TESL-EJ http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language Tue, 12 Dec 2017 03:10:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Teaching Children How to Learn http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83r3/ Wed, 06 Dec 2017 22:58:12 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12768 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Teaching Children How to Learn

Author: Gail Ellis & Nayr Ibrahim (2015)  
Publisher: Peaslake, UK: Delta
Pages ISBN Price
176 pages 978-1-905085-86-6 (paper) £21.99 U.K.

Teaching Children How to Learn is a practical guide to assist language instructors of young learners in effectively imparting metacognitive knowledge and learning strategies. Overall, it is based on the ‘plan do review’ learning cycle (Hohmann, Weikart, & Epstein, 2008), where students are made aware of the purpose of the lesson, learn the material, and then practice to reinforce their understanding. The cycle is expanded and is a crucial aspect not only of ten pedagogical principles that recur throughout the book, but also of the book itself. These principles form the backbone of the lessons and are key to helping children recognize features of the learning process. By applying them in the classroom, students will gain the skills to understand how they are learning and will then possess the tools to use that knowledge for more effective scholarship in the future.

The book is well-organized, and both the design and format help with locating important information. Section headings are bolded, in larger print, and have a light gray background so as to stand out when scanning the page. Subheadings are also in bold, and there are many bulleted lists. These features make it very easy to find specific information without having to skim through a large amount of text. For a teacher without a lot of free time, this is key to being able to quickly brush up on a concept. There is no index, but a meticulously organized table of contents helps with locating information, activities, or areas for self-reflection.

A key feature of Teaching Children How to Learn is a class mascot in the form of a likeable worm named Wilbur. Wilbur is a guide who gives instructions or advice to students as they complete review activities. In addition, worksheets and activity records that correspond to each lesson are included in a section called ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’.

Many resources (lesson plans and teaching strategies) can be photocopied directly from the book. Materials in two additional sections (‘Wilbur’s toolkit’ and the ‘Teacher’s toolkit’) are shown four to a page, and full-sized (A4) PDFs are available as free downloads on the publisher’s website (www.deltapublishing.co.uk/resources).

The book is divided into three main sections (Parts A, B, and C), which, from the teacher’s viewpoint, correspond with ‘Plan’, ‘Do’, and ‘Review’. Part A (‘Plan’) provides a comprehensive, but concise theoretical background on learning how to learn. This is necessary in order to effectively design and carry out lessons. Important concepts are defined and discussed (e.g., metacognitive awareness and learning strategies), and a number of characteristics and examples are given. In stating the case for children to learn how to learn, teachers’ opinions and concerns are provided, along with comments and responses to them. The chapter also details explicit roles the teacher should play at various times (affective, procedural, behavioral, interactive), and Wilbur the Worm is introduced and personified to assist with some of these roles. There is a detailed explanation of the ten pedagogical principles (e.g., English Language Portfolio, children’s voices, informed activities) upon which the lessons and activities in the following section are based. All information is presented in a brief, easy-to-read format, with a bibliography for further reading.

Part B (‘Do’) provides examples of lesson plans that utilize the concepts and principles from the first section, while incorporating different types of learning strategies (metacognitive, cognitive, and/or socioaffective). There are verbal (listen and respond) and non-verbal (read and respond) activities, which correspond to one of the pedagogical principles. Each lesson plan is presented on a double page spread with clear headings for the different parts. The left side of the double spread includes information for the teacher and steps for carrying out the lesson. While lessons are based on the ‘plan do review’ learning cycle, they also include an optional ‘do more’ step that can serve to increase students’ learning, allow them to work individually, and encourage originality and creativity in completing the tasks.

The right-side page is comprised of review activities that help the teacher to establish a routine (one of the pedagogical principles), as each is centered on the following five questions:

  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you learn?
  • How well did you do?
  • What do you need to do next?

These are followed by the ‘Share’ step, which not only encourages children to show their work to family members (another pedagogical principle), but the worksheets (included in ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’) also have a space to write family members’ comments. This takes the learning process beyond the classroom and into the home. Moreover, students are encouraged to complete this step in the home language, thereby reinforcing content learned in school in one language by discussing it in another.

The ‘Review’ section (Part C) is dedicated to professional development by assisting the teacher with self-reflection on the pedagogical principles, teaching strategies, ongoing development strategies, and self-assessment. Hohmann et al.’s (2008) learning cycle is revisited, however, it is now in a ‘plan do review share’ format. Just as students are encouraged to share their work with parents, teachers can reflect and discuss outcomes with colleagues. This additional step facilitates collaboration between professionals in order to gain innovative ideas. Finally, the ‘Teacher’s toolkit’ includes possible keys, as well as various templates.

Even though the book is dedicated to teaching children, many of the principles, strategies, and areas for self-assessment are applicable to language teachers of any age or level, from preschool through higher education. Teaching principles are generally the same at any level, and while some of the questions or points of reflection might need to be adapted for older or more advanced students, this section provides a useful basis to think about one’s own teaching and further improve through reflection and cooperation.

While the authors are aware that access to technology varies throughout the world, worksheets for students and teachers are only available online. Therefore, ‘Wilbur’s toolkit’ activities could only be used by teachers with access to the internet and a printer. While many Asian countries are technologically advanced, schools (especially elementary) lag far behind in terms of available technology. Therefore, it would be more useful to include the worksheets on a full page or in an accompanying text.

Overall, Teaching Children How to Learn is an excellent resource for any language instructor. In implementing the strategies and activities, teachers are able to equip children with the knowledge of how learning occurs, which can then extend beyond the classroom and travel with them into the future. Metacognitive awareness is therefore key to the continuous process of language acquisition. In addition to being able to communicate in English, second language learners are able to discuss their learning, as they are centralized and are given a voice. Finally, the book is important not only in teaching children how to learn, but also in teaching ESL teachers how to teach through innovative self-assessment activities. The reflective section makes the book especially useful for a language instructor’s professional development, indirectly helping future students to become even better learners.


Hohmann, M., Weikart, D. P., & Epstein, A. S. (2008). Educating young children: Active learning practices for preschool and child care programs (3rd ed.). Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

Reviewed by
Robert J. Werner
Ryutsu Keizai University, Japan

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: The HTML version contains no page numbers. Please use the PDF version of this article for citations.
From the Editors http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83fromed/ Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:00:57 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12693 Greetings,

As past editor, Maggie Sokolik, mentioned in the previous issue, Thomas Robb has now assumed the editorship. We are eternally grateful to Maggie for labors for over twenty-two years, since issue 1.1 of the Journal in April of 1994.

As Editor, it is my job to perform an initial filtering of the submissions so that only those that meet the basic qualifications for a publishable manuscript are passed on to the co-editors who assign the reviewers for each submission. We need to ensure that we do no squander our valuable reviewer resource on manuscripts that are clearly not relevant to the TESL-EJ readership, or are lacking in one or more of the essential aspects of a publishable academic article. Furthermore, the editor needs to see that the review process is carried out expeditiously, and then, along with the co-editors and the reviewers, determine whether the manuscript should be accepted for publication.

This is a challenging age. Publication in quality journals is no longer merely something one does for one’s own professional curiosity, or as a requirement for job maintenance or promotion; an increasingly large number of universities outside of the Western tradition are requiring a published article as a requirement for a Ph.D., and in some cases, even an M.A. degree. This is putting even greater pressure on journals to increase their ‘through put’ in order to provide professional feedback on submissions, and prepare accepted articles in a timely manner. Our aim at TESL-EJ is to reduce the turn around time from initial submission to either acceptance or rejection to six months or less.

In order to do so, we need the help of our readers. Not only do we need more qualified reviewers, we also need more dedicated individuals to facilitate the ‘shepherding process’ – assigning reviewers, communicating with authors, compiling the feedback from reviewers and following up on those who are slow to respond. We welcome more professionals to join us in either of these two roles. Please contact the editor if you are interested and  including your CV so that we can best assess how you can best serve our editorial team.

This edition of TESL-EJ features a variety of articles of teaching theory, policy and practice. Enjoy!

Thomas Robb, Editor,
for the entire editorial team

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TESL-EJ Special Issue
Second Language Teacher Education (to appear November 2018)

Guest Editor: Thomas S.C. Farrell

Call For Papers: Second Language Teacher Education

As a relatively new and growing profession, second language teacher education (SLTE) has evolved over the past few decades. Indeed, SLTE has taken on a more global perspective and the knowledge base of SLTE has greatly expanded to include such topics as teacher cognition, teacher identity, reflective practice, teacher research, narratives and teacher self-development, teacher expertise, teacher emotions, teacher immunity to name but a few. For language teachers, SLTE serves as a bridge to what is known in the field with what is recommended that teachers implement in the classroom and as one scholar has recently noted, it does this through the people we educate as second language teachers.

This Special Issue on second language teacher education (SLTE) seeks research papers on any aspect of SLTE that are original and cover second language teacher education and or development from the teacher educator perspective and/or from the preservice or inservice teacher perspective.

Proposals in the form of a 300-500 word abstract are due no later than February 1, to Thomas S.C. Farrell, Applied Linguistics Dept, Brock University, Canada (tfarrell@brocku.ca) by e-mail attachment in MS Word format. Successful proposals will describe original data driven research, either quantitative or qualitative, with a rationale for the research and with specific research questions posed and a clearly described design for data collection and analysis.

ePortfolios in English Language Learning: Perceptions of Arabic-speaking Higher Education Students http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83int/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 13:22:25 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12659 * * * On the Internet * * *

November 2017 — Volume 21, Number 3

Ellen Dougherty
University of South Florida, Manatee-Sarasota

Daniela Coelho
Tampere University of Technology, Finland


The millennial generation has brought a new dynamic to educational settings, calling for more current and innovative methods in teaching and learning. Web-based technologies are among the many preferred tools of this generation, across all levels of education. Specifically, in tertiary education, McWhorter, Delello, Roberts, Raisor, and Fowler (2013) suggest “the millennial generation of students, as well as adult learners, is asking for anytime, anywhere access to learning, necessitating the use of web-based tools in higher education instructional environments” (p. 254). While continuous access to learning resources seems to be of paramount importance for current students, learning communities and their stakeholders are increasingly placing more focus on the significance of providing evidence of learning (McWhorter et al., 2013).

Electronic portfolios have emerged as one of the potential ways to meet this need as well as the needs of the millennial generation. ePortfolios can be defined as digital tools where learners collect course materials, projects, and achievements, providing for evidence not only of coursework, but individual growth over a given time period. Even though ePortfolios have been used in higher education since the 1990s, it wasn’t until the 21st Century that this digital tool emerged as an essential and powerful means of compiling work, in large part due to its increased integration of multimedia features (McWhorter et al., 2013).

Since the beginning of the century, research studies in the field have mainly focused either on how ePortfolios foster student self-efficacy or on instructor or student perceptions of the value of electronic portfolios (Wakimoto & Lewis, 2014); however, most of these studies have been carried out in North America and Australia. A few studies have embraced a more international perspective, including studies conducted in European, Asian and Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Kabilan & Khan, 2012; Richardson, Watkins, & Field, 2012), but, to our knowledge, research on the use of ePortfolios with Arabic-speaking students in the Middle East is still limited, specifically in the area of English language education.

Despite this limitation, the implementation of ePortfolios across fields of study has been increasingly encouraged in tertiary institutions in some Middle Eastern countries recently (Turner, 2014). Nevertheless, as teachers in a reputable, higher education institution in the Middle East, we observed limited use of ePortfolios, and portfolios in general, and, perhaps more significantly, a general lack of knowledge on the value of these digital tools in student learning.

With this in mind, we as teachers and researchers deemed it necessary and worthwhile to develop a study in our Middle Eastern, higher education institution to (a) understand the perceptions of the students regarding the value of ePortfolios in English language education and (b) gather suggestions from students on how to maximize the use of these digital tools in higher education.

The results of our study seem to indicate that our Arabic-speaking students saw ePortoflios as valuable digital tools in their English language classes; therefore, one of the goals of this paper is to familiarize teachers of Arabic-speaking students with the potentials of electronic portfolios.

ePortfolios in language learning in higher education

In higher education, ePortfolios have been referred to as the new ‘got to have it’ tool, the show-and-tell platform of the millennium, as reported in Siemens (2004), citing Cohen and Hibbits, 2004. Furthermore, over 40% of higher education institutions have reported the integration of ePortfolios in their curriculum (Rhodes, Chen, Watson, & Garrison, 2014; Dahlstrom, 2012). These digital tools are credited with having the potential to engage students, integrate learning across disciplines, and create a space for both student and faculty collaboration. Indeed, Love, McKean, and Gathercoal (2004) believe that ePortfolios “may have the most significant effect on education since the introduction of formal schooling” (p. 24). However, to date, there is limited research documenting the real value of ePortfolios for enhancing student learning (O’Keefe & Donnelly, 2013).

In broad terms, ePortfolios are digital tools where students purposefully collect work on specific topics or subjects, customize them to meet their own needs, and share them with a variety of audiences (Siemens, 2004). Digital portfolios, or webfolios, are ideal for assembling artifacts, such as audio files, digital presentations, and videos, which are not easily assessed through standardized tests or collected in a paper-form file. Often, however, ePortfolios work simply as “digital repositories”, generally displaying student competencies in a particular field. They can, however, provide evidence of progress and achievement in one or more areas and be utilized as valuable tools for and of assessment (Barrett, 2007; Stiggins, 2005). Contemporary ePortfolios are often used as collaborative tools by both students and teachers, providing a means of sharing one’s work publicly (Barrett, 2007).

To date, many international platforms and online sites exist where research and current, best practices on ePortfolios are shared: The International Journal of ePortfolio (IJeP), The British Council, the Annual E-Portfolio Forum and the National Capital Language Resource Center are several sites devoted to guiding educators who would like to implement ePortfolios with language learners. Dr Helen Barrett’s ePortfolios.org, the European Language Portfolio (ELP) and E-Portfolios: The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) provide educators with the ‘how-to’ of implementing ePortfolios with students and include myriad examples and models. Several other sites, Portfolio Assessment in the Foreign Language Classroom, Linguafolio, ePearl and the Global Language Portfolio are similar to manuals, and offer information and modules specifically on how to set up e-Portfolios with students. These online resources provide easy access to essential information for educators who would like to integrate digital portfolios in their courses (see Appendix 1 for full URLs).

According to Cummins and Davesne (2009) research on portfolios has been significantly influenced by the ideas put forth initially by John Dewey in his seminal work How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educational Process. However, recent studies have focused more on the metacognitive benefits of portfolios. Abrami, Wade, Pillay, Aslan, Bures, and Bentley (2008) cite one study on portfolios developed by Zellers and Mudrey in 2007 which suggests that portfolios in higher education, and in community colleges in particular, represent an effective tool to expand and enhance students’ metacognition, as they provide students with opportunities to think more critically and become pro-active and autonomous learners. In addition, Abrami et al. (2008) state that a study by Hillyer and Ley in 1996 notes that one of the main advantages of portfolios is that students learn to take responsibility for monitoring their own learning. When students employ portfolios to understand how they learn and use them to set academic goals, they begin to appreciate their individual strengths and to reflect on their limitations.

As tools for contemplation and reflection, for setting goals, and for documenting learning over time, the affordances of portfolios are equally valid for both language learners and native speakers of English (Cummins & Davesne, 2009). Moreover, we suggest that ePortfolios, in particular, create a space for language learners to collaborate, to share their work, and, thus, to extend their learning. Empowering learners to achieve a greater understanding of the use of these digital resources as digital spaces for authentic learning, which provide a broader and deeper view of what language learners can actually accomplish, is in part what motivated our research.

Implementing ePortfolios in Higher Education: our challenges

The tertiary institution where our research was carried out had recently invested in a 3-year system-wide program to implement innovative technologies and had set as a primary goal the integration of mobile learning across the curriculum. However, the inclusion of ePortfolios as learning tools at our site was limited. Prior to this study, portfolios had been merely used as files or binders for collecting papers for courses. Additionally, there was a reluctance by both the administration and colleagues to employ ePortfolios in courses. After examining the social setting and considering the interactions and relationships of the various stakeholders, we took the decision to carry out action research to determine how Arabic-speaking students at the tertiary level would respond to using ePortfolios in their English language classes.

This decision was influenced by the researchers’ previous experiences in effectively implementing portfolios with various cultures in a variety of educational settings, including tertiary, secondary, and primary levels. Our experiences with using portfolios and ePortfolios with ELLs in Europe, North America, and elsewhere in the Middle East, suggested that the use of ePortfolios in learning, if implemented and scaffolded effectively, reflecting culturally acceptable norms, could be successfully and effectively implemented with our Arabic-speaking students.

Our experiences were also influential in the decision to use Google Sites to have our students create their ePortfolios rather than an institutionally sanctioned, commercial product. In addition to being user-friendly, we had found that Google Sites provided students with control and flexibility in setting up individual ePortfolios and made it easy to add content of their choice. Significantly, and most importantly for our students, the Google Sites platform makes it easy to control privacy, who is able to view the site on the Internet, and to transfer an educational domain to a personal domain.

Initially, goals were set for the intended use of ePortfolios in both researchers’ courses. Consistent set-up between classes was planned and clear, and appropriate explanations were provided for our second language students, reinforcing why ePortfolios were being used. Guided by best practices on the integration of individual learning styles, allowances were built in for individual learning differences and personal interpretation. For instance, more time was allowed for ePortfolio creation for students who struggled with technology and some freedom was given for students to choose how they would like the appearance of their ePortfolios to be and to add resources that were not initially contemplated in our plan. Subsequently, a plan was organized for continued, consistent implementation and use of ePortfolios in both classes throughout the semester. The belief that ePortfolios would be effective digital tools ‘for and of’ learning (Barrett, 2007) with our Arabic-speaking students was fundamental to designing and carrying out our research, where we hoped to document the learning, opinions, and voices of these English language students.

These questions guided our research:

  • How do Arabic-speaking students perceive the use of ePortfolios in learning and in English classes?
  • Will their perceptions change over time and in the course of using ePortfolios in their English classes?


As researchers, we were primarily interested in ‘hearing’ our students’ voices. As a result, and in order to meet the objectives of our research, we chose to carry out a quasi-experimental research study, combined with action research. This type of investigation is usually used to probe the effects of a certain intervention plan by using a pre-post test design study, which means the researcher collects data on participants’ perceptions and opinions, before and after the intervention (Creswell, 2009). The analysis of the data gathered from both tests allows researchers to make inferences on the potential effects of the intervention plan by comparing the main differences and similarities detected in both tests. In our study, we did not intend to test students’ performance, but rather collect their opinions and beliefs on a Web 2.0 tool used in their English classes that they were encountering for the first time. As laptops or tablets were provided to all students in the college, and most of the students had never used ePortfolios, the researchers saw this as an opportune time to conceive an intervention plan (Elliot, 1991; Lewin, 1946) where the consistent creation and integration of individual ePortfolios in specific English classes taught by the researchers would be the main interventive task.

Our intervention plan

Lewin (1946) defines an intervention plan as a detailed description of the factors one would like to change in a specific setting and a rationale of how to implement the changes. Our intervention plan consisted of a set of activities put together in stages to implement the use of ePortfolios in tertiary English language classes with students whose first language was Arabic. The stages were based on Barrett’s (2007) and Siemens’s (2004) phases of an ideal implementation of an educational ePortfolio.

The first stage involved assessing students’ prior knowledge through class discussions on portfolios (paper based or digital) and their possible uses in English classes. Students then completed an online questionnaire in order to share their existing views on portfolios, ePortfolios, and how these digital tools could be used in our English language classes.

The second stage in the process of integrating ePortfolios with our students’ work was the introduction of an exemplary ePortfolio, which could be used as a model for students to consult over time as they developed and consequently mastered the technological aspects of creating their own ePortfolio. The study by O’Keeffe and Donnelly (2013) concluded that scaffolded support, particularly with the technological aspects of ePortfolios, was required for their successful implementation. Siemens (2004) suggests this is an important part of the process as it provides students with not only the technical guidance they need, but also the reasons as to why ePortfolios are being created, encouraging them to take responsibility for and reflect on their learning.

During the third stage of implementation, specific course work, activities, and projects were assigned to guide learners in comprehending the possible purposes of their ePortfolios for and of learning in our classes (Barrett, 2007; Siemens, 2004). Throughout this phase, students were encouraged to share artifacts from their ePortfolios as well as to interact with their peers through the use of ePortfolios.

Finally, after a period of three months of ePortfolio use, students were invited to complete a second questionnaire, which asked them to reflect on the importance and usefulness of this tool in the English language lessons.

Our intervention plan also included a description of and guidance in ways of potentially organizing the ePortfolios. Throughout all stages of developing the integration of ePortfolios in our classes, students were encouraged to reflect on what best matched their needs, tastes, and learning styles. Bearing in mind that the students involved were enrolled in IELTS (International English Language Testing System) preparation classes, a consensus was reached to organize their ePortfolios according to different English language skills. Sections were created within each individual ePortfolio facilitating the collection of various activities, as described:

  • Home – a brief introduction of the individual student;
  • Listening – videos or audio recordings, assignments with exercises;
  • Reading – reading texts, including posted answers;
  • Writing – student written texts, created using Google Docs;
  • Vocabulary – vocabulary quizzes, their results, and vocabulary lists created using Google Docs;
  • Speaking – recorded audio files for practice IELTS speaking tests, both student-recorded and containing information on IELTS speaking preparation;
  • Research – posting of their own research and data collected on ePortfolios;
  • Reflection – a space for reflecting on the use of ePortfolios (including the questionnaires used for this research).

Throughout the creation and use of these ePortfolios, teachers allotted class time specifically for ePortfolio development and monitored student use of the ePortfolio, providing feedback and posting several marked activities on the students’ ePortfolios, as noted above.

Collection and interpretation of data


The participants in this study were college-level students, both male and female, enrolled in the first year of a science degree at a tertiary institution in the Middle East. The first year is considered a Foundation Year, i.e. a preparatory year, in which students have General English and IELTS preparation classes in order to be officially accepted in year 2 of a science program, taught entirely in English. The participants were divided in two groups for this study: female students and male students, both in our courses and, accordingly, in the study itself. In total there were 71 students who participated in the study, 9 of whom were 18-21-year-old female students and 62 were male students of the same age.

The questionnaires

As previously stated, two questionnaires were created, consisting of short questions about the students’ knowledge of paper portfolios and ePortfolios as well as their knowledge of their potential usefulness and purpose. In the first questionnaire (see Appendix 2), a pre-questionnaire, the researchers wanted to know how familiar students were with the terms portfolio and ePortfolio, if they had ever used them before and, if so, in what context. We wanted to know if students might find ePortfolios important tools for instruction in their ESL classes and, specifically, how they would organize ePortfolios for their English courses if they had a chance to create one.

The second questionnaire (see Appendix 3), a post-questionnaire, was aimed at gathering student opinions on using ePortfolios as academic learning tools in their ESL classes and how important they were for their learning. We challenged the students to write about what they liked the most and the least about the use of this digital tool and invited the students to comment on what they would change.

