Luận văn Factors affecting esp vocabulary learning at HaNoi community college

English learning has been popular in Vietnam over the last few decades. Especially, learning English has become a burgeoning need when Vietnam fosters its international relations. Every day an increasing number of people learn and use English for different purposes.

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huong_029@yahoo.com.vn Title: Factors Affecting ESP Vocabulary Learning at Hanoi Community College part A – Introduction Rationale English learning has been popular in Vietnam over the last few decades. Especially, learning English has become a burgeoning need when Vietnam fosters its international relations. Every day an increasing number of people learn and use English for different purposes. In teaching and learning English as a foreign language in Vietnam, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has recently received a great deal of attention. A teacher or institution may wish to provide teaching materials that will fit the specific subject area of particular learners. Such materials may not be available commercially. In addition, ESP courses can vary from one week of intensive study to an hour a week for three years or more with different schools’ timetables and for different training level. For these reasons, there is already an established tradition of ESP teachers producing in-house materials. They are written by the teachers of a particular institution for the students at that institution. This is often something difficult for teachers because few have had any training in the skills and techniques of materials writing; needless to say about their limited knowledge in the specific area. (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987) In Vietnam, English seems to be learnt and taught in non-English environment, so reading is an important means to get knowledge in ESP, and also a means for further study. In other words, learners “read to learn” (Burn, 1988:11). This is true for the students at Hanoi Community College, where learners are future technical engineers and technicians who learn English in order to be able to handle subject-related written materials in English and to work with modern technological equipment. So ESP materials used at Hanoi Community College now are often reading materials with the topics in the specific area. “Vocabulary learning has long had a synergistic association with reading; each activity nourishes the other” (Coady and Huckin, 1997:2). So if one wants to read ESP materials well he needs to learn ESP vocabulary. Given the central role of vocabulary and lexis as carrier content in ESP, also confirmed by different authors, for example Robinson (1991: 4) who says that: “It may often be thought that a characteristic, or even a critical feature, of ESP is that a course should involve specialist language (especially terminology) and content.” or Dudley-Evans and St John (1998: 5) that include lexis among absolute defining features of ESP: “ESP is centered on the language (grammar, lexis, register), skills, discourse and genres appropriate to these activities.”, the reading materials used at the college concentrates on the vocabulary or the terminology in the specific fields. With a short duration of about 30 to 60 class hours, one of the major aims for an ESP course at Hanoi Community College is to obtain basic ESP vocabulary. Thus, ESP vocabulary learning is also the focal point when taking an ESP course. However, vocabulary instruction has been paid less attention than it should have been. Word retention has always been a difficult problem for students at the college. It would be so ambitious with multiple goals (e.g., reading proficiency, grammar rules, and vocabulary) in limited time. Thus, vocabulary was weekly lists of words and definitions with the advice "study these." If any kind of vocabulary activity was offered, it would not be corrected and returned for a week or more, by which time students had usually forgotten the words. Too many new words in the specific field were given every week; too little time or even no time was spent on memorizing or recycling those words; little feedback was returned. Consequently, students entered a cycle of quick-cramming: memorizing the words and definitions briefly before a task and then forgetting them. In other words, the new vocabulary never made it from memorization, understanding onto their uses. For all these reasons, to find out the difficulties of the students when learning ESP vocabulary (accounting terms) at Hanoi Community College and the causes of their difficulties is necessary. Then, the factors that most affect their vocabulary learning in an ESP context can be identified. This will make it possible to give suggestions for the teachers and learners to improve the teaching and learning of ESP vocabulary at Hanoi Community College. Aims of the Study The aims of this study are to find out what factors affecting ESP Vocabulary Learning and thus give some instructions to help students learn ESP Vocabulary better. A theoretical framework for the study is focused on the second language vocabulary learning, the vocabulary learning of English for Specific Purposes and factors affecting vocabulary acquisition. Research Questions What are the factors affecting ESP Vocabulary Learning at Hanoi Community College? What are the suggestions to help the learners learn ESP vocabulary better? Scope of the Study The study limited itself to the investigation of some factors affecting ESP Vocabulary Learning for the students at Hanoi Community College. It focuses not only on the factors that affect the second-year students at the college but also on words, expressions and terms of the book “English for Finance and Accounting” edited by a group of authors at the college. This book is now being used as the textbook in class for the targeted students. There are two levels of training at HCC: College level and Vocational Training level. Within its scope, the study is limited only to the ESP for Vocational students. The results should be interpreted within the college teaching context. The investigation primarily deals with reading in an ESP course-“English for Finance and Accounting”. Method of the Study The methodologies adopted for this case study are - a survey questionnaire with 100 students and - informal interviews with teachers and students during the course. The questionnaire consisted of 30 questions grouped into 3 main parts which help to seek for information concerning students’ background, students’ attitudes to ESP vocabulary learning, the area of their difficulties in ESP vocabulary learning and their expectations of ESP material and teachers’ methodology. Design of the Study The thesis is composed of three parts. Part A - introduction. This part provides the rationale, aims, scopes, and methodology of the study, which offers readers an overview of how the research idea is generated, what its goals are, and what research methodology is adopted. Part B - development This part is divided into two chapters. Chapter 1: Literature Review This chapter provides the theoretical background for the study. It focuses on the second language vocabulary learning, and some factors affecting vocabulary learning. Chapter 2: The investigation This is the main part of the study. It reports the collection and analysis of the data and major findings of the study. Part C - conclusion This part summarizes the