. It also encouraged the spread of English-medium instruction (EMI), i.e. teaching content-based courses (e.g. in the fields of medicine, physics, law, engineering) through the medium of English, particularly in cases in which both teachers and students are non-native speakers of English.
Universities in Europe are launching programmes in English for several reasons. One is to make higher education institutions more internationally visible and attract foreign students and teachers. EMI enhances the mobility, competitiveness and employability of its stakeholders. Students and teachers get a greater opportunity to work in an international environment and improve their English language skills. Finally, EMI ensures that higher education institutions are placed higher in international rankings and acquire greater prestige.
Conversely, the adoption of EMI may lead to the loss of linguistic pluralism in academia. In other words, EMI might threaten the development of other languages and damage their prestige by questioning whether they can be viable media of research and teaching. EMI has also been said to reduce the quality of education: insufficient English proficiency results in comprehension problems among students, makes them reluctant to actively participate in class, and forces lecturers to reduce or simplify course content. Inability to manifest their knowledge in a foreign language might undermine students’ motivation and self-confidence, and, consequently, lower their academic achievement. EMI may also harm lecturers’ morale in terms of inadequate language proficiency being too large an obstacle for them to demonstrate knowledge and transfer it adequately, let alone to discuss, elaborate and improvise in class. In addition, giving too much attention to language performance harms spontaneity in the classroom. EMI might generate specialists who are hesitant or incompetent to discuss their field of study in their native language. Finally, it is often pointed out that EMI has been introduced uncritically and hastily, leaving little space for proper preparation and thorough consideration of any potentially negative outcomes.
There are five key preconditions which should be fulfilled prior to and/or concurrently with the introduction of EMI: a) financial support necessary for recruiting more content and language specialists respectively, organising English language support and buying new course materials, b) teaching staff workload modification, so that it includes class preparation time necessary for teaching in English, c) popularisation of EMI, with the aim of familiarising all stakeholders with the benefits, challenges and types of (language) support which could be offered, d) systematic monitoring and evaluating EMI in practice, with the aim of repairing shortcomings, and e) language assistance for both teachers and students.
In terms of language support, language experts could be recruited to be at content teachers’ disposal for proofreading their teaching materials and answering language-related questions. Intensive language training courses could be organised, focusing primarily on communication and presentation skills. Finally, content specialists and language experts could collaborate in class, in the form of team-teaching, or language specialists could observe classes and give feedback to content teachers.
Critical reflections on ‘culture’ in the EFL classroom
Author: Dr Irena Vodopija-Krstanović
Published on 23 September 2015
Culture has a central role in the language curriculum and cultural content is deemed to be motivating to students. In order “to avoid becoming fluent fools, we need to understand more completely the cultural dimension of language” (Bennett, 1997, pp. 16). However, what is taught in the name of culture and what content is chosen depends on the language, educational goals, students, teachers and the context. This text will look at four important points to consider when teaching culture in the English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom: (a) English as an international language, (b) culture content, (c) types of texts and (d) essentialist conceptualisations of culture.
First, in the EFL classroom, culture content is most frequently used to familiarize students with English-speaking countries; however, given that English is an international language (EIL) primarily used for communication among its non-native speakers, the question which arises is which culture to teach. If learners of an international language do not need to internalise the cultural norms of native speakers of English, then the role of culture in the EFL classroom should be significantly different from the role of culture in other foreign languages as the prime goal should be the development of intercultural competence for communication in the global context (cf. McKay, 2012).
Next, students come into contact with culture through various mediums and content. When considering cultural content it is necessary to make a distinction between ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ culture, also known as big ‘C’ and little ‘c’ culture. Big ‘C’ culture is frequently taught in the EFL classroom because it is concrete and can be easily explained. It comprises areas like history, literature, geography, customs and festivals, among others. In contrast, invisible little ‘c’ culture is more problematic as it concerns attitudes, beliefs and values, which are not easily observable or taught in the language classroom.