Questionnaires 1 and 2 were given three to five months apart, the variance in time depending on the course and group assigned to the researchers during the academic year. [1]

Categories of analysis

The categories of analysis of the data collected were created based on the works of Barrett (2005; 2007; 2009), Eynon, Gambino, and Török (2014) and Siemens (2004). Each of these authors in the field of ePortfolios created their unique list of possible purposes and/or benefits of ePortfolios in general, from which we then generated our own list of purposes. The creation of our own inventory of objectives emerged from a combination of part of the listings provided by the previously mentioned authors and an analysis of the students’ answers to the open-ended questions in the questionnaires. Table 1 shows how some of the purposes identified by Barrett (2005; 2007; 2009), Eynon, Gambino and Torok (2014) and Siemens (2004) became our list of categories of analysis for this study. However, it is important to mention at this point that the final version of categories for data analysis created by us also includes uses, benefits and purposes mentioned by our students and, possibly not contained in the lists created by the authors mentioned.

Table 1 shows the purposes and benefits of ePortfolios from the authors we focused on next to our categories of analysis. A color code was used to highlight the match between the general purposes of digital portfolios suggested by the authors and our final categories of analysis (readers of the grey-scale PDF version of this article can track these relationships through different fonts used with each color).

Table 1 – Categories of analysis

Data Analysis


Previous knowledge and use of ePortfolios

According to the students’ answers to question 1 in the first questionnaire, 89% of the female students stated they knew what a portfolio was, while only 50% of the male students said they were aware of what a portfolio was.

As for question 2, thirty-four per cent of the female students reported that portfolios were files where you keep important documents to avoid losing them and the remaining female students said portfolios were simply a compilation of a variety of information about them and their work as well as a file to save different types of artifacts. Approximately 11% of the girls also added that an ePortfolio could be a place where you express your opinion.

Regarding questions 3 and 4, more than half of the female group confirmed that, although they were knowledgeable about the features of an ePortfolio, they had never used one before. The majority of the girls who had used one before had done it in an academic context.

As for the male group, in question 2, 24% of students agreed with their female counterparts, describing a portfolio as a file where you keep your work safe. However, 8% of them stated that ePortfolios are different because they are created in the Internet. Eleven per cent of the male students claimed portfolios are folders to keep everything in, while only 3% mentioned they are a way of showing someone’s expertise on a certain topic as well as a “modern way to teach”.

As for questions 3 and 4, almost half of the male students said they had used a portfolio before, mainly for school purposes.

The role of ePortfolios

When asked about the importance of the use of ePortfolios in learning contexts, in question 5, 89% of the female students involved in this study said they considered electronic portfolios either very important or important. The male students, however, were slightly less convinced of the significance of ePortfolios in their academic lives, with only 68% indicating their importance as being very important, important, or not that important, and 32% saying ePortfolios are not important at all or not answering the question.

When asked why they had chosen that level of importance of an ePortfolio, question 5.1, the majority of the female students (31%) reported that an ePortfolio would help them to remember and to save what they had learned, while 23% of them mentioned that ePortfolios provided them with immediate and continuous feedback from the teacher on their performance:

“I can save all my work in it to learn from it later. Also my teacher can correct all my works and send it to me again to know my mistakes.” (Female student)

Some female students (23%) also suggested in answer to the same question that ePortfolios can be used to “connect” with their teachers, to learn from mistakes, and to share assignments with their peers.

The male students, on the other hand, appeared to be much less informed about the uses of an ePortfolio in academic settings. Almost half of them did not answer the open-ended “Why?” question 5.1, and 10% admitted not being able to indicate the level of importance because they had never used one before. Sixteen percent of the male students regarded the ePortfolio as an organizational tool, 13% said a platform like an ePortfolio would help them to remember what they had learned, and 8% referred to the fact that it would become easier to access their information from anywhere. A very small percentage of these students (4%) also mentioned that using an ePortfolio would improve their expertise in the use of the Internet and suggested that it would turn them into more tech-savvy students and provide them more presence online.

In question 8, students were also asked how they thought they would use ePortfolios in their English classes and, again, their answers are quite diverse, especially among the female students. Although 14% of the female students did not answer this question and 7% claimed an ePortfolio would be useless, 29% of these students said they would like to use this digital tool as a platform to save all the documents used in their classes and 22% said they expected the ePortfolios to be a means of receiving immediate feedback on their work. The remaining 28% of female students assumed they would use ePortfolios as a communication and reflection tool, as well as a way of sharing knowledge, collaborating and identifying their learning needs.

“I think it’s easy to access it and very easy to use and show our progress in the semester.” (Female student)

“It’s an easy [way] to contact your friends and share the stuff you’re studying and that will help you get great marks.” (Female student)

As far as the male students were concerned, a massive 51% did not answer this question and 10% of them said they did not know how to use ePortfolios in English learning contexts, while all the remaining students stated they expected ePortfolios to be used only for saving documentation.

Main conclusions based on pre-questionnaire

As mentioned previously, based on the work of Barrett (2005; 2007; 2009), Siemens (2004) and Eynon, Gambino and Török (2014), specifically their ideas on the purposes and benefits of an ePortfolio, we created the eight new categories of analysis listed in the right hand column of Table 1, above. The eight new categories include several of the aims of a learning ePortfolio cited by these authors; however, our own categories are informed by the students’ answers gathered in our pre-questionnaire. The eight new categories are:

  1. Showcasing work
  2. Knowledge sharing and collaboration tool
  3. Immediate feedback tool
  4. Evidence of progress
  5. Reflection
  6. Planning learning needs tool
  7. Communication tool
  8. Saving documentation for future use

Looking at the data collected in the pre-test as a whole, as far as the female students are concerned, almost one third of these students perceived the use of ePortfolios as a means of keeping many different documents and files together in a safe place and about 20% of them envisaged ePortfolios as a tool for immediate feedback for teachers and colleagues. Very few regarded electronic portfolios as a reflection and communication tool or a way of planning learning needs (Siemens, 2004).

As for the male students, a considerable number of them, 40%, stated they considered ePortfolios as a tool for saving documents only, with the remaining students admitting not knowing what ePortfolios were used for or not even answering this question of the questionnaire.

All in all, the majority of both the male and female students initially regarded ePortfolios as a saving and organizational tool before using one for learning purposes in the English classes


Students’ reflections on an e-Portfolio

After employing ePortfolios as learning tools in their English classes over a minimum period of approximately 3 months, students were asked to complete a second questionnaire on the use of digital portfolios in educational settings. At this point, as they had become experienced users of ePortfolios, hearing their points of view gives us insightful, honest opinions on how ePortfolios helped (or not) in the learning process for these Arabic-speaking students in particular.

When asked if they had liked using ePortfolios in the English classes, question 1 in questionnaire 2, 100% of the female students stated they liked using them, and only 3% of the male students said they did not like to use this type of tool in their classes.

Regarding the importance of the use of ePortfolios in academic settings, question 2, more than half of the females said they considered this use very important, whereas the remaining female students stated they were important. As for the male students, about half of them considered ePortfolios as being very important in their learning process and 38% said they were important, whereas only 6% said not important.

Students were also asked in question 3 to express their opinion on what they most liked about using ePortfolios in the English classes. Forty-five per cent of the female students believed the possibility of saving their work in the same place and re-using/re-visiting the documents saved at a later date was very important. The remaining students listed other things they liked about using ePortfolios, such as: saving vocabulary lists interactively, sharing resources with colleagues, learning from their own mistakes, checking their colleagues’ portfolios and communicating with the teacher at any time:

“I like to see my friend’s e-Portfolios to learn about my mistakes and communicate with the teacher at any time.” (Female student)

“I liked [that] if we wanted to practice vocab or writing we can go back to our e-portfolio and practice there.” (Female student)

As for the male students, more than half of them, similarly to the female students, said they appreciated both the possibility of keeping all their work in the same place and the opportunity to immediately share their work with peers and teachers, since their work was available anywhere, anytime. Other ePortfolio features mentioned were: user-friendliness, the opportunity to reflect on their mistakes, the chance to be in touch with English whenever and wherever needed, re-using/re-visiting the documents saved, and constantly following their own progress. Only 3% of the male students stated there was nothing about their ePortfolios they liked the most.

“It’s very important because I save my writing, listening, reading and speaking skills in my e-portfolio to learn and remember the lesson and to keep the subject in my mind.” (Male student)

Recommendations from students for future uses of ePortfolios

A very important part of this research was to hear the students’ opinions on how to improve the use of ePortfolios in the English classroom. Having used them as a learning tool for three months, students became much more knowledgeable on what worked for them or could be changed as far as the use of digital portfolios is concerned. Therefore, we asked the students what they would change in their English ePortfolios and how useful they had been in their learning.

In response, 33% of the female students said they wouldn’t change anything in them, while the same percentage of students mentioned they would like to see a game-based section in their portfolios.

“We want to add a game section to be fun and exciting.” (Female student)

Seventeen per cent said they’d rather have a different ePortfolio design or layout and the remaining students even mentioned they would like to have added their own sections to their ePortfolios.

The male students presented a wider range of answers. Although 10% of the students did not seem to have understood the question, almost half of them said they were quite happy with the way the ePortfolio was laid out. However, 14% per cent of the male students admitted they would alter the layout and the same percentage of students also mentioned they would add new sections to their English ePortfolios, though they did not specify which ones. The remainder of the male students said they would have liked to liaise their English ePortfolios with other subjects as well as to create one for professional purposes:

“In future maybe I will create a new portfolio for my daily work.” (Male student)

As for the usefulness of their English ePortfolios, more than half of the female students mentioned again the possibility of saving documents easily for later and 22% of the students considered ePortfolios very useful for knowledge sharing and collaboration. Other answers mentioned how important an ePortfolio was as a communication and reflection tool.

“Miss, you get us to think in ways we never have.” (Male student)

The male students mostly agreed with the female students on the usefulness of this electronic tool. Approximately half of them highlighted the importance of being able to save work and documents for future use and 24% emphasized how useful ePortfolios were in knowledge sharing and collaboration. Twenty per cent of the students said they were crucial tools for planning their learning needs and for reflection, and 4% stated that electronic portfolios also worked as evidence of progress.

Main conclusions based on post-questionnaire

After creating and employing ePortfolios for a period of three months in their English classes, we noted a change in student opinions on the purposes and benefits of this digital tool in language learning contexts. There was an increase in the number of both female and male students who praised the ePortfolios for their ability to save a variety of documents used in their classes. In addition, more students also told us that ePortfolios were very important for knowledge sharing and collaboration in their English classes (see Table 2).

Among the female students, another shift of opinion was noticed as well: after utilizing ePortfolios, they started to see this tool more as a tool for communication and reflection. In addition, no female students stated that ePortfolios were useful in planning for their learning needs or for immediate feedback after using them.

As for the male students, who initially stated that ePortfolios were only useful for saving documents, they seemed to have found them convenient to plan learning, to reflect, and to show evidence of progress (see Table 2). Indeed, all students were able to express their opinions on the potential of ePortfolios for learning after having used them for a period of three months, something they had not mentioned in the first questionnaire.

Female students Male students
Categories of analysis

Pre-questionnaire Post-questionnaire Pre-questionnaire Post-questionnaire
1. Showcasing work 0% 0% 0% 0%
2. Knowledge sharing and collaboration tool 7% 22% 0% 24%
3. Immediate feedback tool 22% 0% 0% 0%
4. Evidence of progress 0% 0% 0% 4%
5. Reflection 7% 11% 0% 10%
6. Planning learning needs tool 7% 0% 0% 10%
7. Communication tool 7% 11% 0% 0%
8. Saving documentation for later 29% 56% 39% 52%
Useless 7% 0% 0% 0%
I don’t know 0% 0% 10% 0%
No answer 14% 0% 51% 0%

Table 2 – Pre-questionnaire versus post-questionnaire comparison reflecting responses to open-ended questions on usefulness of ePortfolios and subsequent categorization


Given the unfamiliarity of these students with academic, electronic portfolios, this study aimed to examine Arabic-speaking students’ personal opinions in regard to the usefulness of these tools for language learning purposes. It also intended to identify potential changes in their opinions after experimenting with using ePortfolios in their English classes.

At the beginning of our study, both female and male students generally had little knowledge of how a portfolio, yet alone an ePortfolio, could be used for language learning. However, by the end of this study, students commented on the positive impact of ePortfolios on their language learning, specifically praising their organizational features and the “saving for later” possibilities. What is more, students seemed to have benefited from the sharing and collaboration opportunities that arose from the use of ePortfolios.

Our students also voiced their opinions on how to improve ePortfolio usage in their English language classes, namely suggesting the inclusion of language and video games, and providing for even more peer interaction tools and opportunities through ePortfolio sharing.

Despite needing guidance in how to use ePortfolios for reflection as this process did not come naturally for our students, their post-questionnaire answers clearly demonstrate that reflecting became a more valued aspect of ePortfolios, especially among the male students.

Overall, the results of our study indicate that after three months of employing ePortfolios in their English language courses, our Arabic-speaking students, members of the millennial generation, voiced their positive reception of ePortfolios as a tool to enhance their learning in English language classes. Specifically, they viewed these digital tools as a means to collaborate with their peers and teachers, to organize and share their academic work, and most importantly to save their academic work for future use. A percentage of students noted the effectiveness of ePortfolios as tools for reflection and began using them as a means to take responsibility for monitoring their own learning. Our students began to use their ePortfolios to plan their own learning needs and to provide for evidence of their own progress.

As with any action research project, once an intervention or strategy has been implemented, the data gathered and analyzed, and the researchers have had the time to reflect on the evidence, the research cycle begins again (Zwiers, 2017). We as teachers and researchers were fortunate to teach many of the same students upon termination of this research project and we continued to implement ePortfolios in our new courses. Reflection on how to improve the integration of ePortfolios in our new courses was informed by our students’ voices.

We were pleasantly surprised by the positive reception towards the integration of ePortfolios in these new courses. Former students helped new students, unfamiliar with ePortfolios, to successfully create and integrate these digital tools into their digital learning strategies. Several students suggested that faculty members in other departments at the college be encouraged to use ePortfolios to integrate coursework throughout the college. Consequently, a workshop was offered on integrating ePortfolios in learning during an official pedagogical training week for staff at the institute in which the research was carried out. The action research cycle began again; what we had learned from and with our students provided new opportunities for critical reflection on our educational practices as we continued to integrate ePortfolios as learning tools to enhance our students’ learning, as well as the professional development of our colleagues.


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Appendix 1

Name of ePortfolio resource URL
Annual E-Portfolio Forum https://www.aacu.org/meetings/annualmeeting/am16/EPForum
British Council http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/portfolios-elt
Dr Helen Barrett’s ePortfolios.org http://electronicportfolios.com/
ePearl http://www.concordia.ca/research/learning-performance/tools/learning-toolkit/epearl.html
E-Portfolios: The Association of American Colleges and
Universities (AAC&U)
European Language Portfolio (ELP) http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/elp/
Global Language Portfolio http://glp.elenes.com/index.html
Google Sites https://sites.google.com/site/resourcecentereportfolio/about-portfolios
International English Language Testing System (IELTS) https://www.ielts.org/
International Journal of ePortfolio (IJeP) http://www.theijep.com/about.html
Linguafolio http://www.ncssfl.org/LinguaFolio/index.php?linguafolio_index
National Capital Language Resource Center http://www.nclrc.org/
Portfolio Assessment in the Foreign Language Classroom http://www.nclrc.org/portfolio/modules.html

Appendix 2

Questionnaire 1

Thank you for agreeing to take a few minutes to complete this questionnaire. It will take about 3 minutes to complete it.

1- Do you know what a portfolio is?

  1. Yes
  2. No

2- If yes, how would you define it?

3- Have you ever used a portfolio?

  1. Yes
  2. No

4- If yes, in which of the following situations?
(tick as many boxes as you think best represent your answer)

  1. School
  2. Work
  3. Personal purposes

5- How important do you think portfolios are for your academic life?

  1. Very important
  2. Important
  3. Not that important
  4. Not important at all

5.1- Why?

6- What do you think about using ePortfolios (Electronic Portfolios produced in the Internet) instead of Paper Portfolios? Would you like to have an ePortfolio to organize your academic achievements?

  1. Yes
  2. No

7- If yes, how important do you think they are?

  1. Very important
  2. Important
  3. Not that important
  4. Not important at all

8- If you had an ePortfolio for your English subject, how would you organize it? What would you include in it?

9- How do you think an ePortfolio could be useful for you to reflect on your own learning style and achievements?

Appendix 3

Questionnaire 2

Thank you for agreeing to take a few minutes to complete this questionnaire. It will take about 2 minutes to complete it.

1- How important was your ePortfolio for your academic life (school)?

  1. Very important
  2. Important
  3. Not that important
  4. Not important at all

2- Did you like using your ePortfolio?

  1. Yes
  2. No

3- What did you like most about using ePortfolios in the English classes?

4- What did you like least about using ePortfolios in the English classes?

5- What would you change in your English ePortfolio?


[1] In questionnaire 1, answers to questions 6 and 7 were ignored in this paper, as we realized these questions were quite similar to questions 5 and 5.1. Question 9 was disregarded as well, as it did not serve the purpose of this paper in particular. It was added to the questionnaire with the aim of being used for another research on reflection about learning. As for questionnaire 2, question 4 was also ignored here given the goal of this paper, which focuses on the purposes and benefits of ePortfolios from a student perspective. [back]

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]]> Barriers to Professionalism in the Native-Speaking English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83a5/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 04:31:05 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12651 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Benjamin Luke Moorhouse
The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong


This article reports on a small-scale exploratory study that examined how native-speaking English teachers (NETs) working in the Primary Native-speaking English Teacher (PNET) Scheme construct their professional identity(ies) and explored the barriers to their professionalism that exist within their role and context. Data were collected using questionnaires and a group interview with qualified NETs. The findings of the study show that NETs’ identities are complex with NETs having to negotiate their professional identities to fit into their role and local context. Although other stakeholders endorse this modification, it does not come without cost. NETs sacrifice their authentic selves while facing barriers to their own personal beliefs of good teaching and professionalism. The author suggests that if these barriers are not addressed, NETs may feel marginalised and be unable to be their professional selves. A number of suggestions are made for NETs, teachers, school administrators and policy-makers on how to better support NETs’ professionalism.

Keywords: teacher professionalism, native-speaking English teachers, teacher identity


The professional identity of teachers has long been an area of interest in educational research. This area of interest has not escaped Hong Kong, and there have been studies on the professional identity of in-service teachers (Cheung, 2008), pre-service teachers (Gu, 2011) and second-career English language teachers (Trent & Gao, 2009). However, little research has specifically looked at the professional identities of native English-speaking teachers (NETs) working in an established scheme such as the Primary Native-speaking English Teacher (PNET) Scheme Those that have looked at the NET scheme have explored the challenges NETs face integrating into role and context (Forrester & Lok, 2008), the differing views of teaching between NETs and their local colleagues, NETs’ positioning within the school context (Trent, 2012) and the adaptions newcomers need to make to integrate into the school community (Tsui, 2009). This research will add to this growing literature on the PNET scheme by exploring how NETs form their identities and describing the barriers they face to being their authentic selves.

Although the expectations and entry requirements of NETs in Hong Kong can often be high, with an emphasis on the need for ‘qualified teacher status’ and previous teaching experience, they are often not required to perform traditional roles associated with teaching, such as being a class teacher, communicating with parents, assessing students’ learning and providing pastoral care to students. Instead, NETs have a large array of other roles, such as classroom teaching usually over multiple levels with different classes, conducting extracurricular activities, developing ‘good’ teaching methods, developing teaching materials and conducting professional development for their local colleagues (Lok, 2004). Although this list seems extensive, it is still narrow in focus and noticeably different compared to duties assigned to their local colleagues. Along with this, they are required to team-teach with a local teacher for all their lessons (Curriculum Development Institute, 2012). NETs also lack career progression opportunities. They are hired outside of the school promotion structure on a two-year contract basis (Education Bureau 2017). This juxtaposition of being qualified and experienced (but with no clear career path) and in a role with a narrow focus and myriad of responsibilities could have an impact on the teachers’ professional identities.

This research is important because how a teacher sees himself or herself professionally can affect pedagogy and teaching (Agee, 2004), as well as a teacher’s commitment, self-esteem and motivation (Kelchtermans, 2009). If a NET does not feel they are being treated as a professional, this could lead to frustration and demotivation, and even to them leaving the scheme. Indeed, the NET scheme has a high attrition rate, with up to a quarter of NETs leaving the scheme each year (Chu & Morrison, 2011).

This two-stage exploratory study seeks a better understanding of the professional identity(ies) of native English teachers working in primary schools in Hong Kong, building on previous research in the field. It is useful for policy-makers, administrators and teachers as it gives a voice to NETs, showing how they view their identities in their roles and the barriers they face. It could also help shed light on the professional identities of NETs in other Asian countries while adding to the growing discourse on teachers’ professional identities. This study seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. How do NETs construct their professional identities within the Primary Native-Speaking English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong?
  2. Do they face barriers to their own professional identities?
  3. If barriers exist, where do they come from?


In many Asian countries, such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, an important strategy in the promotion of English language learning is the hiring of native-speaking English teachers (Jeon & Lee, 2006).

In the academic year 2002/2003, the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) established the PNET scheme. Since then, each public sector school with six classes or more has been provided with a NET. The PNET scheme was primarily initiated because of a high level of dissatisfaction with students’ English proficiency and a belief that there were an insufficient number of competent local English teachers (Hong Kong Education Commission, 1995). The Education Department (now EDB) states that the role of NETs is to “enhance the English language proficiency of individual students, to demonstrate contemporary approaches to the teaching and learning of English and to share professional ideas with their fellow English teachers” (Education Department, 2000, p. 33).

Possibly as a result of these aims, the NET scheme is unique compared to other schemes in Asia, such as Korea and Japan, as it emphasises the need for NETs to have both relevant teaching experience and language teaching qualifications (Forrester & Lok, 2008).

Literature review

This literature review will examine how teachers construct their professional identities, exploring the role and contextual factors that influence their identities (Burke & Stets, 2009) with a specific focus on the PNET scheme in Hong Kong.

Identity has been defined as “our understanding of who we are and who we think other people are” (Danielewicz, 2001, p. 10). A teacher’s identity is important in the construction and sustaining of a teacher’s professional self, in other words how they seem themselves as a teacher (Day, Kington, Stobart, & Sammons, 2006). However, our identities are not fixed but fluid. They constantly change as we interact with different people, social environments, cultural situations and work contexts (Beijaard, Miejer & Verloop, 2004; Wenger, 1998). Therefore, to better understand a teacher’s identity, we need to understand what influences them, including their beliefs, education, and training as well as their self-position within a community, such as a participant or non-participant, insider or outsider. We also need to consider how society views them, that is, as professional, semi-professional, or non-professional. Through analysing these influences, we can better understand a teacher’s sense of professional identity (Olsen, 2008).

