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«An Empirical Study of the Effectiveness of Negotiation of Meaning in L2 Vocabulary Acquisition of Chinese Learners of English Baoshu Yi1 & Zhinong ...»

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English Language Teaching; Vol. 6, No. 10; 2013

ISSN 1916-4742 E-ISSN 1916-4750

Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education

An Empirical Study of the Effectiveness of Negotiation of Meaning in

L2 Vocabulary Acquisition of Chinese Learners of English

Baoshu Yi1 & Zhinong Sun1

School of Foreign Languages, Anhui Agricultural University, China

Correspondence: Baoshu Yi, School of Foreign Languages, Anhui Agricultural University, 130 Chang Jiang

Western Road, Hefei City, Anhui, 230036, China. E-mail: yibaoshu111@163.com Received: June 7, 2013 Accepted: July 18, 2013 Online Published: September 4, 2013 doi:10.5539/elt.v6n10p120 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/elt.v6n10p120 Abstract The study aimed to investigate whether or not negotiation of meaning is effective in L2 vocabulary acquisition of Chinese learners of English in the classroom setting. In the study there were two experimental groups (pre-modified input and negotiation of meaning) and two control groups (pre-modified input). The four groups were required to do a pre-vocabulary test, a match task and a post-vocabulary test respectively. The study showed: (1) as far as the high school groups are concerned, the experimental group outperformed the control group in terms of comprehensible input in the match task. The experimental group also did better than the control group in terms of acquiring new words in the post-vocabulary test. A strong correlation is found between comprehensible input, negotiation of meaning and acquiring new words in the high school groups; 2) As regards the college groups, the experimental group also outperformed the control group in terms of acquiring new words in the post-vocabulary test; however, two groups had no difference in obtaining comprehensible input in the match task, and no correlation was found between comprehensible input, negotiation of meaning and acquiring new words.

Keywords: negotiation of meaning, comprehensible input, L2 vocabulary acquisition

1. Introduction The contribution of classroom interaction to the language development has indeed been the focus for a considerable amount of work over the last few decades (Breen, 2002; Bitchener, 2003; Foster, 1998; Fuente, 2002, 2006; Hardy & Moore, 2004; Krashen, 1980, 1985; Long, 1981; 1996; Pica, 1991, 1994; Swain, 1985;

Zhao &Bitchener, 2007; Gass & Torres, 2005; Long, 2011; Luan & Sappathy, 2011). Recently, many researchers have studied the role of negotiation of meaning in second language acquisition (Foster&Ohta, 2005;

Gass & Vanoris, 1985, 1994; Lee, 2005; Lee, 2006; Long, 1983, 1996; 2011; Luan& Sappathy, 2011; Pica, 1987, 1994, Révész, et al, 2011; Yong, 1983). In the field of the foreign language classroom setting, especially in China, however, less attention is paid to the role of negotiation of meaning. Therefore, this paper intends to fill the gap by examining the effectiveness of negotiation of meaning in L2 vocabulary acquisition of Chinese learners of English in the classroom setting.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Negotiation of Meaning Negotiation of meaning refers to interactional work done by interlocutors to achieve mutual understanding when a communication problem occurs. Pica (1994) explored a specific type of interaction known as negotiation of meaning which has been used to characterize modification and restructuring of interaction that occurs when learners and their interlocutors perceive difficulties in message comprehensibility. Negotiation sequences have been identified by Ellis (2005) as clarification requests, confirmation checks, recasts, etc. Long (1985) regarded them as types of interactional modification. Whatever labels are used, these features of negotiation portray a process in which a listener requests message clarification and confirmation, and the speaker follows up these requests through repeating, elaborating or simplifying the original message. Recent studies support the position that interaction embodied into meaning of negotiation helps learners to comprehend non-understanding when a problem occurs so that comprehension ultimately contributes to successful SLA (Jeong, 2011). The interaction hypothesis developed by Long (1985) shows how negotiation of meaning raises L2 acquisition (Ellis, 2003).

www.ccsenet.org/elt English Language Teaching Vol. 6, No. 10; 2013

2.2 Negotiation of Meaning and the Interaction Hypothesis According to Long (1985), in an NNS-NS (a non-native speaker and a native speaker) encounter, both parties would experience difficulty in comprehension and expression, and they would therefore modify interaction, in particular, the NS would modify the speech to such a level that is appropriate to the NNS. The modification has two results: Firstly, it keeps interaction going and gets things done; Secondly, it provides comprehensible input.