Third, the texts used for teaching ‘culture’ can be divided into two types, open and closed (Cortazzi & Jin, 1999). Closed texts mainly convey facts about a culture or depict trivial content. These types of texts do not problematize the content and thus develop declarative knowledge. While transmitting facts about a culture through closed texts may seem an adequate teaching method, it will not promote critical thinking and learner cognitive and emotional engagement with the text. Conversely, open texts foster procedural knowledge and invite different interpretations, and varied learner responses.
Fourth, it is important to consider the way culture is portrayed in the EFL classroom in order to avoid an essentialist representation of culture as a concrete and stable “social phenomenon which represents the essential character of a nation” (Holliday, 2000, pp. 38). Such a perspective may leading to stereotyping, and possibly even to unfounded negative feelings towards an entire group of people.
Clearly, culture is a complex phenomenon which should be given due attention in the EFL classroom. It is necessary to determine the aims and learning outcomes, one of the main being the development of intercultural competence and intercultural sensibility. The content used should depict various contexts and aim at developing learners’ tolerance of difference and awareness of others. Teaching culture should not be treated as an additive fifth skill, but rather should be integrated into the very fabric of the language classroom.
Bennett, M. J. (1997). How not to be a fluent fool: Understanding the cultural dimension of language. In A. E. Fantini & J. C. Richards (Eds.), New ways in teaching culture, New ways in TESOL series II: Innovative classroom techniques (pp. 16–21). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.
Cortazzi, M., & Jin, L. (1999). Cultural mirrors: Materials and methods in the EFL classroom. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Culture in second language teaching (pp. 196–219). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holliday, A. (2000). Culture as constraint or resource: Essentialist versus non-essentialist views. IATEFL Language and Cultural Studies SIG Newsletter, 18, 38–40.
McKay, S. L. (2012). Principles of teaching English as an international language. In L. Alsagoff, S. L. McKay, G. Hu & W. A. Renandya (Ed.), Principles and practices for teaching English as an international language (pp. 28–46). New York: Routledge.
Building intrinsic motivation for foreign language learning using popular culture
Author: Tanja Stipeć
Published on 9 September 2015
“Why do I have to learn English, mom?” asked eight-year-old Luka in a sad voice. Luka lives in Croatia, where English is learned as a foreign language in most elementary schools. Even though Luka likes watching cartoons in English and playing computer games with English instructions, he doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic about learning English at school.
Motivation is the key factor
What can be done to help Luka learn English at school? Motivation is the key word when it comes to learning. Having more sources of motivation means more success in the process of learning. However, it is important to make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Vallerand, 1997). Intrinsic motivation refers to internal, i.e. personal factors, which influence the acquisition. It involves learning out of curiosity, dealing with challenging tasks and experiencing pleasant sensations, pride, joy and/or excitement. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation refers to external factors such as rewards or avoiding bad marks. In other words, intrinsically motivated learners learn because they want to, whereas extrinsically motivated learners learn because somebody else expects them to learn.
Both approaches can lead to acquisition. Nevertheless, only intrinsic motivation leads to faster and effective learning and it is, therefore, more beneficial. Rewards or penalties should be avoided as they can negatively influence intrinsic motivation (Dörnyei, 1998).
Popular culture as a bridge
In order to help Luka learn English, we should try to encourage intrinsic motivation. The fact that he likes movies and computer games is a good starting point and a good motivator. Most children find popular culture interesting and enjoyable. For example, Chen and Chen (2009) used popular music to build interest for learning English in elementary school students in Taiwan. The results show that most students enjoyed such tasks, which increased their interest for English, and they were eager to improve their listening skills.
Furthermore, popular culture is a good source of authentic teaching materials. By using popular culture, teachers and parents connect the world which children are fond of with the world of new information and learning. Cheung (2001, p. 57) explains that “popular culture is a valuable bridge between formal and informal education.” In other words, some language content can be acquired formally, i.e. in a structured manner and under controlled conditions, for example, in school. Most of the content, however, is acquired outside of school, independent of lesson plans and materials, in an informal way and without any limitations. Popular culture is very often a source of this informal acquisition. When a child watches a cartoon in English, his or her intention is not acquiring language. Still, the process of acquisition is unconsciously taking place.
