Chinese Grammar Acquisition by Second Language Learners in an Australian Primary School Chinese Immersion Setting: The Potential of the Form Focused Instruction Pedagogical Approach

2016-12-07T04:28:04Z (GMT) by Jia Zhu
It is assumed that the pedagogy of second language/foreign language immersion programs is primarily focused on content, whereby language acquisition is accelerated through comprehensible second language input and an incidental focus on form. However despite the second language benefits, the incidental nature of the form focus (where grammatical errors are drawn to learners’ attention spontaneously when they occur and without prior planning), typically leaves immersion students with a significant deficit in some features of their grammar skills relative to other areas of second language proficiency. This case-study research (primarily qualitative with some quantitative analysis) examines the potential to enhance language acquisition in an Australian primary-level Chinese immersion program through the pedagogical practice of form-focused instruction (FFI). It explores the practical aspects of implementing FFI in this immersion program, noting its specific contextual characteristics including the structure of the program, students’ language and cultural backgrounds and the classroom teaching pedagogy.
    Drawing on cognitive theory, the research employed the form-focused instruction (FFI) framework (e.g., Lyster, 2004, 2006, 2007; Ellis, 2001, 2006) to study how noticing, awareness-raising and production practice with feedback (Lyster, 2004; 2007) can be operationalised into a content-focused mathematics learning environment to support acquisition of the Chinese ‘measure word 量词’ form. This research involved 17 Year 5 and Year 6 Chinese immersion students and one immersion teacher. Data collection entailed stage-by-stage classroom observation over 10 weeks (primarily during regular immersion mathematics sessions), combined with a series of pre- to post-intervention assessments. Additional data were also obtained from a questionnaire and semi-guided interviews. These multiple data sources served a validation function, assisting in data analysis to inform research findings.
    Findings indicate that structured FFI intervention during content-focused lessons, combined with three Chinese language lessons in the target form, enabled acquisition of the target form ‘measure word 量 词’ by student participants, with the majority progressing from declarative knowledge to procedural knowledge. Furthermore, the findings suggest that in order to improve Chinese grammar acquisition for second language learners, such FFI approaches can be systematically planned and integrated into a meaning-based communicative Chinese immersion curricula and teaching practice.