Teachers develop beliefs about teaching and learning early in their career and these continue to be shaped by their own learning experiences, teacher role models, family and significant others (Knowles, 1992). These personal and educational beliefs guide a teacher’s actions and their perceptions of themselves in their work as teachers (Akkerman & Meijer, 2011). Teachers form views of the characteristics, attitudes and values associated with a professional or good teacher. This creates the basis of the teacher they want to be. This is what they may consider their authentic self or their true self: our values and attitudes that they bring to our role and social groups (Burke & Stets, 2009).

Issues can arise when a teacher’s personal views are not aligned with the positions in which they find themselves. Trent (2012) found:

NETs perceive challenges in their self-positioning as professional language teachers from some local English teachers and school managers who seem to question the value of their teaching experiences and practices in the context of English Language classrooms in Hong Kong. (p. 104)

Likewise, Chu, and Morrison (2011) found NETs were ‘surprised and frustrated’ by the difference in teaching in Hong Kong schools and that the Hong Kong education system was “very different from those in their home countries” (p. 490). This could be evidence of a mismatch between how NETs and their local colleagues define being a good teacher. This therefore makes it challenging for NETs to be their authentic selves as their beliefs could conflict with the expectations of the role of a teacher in Hong Kong.

Although teachers may have formed their views on what it means to be a professional teacher, these views are not “entirely unique” (Beijaard et al., 2004, p. 122). Among professionals and other groups, there is often a “set of expectations tied to a social position that guides people’s attitudes and behaviour” (p. 114). The role a teacher takes within a school will also impact their identities, such as principal, senior teacher, class teacher, teaching assistant or NET, and this in turn will impact how others see them.

As mentioned in the introduction, a NET’s role can be very different from that of other teachers in the school (Lok, 2004). This is partly due to one of the PNET scheme aims, namely ‘to share professional ideas with fellow English teachers’ (Education Department 2000, p. 33). To achieve this aim, NETs are required to co-teach with local English teachers. Some NETs may teach up to 16 different classes of learners in a week for 30–60 minutes per lesson and co-teach with up to 16 different local teachers (Moorhouse, 2012). Local teachers, however, will usually teach two to three English classes for eight periods a week and have greater autonomy and responsibility for the development, assessment and pastoral care of students and for contact with parents. Carless (2006) found that NETs in Hong Kong had difficulty developing a close working relationship with such a large number of teaching partners and students. The difference in role requirements of NETs and local teachers could make it hard for them to relate to each other and may lead to different professional expectations.

This can be further complicated when we consider social influences. Wenger (1998) argues that “building an identity consists of negotiating meaning of our experiences of membership of social communities” (p. 145). Therefore, a person’s social identity is based on identification with a social, cultural or political group (Hogg & Abrams, 1988). If they associate with a group and see the group members as similar to them, they will feel like an insider. This association and group membership can lead to a feeling of higher self-worth. Whereas if they feel they do not belong in a group or are not accepted by a group, they can feel like an outsider (Burke & Stets, 2009).

A teacher’s professional identity is most likely influenced by their reference group, which often decides how the members interpret their reality (Nias, 2005, as cited in Ball & Goodson, 2005). The most important reference group could be the community in which teachers function, such as their school or English team. Indeed, ‘how teachers perceive they are seen through other people’s eyes is important in framing teachers’ professional identity(ies)’ (Evans, 2014, p. 4).

Local teachers may find their school community a ‘natural fit’ as they grow up and were educated in that community. However, NETs’ experiences may be very different. They may lack cultural knowledge or language abilities, making it hard to participate in the community. This has been acknowledged by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, which reported, “the school culture in Hong Kong is very different from that in the home countries of NETs” (Hong Kong Legislative Council, 2005, p. 9).

This was also evident in Chu and Morrison’s (2011) study in Hong Kong, where they found issues of “cross-cultural adjustments of the NETs themselves, the host schools and the government’s induction programme” (p.481). They reported that NETs felt marginalised by their host schools and were “treated as outsiders rather than partners” (p. 497).

NETs may expect language and cultural differences when interacting with local colleagues. However, these differences could lead NETs to modify their own identities within the school community. This could disrupt their original identities and require them to adapt and reinvent themselves (Neilsen, 2011).

A teacher’s professional identity is “rich, complex, relational and dynamic” (Scotland, 2014, p. 35). It is a mix of personal, role and social influences. If our personal views, role requirements and/or our social positioning are “mismatched,” then the teacher could feel that they cannot be the type of teacher they want to be, creating barriers to their professionalism. For example, if the teacher has a personal belief that they should be trusted and have autonomy but the role does not match this expectation, then the teacher could feel they are not being treated as a professional and cannot be their authentic self. Likewise, if they feel a community, such as an English department or school, does not validate their role identity, they may feel dissatisfied and withdraw from interaction (Burke & Stets, 2009). It is important to explore this relationship so we can get a better understanding of how NETs position themselves and whether they can be the kind of teacher they want to be.


This is a two-part exploratory study, designed to gather participants’ perceptions, views, attitudes and beliefs regarding their professional identities in order to answer the research questions. Qualitative data were collected in two stages. First, a questionnaire was conducted, then a group interview was held. This allowed for general trends regarding the views and opinions of NETs to be identified in the questionnaire that could then be further explored in the group interview.


Participants were qualified NETs working in the PNET scheme in Hong Kong. Eleven native English-speaking teachers were invited to complete a questionnaire, and four of these eleven also participated in the group interview. Convenience sampling was adopted, with the participants either known to the researcher or invited to join by his colleagues. All participants are referred to by pseudonyms. All participants were qualified teachers in Hong Kong and had been in the NET scheme for between two to nine years. They all had previous teaching experience before joining the PNET scheme.

Questionnaire and group interview

The researcher developed a structured questionnaire with eleven open-ended questions specifically for this study (Appendix 1). The questions were developed to gain a better understanding of the participants’ views on professionalism, barriers to professionalism, and how they see professionalism in their context. After collecting and analysing the questionnaires, an interview guide was developed, and a group interview was conducted with four of the participants who had previously completed the questionnaire. The group interview allowed for issues raised in the questionnaire to be discussed in greater detail. Group interviews create a shared space for participants to discuss and explore their views, beliefs, and attitudes.

Data analysis

The data were analysed in two stages. First, initial codes were identified in the questionnaire data using NVivo, and potential themes were identified. These themes informed the interview guide for the group interview. After the group interview had been conducted, the recording was transcribed and coded. The questionnaire and group interview data were compared and contrasted, and four themes were identified.

Findings and discussion

The four themes identified in the data analysis were

  1. NETs have a shared identity;
  2. NETs negotiate their professional identities;
  3. NETs are valued and have high self-worth; and
  4. Barriers to professionalism exist. These barriers come from both the role of a NET and their context.

The first three themes relate to the first research question, ‘ How do NETs construct their professional identities within the Primary Native-Speaking English Teacher Scheme in Hong Kong?’ And the last theme relates to the second and third research questions: ‘Do they face barriers to their own professional identities? and ‘If barriers exist, where do these barriers come from?’ respectively.

The findings will be presented and discussed in relation to the themes identified.

NETs have a shared identity

In the questionnaire, participants were asked to define a good teacher. Participants mentioned similar characteristics of a good teacher. Most mentioned that a good teacher needs to cater for learner diversity, create meaningful lessons and encourage students to be lifelong learners. This supports the idea of a shared identity between NETs and uniformity in their thoughts and actions (Burke & Stets, 2009).

A good teacher plans a lesson that is based on students’ interests, culture and the social structure that they live in. Lessons should be interactive, engaging and promote student-to-student interaction. There should also be an awareness of learner diversity (multiple intelligence), which is addressed through differentiation and multi-sensory activities. (Juan)

A good teacher needs to have a good awareness of their students’ abilities, strengths and weaknesses and the ability to engage and interest students. They should also have a thorough understanding of each lesson’s objectives and yearly objectives and keep these in mind when planning/teaching. If co-teaching, they need to have effective collaboration with colleagues. Classroom management skills are also essential to good teaching. (Ada)

Most NETs in the study believed that their local colleagues share similar views of good teaching to themselves. However, they face barriers to being a good teacher from the education system and pressures placed on them by the school, parents and examinations. This belief that their local colleagues have the same views and constraints on their professionalism could give NETs and local teachers common areas to connect with each other. This could strengthen their relationship and it validates the NETs’ views and approaches.

I think my colleagues and I agree on what we need to do to teach our students effectively. But because of demands from the EDB and parents, wherein our students are expected to have good results with their class work and examination, it has forced my colleagues to compromise their teaching values. (Juan)

I believe we all share the same general views, but personal teaching styles differ, and often local teachers have little time and chance to apply their teaching philosophies due to exams and dictations and so on. (Nick)

These views were not shared by all participants, although they believed their colleagues’ workload was the primary barrier to their professionalism.

There is indeed a gap between my view of a good teacher and that of my colleagues in the local context, but from my recent interactions with them, I find that there is a narrowing of this gap. Most of the local teachers are snowed under by a huge pile of paperwork and are struggling to keep their heads above the water. This affects energy levels and their overall morale, and I can’t help but feel guilty when I compare our work loads. In general, the younger generation of local English teachers is more proactive and open to new ideas, and I hope this is indicative of a more positive teaching attitude. (Ada)

Although NETs believe local teachers share similar views about teaching to them, they still feel they have more in common with other NETs. They attributed this primarily to culture, shared views and how they are viewed by their local colleagues. This may bind them together, giving them a space to be their authentic selves (Burke & Stets, 2009) and a community of practice in which they feel a full member (Wenger, 1998).

In the focus group, Toby talked about why he has more in common with other NETs:

We just have the same culture, right? You know, we understand each other, and we do the same things and stuff. You know, if I speak to another NET, and I say ‘Oh, this is happening in my school,’ he will totally get what I’m on about.

Fred talked about local teachers’ stereotypes of NETs:

I think in my school there is a perception that people believe that as soon as I leave school I go to a bar.

Paul mentioned that local teachers have a stereotypical view of NETs being rich:

There is also a perception that NETs are rich. I remember my colleagues saying, ‘Oh, you’re so rich,’ or something like that.

NETs negotiate their professional identities

NETs redefine and shape a new identity in order to match the expectations of their role (Vahasantanen, Hokka, Etelapelto, Rasku-Puttonen & Littleton, 2008). When asked whether their identity had changed since becoming a NET, most participants responded that it had. They gave a variety of different reasons for this, such as becoming more tactful to change the system, becoming a language specialist, being different from colleagues and the different nature of the role compared to their previous roles.

…besides educating children, I have to ease new ideas and change into a very stubborn system in a most tactful way. Being a NET is not just about taking care of your class, you are always trying to think of ways to improve the English language standard of the school as a whole… I’ve also become everyone’s ‘walking dictionary’ – that definitely was not the case before I joined the scheme. (Jenny)

Yes, I have not been perusing my area of interest as a learning assistance teacher (remedial methodology) even though as a NET teacher I am dealing with a lot of learning difficulties. I feel I have changed from the teacher I wanted to be (a ‘Learning Assistance Teacher’) to a ‘NET Teacher’. (Fred)

This need to adapt was not only about the role but also about the adaption to the school environment and culture.

In the group interview, Toby talked about how he has changed:

I think as NET teachers, as well, we need to be understanding. If you’d asked me that question when I was in my first year, I would have said ‘Yeah, it’s horrible,’ but then you learn to adapt and find the middle mark. We do changes at our school. They listen to my opinion but it’s like I’m going in with a wrecking ball: this is gone. You know, you find a middle ground and build up respect and relationships so you can get something done which is better than whatever they are doing now.

Jenny mentioned in the group interview that she wanted to “make them [her colleagues] see that I am also part of the team.”

This conscious decision to comply with the system could allow NETs to move from being an outsider to an insider (from the periphery to the core of the school community) (Wenger, 1998). By becoming part of the social group, NETs can gain self-meaning, and this membership leads them to receive ‘recognition, approval and acceptance by others’ (Burke & Stets, 2009, p. 127).

NETs are valued and have high self-worth

The findings showed that other stakeholders endorse the NETs’ identities as the majority of NETs in the study felt valued in the classroom, English department, school and country.

I feel very much respected by my peers and students in the classroom because my teaching approach is accepted and is seen as fun and effective. (Juan)

I am celebrated in this school! My principal is a strong believer in creativity in the classroom and he proudly flaunts me to the parents. (Ada)

On the whole, I feel that the EDB is supportive of NETs. (Jack)

Most NETs also felt their professional judgment was respected. When responding to the question about whether professional judgment is respected, Tom and Juan wrote:

I do [feel this], as I have made suggestions as to the planning of the English curriculum that has been adopted. Involvement which has helped. Whenever my ideas are rejected, the primary concern is time restraints. (Tom)

From my point of view, I do believe that my colleagues and principal fully respect my professional judgment. (Juan)

However, this was not the case for all respondents, as some felt it depended on the topic or support from the school or head of English.

Some of my ideas are respected, but I have been ridiculed (bullied) by other local English teachers with comments such as ‘foreigners don’t learn grammar’ or ‘they don’t know grammar.’ (Peter)

This endorsement of their role and opinions gives validity to the identity they have constructed and could increase job satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment (Kelchtermans, 2009). It could help them justify their modification in identity as their new identities are validated by others (Burke & Stets, 2009). This type of acceptance was also observed by Trent (2012), who found that NETs saw their close relationship with school stakeholders, such as principals and English head teachers, as “playing a crucial role in shaping their self-positioning” as an English language teacher (p. 116).

Barriers to professionalism

To feel valued and to fit in, NETs modify their identity to meet the expectations of their role and context (Nielsen, 2011). Although this seems to be done willingly, this need to modify and adjust their identity highlights that there may be barriers that exist concerning their personal views of ‘professional’. NETs are aware of the conflict between their authentic self and their role and acknowledge that they cannot always be the teacher they want to be. Some barriers were identified in the data; these barriers come from both the role of NET and context.

a) Within the role of NET, they felt restricted by the limited contact time and the number of classes they teach. This prevents them from fulfilling their definition of a good teacher and being their authentic self, such as catering for students’ needs (Burke & Stets, 2009).

The frequency of lessons with each class is far from ideal. The number of different classes I have to teach makes catering for students’ needs difficult. (Jenny)

There shouldn’t be any barriers, but the NET scheme and limited contact with students do make it more difficult to motivate certain students. It’s a bit harder to go that extra mile for a student when you don’t know their background or whether this effort will be accepted. (Paul)

b) NETs also felt their role was quite rigid and narrow, only focusing on English language teaching, and with some having even narrower roles. This could affect a teacher’s self-efficacy, as their contributions are not validated and they cannot bring their unique skills and identity to the role.

As NETs, I don’t think we are allowed to be full-fledged ‘teachers’. Our roles do not fully exploit the range of responsibilities shouldered by a classroom teacher. (Ada)

In the NET scheme, lesson times are assigned and fixed within a timetable, and English is a specialist single subject. This makes teaching concepts to students more difficult and harder to make other subjects transdisciplinary. (Toby)

I think that schools regard the role of the NET is only to teach English. (Jack)

An example of the narrow role was also mentioned by Fred in the group interview:

I wanted to do something else as an ECA (extra-curricular activity), but ‘No, you must do English drama.’ I wanted to do English basketball.

c) Culture and the school system were also seen as barriers to professionalism. Participants mentioned the emphasis on exams, restricted English curriculum, textbook dominance and highly competitive culture as all being barriers to professionalism.

The highly competitive culture that is nurtured and encouraged by parents and HK’s economy are strong barriers against being a good teacher. (Peter)

The reliance on third party textbooks, the emphasis on meeting (or exceeding) levels set by school-based and national tests and the spread of contact time. (Tom)

As a NET, the main barrier is trying to promote the teaching of ‘authentic English’ as opposed to ‘examination English’ to our students. I try my best to encourage the use of ‘authentic English’ to my colleagues during our co-planning meetings. (Juan)

d) A lack of connection to the school community, alienation and isolation were also mentioned, with participants feeling committed to teaching in Hong Kong but not connected to the school community. This relates to the unique role of the NET. Although they want to fit into the school and modify their identity, they can remain isolated because of the different nature of the job; the narrow role given to them by their local colleagues still prevents them from fully integrating into the school community (Wenger, 1998).

It is hard always to feel connected as the nature of being a NET under the NET Scheme is totally different to being a local teacher. The fact that there is usually only one NET per school, NETs are in that sense, alone… With factors such as cultural differences and just being at different stages in our career paths, I do sometimes feel that I am fighting a losing battle and hence the feeling of disconnect. (Jenny)

In terms of connection, the scheme can alienate certain NETs who do not communicate or are not open to fellow colleagues. In local standards, it is a glorified teaching job. (Paul)

I feel committed to the teaching profession in Hong Kong. However, I do not feel very well connected because it is easy to become isolated as a NET. (Jack)

e) NETs in the group interview mentioned the lack of career progression and short-term contracts as barriers to professionalism. This could have a negative effect on their self-worth and make them stand out from their colleagues. This may lead NETs to question their future prospects within the scheme and whether they see the NET position as a career.

If you have a continuing contract, you would feel more comfortable profession-wise. (Fred)

At my old school I had a permanent post so I knew every year… now when it comes to end of contract year, you just think ‘Is it time to change? Will they keep me?’ (Toby)

It can be a career, but I don’t feel it’s like a career in terms of that you climb up some sort of ladder. (Jenny)

The participants suggested that some of these barriers are not unique to NETs and can be experienced by their local colleagues (as mentioned in section 6.1). This can be illustrated by Fred’s observation of a new colleague’s difficulty in adapting to the school culture:

I saw her frustration. What she had taught and learned at university, she was like, ‘it doesn’t apply here.’ She had to re-think how she was going to be a teacher.

Although NETs face barriers to their professional identity, they are by no means alone, and the pressure to adapt to the role and context can be felt by NETs and their local colleagues alike.

Conclusion and implications

This study provides a greater understanding of NETs professionalism in Hong Kong, building on the literature on NETs’ identities. Although not all NETs have the same professional identity, some commonalities were found, giving evidence to the idea of a shared identity and community of practice among NETs. The research showed that NETs’ identity is complex with NETs negotiating their identity to fit into their role and the local context (Burke & Stets, 2009). NETs need to negotiate their own views and the expectations of the role, and they must conform to the prevailing social group. This ability to modify and adapt seems to be valued as NETs expressed positive recognition from others. However, this does not come without cost. NETs may sacrifice their authentic self while facing barriers to their own personal beliefs of good teaching and professionalism from their role and context.

Successful integration of NETs into the school community is essential if NETs are to become more professional and have a higher self-worth (Forrester & Lok, 2008). To do this, schools and the government need to look at ways to ensure NETs are more connected. Including NETs more in whole-school decision-making and events, rather than just English subject events, could be one way to do this. Opportunities for NETs to get together with other NETs from other schools and share experiences, pedagogy and approaches could also make them feel more connected.

As NETs have been recruited and hired for a specific role, schools may feel reluctant to deploy them outside of English language teaching or deploy them as a class teacher. However, acknowledging NETs’ other skills, knowledge and experiences could help them feel more professional and at the same time lead to greater acceptance from their colleagues.

Although schools may feel that in order to get maximum benefit from the NET they should be in as many different classes as possible, this may be counter-productive. NETs are valuable resources, and if schools reduce the number of classes they teach, their impact could be greater as they would feel a greater ability to cater for difference and support students better. This would then lead to a better alignment between the NET’s perceptions of a good teacher and their role as a NET.

NETs may never feel a full member of the school while they remain in a temporary position – always on a contract with the fear that it may not be renewed. If schools are given the option of providing NETs a permanent position and career progression opportunities, this may also add to their sense of professionalism and connection to the school. This would help them see a future in their role and loyalty to the PNET scheme.

The study has shown the complexity of forming a professional identity for NETs as they juggle their personal views of good teaching, role requirements and a desire to fit into the school. Barriers to their identity from the role and context make this complex act even harder. Although these barriers may not be unique to NETs, this study does highlight issues regarding professional identities that need to be addressed. This paper has made some suggestions to hopefully help tear down some of the barriers to professionalism in the PNET scheme in Hong Kong.

About the Author

Benjamin Luke Moorhouse is a lecturer in the English Language Education Division of the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, where he works on initial teacher education programmes. He is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Exeter, UK. His research interests include, initial teacher education, experiential learning, out-of-class learning and primary English language education. He has published papers in journals such as the Journal of Education for Teaching, The Teacher Trainer Journal and Modern English Teacher.


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Appendix 1: Questionnaire

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EFL Vocabulary Acquisition through Word Cards: Student Perceptions and Strategies http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83a4/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 03:45:19 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12643 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Darrell Wilkinson
Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, Tokyo, Japan


Vocabulary knowledge plays an important role in second language proficiency, and learners need to acquire thousands of words in order to become proficient in the target language. As numerous studies have shown that incidental vocabulary acquisition is not sufficient on its own, it is clear that learners must devote considerable time and effort to deliberate vocabulary study. Vocabulary cards are a commonly used technique for deliberate vocabulary study; however, there is currently a lack of qualitative research on learners’ perceptions of word cards, or the extent to which individual learner preferences or study habits affect the efficacy of word cards. Therefore, this study investigates students’ general perceptions of word cards, and examines individual learner habits and practices when studying from their cards. Results suggest that students view word cards positively and are aware of many of the benefits attributed to word cards. However, data also highlights the fact that some learner strategies may negate some of the benefits of word cards as set out in the literature.

Keywords: EFL, vocabulary, deliberate vocabulary learning, word cards, learner strategies


There is little doubt that vocabulary knowledge plays an important role in second language proficiency, and it is believed that learners need to acquire between 3,000 and 10,000 words to become proficient in the target language (Hazenberg & Hulstijn, 1996; Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer & Ravenhorst-Kalovski, 2010). Given the vast number of words that must be learned, it is clear that learners must devote considerable amounts of time and effort to vocabulary study. Although research suggests that some vocabulary can be learned incidentally (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983; Horst et al., 1998; Waring & Takaki, 2003), it is clear that learners must engage in deliberate vocabulary study if they are to make significant gains in relatively short periods of time (Laufer & Rozovski-Roitblat, 2014; Mondria & Mondria-de Vries, 1994; Nakata, 2008; Nation, 2013).

Vocabulary cards are a commonly used technique for deliberate vocabulary study, and the efficacy of this method is supported by a growing body of research (Laufer, 2003; Nation, 2013; Schmitt, 1997; and Wang, 2010). A variety of features have been given credit for the success of learning from word cards including the affordances they offer for (a) expanded spaced rehearsal, (b) active recall of the L2 word form and its meaning separately, and (c) eliminating list effects or serial learning (Nakata, 2008; Nation & Webb, 2011). However, there are currently very few, if any, qualitative studies concerning the extent to which individual learner preferences impact the efficacy of word cards in terms of the three points mentioned above. Currently, very little is known about what learners actually do with their word cards after initially making them, or whether the way they are used is in line with the recommendations or assumptions outlined in the word card literature. Therefore, this study aims to address this important gap in the literature.