Popular culture is a broad term which offers a lot of different types of content. That’s why teachers should be careful when searching for the teaching material. Firstly, they should choose the content students are mostly familiar with and interested in. In this way, the students can easily find the meaning and relevance of the content and will want to acquire it. Secondly, the content should be only slightly above the students’ level of competence (Krashen, 1982).
When used in class, popular culture should be chosen thoughtfully. For example, the teacher could present a two-minute conversation between two cartoon characters and mute the sound at the same time. The students’ task would be to come up with the conversation lines of the two characters, taking into consideration the context in which the conversation is taking place. If the teacher decides to use a longer movie clip, which matches the target group both in their level of competence and in content, the task can be, for instance, to consider and discuss different possible endings of the movie.
Whether we use movies, music, magazines, comics, computer games or the Internet, children will embrace and learn the content easily. Popular culture is a world full of experience, which children accept with interest and feelings. They approach it personally and compare it to their own identity, wishes and interests (Cheung, 2001). Teachers are, therefore, invited to use popular culture as the door leading into the students’ world, that is, they can use it to motivate their students, just like our Luka from the beginning of the article.
Chen, Y.-C., & Chen, P.-C. (2009). The effect of English popular songs on learning motivation and learning performace. WHAMPOA – An Interdisciplinary Journal, 56, 13–28.
Cheung, C.-K. (2001). The use of popular culture as a stimulus to motivate secondary students’ English learning in Hong Kong. ELT Journal, 55(1), 55–61.
Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Motivation in second and foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 31(3), 117–135.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Vallerand, R. J. (1997). Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 29, 271–360.
Task-Based Language Teaching
Author: Dr Nadja Mifka-Profozić
Published on 2 September 2015
Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) is a teaching approach which has been developed as a version of communicative orientation in teaching with the aim to enable language learners to learn a second/foreign language in such a way that it could be used in everyday situations, or outside the classroom. The application of such an approach in teaching means that the conditions should be created in which learners will be engaged and encouraged to learn actively in order to be able to use the acquired knowledge and the skills in everyday life.
In such an approach a task is essentially determined by its relation to the individual pragmatic needs, which means that an expected task outcome should be linked to real life, rather than to a pedagogical aim per se (Ellis, 2003; Long, 1985; Skehan, 1998). A task, for example, may involve such activities as writing up a Curriculum Vitae, presenting oneself at a job interview, or giving instructions to someone how to get to a certain place. These are but few very simple examples of tasks that aim to connect the content learnt at school with the real life situations. One of the most succinct definitions of task states that a task is “an activity that requires the learner to use language with the emphasis on meaning to obtain a particular objective” (Bygate, Skehan, & Swain, 2001, p. 11). Being different from an exercise, a task should be related to an individual’s real needs and must have an outcome that is relevant to his or her everyday life. This is where the motivating power of tasks comes from, because during the work on tasks learners take up the central position: a task is related to student’s interests and it is up to him/her to freely and responsibly select the task content and decide on the choice of language forms to be used.
The main arguments to introduce tasks into foreign language teaching and learning have come from research on second language acquisition, specifically from the results of descriptive and experimental studies comparing learning in naturalistic environments with learning in classrooms. Because of classroom limitations imposed on learning processes in terms of exposure to foreign language and the opportunities to use the language, the introduction of tasks in classroom teaching makes naturalistic learning possible even in such restricted conditions. The application of task-based language teaching and learning may help create an environment in which learning takes place in a similar way acquisition does in a natural setting. In a nutshell, tasks as a methodological approach empower the learners to use language according to their own needs and goals, and at the same time taking account of the natural processes in language acquisition.