The more L2 interaction the learner holds with others, the more negotiation of meaning would take place, and subsequently, the more comprehensible input the learner would receive.

In other words, when a learner interacts with someone who might be another learner or a teacher, the learner receives input and produces output. Because learners do not know the language perfectly, it is natural that their attempts to interact should sometimes go wrong and misunderstandings may occur. When this happens, it is known as negotiation of meaning defined by Ellis as interactive work that takes place between the speakers when some misunderstandings occur (Ellis, 1997: 141). This may involve saying things again, using other words or simpler structures, and a number of gestures, etc. Through negotiation of meaning, learners try out their own language by making their own choices and errors when using the target language in communicative contexts, which play a vital role in learners’ linguistic development.

To sum up, negotiation of meaning can occur during normal communications between proficient speakers and less proficient speakers. Both proficient and less proficient speakers are believed to benefit from negotiation of meaning. All in all, the interaction hypothesis claims that it is in the interaction process that acquisition may occur effectively. Learners acquire target language through talking with native speakers, teachers, or other interlocutors.

2.3 Negotiation of Meaning and Vocabulary Acquisition The lexicon of a language is central to language acquisition as it provides a unique window on the process of acquisition for language as a whole. Currently, the issue of vocabulary acquisition has drawn more and more attention in second language pedagogy and research. In particular, the role of negotiation of meaning in L2 vocabulary acquisition is drawing the attention of many researchers (Pica, 1993, 1994; Long, 1996; Ellis, 1985, 1995, Loschky, 1994; Fuente, 2002, 2006; Blake, 2000; Luan & Sappathy, 2011; Bitchener, 2003; Ellis & He, 1999; Ellis & Heimbach, 1997; Ellis, et al., 1994).

Pica (1993, 1994) claims that negotiation of meaning is far more likely to concern lexical items than grammatical morphology and that negotiated interaction may be beneficial for lexical learning.

Long (1996) states that negative feedback obtained in negotiation work or elsewhere may be of great use in L2 development and it is also good for vocabulary learning. This indirect evidence indicates that negotiation of meaning could play an important role in second language vocabulary acquisition.

There are some empirical studies examining the effects of negotiation of meaning on vocabulary comprehension.

Ellis (1985) demonstrates that pre-modified input (input that has been simplified and made more redundant) is actually more efficient than interactional modified input (the subjects listen to unmodified instructions but are given the opportunity to seek clarification) in terms of the number of new words acquired per minute on task.

However, later, Ellis et al (1994) re-establishes that negotiation of meaning results in a better comprehension and receptive acquisition of vocabulary than pre-modified input, providing evidence for a link between modified input through negotiation of meaning and vocabulary acquisition.

In a study carried out by Zhao & Bitchener (2007), it is found that negotiation of meaning occurs in interaction when dealing with linguistic difficulties. However, in the learner-learner interactions, there is more questioning which enables learners to initiate opportunities for accessing target language data for the immediate resolution of language difficulties (Zhao & Bitchener, 2007: 446) which predicts their L2 learning and vocabulary acquisition.

A recent study by Luan & Sappathy (2011) examines the relationship between negotiated interaction and the ability to retain vocabulary items among a group of primary school learners with similar first languages. The results show that learners who negotiate for meaning in the two-way task achieve higher vocabulary test scores.