Literature Review

Importance of Vocabulary

There is little doubt that vocabulary knowledge plays a vital role in a learner’s ability to proficiently use a foreign language (Laufer & Rozovski-Roitblat, 2014; Laufer & Shmueli, 1997; Nation, 2013; Nakata, 2008). There is a growing body of research showing positive correlations between vocabulary size and L2 reading and listening ability (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995; Durgunoglu, 1997; Koda, 1989; Laufer, 1991, 1992, 2014; Nation, 2006; Qian, 1999, 2002). It also follows that it will be impossible to express oneself clearly in spoken or written form without an adequate grasp of vocabulary (Astika, 1993; Engber, 1995; Olinghouse & Leaird, 2009; Laufer & Nation, 1995).

Number of Words Needed

Early research suggested that learners need to understand at least 95% of the words in a written text if they are to gain reasonable comprehension (Laufer, 1989). However, Hu and Nation (2000) concluded that 98% coverage was actually more suitable for successful comprehension of written texts. In order to be able to understand 95-98% of written or spoken texts, learners need a vocabulary size of anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000 words (Hazenberg & Hulstijn, 1996; Hu & Nation, 2000; Laufer & Ravenhorst-Kalovski, 2010; Nation, 2006). Therefore, it is clear that learners must devote considerable amounts of time and effort to learning foreign language vocabulary if they wish to be able to communicate effectively in the target language.

Incidental and Intentional (Deliberate) Vocabulary Learning

From a pedagogical point of view, vocabulary acquisition is usually seen to take place either incidentally or intentionally (Nation, 2013). Incidental vocabulary learning is defined as the learning of vocabulary as a by-product of carrying out other activities, most commonly extensive reading (Nation, 2013). On the other hand, intentional vocabulary learning involves learners carrying out activities with the sole purpose of acquiring vocabulary. Typical activities include using dictionaries before creating word lists, vocabulary notebooks, or word cards (Nation, 2013; Nation & Webb, 2011; Schmitt, 1997). Intentional vocabulary learning is also often referred to as deliberate vocabulary learning (Elgort, 2011; Nation, 2013), and this is the term adopted in the rest of this paper.

Although research suggests that some vocabulary can be learned incidentally, the gains attributed to this method are quite small (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983; Horst et al., 1998; Waring & Takaki, 2003). However, numerous studies suggest that deliberate vocabulary learning can be an effective way to make substantial vocabulary gains in relatively short periods of time (Laufer & Rozovski-Roitblat, 2014; Nakata, 2008; Komachali and Khodareza, 2012; Schmitt & Schmitt, 1995). Therefore, incidental study alone is not enough and learners must also carry out regular and repeated deliberate vocabulary study if they are to master the thousands of words needed for success in the target foreign language.

Deliberate Vocabulary Learning with Word Cards

Vocabulary cards are a time efficient and easy-to-use method of deliberate vocabulary study (Nation, 2013). In their most basic form, word cards involve having the target language word written on one side, with the native language version on the other (Nation & Webb, 2011). However, depending on learner or teacher preferences, other information such as the part of speech, collocations, or example sentences can also be included on the cards. Many language teachers advocate the use of word cards as an efficient and effective method of deliberate vocabulary study, a position which is backed up by a growing body of research-based evidence (Komachali & Khodareza, 2012; Laufer, 2003; Nakata, 2008; Wang, 2010; Waring, 1997). Generally, although learning from lists has proven to be a successful deliberate learning technique (Hulstijn, 2001; Nation, 2013), studying from word cards has proven to be a more effective method (Laufer, 2003; Nakata, 2008; Schmitt & Schmitt, 1995; Waring, 2004).

The success of word cards as a method of deliberate vocabulary study can be attributed to a number of factors described by Nakata (2008) and nation (2013). Firstly, word cards allow for active recall of the L2 word form and its meaning separately because each form is presented on different sides. Secondly, expanded spaced rehearsal can be implemented more easily as learners are able to divide cards into several decks, allowing them to review difficult or unknown items more frequently than easy or better-known items. Thirdly, as words are presented separately, no inappropriate help is given via the list effect, something that Nation and Webb (2011) refer to as serial learning.

Gaps in the Literature

As can be seen from the literature review above, word cards have repeatedly proven to be an efficient and successful technique for the deliberate study of foreign language vocabulary. Much of this success has been credited to the characteristics of word cards and the affordances they offer. However, very little qualitative research has been carried out investigating word cards. To date, the research-based studies concerning word cards have almost all been quantitative, cross-sectional, and carried out under experimental conditions instead of within natural learning contexts (Nation & Webb, 2011). There are very few studies exploring learners’ perceptions of vocabulary cards, and none examining the choices learners make when using them. Therefore, it is not clear if learners’ perceptions or individual study choice support or negate the theoretical benefits attributed to word cards. Currently, there are two main gaps in the literature that warrant specific attention:

1. No qualitative studies were found that provided detailed data regarding learners’ general perceptions of word cards as a deliberate study method. Only one study was found to address the issue of learner perceptions in a somewhat qualitative way (Nakata, 2008), and even this study did not use qualitative interviews, and presented data quantitatively. This gap needs addressing because learner perceptions and feelings about a particular study method can affect learner motivation, and thus impact learning outcomes. If learners have a positive view of word cards, this could account for some of their success reported in the various quantitative studies, and could further justify their use in language learning programs. On the other hand, if learners display a lack of satisfaction towards word cards, it could show that the benefits of the method need to be better explained to students, or that learners should be given more autonomy in terms of which deliberate study method they use.

2. No studies have been found that have investigated the extent to which learners actually carry out expanded spaced retrieval by dividing their word cards into ‘known’ or ‘unknown’ packs. If qualitative data obtained from interviews, observations, and surveys shows that learners are regularly and systematically separating their cards into packs based on the extent to which words are perceived to be known, this would provide practical, classroom-based support for this theoretical benefit. Conversely, if learners prefer not to separate their packs, or do not focus more on new words, then no expanded spaced retrieval would take place, and this theoretical benefit would be called into question.

The Present Study

As seen above, there are currently very few if any studies showing how learners feel about word cards in general, and although the affordances for expanded spaced rehearsal and lack of serial learning are given a great deal of credit for the efficacy of word cards, there have been no qualitative investigations to back this up. Only through in-depth qualitative investigation and analysis can we begin to answer some important questions and better understand extent to which learner differences may alter the efficacy of using word cards as a deliberate vocabulary study method. The present study uses qualitative methods to answer the research questions below:

Research Questions

  1. How do learners perceive word cards as a deliberate vocabulary study method?
  2. How do learners’ study choices relate to or affect the benefits of word cards described in the literature above?
    A. Expanded spaced retrieval
    B. List effect/serial learning


The research was carried out in a private university in Western Tokyo. The university curricula, regardless of faculty, has quite a strong emphasis on English as a Foreign Language (EFL) with all students having the opportunity to take EFL classes for four years. In addition, there are many study abroad opportunities, and the university has a variety of well-established self-access language programs and facilities.


The participants were 17 Japanese university students aged between 18 and 19 who had all studied English as a foreign language for at least six years before entering university. The participants were volunteers from an original pool of 100 students. Ultimately, seven students were selected to participate in the semi-structured interviews. This group of students had a good command of the English language (i.e., the interviews were to be conducted in English), had a balance of male and female participants, came from different departments, and had expressed high motivation to learn English.

All of the participants were first year undergraduate students and had used word cards as part of their course requirements for at least one semester. Within their course, the students’ vocabulary level was pre-tested. They were given a level-appropriate section of the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and they self-selected words that they deemed to be unknown and entered the relevant information about that word (L1 meaning, L2 form, example sentence(s), and any other information they deemed as important) onto word cards. Overall, all of the participants followed this method and had learned from at least 250 word cards prior to the study.

Data Collection and Analysis

The primary method of data collection for the seven participants was one-to-one semi-structured interviews. The interview data was then transcribed, analysed, and coded. In addition, the interviewees’ word cards were also examined during the interview stage. After analysis of the data, the remaining ten students, who were not interviewed, were emailed a short questionnaire to help shed more light on some of the points raised during the interviews. This questionnaire contained both Likert-scale and open-ended questions. Students were allowed to answer the open-ended questions in Japanese or English, and all Japanese answers were translated by a colleague.

Presentation and Analysis of Data

The following section presents interview and survey data, and provides interpretations of the data analysis.

Research Question 1: How do learners perceive word cards as a deliberate vocabulary study method?

General Perceptions of Word Cards. In terms of general perceptions of word cards as a deliberate vocabulary learning technique, the interview and survey data intimates that learners view word cards positively. The interview excerpts below represent some typical responses.

P1. Word cards are good, I think, good, good for me. I like this system very much … I can learn many words quickly. … I can choose words I don’t know, it is good.

P2. It is good to learn new words and sentences, easy, quickly study many word. … I can learn many words quickly, … it is also convenient.

P3. Cards are a good way to study quickly. I can learn word and sentence well … I can know many new words and the way of using. … English words and sentences.

Similar opinions were given by three of the other four interviewees. Survey data gained from a Likert-scale question asking participants to rate the efficiency of word cards supports the above interview data. When answering the question ‘How efficient do you think word cards are to study vocabulary (time efficiency, ease of use, etc.)?’ 70% of the participants rated word cards as highly efficient (Mean = 4.1 out of 5). Responses to an open-ended follow up question asking participants to provide reasons for their above ratings included similar answers to those provided by the interviewees, for example, simple way to study, easy to make and carry, and can learn many words quickly. One surprising point is that, despite the amount of time required to make the cards, all participants believed that the vocabulary card method was a quick way to learn new words. This finding is in line with the literature that views word cards as a relatively quick and efficient method of deliberate vocabulary study (Nation, 2013; Nation & Webb, 2011).

As learners appear to view the use of word cards positively, it was deemed important to find out what features the participants particularly like or find most beneficial. The main findings were that convenience and active recall were the two positive points most commonly stated by the participants.

Convenience. All of the participants interviewed said that they find the word card system convenient because they are easy to carry around and study from in various contexts. Typical responses were as follows: they are convenienteasy to carryI can study in bed, … in library, … in class and on train. In addition, when asked to list the main advantages of word cards on the survey emailed to the other participants, 70% of the respondents mentioned that they felt they were convenient or easy to carry, and a number of participants specifically mentioned that they liked the fact that they could study from the cards anywhere, for example, on the train, or in the classroom before class.

Presentation of L2 form and L1 meaning separately. In addition to noting the convenience factor, many of the interviewees mentioned that having the L1 and L2 words presented separately (on different sides of the cards) was a positive feature of word cards.

P1. I have to see one side and remember the other, it is difficult but good for me … I can remember more easy next time. I see Japanese and have to remember word and sentence, is good.

P2. When I see Japanese word, I have to remember the English one, is difficult but helpful for me. … If I see together, like notebook, maybe I do not remember next time.

P5. I like this, must think hard … not easy … cannot see both sides at same time, is good. Remembering sentence is good.

P7. I have to think about, remember the word on the other side of the card, it is good. I remember words like this more. In textbook, words shown together, it is too easy … don’t have to think.

The above results were also reflected in the survey data. When listing the advantages of word cards on the survey, 60% of students stated that they thought that it was very good that they could not see the Japanese and English forms of the words at the same time.

Research Question 2: How do learners’ study choices relate to or affect the benefits of word cards described in the literature above?

The following data excerpts hopefully shed light on what it is that learners actually do when studying from word cards. Specifically, the results aim to show how learners’ study choices affect the two theoretical benefits of word cards referred to as expanded spaced retrieval, and serial learning.

Expanded Spaced Retrieval. One of the main advantages or positive characteristics of word cards discussed in the literature is the issue of expanded spaced retrieval (Nakata, 2008; Nation, 2013; Nation and Webb, 2011). This refers to the process whereby word cards can be sorted into different packs, for example, known words, somewhat known, and unknown. Then, in principle, learners can focus less attention on better known words by extending the time between study periods of those words. The data excerpts below highlight some interesting issues regarding expanded spaced retrieval.

While some of the participants seemed to practice the principle of expanded spaced retrieval, it was not systematically expanded.

P3. Sometimes I only bring some cards, not all of them … If I know some words I can leave them at home for that day’s study.

I. Ah, I see. What happens to the cards you leave at home, take out of the pack?

P3. I will study from them again at next, or next session, because, if I finish with them, I think I forget them again. So, um, if I study them today and know them, or um get good test score, maybe I not study for one week.

I. How often do you take cards out of your pack like this? Why?

P3. Um, not often, maybe twice in a semester (long pause; no more information given)

I. Do you keep cards in separate packs?

P3. Ah, no, I put them back like this (shows me her cards: they are all numbered and in order). I usually take out in group and then put back in same order. … Like this (shows cards), I take out from here to here (1-50), and then put them back later

I. Why do you keep them together in order, and in one pack, why not in known and unknown piles for example?

P3. I um, (laughs) I do not like shuffle so much. Like this way I have to, want to order so I know, um, so I see which are old and new easy … I like to have them together usually … because I can study all if have time … I like cards in time order.

It seems from the data above, that although Participant 3 does carry out spaced retrieval, it is not done in an organised or planned manner, and is not really expanded spaced retrieval for a number of reasons. The next data excerpt shown below provides more evidence to support these interpretations.

I. How long after making the cards do you study them, and which cards do you study?

P3. Uhm, for example, maybe make on Wednesday, then study same day, then make more on Friday or Saturday, then study new and old ones. Once a week, look at all. … But, when I make new cards, I study those ones, plus go back to early ones. … Not always have time to look at all, so I start with new ones and go backwards. But sometimes I study from last (new) ones and all others. … I try to look at all at least once a week. I spend more time on new cards, old ones I know so take less time, uhm, just check.

First, although she does not study older or more known words as often as newer ones, the maximum spaced retrieval seems to be around one week; it is not expanded to longer periods, which is the basic premise or definition of expanded spaced retrieval as stated in the literature (Nakata, 2008; Nation, 2013). Similar practices were also reported by four of the other participants interviewed, all of whom said they generally try to look through all of the cards at least once a week. In addition, the survey data gained from the question ‘How often do you separate your cards into packs based on how well you know the words?’ showed that less than 20% of the students regularly separated their packs.

Serial Learning. In addition to showing a lack of expanded spaced retrieval, as the data excerpts above also show that participant 1 always keeps the cards in order, and mostly in one pack, this theoretically could lead to some list effect or serial learning. The literature (Nation, 2013; Nation & Webb 2011) mentions that one of the main advantages of word cards is that they can be shuffled, or split into multiple decks, in order to prevent words from being presented in the same order, thus avoiding serial learning. However, it can be seen above that this does not seem to be the case for most learners in this study. Another example comes from participant 2 who stated “I do not like shufflingI don’t separate into packsI want to keep in same order.” Further evidence of the risk of serial learning comes from another interviewee whose cards, which were brought to the interview, were numbered and in order. This participant also expressed an aversion to shuffling or separating into decks when he stated that he does not like shuffling but likes “keeping in one pack, keeping together in number order.” Similar answers were given by all of the interviewees, and survey data gained from the question ‘How often do you shuffle your cards’ showed that only 2 students regularly shuffled their word card packs. This is very surprising because as their teacher, I have often stressed the importance and benefit of shuffling cards and not studying them in the same order each time.

This habit of keeping the cards in one pack, going through them in time or numerical order and not shuffling goes against what is discussed in the literature regarding word cards protecting against serial learning.

However, during interviews participants were tested for serial learning by asking if they could recall the next word after looking at the previous one. No participant was able to recall the word correctly, or even partially. Therefore, based on very rudimentary testing, it seems that even though the participants were largely studying from their cards in the same order each time, word cards are an effective way of avoiding serial learning.

Active Versus Passive Recall. Another of the advantages of word cards discussed in the literature is that as information is presented on two sides, not next to each other, active recall of the L2 form can be done after seeing the L1 meaning (Nakata, 2008; Nation, 2013). This is believed to be more cognitively challenging and therefore likely to lead to better learning outcomes than carrying out passive recall; looking at the L2 form and trying to recall the L1 meaning (Laufer & Hulstijn, 2001; Laufer & Rozovski-Roitblat, 2014; Nation, 2013, Nation & Webb, 2011).

Originally, this characteristic of word card design was not a focus of investigation in this study. However, it was added because many of the participants discussed the issue without specific prompting, and no previous studies were found that investigated whether learners carry out active or passive recall form word cards.

The interview data below shows that the learner is aware that active recall is more difficult than passive recall, and that she systematically chooses which type of recall to engage in.

I. OK, when you are studying the cards, if you are studying? Do you always need to look at both sides?

P5. Yes, even if I know, uh think I know, I always check. It is best part for me. I see English, I have to remember, um, then test, check other side to see if right, if I am correct. Or see Japanese, must turnover to see if my remember English word is correct.

I. Do you start with English word side or do you start with Japanese side)? Which side do you look at first?

P5. Firstly, uh, I look at side English side, a few times do this, so, few time later I start with side Japanese side.

I. When do you change from looking at the English side first to looking at the Japanese side? Uh, why do you change?

P5. Yes, um, when I think I maybe know the words more, … then I change to Japanese side.

I. Looking at the English and remembering the Japanese, or looking at Japanese and remembering the English, which is most difficult?

P5. Um Japanese to English is more difficult. I have to look at Japanese, um which I usually know, but then I have to think about English, um, mm, spelling, letters, uh pronunciation. It is more difficult. Seeing English, all, then thinking Japanese much easier.

From the above data, it can be seen that the student is consciously aware that active recall is more cognitively challenging, and due to this knowledge, she seems to progress from the easier method (passive recall) to the more difficult active recall method. She seems to do this in order to systematically increase her knowledge and memory of that word. This learning student-selected methodology was also reported by three other participants, for example:

P1.Yeah, first time is Japanese to English, then second time is same, but 3rd time is Japanese to English (in each session).

P3. English to Japanese is easier for me, so I start like this a few times and then change … start Japanese side to remember English word more.

P6. I don’t like trying to remember the English word, it is too hard. Looking at English side is easy … but I do other way sometimes because I need it.

The above data intimates that not only are learners applying very good recall strategies, which are in line with the advice or benefits described in the literature, but that they are also doing it consciously with an understanding of the importance of doing so. Unfortunately, no survey data was collected regarding this point as it was not a planned variable in this study.

Summary of Results

The research outlined in this paper addresses a number of gaps in the literature regarding word card usage. Although much literature has cited expanded spaced retrieval, lack of serial learning, and the affordance to actively recall the L1 form of a word from its L2 meaning (Nakata, 2008; Nation, 2013; Nation & Webb, 2011), this is the first known study to provide qualitative data regarding these issues. Therefore, although this study is very limited in terms of the number of participants, the qualitative data highlights some interesting findings:

Firstly, in terms of learner perceptions, all of the learners viewed word cards in a positive light. The majority of the participants interviewed and surveyed stated that they felt word cards were a quick and effective method. In addition, all of the participants listed convenience as a major benefit of word cards. Results also indicated that learners viewed being able to recall the L1 form and L2 meaning separately as an additional positive feature. Some participants specifically stated that this was a major benefit of word cards over word lists or notebooks.

Secondly, the data presented in this paper indicate that although learners are engaged in expanded spaced retrieval to an extent, they are not taking full advantage of this technique. For example, learners in this study admitted to rarely separating cards into packs of known and unknown words, and the period of spacing between the study of words perceived as known did not go beyond one week. Therefore, it may be that learner’ study preferences could actually be limiting the benefit of word cards in terms of their affordance for expanded spaced retrieval.

In addition, based on data obtained during the interviews, although learners rarely separate or shuffle their pack when studying from them, this does not seem to result in any serial learning. This intimates that even when learners do not follow some of the basic guidelines regarding word card methodology, the design features of the card system are robust enough to prevent serial learning.

Finally, without being specifically asked, learners specifically mentioned the issue of active versus passive recall. Learners showed that (a) they are aware that active recall is more cognitively challenging, and (b) due to this, they most often begin studying new words passively before moving onto an active recall approach in subsequent study sessions.


From the qualitative data collected and analysed in this study, it appears that learners agree with many of the benefits cited in the word card literature. First, word cards were viewed as a convenient, time-efficient and effective method of deliberate vocabulary study. In addition, learners also cited being able to recall the L1 form and L2 meaning separately as a positive feature of word cards. However, some of the ways learners study from their cards goes against the advice cited in the literature. One example of this is that learners are very reluctant to shuffle or separate their word card packs. However, rudimentary testing indicated that there was no evidence of serial learning, something which is believed to occur from other methods such as lists or notebooks (Nation, 2013). Therefore, the design features of word cards seem robust enough to protect against serial learning, even when learners do not follow the protocols advocated in the literature. However, one of the most concerning results is that the practice of engaging in expanded spaced retrieval seems to be somewhat limited at best. While some of the participants seemed to practice the principle of spaced retrieval, it was not systematically expanded over time. Overall, the results of this study lend support for the use of word cards, but also indicate that significant and repeated learner training concerning how best to study from the cards may be needed.

Limitations of the Study

There are clearly a number of limitations with this study, the biggest being the small sample size, and the fact that all the participants were first-year Japanese students from one private university. These issues seriously limit the generalizability of the results, therefore, further research in different contexts is needed. In addition, the fact that learners had to complete interviews in their second language may have limited the level of detail of their answers.

About the Author

Darrell Wilkinson is an Associate Professor in the Language Sciences Department at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University. He has taught English in several countries including England, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. Darrell holds a number of practical teaching qualifications, an MS.Ed.TESOL, and is currently working on his PhD in Applied Linguistics. His research interests include vocabulary acquisition and testing, CLIL, learner autonomy, and teaching to mixed-ability groups.


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Eun-Young Julia Kim
Andrews University, USA


Previous studies on intercultural rhetoric have frequently drawn from examples from Asian writers, especially those of Chinese and Japanese origin, but relatively little information has surfaced in scholarly literature regarding L2 writers from Korea. To fill this gap, this article provides an overview of how academic writing is conceived and practiced in Korea. By examining current practices and conceptualizations concerning academic writing, the study highlights strong similarities between Korean and Anglophone academic writing. In doing so, it seeks to demonstrate the importance of considering complex institutional, political, as well as individual factors that influence second language writers in their home culture in advancing the ongoing disciplinary dialogue on intercultural rhetoric.