However, it is not to say that task-based language teaching ignores the formal-grammatical aspect of language. A widely recognized notion of focus-on-form as part of the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1983, 1996) originated exactly from the need to take into consideration language structure, along with its primarily communicative role or focus on meaning in language learning. While emphasizing the significance of interaction in the process of language learning which is guided and determined by meaning, Long (1996) has upgraded his Interaction Hypothesis with a focus-on-form, in order to balance the roles of meaning and form /grammar in language acquisition. It goes without saying that focus-on-form (being clearly distinguished from focus on forms) can be effective only if it is promoted as part of a communicative, meaning-oriented activity and if it is guided by meaning.
Bygate, M., Skehan, P., & Swain, M. (2001). Researching pedagogic tasks: Second language learning, teaching and testing. Harlow, New York: Longman.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Long, M. H. (1983). Linguistic and conversational adjustments to non-native speakers. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 5(2), 177–193.
Long, M. H. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 377–393), Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.
Long, M. H. (1996). The role of the linguistic environment in second language acquisition. In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 413–468). San Diego: Academic Press.
Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Vocabulary learning and teaching
Author: Ana Bratulić
Published on 26 August 2015
Vocabulary knowledge is essential for successful communication in a foreign language, for as Wilkins says (1972: 111–112), “without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed”. Learners instinctively recognize the importance of vocabulary in foreign language learning while at the same time consider vocabulary acquisition very demanding (Meara, 1980). Vocabulary acquisition is indeed a daunting task for every language learner; not only does he/she need to master a large number of words, but has to know a great deal about each word in order to use it appropriately. Namely, knowing a word includes knowing its written and spoken form, its meaning(s), different grammatical forms, constructions in which it can occur, words it can be combined with, as well as social situations in which its use is appropriate. We do not, of course, master all the aspects of a word at once; this happens gradually, which makes vocabulary acquisition a lengthy process.
We learn most of the words in the second language spontaneously, that is, through reading, listening to television or the radio, and taking part in conversations (Nation, 2001). For spontaneous vocabulary learning to take place, one has to repeatedly encounter a word in different contexts. In order to facilitate spontaneous vocabulary acquisition, teachers should maximize students’ exposure to the foregn language and promote reading and listening in this language.
Spontaneous vocabulary acquisition is probaby the most common way in which new words in a foreign language are learned, but it is not the fastest. Research has shown that there is only about 10% chance of acquiring word meaning from context during a single exposure (Hunt & Beglar, 2002). It is also important to note that one has to be familiar with 95-98% of words in the text in order to be able to infer the meaning of a new word (Nation & Meara, 2002; Laufer & Nation, 2012). It is thus necessary to explicitly teach new words in the initial stages of vocabulary leanring, when learners still have relatively modest vocabularies (Decarrico, 2001). Explicit vocabulary instruction refers to planned and deliberate teaching of vocabulary which includes presentation of new vocabulary items, consolidation of word knowledge and fluency development with known words.
How to present new words?
Researchers propose the introduction of five to twelve vocabulary items per lesson, depending on the proficiency of the students (Gairns & Redman, 1986; Hunt & Beglar, 2002). Given the fact that research into memory suggests that semantically related words are stored together in the mind (DeCarrico, 2001), it is advisable to organize lexical content around topics, e.g. “summer holidays” or “preparing for a job interview”. This is, however, applicable only when students already know some words connected to a certain topic. Namely, if semantically very closely related, and to students completely unfamiliar words are taught together, students might learn the word forms and word meanings, but confuse which word form denotes which meaning. For example, if during the same lesson students are presented with the words deep and shallow, they might remember that one word means relatively great depth and the other relatively little depth, but forget which word goes with which meaning. Finally, in order to more efficiently retain new words, our brain needs to process them in a number of ways. Teachers should, therefore, make sure that students not only hear and read the new word but also practice saying it aloud and visualize the concept it represents, if possible (De Groot & Van Hell, 2005).
How to consolidate word knowledge?
