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Pragmatic information for CFL beginners in an experimental E-C learners' dictionary
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 16:08 authored by Anmin Wang
Against the surging global interest in learning Chinese as a foreign language, L2 learners' need to acquire its pragmatics has not been systematically addressed in terms of either pedagogy or research. This project takes up two complementary aspects of this challenge: to develop a pathway for CFL beginners to acquire pragmatic knowledge and awareness, and to investigate their acquisition of specific pragmatic topics over two semesters through it. The possibility of developing beginners' pragmatic knowledge in association with learning core Chinese vocabulary has not hitherto been explored. Analysis of the basic vocabularies of the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) showed that the 300 Chinese words and constructions required for Levels 1 and 2 touched on 120 points of Chinese pragmatics, including a variety of speech acts and functions, attitudes and discourse orientations. These lexicopragmatic items and their functions were then used to review the pragmatic content of a representative set of current CFL textbooks and English-Chinese learners dictionaries. Neither type of learning materials contained more than a fraction of the 120 pragmatic points that can be associated with the core HSK vocabulary, showing that a purpose-built pragmatic lexicopragmatic resource needed to be created, to investigate the students' capacity to understand and acquire a range of Chinese pragmatics. An experimental English-Chinese (E-C) dictionary was composed, focusing on the 120 points of Chinese pragmatics identified in the core HSK vocabulary, designed for use in two stages: the shorter version was used and tested in the participants' first semester; and the longer version during second semester. Testing was conducted with a class of 38 university students beginning Chinese in first semester, and with the 13 who continued in second semester. In supplementary research questions, half the students (19/38) who began the year indicated that their reason for learning Chinese was essentially a mix of integrative and instrumental motivations, with an almost equal number 16/38) pointing to purely instrumental reasons - thus very few (3/38) with purely integrative motivation. The pervasiveness of instrumental motivation within the class would explain the sharp reduction in class size from first to second semester, in line with research findings on the importance of integrative motivation for early proficiency and longer term learning of Chinese. The results of the first semester test were very variable, with a handful of high-performing students, and the rest presenting medium and low performances. By contrast the second semester results for the continuing students were much more positive, with the majority performing well on a combination of new test questions based on the second-stage dictionary, and ones repeated from the first semester test. The cumulative gains were evident for most of those who continued their studies over the whole year and had access to the experimental dictionary with its pragmatically enriched content. In supplementary research questions, most students (10/13) said that they consulted the experimental dictionary either several times a week or occasionally, i.e. at point of need, this being a common feature of their learning profiles. In other findings relative to the acquisition of Chinese pragmatics, the students generally performed best on questions testing their understanding of pragmatic formulae, showing the importance of constructions in second-language learning. They were more challenged on items involving complex expression of pragmatics, such the use of Chinese discourse particles in longer utterances; or the subtleties of Chinese politeness and attitudes where Chinese and English pragmatics differ substantially in their lexical realization. The test results also showed that the specific lexicographical means used to present pragmatics in the experimental dictionary (at micro-/macro-/medio-/megastructural levels) did not align with the participants' differential acquisition of pragmatics. Difficulties in accessing pragmatic information did align with lower performance on the first test, but seemed to be largely overcome in the second test. This accords with other research showing the importance of learning how to use a dictionary, and providing dictionary training early in foreign language learning. Overall, the research demonstrates the value of providing pragmatic information in an E-C learner's dictionary, and of engaging CFL beginners with sociocultural aspects of Chinese culture as they learn the core vocabulary of the language.