Keywords: contrastive rhetoric, second language writing, good writing, Korean writers

A poignant statement of one second language speaker that Fox (1994) quotes in her book, Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing, is perplexing enough to make any college English teacher stop and think. “Learning to write in an American style,” her Chilean student asserts, “is much more than learning a new technique. It is a way this culture ‘normalizes’ you to the system, shaping on you new values and new ways of looking at the world.” She continues, “the writing style is not value free; it has ethical consequences, depending on if it is empowering or disempowering for you in this new culture or in your home culture” (p. 77). Certainly, enforcing a standard or norm can entail inadvertently demeaning the rhetorical styles and traditions that multilingual students may have previously acquired in their home countries. Discerning composition teachers, therefore, would be led to ask themselves if, by upholding the Anglo-American rhetorical styles as the norm and asking students to conform to that style, their classroom instruction promotes the western style as a superior or ‘right’ writing style, rather than an alternate mode. While trying to help their ESL (English as a second language) students to master the ‘alien’ rhetorical strategies necessary to produce effective English composition, instructors may feel as if they are proselytizing them to different modes of thinking that go against the students’ cultural norms. In this sense, a multilingual writing classroom could potentially become a place where differing epistemological values clash, and the blurring sense of identity is inadvertently initiated or perpetuated.

This type of fear partly stems from a polarized view on L1 vs. L2 cultural schema and acquired habits as academic writers. However, examining current composition instructional practices in the EFL context reveals that the Anglo-American rhetorical patterns, which we habitually surmise to be quite ‘alien’ to English language learners, seem to be becoming the promoted norms for a growing number of second language students.

Previous studies on intercultural rhetoric have frequently drawn from examples from Asian writers, especially those of Chinese and Japanese origin, but relatively little information has surfaced in scholarly literature regarding L2 writers from Korea, a country which, according to 2011 statistics compiled by the Institute of International Education, now ranks third in the number of students coming to the U.S., after India and China. To fill this gap, this article provides an overview of how academic writing is conceived and practiced in Korea. It highlights strong similarities in conceptualizations between Korean and Anglophone academic writing. In doing so, it seeks to demonstrate the importance of considering complex institutional, political, as well as individual factors that influence second language writers in their home culture in advancing the ongoing disciplinary dialogue on intercultural rhetoric.

This paper focuses on two questions: 1) how is ‘good writing’ defined in Korean academic discourse communities in general? And 2) what is the state of academic writing in Korea, particularly for high school students? In order to answer the first question, the author examined writing center resource materials at three different Korean universities that provide instruction for students writing academic papers for their Korean audience. Currently, more than a dozen Korean universities operate writing centers, but only three universities—Sogang, Hansung, and Wonkwang– were selected because publicly available materials that provide tips and instruction on writing were posted only on these three universities’ websites at the time of the investigation. Two additional texts focusing on academic writing for high school students were also examined to see if information from university writing center materials align with information targeting pre-university students. Two popular texts, Kim Yong Ok’s (2006) Nonsulgua cheolhakgangui I (A lecture on composition and philosophy I) and Kim and Yang’s (2014) Daeip nonsul jeonseok (A Manual for the College Entrance Writing Exam), were selected. Although they target similar audiences, their approaches are somewhat different. Kim (2006), a well-known national figure who has delivered dozens of lectures on writing on the national educational broadcasting network, approaches writing from a philosophical point of view, whereas Kim and Yang (2014) provides principles, tips, and instructions summarily.

To answer the second question, the author examined several articles written by Korean scholars on the state of writing instruction, which were published since 2000. These were accessed through Korean scholarly article databases. Interviews via emails and phone calls with two current high school Korean teachers have also informed the discussion to triangulate the findings. Due to limited data sources, it is not feasible for this paper to paint a comprehensive picture of academic writing in Korea. By providing a brief commentary on the current situation surrounding academic writing in Korea based on the available data, this paper aims to point to the need to reconsider some of the preconceived notions about Korean writing, hoping that further studies along the similar line in other contexts will follow.

Before proceeding to the study, a brief overview of intercultural rhetoric is provided, along with a review of current trends in the neighboring countries, China and Japan.

Contrastive Rhetoric and Voices from East Asia

Kaplan’s (1966) observation that L2 writers’ texts exhibited organization differences from those of L1 students’ writings had an intuitive appeal, and the idea was advanced by subsequent scholars (e.g., Connor, 1996; Li, 1996), who added support through further examples of textual variations in L2 writers’ texts. It was Fox (1994), among others, who argued that enforcing the Western writing style had ethical ramifications. Drawing from years of her overseas teaching experience, she passionately asserted:

the dominant communication style and world view of the U.S. university, variously known as ‘academic argument,’ analytical writing,’ ‘critical thinking,’ or just plain ‘good writing,’ is based on the assumptions and habits of mind that are derived from western–or more specifically, U.S.-culture, and that this way of thinking and communicating is considered sophisticated, intelligent, and efficient by only a tiny fraction of the world’s peoples. (p. xxi)

Other researchers made further observations, which seemed to align with Fox’s. For example, Hinds (1987) and Scollon and Scollon (1995) observed delayed introduction of purpose in the texts produced by East Asian writers. In the case of studies of Korean writing in particular, Eggington (1987) described traditional patterns of Korean writing as non-linear, consisting of beginning, development, change of direction, and ending. Hinds (1987) offered a binary based on reader vs. writer responsibility. According to Hinds, East Asian writing can be characterized as reader-responsible prose, as opposed to writer-responsible prose, in that the onus of comprehension falls on the reader, and obscure and esoteric styles of writing are often expected of scholarly writing. This is in contrast with Anglo-American writing, he asserted, because heavy emphasis is placed on writers to ensure that their discursive choices contribute to facilitating readers’ comprehension in Anglo-American writing.

While the disciplinary dialogue surrounding intercultural rhetoric has, to a large extent, focused on identifying different patterns in L2 writers’ texts, it has also prompted a heated debate on the notion of culture and cultural issues in relation to L2 writing (Abasi & Akbari, 2014). The traditional view of contrastive rhetoric, which considers culture as an integral element in producing and understanding texts (Connor, 2014), drew a number of critics, who denounced contrastive rhetoric for its reductionist and essentialist orientation (e.g., Kubota & Lehner, 2004; Leki 1992; Spack, 1997; Zamel, 1997). Atkins (2004) criticized the product-oriented approach of contrastive rhetoric and stated that “we need to focus our vision on the processes that produce the products, rather than looking solely at the products themselves” (p. 282). You (2004) also argued that making a direct link between rhetorical patterns and textual organization fails to recognize the complexity of any given rhetorical situation.

Although our understanding of culture as a complex intersection of multiple strata of values, practices, and situations continues to evolve, it is not unusual to encounter statements that reiterate the traditional typological views—even in relatively recent literature. Consider the following two examples about Japanese and Chinese writing:

In ‘danraku,’ unity is not as important as it is in paragraphs. Japanese writers can keep on writing as ideas come to mind because ‘danraku’ does not require a logical organization. (Kimura & Kondo, 2004, p. 11)

The tone of Chinese writing can be characterized as being reserved, while that of English writing is straightforward. This can be explained from a cultural perspective. From a Chinese reader’s point of view, being reserved is seen as humility, which a good writer should possess. When a Chinese tries to voice her or his own opinions, she or he is not expected to express opinions directly. Instead, it is necessary to keep distance from the readers with a soft tone. (Chen, 2006, p. 4)

It is tempting to assume, based on Fox’s perceptive comments and ensuing scholarly discussion, as well as the examples about Japanese’ danraku’ and the Chinese rhetorical style described above, that elements such as a lack of clear organization and directness characterize typical academic writing conventions in Asia. However, Zong and Li (1998) pointed out that the qualities upheld in Anglo-American writing are called for in most types of expository writing in China. In fact, they believe this is not a new, post-modern trend as they trace the root to Kui’s 1197 text The Rules of Writing, which is commonly considered the first classical work of Chinese rhetoric. Zong and Li summarize Kui’s rhetorical principles as clarity, straightforwardness, and use of common language. Kirkpatrick (2002), after reviewing the advice given in university textbooks on Chinese writing and the types of exercises students may encounter in their national university entrance exams, found that such textbooks instruct authors to use exact and clear language in argumentations. Kirkpatrick (2004) is convinced that “it is hard to conclude that Chinese learners will come to the task of writing in English disadvantaged by their previous learning experience” (p. 8). In a similar vein, Kubota and Shi (2005) reported that language arts textbooks commonly used in junior high schools in mainland China and Japan show identical principles being promoted in the West in persuasive writing. More recent evidence supporting such a trend can be found in Yang’s (2011) “Classroom Report,” which reports the findings of the analysis of book reviews written by Chinese college students that he and his team have conducted. He reports that “when we read their book reviews, we enjoyed their logical simple straight and tight structural organization. We seldom found things such as beating around the bush and redundant narrating in their piece” (p. 225). These reports suggest that qualities typically associated with Anglo-American writing approaches are fast becoming the perceived norms for many Asian students. According to You (2004):

It is quite apparent that English writing instruction and research in China are heavily influenced by ESL writing research in North America. Anglo-American approaches to writing instruction, such as process, task-based, and portfolio approaches, are being tested in English classrooms. Concepts in ESL writing, such as peer review, portfolio assessment, paradigm shift, and post-process, are also widely used in EFL writing research in China. (pp. 255-256)

These observations can find further support in the current practice and conceptualizations of academic writing in the neighboring country Korea, as discussed below.

Academic Writing in Korea

Korean Academics’ Conceptualizations of Good Writing

As writing has received an increased focus in Korea in recent years (Na, 2008; Noh, 2010), a number of universities revised and renamed general education courses typically named ‘대학국어’ (College Korean) as ‘글쓰기’ (Writing), and several universities have established writing centers to help their students in the process of completing their academic papers (Ahn, 2014). The writing center resources chosen for this study vary in their scope as different topics are covered. All these materials are written in Korean, and the excerpts presented in this paper were translated by the author, a native speaker of Korean. The discussion in this section focuses on general descriptions that each source provides on what makes good academic writing.

First of all, the Korean definition of ‘danlak,’ which is equivalent to the Japanese ‘danraku’ and English ‘paragraph,’ strongly echoes the concept of English ‘paragraph.’ The resource materials posted on Sogang University’s Writing Center website defines ‘danlak’ as follows:

A ‘danlak’ is a single unit comprising of several sentences that express one main idea. Therefore, it contains a complete meaning as an independent unit. At the same time, a ‘danlak’ also plays a part in the composition of the entire written discourse. In order for each ‘danlak’ to be meaningful, each sentence should be logically connected under a unified theme, and the content should be coherent. In addition, each ‘danlak’ should be organically connected to the others. (“Writing a Danlak,” par. 1)

Wonkwang University’s Communication Education Center resource material also encourages students to ensure that their paragraphs meet the following conditions (“#2, Editing a Paragraph”):

Is every paragraph logically development?
Does every paragraph follow the rules of unity and coherence?
Is there one topic sentence in each paragraph?
Is every paragraph indented?

Kim and Yang (2014) define ‘danlak’ as a group of sentences that explicate one specific topic and instruct readers that each ‘danlak’ should contain a subtopic, which the rest of the sentences support” (p. 173).

Sogang University’s writing center resource, in the section, “글쓰기 길잡이” (Guide to Writing), describes ‘good writing’ as “a writing that can be easily understood by readers.” It says,

Readers can easily understand writing when sentences are clear and concise, and it is well structured. . . In general, good writing should exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Originality
  2. Clear arguments and sentences
  3. Clear supporting details
  4. Unity
  5. Appropriate style
  6. Use of correct grammar and appropriate vocabulary
  7. Conciseness (par. 1)

The emphasis on clarity and easiness of understanding contradicts the notion of reader-responsible prose, as suggested by Hinds (1987). In addition, a strong focus on effective organization and logical development of ideas challenges the notion of non-linearity of the Korean writing style (Eggington, 1987). To provide further evidence, in the section entitled, “사례별 길잡이” (Guide to Writing Various Genres), Sogang University’s Writing Center describes good analytical writing as exhibiting the following elements:

  1. The purpose and the focal point of the writing are clearly indicated and there is a clear thesis statement.
  2. A phenomenon or an issue of the subject is analyzed from various perspectives.
  3. Objective and concrete evidence are used to support the thesis.
  4. The writing has the basic structure of introduction, body and conclusion, and each paragraph is organically connected through the topic sentence in each paragraph. (par. 4)

In the section on writing effective introduction, it emphasizes the importance of providing the scope and purpose of the paper and advises students to place topic sentences in the beginning of the paragraph and to use paragraph breaks appropriately.

Similar emphases are made in the writing center resource from Hansung University as students are instructed to adhere to the following principles:

  1. Attend to logical development and paragraphing.
  2. Avoid emotionally charged expressions.
  3. Use terms consistently.
  4. Write clear sentences. (“How to Write a Persuasive Essay,” p. 3)

Hansung’s resource material on summary writing instructs students to make sure that their writing takes the following points into consideration:

  1. Have the main points been selected?
  2. Does the writing have effective paragraphing and clear sentences?
  3. Have original sentences been paraphrased?
  4. Have personal opinions been excluded? (“How to Write a Summary, p. 3)

Its section on explication essay also emphasizes audience awareness, objectivity, and easiness to understand as important criteria of good writing as illustrated below:

  1. The writing should be appropriate for your readers’ needs.
  2. The writing should be organized in a logical order.
  3. Personal opinions or feelings should be excluded as much as possible.
  4. The content should be delivered in a way that is easy to understand.
  5. Sentences should be brief and easy to understand. (“How to Write an Explication Essay, p. 2)

The information provided on the website of Wonkwang University’s Communication Education Center, which performs similar functions to the writing centers at Sogang and Hansung, closely aligns with the tips and instructions given in the other two writing center resources. We can infer from the following instructions on editing and revision how good writing is defined. It states,

When editing your paper, examine if the thesis is clearly identifiable and see if all paragraphs are unified, and there is logical connection between paragraphs. The most important aspect is that the writing meets the needs of your reader and suites the purpose of the paper. (par. 1, 2)

Kim (2006), in his advice for high school students, also emphasizes clarity and conciseness as the most important elements (p. 207). He advises his readers to place understandability as a priority. He states,

The purpose of writing is to be understood. My writing should be clearly understood by myself first, and it should clearly convey my way of understanding to readers. My instruction on good sentence writing can only be summarized as increasing understandability. A writing that cannot be understood does not qualify as writing. . . if it is not understood, it has no value at all. (p. 208)

He elaborates on 15 areas that writers should attend to in order to ensure successful academic writing. His emphasis on audience awareness, using precise vocabulary, brainstorming, avoiding nominal construction (nominalization), using effective sentence connectors, and eliminating redundancy, among others, closely align with the principles that are typically promoted in Anglo-American writing.

Kim and Yang (2014) also emphasize the importance of having a clear structure, logical development, clearly defined problems in the introduction, providing sufficient details, and directly stating the position on the issue, all of which are the same qualities promoted in Anglo-American writing. They further state that the writing should have a clear organization and unity including introduction, body, and conclusion, and that it is important to maintain an objective stance. Their ‘rules’ on proper sentences, such as avoiding lengthy sentences, passive voice, and double negatives also echo stereotypical instructions given to American students.

Some may argue that these guidelines reflect the western influence as the Korean academic community has recently begun adopting the Anglo-American norms with its increased focus on writing. However, these standards do not necessarily seem to be new information that became available in this era. For instance, in “Principles and Methods of Essay,” written by Kim Bong Kyun in 1985, before the rise of interest in writing instruction in Korea, we find evidence that challenges this notion as he defines argumentative writing as follows: “Argumentation is a form of communicative tool, in which opinions are logically presented. Since argumentation is subject to reason, it does not allow feelings and emotions. … argumentation, based on reason and rationality, and scientific rationalism, values evidence” (p. 455).

Kim (2006) also states that the notion of logical arguments is not a Western construct:

The primary and commonsensical definition of rhetoric is probably ‘making logical arguments.’ Being logical does not necessarily mean following the Western method of logic. Anyone who has common sense automatically follows a logical line of reasoning. Rhetoric merely makes people aware of such principles and illustrates them so people can easily follow them. . . .The ultimate goal of rhetoric is to function as an educational system whose purpose is to eliminate the authority and pressure emanating from all ideologies, remove violence, and increase logical communication in our society. (pp. 15-16)

Kim (2006) wants his readers to recognize that making logical arguments entails following a universal and commonsensical line of reasoning, and not necessarily a Western way of reasoning. He challenges us to rethink the tacitly agreed triad—the center equals Anglo-American style, which in turn equals the home ground for logical thinking. Discussing the issue of ‘ownership’ of academic writing as well as the ethical ramifications of the ‘influence’ is beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to say that although the current system we call academic writing may be a byproduct of the Enlightenment movement that originated in the West, academic writing in general upholds similar standards.

The State of Academic Writing for Pre-university Students

While the description of ‘good writing’ presented above may lead us to assume that there exists a unified front of writing instruction in Korea, policies and practices concerning writing have been extremely fluid as the Korean academic community continues to test its utility as a tool to promote literacy and to demonstrate critical thinking. While writing instruction was not formally institutionalized in Korea until late twentieth century, writing has become an educational ‘issue’ ever since the Ministry of Education allowed universities to administer writing tests as one of the acceptance criteria in 1986.

As writing became a required component at some of the most prestigious universities, two strands of writing instruction have developed in high schools: one that focuses on basic writing skills provided at school, and the other that focuses on college entrance exam preparation mostly through private institutes (so-called hagwon). Kim (2008) notes that a plethora of materials authored by Korean scholars on the topic of writing have surfaced in the past couple of decades, promoting genre- and process-based approaches, and in the 1990s, writing began to be taught in conjunction with reading and discussion with a focus on disciplinary discourses. Questions used in French Baccalaureate essay tests were widely used as examples, and materials from the West were also introduced (e.g., Linda Flower’s Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing & Jürgen Habermas’ The Theory of Communicative Action). Currently, writing is taught as a subject in high school through Speech and Writing I and II, although many teachers adopt resource materials designed for college essay exam preparation (Kim, 2008). The goals of these subjects reflect a functionalist perspective, as they focus on teaching “how to adapt their discourse to the purpose and audience: learn processes and strategies of effective communication according to the communicative purpose and situation; to effectively communicate in a given situation based on core principles; to consider writing traditions of discourse communities; to use convincing evidence; and to demonstrate knowledge by experimenting with various forms” (cited in Seo, 2012, p. 333).

Looking at the ways in which writing tests are constructed by colleges also provides a glimpse into the shifting practices and emerging conceptualizations concerning academic writing. For college admission, in the 1990s, students were tested on the ability to analyze classical literary works, but a wide variety of texts from politics, economics, art, science, and philosophy began to replace literary texts in the 2000s; currently students are asked to demonstrate interdisciplinary knowledge and complex academic writing skills through summary, data interpretation, making inferences, and critical evaluations, as well as argumentation (Kim, 2008). The following writing exam questions, which were used in Sungkyunkwan University’s college entrance exam in 2013 (taken from Lee, 2014) show the interdisciplinary nature of these exams:

  1. The following excerpts (1-5) support different social values. Divide these texts into two positions and summarize each position.

    Topics of excerpts: 1) competition, 2) the vicious cycle of poverty, 3) market price decision, 4) protectionism in developing countries, 5) problems related to greenhouse gas emission

  2. Explain the data presented in Table 1. And then, defend one of the positions discussed in Question #1 based on the data.
  3. Earned income tax credit is designed to provide a refundable tax credit for low income families to increase their motivation and provide them with necessary resources for living. Explain in detail the earned income tax credit as illustrated in Table 2, and then discuss the features of this system in terms of the two positions in #1.
  4. Take a position on the policy described below concerning granting college admission to social minorities and then justify your position. (pp. 56-57)

The assessment rubric posted by Ewha Woman’s University on its 2006 essay test includes items such as “consistent logic, clarity and persuasiveness of argument, appropriate evidence to support the position, depth and intensity of thought” (Kim, 2008, p. 28).

It should be noted, however, that writing is not a required test for every student, and it is being used by mostly prestigious universities for early decision. Several Korean scholars have expressed concerns that the current interdisciplinary orientation of college entrance writing exams can be a demotivating factor for students as they are asked to demonstrate a complex set of writing skills as well as mastery in various subjects (e.g., Lee, 2013; Lee, 2014). Concerns have been raised that since writing is used as a means to select outstanding students by universities, writing is being perceived as an aspiration too high, or unnecessary, to pursue for the majority of students. Also, the pressure from college entrance exams forces teachers to use the class time for test preparation, rather than teaching them basic writing skills (Choi, 2011). One of the interviewees said, “Students learn all the basic concepts of composition and characteristics of good writing, but they don’t have adequate writing practice in class.” Another interviewee commented, “Writing classes are sabotaged by concerns for college entrance exams, and I usually spend most of the class time going over exam questions from test preparation materials.”

The Ministry of Education has recently announced its plan to strengthen writing instruction in high school and discourage colleges from requiring writing as a college entrance criterion (Yoo, 2014). As the nation is involved in seeking solutions to various academic and social problems that surface with new policies and exams, Korean scholars and educators are engaged in vibrant disciplinary dialogues as to how to improve the current status of writing education and achieve a healthy balance between the demands of colleges exam preparation and the need to equip their students with essential writing skills. In the meantime, educators continue to examine theories and frameworks from the West and the East, creatively adopting what is relevant to their particular situations at the present time.


This paper is limited in its scope in that it draws mainly from small cultures (Holliday, 1999), reflected in the guidelines in resource materials, and does not involve analyses of actual writing samples. In addition, it does not consider other complex issues surrounding Korean academic writing, which arise from the gap between the ideal and reality, such as its traditional focus on grammar and genre-based approaches and lack of qualified writing experts (Noh, 2010). A further limitation is that this paper focuses on fairly broad conceptualizations of ‘good’ academic writing. Previous scholars have shown that different disciplines exhibit some distinct ways of constructing, and conveying knowledge in disciplinary discourse is multidimensional as it is far from being uniform (e.g., Fløttum, Dahl, & Kinn, 2006; Hyland, 2004; Petraglia, 1995; Swales, 2004; Thaiss & Zawacki, 2006). Without a doubt, discussing good writing in a generalized sense masks variations that may exist within various strata of academic disciplines. Examining those variations, as well as challenges Korean academics face as they institute writing as a discipline, would be a valuable study as it would further enrich our understanding of the dynamic landscape of the state of Korean academic writing.

Despite these limitations, one implication we can draw from the observations made in this brief survey is that considering nonnative speakers as academic ‘strangers,’ who bring different sets of expectations and norms to academic writing tasks, may be overly simplified as well as misguided. Also, stereotypical notions of non-linearity and reader-response prose, which were introduced during the heyday of contrastive rhetoric by researchers of Asian writing, now seem to be losing ground as the writing instruction clearly emphasizes the same features including a linear structure and audience awareness, as those emphasized in the West. There could be certain identifiable qualities in the writings of second language students, which are in conflict with the Western writing style. However, current trends seem to show that academic writing conventions, both in “the center and periphery” (Canagarajah, 2002), adhere to borderless characteristics that ensure “logical communication in our society,” as Kim (2006) put it.