The goal of foreign language vocabulary learning is permenent retention of new vocabulary items, and that is why repetition of previously met vocabulary is of key importance. Studies suggest that five to seven repetitions are necessary in order for a word to be learned (Nation, 2001). When we talk about the way vocabulary repetition should be organised, spreading repetitions across a period of time (e.g. three times for fifteen minutes during a week) is more efficient than spending a single, continuous peroid of time in repetition (e.g. one whole lesson per week). It is also important to note that students should be encouraged to process the words thoroughly during repetition. For example, it is more useful to give students word forms and urge them to try and recall word meaning than to simply give them word forms and meanings simultaneously (Nation, 2001). During revision, teachers can also elaborate students’ knowledge of recently learned words, e.g. by discussing their grammatical behaviour or words they can be combined with.
How to develop fluency with known vocabulary?
After words have been acquired and cosolidated, students need to learn to use them fluently. Fluency development is the final stage of the vocabulary learning process in which students, through various activities in which they encounter already familiar words, develop automatism in their use. One such activity is the so called 4/3/2 activity in which the student is required to retell the same story to three different interlocutors, every time in a shorter time period; the first time he/she has four minutes at his/her disposal, the second time three, while the third time he/she has to retell the story in two minutes. Fluency development is also promoted through repeated listening or reading of the same story with a new comprehenstion task and through free writing.
Most researchers agree that a good vocabulary learning programme should include explicit vocabulary instruction, but also provide the students with ample opportunities for spontaneous vocabulary learning. Teachers should also bear in mind that it is impossible to deal with all the vocabulary items in classroom and that students should be taught how to learn new vocabulary independently. This can be achieved through teaching vocabulary learning strategies such as guessing from context, studying words with the help of wordcards and using dictionaries. In this way students will be equipped for lifelong vocabulay learning, which is an important element of the support they receive in order to become independant and successful users of a foreign language.
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Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P., & Meara, P. (2002). Vocabulary. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), An introduction to applied linguistics (pp. 35–54). London: Arnold.
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Answers to some common questions about foreign language learning
Author: Dr Nadja Mifka-Profozić
Published on 6 June 2014
Parents, learners or potential learners, and teachers frequently ask questions about learning foreign languages. Non-expert answers are often based upon entrenched preconceptions or even misconceptions, or on unfounded attitudes. Here we offer answers to some of these questions, based on scientific research into second language acquisition. In this field of study the term “second language” is used for any language acquired after the first language (mother tongue). Foreign language learning is considered to be only one form of second language acquisition, where the second language is being acquired in an environment in which it is not widely spoken. The terms “second language” and “second language acquisition” will therefore be used in the answers as synonyms for “foreign language” and “foreign language learning”, respectively.
All the children in the kindergarten can say some nursery rhymes or a few phrases in English, but my child is not saying anything. Is this normal?
Yes, this is considered as normal child behaviour. Even though the so-called “silent period” is more common in children who acquire a second language in an environment where it is spoken by the community, similar processes can be observed with children who learn a second language in school or in kindergarten. It is not known yet why this happens, but it is well known that a child can be silent for a long time, for up to six months and even longer, as if during that period he/she had been accumulating knowledge. Generally speaking, later appearance of speech compared to comprehension is a normal phenomenon in both first and second language acquisition: comprehension of language always develops faster than the ability to speak that language.
My child could speak English last year but now he suddenly seems to have forgotten everything. How is that possible?
This, too, is a well-known phenomenon. Second language acquisition does not follow a linear path, particularly where grammar is concerned. So-called U-shaped development can often be observed: for example, a learner who has already acquired particular grammatical forms and started to use them correctly, may after some time give the impression that he/she has forgotten everything. A well-known example is the use of English irregular verbs, where over a period of time a learner may use different forms in the “went” – “goed” – “wented” – “went” order. One explanation of this phenomenon is that the natural development of language involves developmental sequences and that these sequences follow one another in a specified order of acquisition.
When I write in English I don’t make grammatical errors, but when I have to speak I always say something wrong, even though I know all the rules of grammar. Why does this happen?