The 24 students involved in the interactive task demonstrate their ability to negotiate for meaning despite their lack of proficiency in the language. As negotiated interaction has proved successful in enabling students to acquire and retain vocabulary items, such interactive tasks should be encouraged in the classroom.

From the above literature, it seems that comprehension promotes language acquisition and negotiation of meaning leads to better comprehension. It also implies that negotiation of meaning contributes to language acquisition. Negotiation of meaning is believed to aid L2 vocabulary acquisition.

www.ccsenet.org/elt English Language Teaching Vol. 6, No. 10; 2013 However, as regards negotiation of meaning, some criticisms remain: Contrary to many relevant studies, Foster (1998) holds that negotiation of meaning is not a strategy that language learners are predisposed to employ when they encounter gaps in their understanding. There is little evidence of negotiation in her data, suggesting that there is a difference between laboratory and classroom settings with regard to the amount of negotiation produced. Because of the small amount of negotiation in any of her tasks, she concludes that un-coached negotiation for meaning does not occur in the classroom. The classroom is not a fertile context for negotiation of meaning to take place because teachers consider this type of interaction to be inefficient in their lessons.

In view of the above, the study aims to examine the effectiveness of negotiation of meaning on vocabulary acquisition in the classroom setting by examining the following two questions.

1) When learning new words, can learners with negotiation of meaning acquire more comprehensible input than those without negotiation of meaning?

2) Is there a positive correlation between negotiation of meaning and L2 vocabulary acquisition in the classroom setting?

3. Methodology

3.1 Subjects In total, one hundred and eighty-two students participated in the study. One hundred students were from the high school and eighty two were from the college. The students in the high school groups shared similar experience in the following factors: 1) They were all in Grade 8, aged from 13 to 15, and they were all from the same district with similar learning experience in English; 2) They were all native Chinese speakers, which meant that Chinese as their mother tongue was predominantly used in daily life. The college participants also shared similar experience in terms of the following factors: 1) They were all freshmen in the college, aged from 18 to 21; 2) They were all native Chinese speakers. Speaking Chinese was inevitable while they were learning English.

3.2 Experimental Groups and Control Groups All the subjects were divided into four groups: two experimental groups and two control groups. The detailed

information is described in Table 1:

–  –  –

Group 1 and Group 2 are experimental groups in which the participants are able to receive pre-modified input (input that has been simplified and made more redundant) and negotiate meaning with their teachers or peers simultaneously. Group 3 and Group 4 are control groups in which the participants can only receive pre-modified input without negotiation of meaning.

3.3 Transcription In this study, all the conversations (teachers and students or students and their peers) during performing the tasks were transcribed. Any unclear sounds were deleted immediately so that only 178 pieces of the recordings were transcribed clearly in the research though there were 182 participants in this experiment. When transcription was done, checking required the same time, effort, and attention as transcribing was done in the first place. Each transcription in this paper was checked by the other researcher who was invited, through which a more plausible and scientific transcription could be obtained.

3.4 Procedure The whole experiment was divided into three phases: pre-task phase, during-task phase and post-task phase. The

detailed information is presented in Table 2:

–  –  –

According to Table 2, in the pre-task phase, there were two vocabulary tests (Test 1 and Test 2). In Test 1, the high school participants were requested to translate 30 English words or phrases into Chinese, and then the researcher could find out what words or phrases were new to them. Ten words and phrases were selected: take after, I won’t be long, pull down, set up, used to, separate, downtown, be terrified of, block, ocean.

In Test 2, the college participants were also asked to translate 30 English words into Chinese, and the words that were new to the participants were picked out. Five words were selected to be ready for the next test. They were drastic, contraption, reiterate, drudge, contingent.

In the during-task phase, the participants were asked to do the match tasks. Match task 1 consisted of eleven pictures and ten words or phrases. The participants in Group 2 were required to match the pictures and the words according to the researcher’s explanation and negotiating meaning with peers or teachers while the participants in Group 4 were required to match the pictures and the words without negotiation of meaning with others. Both of the groups must complete the tasks within 15 minutes.

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