The volatile landscape of academic writing in Korea also highlights the fact that non-Anglophone academic communities develop and refine their approaches, theories, models, and practices to fit their own particular situations, which is an important dimension that needs to be included in disciplinary discussions on intercultural rhetoric. The case of Korea illustrates this point, as students learn that institutions and disciplines have their own ways of utilizing and conceiving writing as an academic tool; some college entrance writing exams ask students to logically explicate various mathematical formulas, instead of writing traditional persuasive essays. These students become aware of the hybrid nature of academic writing in their country as they try to adjust to shifting expectations and standards of their own academic institutions. Without understanding the many complex institutional, political, as well as individual factors that influence the second language writers in their home culture, trying to identify culture-dependent formats and structures through textual samples would be like firing at a moving target.

This study, however, does not suggest that the so-called ‘deviant’ features of writing which are typically assumed to be characteristic of the indirect styles of the East would no longer appear in Asian students’ writing as a result of these new trends. Features such as digression and indirect style, as well as other ‘deviant’ elements, may still be overlooked or condoned in the students’ first language writing instruction, which, unfortunately, is still inadequately provided in the case of Korea. Furthermore, the examples considered in this article do not speak for all second language writers in various communities where English is used as a second or a foreign language. By presenting the conceptualization and the protean vista of Korean academic writing, the paper sought to make visible a gap that may exist in our understanding of what second language writers bring to our classrooms. Similar studies that bring to light shifting trends in other countries are needed to help better understand unique challenges as well as knowledge and experience which various groups of second language writers bring to academic writing.

About the Author

Eun-Young Julia Kim is an Associate Professor of English at Andrews University, USA. She has worked with English language learners for over a decade both in the US and Korea and currently directs the English graduate program at Andrews University. Her research interests include sociolinguistics and second language writing.


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Psychological Attributes of Unwillingness to Communicate and Task-based Instruction http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83a2/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 02:38:30 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12622 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Junya Fukuta
Faculty of Education, Shizuoka University, Japan


This study explored the longitudinal changes of Japanese EFL learners’ psychological attributes of unwillingness to speak English in a task-based classroom. Thirty-three university students participated in this study. They engaged in a communicative task once a week for two semesters. They completed a questionnaire examining the psychological attributes of their task performance. The results suggest that overall task-based communicative lessons were effective in reducing unwillingness-related psychological attributes. The following qualitative analysis revealed that the learners became aware of the gap between their perceived and actual L2 skills, which reduced some learners’ confidence. Additionally, the results indicated that personality, such as introversion, low-cooperativeness, or lack of sociability affected the extent to which unwillingness-related attributes were impacted. The paper concludes with a discussion of the positive effects of task-based lessons on Japanese EFL learners’ unwillingness to speak English, and the possible latent variables which weaken the effectiveness of these lessons.


Willingness to communicate (WTC) is one of the individual affective factors explored in applied linguistics. WTC has been defined as a student’s intention to interact with others in the target language, given the chance to do so (Oxford, 1997, p. 449). Second language (L2) WTC research has empirically shown that WTC increases the frequency of use of foreign languages both inside and outside of the classroom, and a high frequency of use is associated with more L2 learning (e.g., Yashima, Zenuk-Nishide, & Shimizu, 2004). Moreover, WTC is also considered as a nonlinguistic outcome of the L2 learning process (MacIntyre, 2007).

L2 WTC has been regarded as having dual constructs. One is trait-like and the other is situational or dynamic WTC (e.g., Cao, 2011; McCroskey & Richmond, 1991). The trait “WTC” refers to tendencies to approach communication as stable across different situations, and situational WTC predicts the decision to initiate communication in a specific situation. The trait WTC (hereafter, simply “WTC”) is stable but may change as a result of learning experience (Cao, 2011).

How, then, does one’s learning experience change WTC? Two main influential psychological attributes are proposed; low perceived competence, which refers to low sense of own competence, and anxiety, which is the feeling of being worried about, in this case, communication. These attributes also relate to unwillingness to communicate, which is defined as a chronic tendency to avoid and/or devalue oral communication and to view the communication situation as relatively unrewarding (Burgoon, 1976, p. 60). Unwillingness to communicate can be considered to be induced by low WTC, and willingness to communicate and unwillingness to communicate are not simply the two sides of the same coin. This is because zero-unwillingness does not necessarily refer to high willingness to communicate. This unwillingness induces classroom silence, which is an obstacle to acquiring the target language in a classroom, and results from avoidance of communication (Harumi, 2011). For successful communicative lessons, therefore, reducing unwillingness to communicate (or unwillingness to speak English) is considered important.

An increase in unwillingness to communicate takes the following course (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The changes of the three sub-factors.

As Figure 1 shows, lower perceived communicative competence and high communicative anxiety, which are related to L2 confidence, negatively affect WTC (e.g., Cao, 2011) and are therefore considered to increase unwillingness. As mentioned previously, high unwillingness incorporates the tendency of more avoidance of starting and continuing communication. Therefore, reducing low perceived competence and anxiety is important for decreasing unwillingness to speak in an L2, which results in learner’s behavior, say, starting communication. This process changes dynamically, associated with other psychological factors such as motivation, international posture, attitudes, and personality (e.g., MacIntyre & Charos, 1996; Yashima et al., 2004).

However, very little research has been conducted longitudinally to explore how unwillingness-related attributes change in association with each other. Also, it is unclear how these attributes are affected by other factors, in the communication-based classroom. Longitudinally, it is possible that some learners are encouraged to speak in communicative lessons, but others are rather discouraged. This issue can be revealed by qualitative data analysis, but previous studies did not emphasize this point. The current study examines these two aspects by means of qualitative and quantitative data analysis.

The study also has pedagogical importance. Teachers would like to know whether task-based language teaching (TBLT) is applicable to a language classroom with low proficient, unmotivated learners. Teachers would also like to know whether and why such learners are encouraged or discouraged to speak in the L2 in communicative TBLT. Since speaking has been considered to be the most anxiety-provoking modality (Horwitz, Horwitz & Cope, 1986; MacIntyre & Gardner, 1991), low proficient learners could potentially decrease their willingness through communicative lessons.

To address the issues discussed above, the current study sets the following research questions:

RQ1: Does the repetition of communicative tasks enable English learners of low proficiency level to decrease their unwillingness to communicate?

RQ2: If not, what disturbs the positive change?



Thirty-three first year students (male: n = 7, female: n = 26) majoring in arts or design in a Japanese university participated in this study. They attended two 90-minute English oral communication classes taught each week. None of them had any experience of living in English-speaking countries for more than a month. Their English proficiency was very limited; most participants had difficulty in comprehending short oral sentences such as Where are you from? No students rated themselves with a score higher than 2 (beginner) in a 7-point self-rating scale of the questionnaire (including speaking, reading, writing, listening, grammar, and vocabulary) ranging from 0 (introductory) to 6 (advanced).


This paper defines task in terms of the following criteria summarized by Ellis and Shintani (2014, pp. 135-136).

  1. The primary focus should be on meaning;
  2. There should be some kind of gap;
  3. Learners should largely rely on their own resources;
  4. There is a clearly defined outcome other than the use of language.

The main tasks used included a picture-description task (which asked the learner to orally describe the information presented in a picture to a partner), two spot-the-difference tasks (in which paired participants had similar pictures with some differences and communicated with each other to find the differences), 13 problem-solving tasks (which had some information gaps to fill and each had a single outcome), and four decision-making tasks (which required discussions to reach an agreed solution). These tasks were extracted from three textbooks (i.e., Rocks, 1994; Takashima, 2005; Sato, 2010) and revised by the instructor in accordance with the learners’ proficiency level and cultural background.


The task-treatment phase follows the framework of Willis (1996). In this framework, a class consists of three parts: (1) the pre-task, (2) the main task or task cycle, and (3) the post-task or language focus. The pre-task activity aims to introduce the topic of the main task and activate the learners’ background knowledge. In the main task phase, learners perform each task. Finally, if needed, learners engage in form-focused activity in the post-task phase, for example, reading a model-dialog of the main task or watching videos with a focus on expressions or grammar. Each class consisted of the single task-treatment phase, and the phase was repeated 20 times over two semesters. Table 1 summarizes the overall design of the study.

Table 1.
Lesson Procedures

Semester Week Content
First Semester 1 Orientation, filling in a consent form
Assessing psychological attributes (1)
2-12 Task-based lessons
13 Final exam
Second Semester 1 Orientation
Assessing psychological attributes (2)
2-12 Task-based lessons
13 Assessing psychological attributes (3)
Two weeks later Questionnaire for qualitative analysis


Attribution questionnaire. This study administered a questionnaire devised by Isoda (2009), which was constructed and validated for Japanese EFL learners to assess unwillingness to speak English composed of three psychological attributes (item descriptions are written in Japanese). Here, unwillingness to speak English is considered as a formative construct composed of three psychological attributes, namely, low perceived competence, anxiety, and avoidance. Therefore, the questionnaire had three items for three each psychological attribute (e.g., Low Perceived Competence: I think my English is not understood by others; Anxiety: I feel nervous when I speak in English; Avoidance: I do not want to speak in English if it is possible). The participants were asked to answer each question in using a 7-point scale (0: strongly disagree, 7: strongly agree). A high value indicated a negative attitude to speaking English. The questionnaire was conducted three times during the 15-week semester; in the early part of the first class in the first semester, the beginning of the second semester, and the last part of the final class in the second semester. Reliability was calculated for each factor and each survey time. The Cronbachs alpha was shown to be sufficiently high (.77 – .89) for later analysis.

Reflection questionnaire. This questionnaire consisted of two open-ended questions asking about the learners’ feelings during the lessons. It was conducted two weeks after the third questionnaire survey. Before the participants completed the questionnaire, the researcher showed them a table and a figure containing the actual data representing their changes for each attribute and then asked them to write freely why they thought they had changed in the way they did. The participants completed the questionnaire in their native language, Japanese, and these descriptions were translated by the researcher.

Data analysis

Descriptive statistics were calculated for each psychological attribute and data point. The mean score of each attribute was subjected to a within-participant one-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and a subsequent post-hoc analysis whose alpha was adjusted in Holm’s method.

The reflection questionnaire was also qualitatively analyzed in order to better interpret the quantitative data and focus on the minority case which is possibly buried in statistical analysis. All the names of the participants shown in the following sections are replaced with pseudonyms.


The results of the descriptive statistics are summarized in Table 2. The overall score, which refers to the score of each attribute, showed that each value decreased throughout the treatment.

Table 2.
Descriptive Statistics in Each Survey and Factor (N = 33)

First Second Third
Overall M 5.74 5.42 4.90
SD 1.25 1.20 1.22
Competence M 6.20 5.53 4.78
SD 0.82 1.11 1.14
Anxiety M 5.80 5.59 5.20
SD 1.27 1.16 1.23
Avoidance M 5.22 5.15 4.74
SD 1.37 1.26 1.24

The results of an ANOVA showed the differences were statistically significant, and the post-hoc analysis also confirmed this (Table 3).

Table 3
The Results of Post-hoc Analysis of Overall results, p is adjusted in Holms way

Pair Difference t p r
1st – 2nd -0.32 2.19 .036 * .36
2nd – 3rd -0.50 4.04 < .001 * .58
1st – 3rd -0.85 5.17 < .001 * .67

With respect to each of the attributes, a two-way ANOVA (Factor * Time) found a significant interaction, F = 4.17, p = .009, p2 = 0.12. Therefore, the simple effects for the interaction were further examined. The results showed that all effects of Time for low perceived competence (F [2, 64] = 27.24, p < .001, p2 = 0.46) and anxiety (F [2, 64] = 4.44, p = .016, p2 = 0.12) were statistically significant, and that for avoidance was marginally significant, F (2, 64) = 3.18, p = .059, p2 = 0.46. Multiple comparisons of all factors are presented in Table 4. With respect to low perceived competence, positive effects were shown in every data point. Anxiety showed similar results, but the easing effects were much more moderate. Although the change throughout the period (difference between the first and third surveys) was statistically significant, the differences between the first and second, and second and third did not reach statistical significance. The avoidance scale presented a similar result in terms of multiple comparisons, but showed a unique pattern in terms of effect size. That is, there were almost no effects in the first semester (r = .06), but the effects suddenly became larger in the second semester (r = .33).

Table 4
The results of Multiple Comparison in Each Factor

Pair Difference t p r
Competence 1st – 2nd -0.68 3.82 < .001 * .55
2nd – 3rd -0.75 4.06 < .001 * .58
1st – 3rd -1.43 6.70 < .001 * .76
Anxiety 1st – 2nd -0.21 1.05 .302 .18
2nd – 3rd -0.43 1.98 .112 .33
1st – 3rd -0.63 2.68 .035 * .42
Avoidance 1st – 2nd -0.32 0.32 .750 .06
2nd – 3rd -0.49 2.03 .102 .33
1st – 3rd -0.41 2.69 .034 * .42

To look closely at the individual data, learners who Reduced, Increased, and Not Changed values for each data point were also examined (Table 5). This revealed that, in terms of overall score, 73% of the participants had decreased scores for the unwillingness-related attribute between 1st and 2nd time point, and for 6% the score did not change. However, despite the significant improvement of the mean score, 21 % of the participants showed greater unwillingness. Each attribute, except for low perceived competence, also showed similar results. More than half of the participants successfully reduced their attribute scores throughout the treatment period, notably in terms of anxiety and avoidance, where approximately a quarter of the them increased their scores. A relatively strong positive result was shown in the low perceived competence scale. The positive effects of communicative task on low perceived competence seemed to accumulate through treatments, and finally nearly 80% of the participants showed positive effects while only two participants showed increased negatively lack of perceived competence. Anxiety showed much more moderate reduction effects than low perceived competence, in both the first and second periods. As for avoidance, 13 of the participants showed a positive reducing effect, but 12 of the participants showed a negative effect in the first-second period. However, the reducing effect was more strongly shown in the second-third period. A quarter of the participants showed greater anxiety, but more than half of the participants reduced it.

Table 5.
A Breakdown List of Reduced, Increased, and Not Changed, Comparing Each Survey.

First – Second Second – Third First – Third
n % n % n %
Overall Reduced 20 61% 24 73% 24 73%
Increased 8 24% 6 18% 7 21%
Not Changed 5 15% 3 9% 2 6%
Competence Reduced 21 64% 25 76% 26 79%
Increased 3 9% 5 15% 2 6%
Not Changed 9 27% 3 9% 5 15%
Anxiety Reduced 15 45% 17 52% 20 61%
Increased 8 24% 6 18% 8 24%
Not Changed 10 30% 10 30% 5 15%
Avoidance Reduced 13 39% 18 55% 17 52%
Increased 12 36% 8 24% 8 24%
Not Changed 8 24% 7 21% 8 24%

These results suggest that the communicative TBLT were holistically effective for changing unwillingness to speak English. Although to confirm the causal effect we need further research with an appropriate research design to obtain highly refined evidence (Imbens & Rubin, 2015), the results, at least as overall trends, indicate that learners did not increase their unwillingness to speak English, contrary to the prediction from Horwitz, Horwitz and Cope (1986).

To answer Research Question 2, the reflection questionnaire completed by the participants whose negative attributes increased was analyzed. The examples below are of participants of whose scores lack of competence, anxiety, or avoidance increased.

Example 1: Participants whose low perceived competence increased

Nana: I thought I could use English better. When I tried to use English, however, I sometimes used Japanese and I noticed I could not use English as well as I thought before.

Shinya: I have not felt such strong unwillingness to speak English, although I cannot speak English so well…

Both participants in Example 1 originally seemed to have had confidence in speaking English. The experience of speaking English, however, seemingly changed their mind. This suggests that realistic experience of task engagement possibly made learners realize their actual communicative and linguistic skills.

The excerpts in Example 2 are extracted from the descriptions by participants whose anxiety scores increased. Their descriptions lead us to believe that they might actively communicate with other students if they had more confidence.

Example 2: Participants whose anxiety increased

Kota: The class was fun. I like to speak, but I do not have confidence at all. I wanted to speak Japanese.

Namiko:I could not communicate with other people well, so I feel that I could not use English so well.

Example 3 is from participants whose avoidance score increased. All these participants hesitated to talk with other people. Neither Natsumi nor Rina seemed to have a positive attitude toward communicative TBLT. Notably, the influence of personality as a mediating factor between TBLT and unwillingness to speak English is indicated from their descriptions.

Example 3: Participants whose avoidance increased

Natsumi: I’m shy. Therefore, I could talk with my friends who I knew well, but I could not talk with people I did not know so well.

Rina: By my nature, I do not like talking with others, either inside or outside the class. I was very uncomfortable when I had to communicate with other people. I would like to study English by myself.

To sum up, the results of the qualitative analysis revealed that some of the learners became aware of the gap between their perceived and actual L2 skills and this experience possibly reduced some learners’ confidence. In addition, communication-based activities may increase the unwillingness to speak of learners who have certain personality traits such as, strong introversion.


The first research question asked whether repeating communicative tasks enables learners to reduce their unwillingness to communicate. The results showed that the communicative lessons positively affected the learners’ unwillingness, whereas a few learners showed no or negative effects. The positive effect was particularly evident on low perceived competence, whereas less effectiveness for easing anxiety and avoidance for some learners was implied.

The following hypotheses emerge from the results. First, communicative tasks are holistically effective, but it takes a long time for unwillingness to speak English to be reduced. The results indicated that just one semester (tasks repeated 10 times) may not be enough to reduce anxiety and its consequence, avoidance. Second, the results showed that the tendency of avoidance may be reduced after both of the L2 confidence-related attributes (i.e., low perceived competence and anxiety) reach ideal levels. That is, reducing only low perceived competence is not enough to reduce avoidance.

The second research question asked what contributed to an increase in unwillingness to communicate. The quantitative analysis showed that realistic experiences of task engagement made learners realize their actual communicative and linguistic skills. The results also indicated that the opportunity to communicate in English tended to increase the unwillingness to speak of learners with an introverted nature.

This study has some implications. First, although learners experienced positive gains overwhelmingly, communicative TBLT may not be suitable for L2 learning of introverted learners because avoidance of communication induced by increased unwillingness causes an obstacle to L2 learning. A possible solution is to utilize input-based tasks (e.g., Shintani, 2012). Language teachers would be required to choose an appropriate task type depending on the learners in their own classrooms. Future studies to explore the interaction between the degree of introversion and task type (output- or input-based) are also desired.

Another notable implication is that teachers should take care of learners who encounter a gap between their perceived L2 communicative skill and the actual skill and knowledge they possess, as well as psychological aptitude-treatment interaction. As for the particularly important perspective, students who are aware of the gap between their perceived and actual skills may show an increased unwillingness to communicate. Thus, it is very important that these types of learners, before engaging in communicative lessons, must have confidence, or even skills, to speak in a second language to some extent. This means that an introverted nature is not only involved in risk, but that their unwillingness will increase through communicative lessons. Language teachers should pay considerable attention to learners’ dynamic internal change in a class and must support these types of learners.

We need to acknowledge some limitations of this study. The study is a small one, with non-randomized samples, without a control group. Therefore, the current study cannot generalize the results and cannot show conclusive causal relations between communicative lessons and learners’ unwillingness. Clearly, replications with appropriate research design along with, for example, “potential outcome framework” (Imbens & Rubin, 2015) to inference causal effects and to obtain better evidence are clearly recommended. Finally, the current study did not take account of learners’ linguistic behavioral changes, namely, language acquisition or interlanguage development. This calls for future research investigating unwillingness-related attributes as one of the moderating factors between instruction and learning. This line of study will produce better ideas for successful L2 class management

About the Author

Fukuta Junya is a project assistant professor at University of Shizuoka, Language and Communication Research Center. His research interest includes the role of attention and awareness in second language acquisition and task-based language teaching.


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Bridging Policy and Practice: A Study of EFL Teacher Talk in China http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83a1/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 01:10:03 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12609 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Peter Teo
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


This study focuses on teacher talk in the context of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching in China. Framed against China’s current focus on ‘thinking, imagination and innovation’ as stated in the National English Curriculum Standards (NECS), this paper reports the findings of a qualitative study aimed at understanding how the discursive practices of EFL teachers contribute to the learning outcomes and overall goals of the NECS. The study adopts the theoretical lens of Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, which views dialogue as the principal means for meaning making and learning. It focuses on how teachers encourage dialogic interactions in the classroom through their questions and code-switching practices. The data comprises 30 hours of audio-recordings of lessons taught by eight EFL teachers at the high school level in two Chinese cities. The analysis of this data suggests that EFL teaching is still very much entrenched in the traditional practice based on word recognition and pattern drills and, despite official policy pronouncements, maintains a predominantly monologic thrust. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to how teacher talk can mediate EFL learning and, more broadly, bridge the gap between policy and classroom practice.

Keywords: teacher talk; dialogue; code-switching; EFL policy; China


In the last decade or so, China has taken large economic strides to become the world’s second largest economy (The World Bank, 2016). During this period, China has also made concomitant efforts to reform its education to keep pace with the developed world (Zhang & Liu, 2014; Liu, 2011). In recognition of the status of English as an international language of commerce, technology and diplomacy, China has revised its English as a Foreign Language (EFL) curriculum in order to nurture students who are not only proficient in English but who are also critical thinkers imbued with a global outlook. As teachers can be viewed as ‘micro-politicians’ who wield the power to enact the curriculum (Luke, 2001, p. 9), this study focuses on the role that EFL teachers play in translating curricular goals and policy pronouncements into classroom practice in China.

China’s English Curriculum

First launched in 2001 and subsequently revised in 2011, the National English Curriculum Standards (NECS) for China’s nine-year compulsory education and senior high school education is decidedly different from previous reform efforts (Zheng, 2012; Zhong, 2006). Signalling a departure from a traditional, teacher-centered approach, the NECS adopts a student-centric approach by focusing on students’ learning and holistic development, as the following excerpts from the document illustrate:

In accordance with the communicative needs and cognitive levels of the students at senior high school, English instruction should emphasize the development of students’ abilities to use English appropriately in interpersonal communication, to use English to retrieve and process information, to use English to analyze and solve problems, and to think critically (NECS, 2011, p. 7, translated from original Chinese version1).

Teachers should seek to foster students’ critical thinking abilities and their spirit of creativity. The design of classroom activities should be in favor of the development of students’ creativity and imagination. More open tasks and exploratory learning content should be utilized in class to offer students the opportunities to express their views and opinions. Teachers should also encourage students to develop their abilities to cooperate and communicate with others (NECS, 2011, p. 26, translated from original Chinese version 2).

These excerpts clearly signal an official commitment to the role of English as a means to develop students’ communication and cognitive skills, and represent an explicit call for English teachers to nurture their students’ critical and creative capacities through ‘open’ and ‘exploratory learning’ activities that encourage them to express their views.