This is also something that happens quite often in the process of second language acquisition, even at advanced levels of language proficiency. When we learn consciously, we acquire knowledge of grammatical rules, which can be applied much more easily in writing than in spontaneous speech. While speaking, we do not have time to think about the application of grammatical rules, so the fact that our second language is still in the process of acquisition becomes obvious in such situations. This phenomenon can be explained by the difference between our explicit knowledge, which is accessible off-line, when there is more time, and implicit knowledge (if it has been developed), which is used on-line but is still in the process of development and needs the “support” of explicit knowledge. Therefore it is fragile and susceptible to distractions from the environment.
Should learners be corrected when they make errors (in grammar, word choice, or pronunciation)?
Numerous studies have shown that error correction, or corrective feedback, can be beneficial – if applied selectively and appropriately. There are different ways of providing corrective feedback. One of the most effective strategies is reformulating the sentence produced by the learner by replacing the incorrect parts with the correct ones while retaining the meaning. This feedback strategy is called recasting. In recasting it is important that the learner’s focus is on meaning and that the flow of communication is maintained. There is evidence suggesting that interlocutors can influence one another’s speech, and that speakers not only can incorporate a syntactic structure that has appeared in recent discourse into their own utterance, but also store it in their long-term memory.
Why do some language teachers use just the foreign language in the classroom? I worry that this might be difficult for children to follow.
Do not worry – this actually facilitates the foreign language learning process. Why? Because the languages we speak, or are in the process of acquisition, always “compete” among themselves in a way, and the strongest language – this is usually the mother tongue – overcomes the weaker one(s). If the learner is using his/her mother tongue (Croatian, for example) and then has to say something in English, it takes great effort and much concentration to suppress the mother tongue, which is stronger. However, if just the foreign language is used in the classroom, its use assists the learner in suppressing the mother tongue, and saying something in the foreign language thus requires less effort on the part of the learner.
My child watches cartoons in English. I think that this is the best way to learn a foreign language. Am I correct?
Watching cartoons in addition to engaging in conversations and other ways of personal interaction in a foreign language can be useful. However, if a child’s contact with the foreign language is limited to only watching television, without personal human interaction, there is little chance that the child will acquire the language to a level at which he/she could use it in communication. By watching television one can unquestionably learn some words or expressions in a foreign language but live speech and human interaction are much more important for effective foreign language learning.
Some language schools offer “fast methods” guaranteeing successful language learning in a very short period of time. How realistic are such promises?
They are nothing but promises and marketing slogans. As a rule, the road to attaining a high level of proficiency is very long, even when the ideal conditions have been met (linguistic aptitude, motivation, extensive exposure to the language, frequent use of the language, etc.). However, there are ways of learning and teaching a foreign language which may give the impression that the learner is fluent. This can be achieved, for example, by providing the learner with a number of phrases and so-called formulae that are frequently used in communication. It might be useful for the learner to learn these formulaic expressions (by heart), which can later be used without much thinking – in appropriate situations, of course.
To get a job promotion I would need to learn English. Am I too old to start learning a language that I have never studied at school?
No, you are not too old, and it is never too late. Research has shown that, when it comes to adult learning, aptitude is more important than age. This means that someone with high language aptitude can attain a very high degree of proficiency in spite of the late start. Motivation also plays a very important role. Beginning learners should not be discouraged by the fact that working memory capacity usually declines in older age. They may need more time to remember new words and expressions, but they can make up for this by using the language frequently. Research has shown that acquiring a language in older age and using it daily reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and brings about many other benefits.
What is the optimal age to start learning a foreign language?
Based on what we know today, any age is optimal, depending on what we need the language for and what we wish to achieve with it. It is indisputable that children in naturalistic contact with a second language have the best chances to acquire it to a high level of proficiency without much effort, but adult learners may achieve excellent results too – particularly if they are motivated and if they have an aptitude for language learning. Adult language learners also have some advantages over child learners: for example, adults initially acquire grammar faster than children do, in the same way as older children initially acquire it faster than younger ones.