These curricular and pedagogical reforms were intended to develop students into active, collaborative and reflective individuals by encouraging them to dialogue with themselves, the world and others (Sato, 2004; Zhong, 2006). EFL teachers are therefore expected to relinquish their authoritative position in class, co-construct knowledge with their students, and concentrate more on the teaching process rather than focus on preparing students to pass examinations (Cheng, 2011; MOE, 2001). The diagram below encapsulates the key areas of focus in the 2011 edition of the NECS.

Figure 1. Key areas of focus in China’s EFL learning (Source: NECS, 2011, p. 9)

As we can see, the focus of EFL education in China goes well beyond the equipping of students with basic linguistic knowledge and competencies like listening, speaking, reading and writing. It also aspires to inculcate in students’ broader dispositional attributes and qualities, such as confidence, patriotism, cultural awareness and understanding, as well as effective communication and thinking skills. According to China’s Ministry of Education (MOE), EFL teachers are “to develop autonomous learning and cooperative spirit, … to foster students’ abilities of observation, memorisation, thinking, imagination and innovation, to help students get to know the world and be aware of cultural differences between China and Western countries” (MOE, 2001, p. 1-2). The mandate issued to EFL teachers is therefore not only to equip students with language proficiency skills but also to cultivate the broader mindsets and competencies that will help them to navigate the 21st century global landscape, in which China aspires to play an increasingly influential role. What follows is a review of the research literature divided into two sections. The first focuses on the theoretical framework the study adopts, while the second reviews empirical studies investigating the role of teacher talk in language teaching.

Literature Review

Theoretical framework

According to Bakhtin’s (1986) theory of dialogism, dialogue is the principal means for meaning making and learning. By demonstrating how the voices of other people get interwoven into what we say and write, Bakhtin argues that thinking and knowing occur in and through dialogic speech. The contrast between monologic and dialogic utterances within a classroom is that the former involve students’ unquestioning acceptance of meanings expressed through ‘authoritative’ texts and talk, while the latter involve students’ resistance to and interrogations of these meanings (Bakhtin, 1981, p. 293-4). Put simply, the educative power of dialogic teaching lies in teaching students not what to think but how to think (Reznitskaya, Kuo, Clark, Miller, Jadallah, & Anderson, 2009, p. 35, my emphasis). In construing learning as something borne out of dialogic interactions, Bakhtin has provided an epistemological perspective that decenters learning from the cognitive processing that takes place in an individual learner to the social interaction in which learners participate (Koschmann, 1999).

In this study on EFL teaching in China, ‘dialogism’ is construed in terms of how teachers, through their classroom talk, foster dialogic interactions that encourage students to think, question and thereby construct their own meanings and understandings (Alexander, 2005). This includes not only the linguistic knowledge and skills of the target language, but also the understanding of the socio-pragmatic and socio-cultural contexts within which language use is embedded. It is believed that such dialogic interactions would engender the broader and deeper critical awareness and cross-cultural understandings envisaged in the NECS.

In applying Bakhtin’s theory to foreign language learning, this study moves away from a formalist view of language, which sees language as an essentially stable and normative structure which learners need to grasp. Instead, it construes language as a dynamic entity which is constantly evolving and responding to social, cultural and historical contexts. In this dynamic view of language as a “living tool – one that is simultaneously structured and emergent” (Hall, Vitanova & Marchenkova, 2005, p. 3), foreign language learning is no longer about learning the structural patterns of the target language but a process of bringing one’s cultural world into contact and interaction with that of the target language. This study thus broadens the scope and nature of EFL learning beyond the acquisition of forms and meanings to emphasize the actual and active use of English to interact with other users in authentic contexts, not just to comprehend or interpret but to question and interrogate, thereby constructing instead of merely assimilating meanings. In this regard, it aligns with Pavlenko and Lantolf’s view of second (and by extension foreign) language learning ‘not as the acquisition of a new set of grammatical, lexical and phonological forms but as a struggle of concrete socially constituted and always situated beings to participate in the always symbolically mediated lifeworld’ (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000, p. 155). The use of the word ‘struggle’ is significant in highlighting the inevitable and continual contestations and negotiations that characterize real-life communicative events. This moving away from acquisition of discrete forms to participation in situated meanings and functions in real life necessitates a re-imagining of the teacher’s role to engage and encourage students to participate in meaning making and knowledge construction in real-world contexts. In particular, the role of teacher talk in facilitating and mediating students’ learning experiences is pivotal.

Empirical studies on teacher talk

Teacher talk can be understood simply as the language employed by teachers to give directions, explain activities, check students’ understanding, and give feedback on student learning (Sinclair & Brazil, 1985; Wallace, Sung & Williams, 2014). In the EFL context, an increasing number of researchers have undertaken studies on teacher talk using Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism. These studies range from determining the amount of authoritative and persuasive discourse in EFL contexts to examining the type of questions asked by teachers (Ghasemi, Adel & Zareian, 2015; Xu, 2012). For instance, Xu (2012) examined the type of questions asked by teachers who taught an Intensive Reading (IR) course for EL students pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree at the Harbin Institute of Technology, China. Three instructors participated in the study and a total of 564 questions were coded. From her analysis, it was found that IR classes were predominantly monologic in nature. The instructors frequently asked questions to elicit facts or recite information derived from texts. Students rarely asked questions and, if they did, they would ask content-oriented questions pertaining to texts that they had read rather than to propose (or counter-propose) ideas that might challenge the knowledge being presented in textbooks. Students therefore had “little ownership and voice in the meaning making process of reading the text” (Xu, 2012, p. 104). Xu explained this phenomenon on the basis of teachers’ perception of their learners’ low language proficiency and their preference for a unilateral transmission of knowledge due to institutional pressures like the need to complete a syllabus within a stipulated time frame.

Besides teacher questioning and its impact on student participation and cognitive engagement, another aspect of teacher talk that has engaged EFL researchers is code-switching. This refers to teachers’ use of their students’ first language (L1) to facilitate learning and understanding of the target language (Cook, 2001; Hall & Cook, 2012). In a sense, code-switching can be seen as a dialogic interaction between the L1 and the target language, wherein the use of one code illuminates and interanimates the other, thereby facilitating students’ comparative understanding of the L1 and target language and the cultural contexts within which they are embedded. In this way, code-switching in the Chinese EFL classroom could contribute significantly to the goals of the NECS. When teachers code-switch, they could go beyond providing literal translations to help learners negotiate, wrestle and indeed ‘struggle’ (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000, p. 155) with the culturally situated meanings and connotative nuances between the two codes so as to let them experience and embrace ‘language in its concrete living totality’ (Bakhtin, 1984, p. 181). In this sense, code-switching goes beyond the alternation between two languages to the interaction and interanimination of two cultures within which language use is situated and comes alive.

Although there is currently no consensus on whether the use of L1 enhances or impedes student learning, researchers seem to agree on the functions of code-switching in the EFL classroom (see Cheng, 2013; Cook, 2001; Duff & Polio, 1990; Grim, 2010; Levine, 2003; Myers-Scotton, 1993). These include explaining the more abstruse features of the target language, such as grammar, engaging in comparisons between the first and target languages and their accompanying cultures, checking for student comprehension, ensuring understanding of instructions, giving feedback to students, and establishing rapport (see Atkinson,1987; Auerbach,1993; Cook, 2001; Grim, 2010; Jiang, 2004; Lin, 2013; Liu, 2010; Macaro, 1997; 2001; Pennington, 1995; Tang, 2002; Wilkerson, 2008). For instance, Liu (2010) sought to identify the functions of the use of L1 in her mixed-methods study conducted in the EFL classroom of Chinese universities. She found that the L1 functions observed, such as ‘translating vocabulary items, explaining grammar, managing class and building close relation with students’ (Liu, 2010, p. 21), were generally consistent with what was found in previous studies such as Levine (2003) and Macaro (1997). Additionally, Liu (2010) found that students’ English proficiency was the principal factor for teachers who decide to code-switch to the L1. In spite of studies conducted to identify the functions, motivations and factors pertaining to code-switching in EFL teaching, there is scant research aimed at examining the extent to which and the ways in which such practices actually support student learning or not through close analysis of teacher talk.

Research Purpose

Besides studies like Xu’s (2012), which only examined teacher questions, little has been done to investigate teacher talk in a more comprehensive manner from a Bakhtinian perspective. In particular, the examination of code-switching practices as a form and means of facilitating dialogic interaction remains uncharted territory. This study therefore sought to analyze the classroom talk of Chinese EFL teachers from a Bakhtinian perspective by asking the following questions:

  1. To what extent does teacher questioning encourage dialogic student talk?
  2. To what extent does teacher code-switching help students to form links, both linguistic and cultural, between their L1 and target language?

Research Method

This study adopts a qualitative approach to analyse teacher talk in the EFL classroom in two cities in China: Beijing and Yinchuan. Eight Middle School teachers (five from Beijing and three from Yinchuan) were invited to participate in the study. All of them are native to China and have attended teacher training programmes, either a three-year diploma course or a four-year undergraduate course, in China. The teaching experience of the seven female teachers and one male teacher ranged from one to seven years. Participation in the study was voluntary and informed consent from the teachers and their students was obtained prior to data collection.

For each teacher, between one and three lessons were observed and audio-recorded. This yielded a total of fifteen lessons, with each lesson lasting between 45 and 90 minutes. The audio-recordings were subsequently transcribed 3 and coded in terms of (1) the type and function of teacher questions and (2) the perceived purpose when the teachers switched from English to Chinese during the lessons. Following Cazden (2001), the following coding scheme for teacher questions was used.

Table 1. Coding scheme for teacher questions

Type of question Function
Display Elicits specific and generally agreed-upon answers, such as facts or prior knowledge 
Exploratory Invites response with no predetermined answer, often opinions, suggestions, ideas and hypotheses
Rhetorical Asserts a point or makes a claim by asking a question whose answer is obvious

The lesson transcripts were initially read to obtain a general sense of what transpired during the lessons before isolating the Initiation-Response-Follow-up (IRF) sequences (Sinclair and Coulthard, 1975). Once these sequences have been isolated, two research assistants independently coded the type of questions used by teachers to initiate student talk using the above coding scheme. This coding process was accompanied by “memoing” (Dörnyei, 2007, p. 254) to record the thoughts, hunches and reasons behind the interpretations. What follows is an analysis of teacher talk captured in the classroom data in terms of the type and function of teacher questioning and code-switching.



The analysis of teacher questions across all eight teachers showed a pattern dominated by Display questions (58.3%), followed by Rhetorical questions (30%) and Exploratory questions (11.3%). The relative frequency of the three types of questions is presented in Figure 2 below. As Display and Rhetorical questions tend to produce predetermined and fixed answers from students, as opposed to Exploratory questions which encourage opinions, ideas or suggestions, their preponderance (88.3%) suggests a rather monologic thrust in the questions posed by the participating teachers.

Figure 2. Relative frequency of teacher questions

A representative instance of the use of Display questions by the teachers is shown in Excerpt 1. Here the Yinchuan teacher is seen preparing her students for a writing exercise on tourist attractions. The excerpt begins just after a student has said that she had been to an amusement park many times. The words in brackets show the Chinese translation.

Excerpt 1

1 T: How do you spell ‘times’?
2 Ss: T-I-M-E-S. [Ss are answering in chorus]
3 T: Yes. Ok. Good. Sit down please.
Now next one, how about Ruan Xiuxiang*, have you ever been
to amusement park?
4 S: No, I haven’t.
5 T: Yah. Also the other answer it is: no, I haven’t. [T is
writing the answer on the board].
Now do you remember how to spell ‘haven’t’?
6 Ss: H-A-V-E-N撇 (apostrophe) T.
[Ss are answering in chorus]
7 T: Yah. No, I haven’t.
Also you can say?
//I have never been to there.
8 Ss: //I have never been to there.
9 T: Yah. How do you spell ‘never’?
10 Ss: N-E-V-E-R.
[Ss are answering in chorus]
[Several turns later]
20 T: It’s a-
Look at this picture. Look at this picture.
Now for example, what is the first picture? What is it?
Now, how about you, Yu Xiaotong? 那 (so) What can
you see in the picture?
What can you see in the picture or you can say what other
places can you see in the picture?
(so) so except amusement (park), what can
you see in the picture?
21 S: Zoo.
22 T: it’s a?
23 Ss: Zoo. [Ss are answering in chorus]
24 T: Yes, no?
25 Ss: Yes. [Ss are answering in chorus]
26 T: Ok. Sit down please.
Now anything- anything else? What is in the picture?
27 Ss: Aquarium.
28 T: It’s ‘an’?
29 Ss: Aquarium. [Ss answering in chorus]
30 T: Yah.
It’s ‘a’ or ‘an’?
31 Ss ‘an’.
32 T: It’s an //aquarium.
33 Ss //aquarium.
34 T: Now what’s the meaning of aquarium? Do you know (…)?

*All names of students and teachers are pseudonyns.

The excerpt shows that the questions posed by the teacher in turns 1, 5, 9, 20, 26, 30 and 34 are all Display questions, intended for students to demonstrate their knowledge. Her questioning tends to constrict the range of possible responses from students, and hence narrow the dialogic space for them to produce alternative answers to what the teacher has in mind. This is evident in turns 1, 5, 9, where she asks for the spelling of words (‘times’, ‘haven’t’ and ‘never’), and also in turns 24, (Yes, no?), 28 (It’s an?) and 30 (It’s ‘a’ or ‘an’?), where she is asking students to provide a one-word answer or complete her sentence. What we see therefore is a questioning style that goes no further than developing students’ lexical or grammatical knowledge of the target language. It is therefore unsurprising that most of the students’ responses are limited to brief or even monosyllabic choral responses, rather than elaborated individual opinions or ideas, which provide students with the opportunity to use the target language in a meaningful and authentic manner (Mercer & Dawes, 2010). Interestingly, when the teacher does ask an Exploratory question in turn 3 (have you ever been to an amusement park?), she seems more interested in the formulation of the student’s response (No, I haven’t) than its content. Instead of probing for possible reasons why she hasn’t visited an amusement park or asking if she would like to visit one, she appears more concerned with the students’ ability to spell the word, ‘haven’t’. With such a questioning stance, students are left with little opportunity to incorporate their lived experiences or personal interests or ideas into the class discussion, which then takes on a markedly monotonous and monologic tenor. Worse, they might come to doubt their teacher’s sincerity when she asks about their experiences or opinions.

There are a few instances in the classroom data which afford a glimpse of the potential for dialogic interactions, although these are the exception rather than the norm. One case in point is shown in Excerpt 2 below:

Excerpt 2

1 T: Thank you. Sit down, please. So this is my description
about Thanks-giving Day.
And now…em…do you see the different questions on your
worksheet? Guiding questions. And here I should make
something clear.
The first one, what is the name of the festival and what
kind of festival it is? And by this question I mean the
name, we have already known that…in the first place you
should mention the name of your festival.
You invent a festival, for example, No-homework Day. If it
is like this, you should mention No-homework Day is blah
blah blah. OK?
And in the second place, you should make clear that it is
one of the festivals celebrated in what style or…it is
…my Thanks-giving is traditional western festival but now
you should not use the word “traditional,” because it is
newly-invented. Understand?
. . . [turns omitted]
And the last one is why do people celebrate this festival?
So that’s the meaning of your festivals. So are you all
clear about that?
[Students engage in group work before presenting.]
2 S: Today we have new, we have a new festival. Its name is
Students’ Festival.
It is a new kind of festival and it is very fashion. It is
very fashion. And now it is very popular now.
Eh… every year in September 27, from September 27 to
September 30, people can have fun in these days.
Eh…那个(that one)…why people celebrate this
festival because, because…first students eh…reduce
their pressure. And secondly, they can relax themselves.
And thirdly, they can improve their friendship.
3 T: And I think these reasons are very…his…he has adequate
reasons, and very interesting, right?

In this excerpt, the teacher begins her lesson with a description of Thanksgiving Day as an example of a festival celebrated by Americans. The students are then asked to invent their own festival and give reasons for why the festival should be celebrated. The nature of the task and the teacher’s instructions encourages inventiveness from the students, and provides an opportunity for a student representative to offer elaborated responses and justifications for his group’s choice of festival, rather than the monosyllabic choral responses witnessed in the previous excerpt. Moreover, the positive appraisal by the teacher in turn three serves to affirm the student’s contributions and thereby encourages other students to contribute in a similar manner. The teacher refrains from correcting the student’s language (most notably in the use of the word ‘fashion’), and gives the student the freedom and discursive space to speak spontaneously. Although the teacher does not take the discussion further to exploit its potential to raise cross-cultural awareness and understanding by, for instance, getting students to think about the cultural values and beliefs that underpin festivals, the potential is certainly there for the teacher to do so.


The analysis of the classroom data showed a wide variation among the eight teachers in their use of L1, ranging from one teacher who did not use L1 at all in one lesson to another whose classroom talk showed approximately 60% L1 usage. However, despite this wide variation, the code-switching practices of the teachers generally reflect and corroborate the findings of previous studies (e.g., Cook, 2001; Franklin, 1990; Grim, 2010; Liu, 2010). Similar to these studies, the most common functions of code-switching found in the study involve clarifying the meanings of unfamiliar words/phrases and giving instructions for student tasks (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Relative frequency of code-switching functions

The teachers’ use of L1 to clarify the meanings of words in the target language could be predicated on their belief that their students, being at the middle school level, would have a reasonably well-established lexical and conceptual L1 system which they could tap on to clarify meanings in the target language. This was what other researchers like Cook (2001) and Jiang (2004) had previously observed in their work. Excerpt 3 below illustrates how a Beijing teacher attempted to clarify the meaning of target words.

Excerpt 3

1 T: This man is holding certificate.
Do you know certificate?
Certificate. 证书 (certificate).
This certificate reads “wining a scholarship fifty-five
So…can you guess what does scholarship mean?
2 S: 奖学金 (scholarship)
3 T: Yes! Right! 奖学金 (scholarship).
So, wining a scholarship
So read after me. Scholarship.

This excerpt illustrates the teacher’s code-switching to engage in comprehension checks (in this case of the words “certificate” and “scholarship”). Such instances provide students with opportunities to hone receptive skills, like reading skills which include word recognition and comprehension. This finding is consistent with Grim (2010), who has categorized such occurrences as instances of delayed translations. Another major function of code-switching as seen in the data relates to instruction giving, a phenomenon observed by other researchers as well (e.g., Atkinson, 1987; Cook, 2001; Grim, 2010). In this case, the code-switching appears to be motivated by procedural purposes rather than pedagogical priorities. Excerpt 4 is a case in point.

Excerpt 4

1 T: So take out your worksheet, and see Part One.
In Part One there are five five eh…
Yes, there are five words here, and I will play the tape
and you listen to it.
Then give me your answer.
Which one is truth and which one is false.

(Let’s complete a listening task which requires us to
decide if it’s true or false).

The use of L1 by the Beijing teacher could be motivated by her desire to convey instructions to the students in a clear and effective manner. This is supported by what some of the teachers revealed during the post-lesson conference, when they indicated that they perceived their students to be weak in English. This perception could have motivated them to tap the L1 (Chinese) as a resource to provide students with Chinese instructions that would aid the students’ understanding of what is required or expected of them.

In the following excerpt taken from a lesson on a unit called Celebrations, we see a teacher from Beijing teaching her students different festivals celebrated in China and in the west.

Excerpt 5

1 T So I again have some pictures. Can you see them?
[T shows class some pictures] So these are some festivals
in China , and can you recognize them? What’s first?
[referring to a picture depicting Spring Festival
2 Ss New year.
3 T Yes. New year. In China, we also say?
4 Ss Spring festival.
5 T Good. The Spring Festival. Yes. And the second one?
6 Ss 粽子 (dumplings)
7 T 粽子 dumplings. how to say (…)? They are sailing a boat. Dragon. Yes. I heard someone say dragon.
So this is Dragon Boat Festival.
Read after me. //Dragon Boat Festival.
8 Ss //Dragon Boat Festival.
9 T The Dragon Boat Festival.
10 Ss The Dragon Boat Festival.
11 T Good. And the third one. The girl is holding a what?
12 Ss 元宵 (Lantern Festival).
13 T 元宵. And what is she holding? In her hand.
14 Ss 灯笼 (lantern).
15 T How to say a 灯笼? In English.
16 Ss (…)
17 T Lantern. Lantern. So read after me. LANTERN.
18 Ss Lantern.
19 T Lantern.
20 Ss Lantern.
21 T The Lantern Festival.
22 Ss The Lantern Festival.
23 T OK. Good. So this is 元宵节 (The Lantern Festival) in
China, in Chinese.
And oh, sorry. What is the last one. You can see a round
//A moon cake.
24 Ss // A moon cake.
25 T So this is ? What?
26 Ss 中秋 (mid-Autumn)
28 Ss The Mid-autumn Festival.
29 T Yes. The Mid-autumn Festival. And we eat dumplings in
Spring Festival, right? //Chinese dumplings.
30 S // Yes.
31 T And // 粽子 (dumplings).
32 Ss // 粽子.
33 T And here //sweet dumplings. .
34 Ss Sweet dumplings.
35 T So read after me. Sweet dumplings
36 Ss Sweet dumplings.
37 T 元宵或汤圆儿 (Lantern Festival or sweet dumplings)。And
the last one. Actually?
38 Ss Moon-cake.
39 T Moon-cakes. Right. Moon-cakes. So:: these are festivals
celebrating only in China and this is, all of them have
long histories. So we call them? What kind of Chinese
40 Ss traditional
41 T Yes, traditional. GREAT. Traditional. So… What is the
noun form of traditional. Noun form. This is actually
42 Ss Tradition.
43 T TRADITION. Right. Good. Tradition. [T is writing
“tradition” on the board]. Put down this word on your word
bank. Tradition and traditional.
This is adjective and this is noun. [Ss are writing down
the words]

Besides showing further evidence of code-switching aimed at clarifying lexical meaning, this excerpt also highlights opportunities to develop cultural awareness in addition to vocabulary development. Embedded in the festivals celebrated in China or the west, beneath the layers of sedimented folklore and tales of yore, are rich and interesting narratives that make the festivals come alive in the minds of the students. However, instead of drawing on this treasure trove of cultural narrative to arouse the students’ interest or deepen their understanding of how festivals have come into being, the teacher seems content to get her students to articulate and learn the English names of Chinese festivals and cultural artefacts, such as dumplings, lanterns or mooncakes, without attempting to get them to explain how or why these artefacts have come to be associated with their respective festivals. Beyond teaching them the English translation for ‘灯笼’ as ‘lantern’ (turns 15-20) and clarifying the Chinese term for ‘Lantern Festival’ as ‘元宵节’ (turn 23), for example, the teacher does not probe into their knowledge and understanding of the significance of carrying lanterns to mark the end of the Spring Festival. Neither does she clarify the difference between ‘粽子’ and ‘汤圆儿’, which are both confusingly coded as ‘dumplings’ in English. Perhaps, this is an instance where language is inadequate in codifying the richness of meaning, a topic which can potentially open up a wealth of discussion about the relationships between language, meaning and culture. To her credit, we do see the teacher early in the excerpt getting her students to go beyond the term, ‘New Year,’ to recall the more traditional, culture-specific term, ‘Spring Festival’ (turns 2-5). It is regrettable, however, that she does not get them to explain why the Chinese New Year, as opposed to the generic ‘New Year,’ is known more traditionally as ‘Spring Festival.’ It is also interesting to note the students’ pre-emptive response of ‘元宵’ (turn 12), referring to the name of the festival, when the teacher was merely asking them what the girl in the picture was holding. This is despite the rather narrowly phrased question – The girl is holding a what? – meant to elicit a fixed, one-word response: ‘lantern.’ This suggests that students can be quick to read teachers’ intentions behind their questions, an ability that teachers would do well to exploit by aiming at the higher order thinking skills envisaged in the NECS.

The excerpt continues with the teacher moving to festivals celebrated in western countries.

Excerpt 6

44 T And look at some western festivals. What is this?
45 Ss Christmas.
46 T CHRISTMAS. Good. And this one ? //Can you see the words?
47 Ss Thanksgiving.
48 T Yeah, thanksgiving. We can see a turkey on the table,
right? And third one?
49 Ss 万圣节 (Halloween).
50 T 万圣节。I heard someone said Halloween. Right? Halloween. So.
HALLOWEEN. Read after me.
51 Ss Halloween.
52 T OK. Good. An::d the last one.
53 S What?
54 T We can see 彩带 (coloured ribbons). Yes, it’s
Easter. Easter. Read after me. Easter.
55 Ss Easter.
56 T Good. And do you know when are this festivals celebrated?
Do you know?
57 Ss (…)
58 T Christmas? What’s the date?
59 S December 25th.
60 T Good. December the 25th. Good. December the 25 th.
And second, thanksgiving. When? Do you know?
61 S //三月二十七号…忘了(March 25th…I forget)
62 T Do you know it? It is the fourth Thursday of November.
Remember on the day you can give your gratitude, you can
show your gratitude to your mother, father, to your
parents, to your teachers and friends.
Don’t forget to show, eh to express your gratitude to the
person grateful. OK? (…) just October the 31st.
63 S October 31st.
64 T And Easter, do you know? Easter in China, in Chinese means
复活节 (Easter). 对 (right). And the date
is… It’s a little bit complicated. It’s one day among
March eh 22nd to April the 25th. It just one day
during this period.
Eh… Every year is different. OK?

Once again, we see missed opportunities for the teacher to deepen the students’ knowledge and understanding of these ‘western festivals’ (turn 44). Instead of the dates of these festivals, which the teacher seems to get entangled with, there is considerable potential for her to explore, together with the students, the meanings and significance – traditional and contemporary – of festivals like Christmas, which seems to be celebrated with equal or even greater gusto in contemporary China as it is in the west.

Discussion of findings

The findings from this small study involving eight EFL teachers in two Chinese cities generally corroborate what earlier studies have found. They echo the predominantly monologic tenor of teacher talk, which other researchers like Xu (2012) have also observed in teacher questioning. As seen from the data, the teachers’ questions tend to elicit ‘correct’ answers from students rather than draw upon their lived experiences or draw out personal opinions or ideas. In fact, the findings here reinforce what has also been found in studies situated in non-EFL contexts, which reported teachers’ rigid and restrictive adherence to their teaching script (Teo, 2016; Cazden, 2001; Hardman, Smith, & Wall, 2003; Hiebert et al., 2003). They suggest a predominantly monologic and transmissive orientation in teacher talk, indicated by a preponderance of moves that elicit pre-established knowledge or lead students to preconceived conclusions, and do little to probe for opinions, perspectives, positions and their underlying thinking. Instead of opening the classroom discursive space to engender dialogic interactions, the teachers seem more intent on helping students fill in linguistic knowledge blanks. Such a discursive classroom culture, whilst possibly elevating students’ lexical or grammatical knowledge pertaining to the target language, would ultimately debilitate the development of their conceptual knowledge and metacognitive abilities (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) as well as impoverish their communicative competence in the target language. If teachers continue to focus on the acquisition of linguistic knowledge or formal accuracy at the expense of functional competence, as seen in the excerpts above, they will not be able to elevate their teaching to the level aspired to and endorsed by the Chinese MOE.

The analysis of the code-switching practices of the eight EFL teachers suggests primarily pragmatic and procedural motivations; at the same time, they reflect the pedagogic purpose of easing their students into the target language. However, this pedagogic purpose seems limited to reinforcing knowledge of linguistic form rather than in honing the pragmatics of the target language. Close analysis of the data has revealed that teachers tend to concentrate on practices like reciting the meaning of an unfamiliar word or repeating a particular structure in the target language. Such discursive practices position learners merely as code-breakers or meaning-makers, rather than learners who can use a newly acquired word or structure in specific contexts (meaning-users) or even question or challenge its usage in particular situations to serve particular purposes (meaning-analysts) (see Luke & Freebody, 1999). By providing students with literal translations of target words and engaging in comprehension checks, the teachers in the study were merely providing students with a means to engage in simple meaning-production rather than meaning application (Anderson & Freebody 1981; Zeegers, 2006). Moreover, it is evident from the data that students are typically asked to repeat the target language after the teacher in chorus (‘so read after me’). Such choral responses might mask weaknesses among students, who could just be miming the words or merely repeating the sounds made by the teacher without any understanding of what these sounds mean, let alone how to use them in different contexts. Even for the more able students, such practices would deprive them of opportunities to develop their skills by practising the use of the target language in new or authentic contexts. This would also enhance their understanding of the cultural or situational contexts within which language use is necessarily embedded (Rush, 2004). More broadly, these practices do little to develop students’ ‘thinking, imagination and innovation,’ ideals which are enshrined in the NECS. Despite the Chinese MOE’s initiation of a curriculum that proposes a paradigm shift from traditional, authoritative, knowledge-based transmission to a problem-solving, experiential and student-centered mode of teaching, there is manifestly a disjuncture between government policy and classroom practice. The findings of this study reveal a gap that needs to be filled if EFL teaching in China is to move beyond the deeply entrenched practice of ‘Chinese traditional receptive learning’ (Zheng, 2012, p.8) to the ideals envisioned in the NECS.

To achieve this, educators need to grapple with multiple issues surrounding the backwash effects of examinations, a possible clash of eastern and western educational ideologies, and inadequate professional support for teachers in China. In addition, the tendency among many EFL teachers to equate their students’ low linguistic proficiency with their inability to engage in productive dialogic discourses is something that needs to be addressed, since a deep engagement in meaning is not necessarily dependent on or limited by one’s linguistic proficiency as argued by Luke and Freebody (1999). Indeed, if EFL teachers continue to limit their students’ opportunities to practise and use the language in code-breaking or literal meaning-making practices rather than challenging them with more engaging and eminently more meaningful language-using activities, such as what we saw in Excerpt 2, their belief that their students are weak will probably be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, teachers should be equipped with the skills and strategies through a systematic and supportive professional development programme to nurture students to be active, collaborative and reflective individuals, so that they can have productive dialogues with themselves, the world and others (Sato, 2004; Zhong, 2006).

In addition, teachers should be encouraged to reflect on their own discursive practices and behaviors in the classroom. This could be facilitated through recordings (audio or video) of their own teacher talk to raise their awareness about what is taking place and unfolding in their lessons while they teach and the effects of their talk on students’ uptake (Pehmer, Gröschner & Seidel, 2015; Schieble, Vetter and Meacham, 2015). While EFL teachers are generally encouraged to maximize target language input in the classroom, this does not preclude the use, albeit judiciously, of the L1 even in the new NECS curriculum (Zhang & Liu, 2014). Such use could be to encourage students to reflect on and thereby enhance their understanding of the situated use of target words and structures in particular contexts. This would not only encourage flexibility and even creativity in the use of the target language, but also enhance cross-cultural awareness which is also one of the express goals of the NECS. This will cultivate students who can appreciate the nuances of meaning not only of the target language but also invite them to appreciate those of their mother-tongue to arrive at a deep understanding that language is not just a pragmatic tool for communication but a social and cultural product.


Fundamentally, the proposals above would need to acknowledge that China, not unlike many EFL contexts in Asia, is historically an examination-oriented and authoritarian society and is heavily influenced by Confucianism (Cheng, Moses & Cheng, 2012). Influence from Confucianist values may result in teachers and students being less receptive towards lessons that are interactive, learner-centered and being less keen in embracing pedagogical approaches which ‘de-emphasize the transmission and mastery of authoritative knowledge’ (Hu, 2002, p. 37).

While the findings from this small-scale, qualitative study cannot be generalized across the vast EFL landscape in China, what we have seen from the excerpts illustrated here does raise some pertinent questions. What is clear from the data is how deeply entrenched practices and values that promote the ‘repeat after me’ mode of language teaching are resistant to change even after more than a decade of educational ‘reform’ catalyzed by the NECS. To borrow a metaphor used by Cuban (1993), the NECS is akin to the ‘hurricane winds’ sweeping across the sea ‘tossing up twenty foot waves,’ but while the ‘surface turbulent waters swirl, on the ocean floor there is unruffled calm’ (cited in Curdt-Christensen and Silver, 2013, p. 246). But if the discursive practices that EFL teachers traditionally favor can go beyond procedural or pragmatic imperatives to the kind of dialogic interactions that Bakhtin envisaged, then perhaps policies can finally penetrate beneath the ‘unruffled calm’ to effect deep-seated and enduring changes in classroom practices.

About the Author

Peter Teo is Associate Professor at the English Language and Literature Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research and teaching interests converge in areas related to Critical Discourse Analysis, critical literacy, and language teaching. He has published in Discourse and Society, Critical Discourse Studies, Language and Education, Teaching and Teacher Education and Cambridge Journal of Education.


The author would like to acknowledge the National Institute of Education, Singapore for funding provided for the project, “Dialogism in English Language Teaching” (RS4/13 PT), without which the study and this paper would not have been possible.


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1 根据高中学生的交际需求和认知发展水平,高中英语教学应该着重培养学生以下几方面的能力:在人际交往中得体地使用英语的能力;用英语获取和处理信息的能力;用英语分析问题和解决问题的能力以及批性思维能力. [back]

2 教师在教学中要注意发展学生的批判性思维能力和创新精神。课堂教学活动的设计应有利于发挥学生的创造力和想象力。在教学中应增加开放性的任务型活动和探究性的学习内容,使学生有机会表达自己的看法与观点。教师要鼓励学生学会合作,发展与人沟通的能力. [back]

3 Transcription conventions used were adapted from Jefferson, G. (2004). Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In G. H. Lerner (Ed). Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation (pp. 13-31). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [back]

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Technology Implementation in Second Language Teaching and Translation Studies http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83r2/ Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:04:19 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12594 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Technology Implementation Second Language Teaching and Translation Studies

New Tools, New Approaches

Editor: María Luisa Carrió-Pastor (2016)  
Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media Singapore
Pages ISBN Price
pp. ix + 349 pages 2197-8689 $99.99 USD

Technology Implementation in Second Language Teaching and Translation Studies, New Tools, New Approaches is about innovation and creativity in higher education pedagogy and translation studies. This volume also discusses how universities, through the lens of practitioners, are one of the best places for the analysis of knowledge acquisition in the majority of educational areas. This book considers two standpoints to be of pivotal importance in higher education research: language teaching and translation studies. In a similar vein, a great number of research studies discussed in this book has focused on the output that the learners produce, rather than the teaching methodologies and techniques that actually lead to appropriate input for instance by encouraging language learners to interact, to discover, and to solve learning problems. This book paid particular attention to second language acquisition techniques, focusing more on input than on the output of language teaching.

The audience of this work is mainly language teachers, translators, and translator trainers. Reading this book, they will discover that the many contributing authors in this edition unanimously believe that the knowledge acquired by language teachers via professional development programs is well associated with language teaching, philology or translation with its main focus on communication. The topic of each chapter in this book connects with the tenets of second language learning, teaching and translation training, but particular attention is given to the implementation and integration of technology and its effectiveness on the ways language teachers and translators develop.

Part I includes the first five chapters. Chapter 1 discusses the recent integration of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) into areas of L2 teaching and translation. This chapter proposes that similar to advancements in information technology and science, the methods of knowledge delivery should be revised and renewed, particularly in higher education. The chapter also asserts that teachers and trainers might be better off if they prioritize the use of technology in their teaching.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of second language teaching and technology. Then, the authors discuss current trends in second language teaching, addressing some criticism of Communicative Language Teaching. A cursory look is also granted to other methods of language teaching, including discourse-based teaching, task-based teaching, form-focused instruction, and instructed language learning.

Chapter 3 focuses on the role of language in intercultural communication and the potential role of technology in English language teaching. The author proposes that learners need a lingua franca alongside an intercultural communicative competence and suggests that teaching methodologies should be revised to comply with a more authentic and engaging style of teaching. Chapter 4 discusses how information processing and transfer have received more attention in the past decades as the use of technology in translation work is rapidly spreading worldwide. Finally, Chapter 5 argues that social networking sites (SNSs) and virtual worlds can improve language learning. The authors maintained that the degree of their effectiveness depends on the level of contextual saturation that the specific form of interaction within the online tool offers.

The set of four chapters in Part II mainly focuses on discussions of implementing technology in translation studies. Chapter 6 discusses the increasing development of a vast range of competencies which have made language teaching and learning a challenging yet exciting undertaking. This has led to the exploration of ways that can make learners more autonomous and teachers more creative. The authors propose that language teachers should be more open-minded and embrace CALL in their approach to language teaching.

Chapter 7 describes the current European Conversion Process and the ultimate goal of education as learning. The authors argue that students should become more autonomous learners because they will be involved in active educational strategies such as team playing, private tutoring, and using technology. Then, the authors offer some new strategies for including technology in the curriculum.

Chapter 8 is about digital portfolios and offers two aims for this chapter: first, to widen the horizons of knowledge on the use of virtual portfolios and their application in training and assessment, and second, to demonstrate an actual experience of digital portfolio application in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom employing a virtual learning platform at the University of Valencia.

Chapter 9 depicts how online pedagogical approaches can be more user-friendly to language learners than traditional approaches. The author explains how non-native speakers of an L2 benefit from telecollaboration with an aim of creating meaningful learning processes characterized by more motivation, more self-confidence, and less anxiety.

The last four chapters of this book form Part III, which is mainly about the case studies conducted in the area of technology and translator training. Chapter 10 highlights the prominence of Phraseological Units (PUs), as they have recently become a part of core linguistic studies and are of crucial importance for successful integration into new ESL/EFL communities and for those who aim to master their translation skills. Therefore, the author recommends that real examples of PUs be included in online dictionaries which are extracted from computerized language corpora and show the different levels of description (i.e., semantic, syntactic, pragmatic, stylistic, discourse) that have to be taken into account when a PU is used in a communicative context.

Chapter 11 notes that the market demands the development of competencies and specialization in the field of translation. Therefore, sources that can contribute to translation knowledge should necessarily find their way into translator training programs and become an inseparable part of teaching methodology. Chapter 12 reiterates that technology has become more and more integrated with education by improving our interactions, work, and production. The authors believed that digital tools are forming an inseparable part of translation work to an extent that there needs to be a paradigm entitled Computer Assisted Translation (CAT). Lastly, in Chapter 13, the closing notes of this volume refer to all contributions to theoretical and empirical facets of technology application in higher education for second language teaching and translation studies.

I would recommend that readers in the fields of translation studies and English language teaching (ELT) in higher education read this book because its categorization into three main sections makes the concepts of this volume easy to follow and understand. Additionally, this book covers multiple concepts that comprise heated debates in the field of ELT and technology, such as learners’ interaction, discourse, identity, and assessment, and their relationship to translation studies. The book also discusses the application of technology in education and translation. And finally, the book offers an eye-catching design of the cover page and an informative title that makes it attractive for readers who are interested in technology and translation studies.

This book concentrates on the idea that language teaching in universities involves using new methodologies and innovation and gives readers what is needed to improve the quality of instruction in the field of second language acquisition and computer-assisted translation. On account of its one-of-a kind viewpoint, the book offers a unique way to deal with empirical research on second language teaching and translator training and technology. Instructors can use this book to learn how to conduct pilot studies and take in more about students’ reactions to new teaching and translation strategies. Yet, one trivial limitation to the book is the lack of thought-provoking questions, tasks, and follow-up activities that would make this volume a textbook in graduate and post-graduate studies.

An aid for researchers and students with an academic concern for getting the fundamental standards of language instruction and translation, this book provides real cases in which the usage of technology was helpful to second language educators and translation trainers. Because the writers are experienced researchers, readers will not only come to understand how to employ innovative teaching strategies, but also find that the proposition depicted in each section can be valuable to any level of second language training for both teachers and translators.

Reviewed by
Amin Shahini
Department of English Language Teaching,
Gorgan Branch, Islamic Azad University, Gorgan, Iran

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Legal English, 4th Edition http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume21/ej83/ej83r1/ Mon, 20 Nov 2017 08:54:18 +0000 http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/?page_id=12591 November 2017 – Volume 21, Number 3

Legal English, 4th Edition

Author: Rupert Haigh (2015)  
Publisher: Routledge
Pages ISBN Price
pp. ix + 349 pages 978-0415712859 $38.61 USD

Legal English 4th Edition is intended for legal professionals, law students, and others who regularly contend with legal documents and communication. The book is available in both paperback and ebook formats. Because of the included grammar and vocabulary sections, this course book is likely intended for intermediate English language learners. It provides a detailed overview of English usage in current international law practices, and it is to be used as a reference for contracts, vocabulary, grammar and drafting documents, as well as a teaching and self-study resource. Included is a self-study section that contains an example of a lawyer’s letter, a contract, legislation, and a case study. The course book aims to explain and clarify complicated areas of English (e.g., law vocabulary), and it is a resource for learners and teachers to use both in and out of the classroom.

The course book contains 23 sections that are divided into two parts: Writing (Part One) and Speaking (Part Two). Part One offers a historical overview of legal English, grammar, vocabulary, writing standards and styles, examples of contract clauses, and correspondence, as well as differences between British and American English. Part Two provides sample sentences of spoken English in the legal context, such as interviewing, meeting and advising clients, court advocacy, negotiation, conventional greetings, and informal talk. In addition, the course book includes tips for professional phone etiquette, such as answering and taking messages, making formal presentations to colleagues or clients, and chairing a formal meeting.

The book has an accompanying website that provides additional exercise questions and videos that students can access, as well as four instructor-led tasks. An exam is provided to teachers who use the book as a required textbook for their course. The tasks include activities such as replying to an email, giving a presentation, conducting a negotiation, and role-playing in a courtroom. Role-plays can be very useful for learners to engage in authentic language because they can create real conversations through real-life topics and themes (Shapiro & Leopold, 2012). The four video examples provide real-life scenarios and examples for the learners to explore.

One of the highlights of Legal English 4th Edition is the use of authentic discourse and real-life samples of legal English texts. Learners are likely to be engaged and motivated by reading authentic discourse (Tomlinson, 2014) and have improved literacy practices (Ahlstrom, 2003). Authentic discourse and real-life exercises are evident in samples of legal documents, lawyer correspondence with letters and emails, problematic scenarios such as dealing with difficult clients, and meetings with clients from different cultures.

One of the selling points of Legal English 4th Edition is that it also includes contemporary themes. Contemporary themes can be defined as themes or units of a course book that are either current or linked to genres of fiction, magazines, newspapers, and journals, as well as trends in spoken and written language (Richards & Schmidt, 2002). Contemporary themes are closely linked to modernism, which is the “rejection of tradition and authority in favour of reason, science, and objectivity,” and are closely linked to Western values, thought, and scientific methods (Richards & Smith, 2002). Contemporary themes have also been linked to learner-centered learning, give learners an active role in learning and are less teacher-centered (Richards & Smith, 2002). Examples of contemporary themes in this course book are court advocacy, negotiation, sexism, and difficult clients. Another benefit of the course book is that it can be used as a reference book and, therefore, will likely be kept by the learner. The units of the course book such as vocabulary and terminology, grammar, punctuation, drafting contracts, and emails are conveniently labeled for the learner to refer to when needed.

While the course book has many strengths, three main drawbacks should be noted. The first is the lack of multimodality and visuals in the course book and accompanying website material. It is important for teachers to incorporate multimodal texts in the classroom, such as online videos, blogs, and websites, among others, because learners encounter these types of texts outside of the classroom in their everyday life (Chun, 2012). Furthermore, technology has enabled the possibility of reading text transcripts and audio versions of books and much more. Multimodal texts can include audio, visual and video or simply be a text together with photos or other visuals (Royce, 2002). The primary use of multimodality in the course book is tables containing vocabulary; there is no use of visuals such as charts, diagrams, pictures, maps, or drawings. The accompanying website does not include any visuals except for the four videos in the video section of the website.

Secondly, the course book lacks an integration of all four skills. Integrating all four skills into instruction can make learning more interesting, rich, and cognitively engaging (Adeyemi, 2010). In order for instruction to be the most authentic, curriculum should simultaneously include as many L2 language skills as possible (Hinkel, 2006). The course book only includes reading and writing texts, and no audio files or video files have been incorporated. Furthermore, there are no pictures or pronunciation symbols, such as fall and rising tone symbols.

Lastly, the book lacks effective exercises and tasks. Questions are only available in Unit 14 and online. They do not adequately cover all the subject knowledge areas included in the book. In addition, there is no opportunity for the instructor to either manipulate or re-arrange the questions online. The online tasks are too lengthy to be used in the classroom. On average, each task can take up to two hours to complete.

Despite its shortcomings, Legal English 4th Edition is a valuable book for those learners who need a legal English reference guide and want to improve their vocabulary knowledge and writing skills. This course book offers learners an opportunity to be prepared to use English language skills in a legal context.


Adeyemi, D. (2010). Justification of a multidisciplinary approach to teaching language in Botswana junior secondary schools. Journal of Language, 2(1), 8-20.

Ahlstrom, C. (2003). Collaborating with students to build curriculum that incorporates real-life materials. Focus on Basics, Connecting Research & Practice, 6, 1-7.

Chun, C. (2012). The multimodalities of globalization: Teaching a YouTube video in an EAP classroom. Research in the Teaching of English, 47(2), 145-170.

Hinkel, E. (2006). Current perspectives on teaching the four skills. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 109-131.

Richards, J., & Schmidt, R. (2002). Longman dictionary of language teaching & applied linguistics. Essex: Pearson Education.

Royce, T. (2002). Multimodality in the TESOL classroom: Exploring visual-verbal synergy. TESOL Quarterly, 36(2), 191-205.

Shapiro, S., & Leopold, L. (2012). A critical role for role-playing pedagogy. TESL Canada Journal, 29(2), 120-130.

Reviewed by
Ryan Brendzy
Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor’s Note: The HTML version contains no page numbers. Please use the PDF version of this article for citations.