findings, states the limitation of the research, draws teaching implications and offers suggestions for further research. part b – development Chapter 1: Literature Review Since the mid-1980s various studies of vocabulary acquisition and related areas of lexical research in second language acquisition have been carried out. The role of vocabulary in second language learning has been given greater interest (Coady and Huckin, 1997: ix). In this chapter, the important role of vocabulary in second language teaching and learning as well as in the teaching and learning of English for finance and accounting is discussed. In addition, different types of vocabulary learning and factors that affect vocabulary learning are presented and commented upon. 1.1. Vocabulary in second language learning and teaching 1. Definitions of vocabulary: There have been different definitions of vocabulary. Penny Ur defined vocabulary as “the words we teach in the foreign language. However, a new item of vocabulary may be more than a single word: a compound of two or three words or multi-word idioms” (Ur, 1996:60). A similar definition from Richards and Platt is that vocabulary is “a set of lexemes, including words, compound words and idioms” (Richards and Platt, 1992: 400). These statements indicate that vocabulary is “the total number of words in a language” (Hornby, 1995:1331). 1.1.2. The status of vocabulary in language teaching and learning The status of vocabulary in language teaching and learning has changed dramatically in the last two decades. “Since the mid-1980s there has been a renewed interest in the role of vocabulary in second language learning” (Coady and Huckin, 1997: ix). There have been studies on the nature of the bilingual lexicon, vocabulary acquisition, lexical storage, lexical retrieval, and the use of vocabulary by second language learners. McCarthy stated that “the biggest component of any language course is vocabulary” (McCarthy, 1990: viii). “No matter how well the student learns grammar, no matter how successfully the sounds of L2 are mastered, without words to express a wide range of meanings, communication in an L2 just cannot happen in any meaningful way.” Vocabulary is an essential component of language. “Vocabulary is central to language” and “words are of critical importance to the typical language learner.” (Coady and Huckin, 1997: 1). Nowadays vocabulary is considered an important aspect of teaching and learning a foreign language. Second language vocabulary acquisition has become an increasingly interesting topic of discussion for researchers, teachers, curriculum designers, theorists, and others involved in second language learning and teaching. 1.2. Vocabulary learning 1. Vocabulary learning - What is involved in knowing a word? There have been many definitions as to what it is exactly to know a word. “knowing” a word does not simply mean being able to recognize what it looks and sounds like or being able to give the word’s dictionary definition. Knowing a word by sight and sound and knowing its dictionary definition are not the same as knowing how to use the word correctly and understanding it when it is heard or seen in various contexts (Miller & Gildea, 1987). Penny Ur (1996) said that when vocabulary is introduced to learners, what need to be taught are form-written and spoken; grammar; collocation; aspects of meaning: denotation, connotation, appropriateness, meaning relationships; and word formation. According to Nation (1990:30-33) and Taylor (1990:1-4), knowing a word incorporates a large amount of information. It involves not only knowing its spelling, morphology, pronunciation, meaning, or the equivalent of the word in the learner’s mother tongue but also knowing its collocations, register, polysemy, and even its homonym. There is also the issue of precision with which we use a word, how quickly we understand a word, and how well we understand and use words in different modes, receptive or productive; and for different purposes (e.g., formal vs. informal occasions) (Beck & McKeown, 1991; Nagy & Scott, 2000). In addition, it is important to consider how well the students need to know a particular word in relation to their needs and current level. It is generally agreed that knowledge of the following is necessary in order to know a word: -form, pronunciation and spelling -word structure, bound root morpheme and common derivations of the word and its inflections -syntactic pattern of the word in a phrase and sentence -meaning, referential, affective/connotation, pragmatic -lexical relations, synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy -common locations (Schmitt and McCarthy, 1997: 141). There are two factors that have great impacts and help to create the lexical competence: Explicit Vocabulary Instruction and Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition. Each of these has influences on different stages of vocabulary learning and cause explicit vocabulary learning and implicit vocabulary learning. 1.2.2. Explicit (or direct) vocabulary learning In direct vocabulary learning, learners do exercises and activities that focus their attention on vocabulary (Nation, 1990:2). For example, when students are doing word-building exercises, guessing the meaning of unknown words in context when this is done as a class exercise, learning words in word lists, or playing vocabulary games, they are learning vocabulary explicitly. Such activities usually take place in class with a lot of help and instruction from teachers. To make successful instruction for explicit vocabulary learning, teachers often consider the following to teach high-frequency words, to maximize vocabulary learning by teaching word families instead of individual words, and to consider meaning associations attached to the word. Thanks to such careful explanations and guidance of teachers, students at low and intermediate levels may acquire vocabulary explicitly before they begin implicit learning mainly by themselves. Explicit vocabulary learning plays an important role in vocabulary acquisition. Thus, many theorists and researchers, including Decarrico (2001) recommended that implicit vocabulary learning should not be used without explicit learning at the low and intermediate levels. 1.2.3. Implicit (or incidental) vocabulary learning Implicit vocabulary learning has been explained by researchers as incidental vocabulary learning. It is the learning of new words as a by-product of a meaning-focused communicative activity, such as reading, listening, and interaction. It occurs through “multiple exposures to a word in different contexts” (Huckin and Coady, 1999). In implicit vocabulary learning, learners are able to pick up vocabulary through extensive reading, through communicative interactions, through exposure to natural input such as movies, TV. However, for implicit vocabulary learning to be successful, the learners should have a sight vocabulary of 2,000 to 3,000. As well, the input should be comprehensible and interesting to the learners; unknown words should be no more than 2%. Besides, input enhancement may be beneficial and guessing should be encouraged and guessing strategies should be trained. If exploited in a suitable way, implicit vocabulary learning will have many advantages. Firstly, it is contextualized, giving the learner a richer sense of a word’s use and meaning than can be provided in traditional paired-associate exercises. Secondly, it is pedagogically efficient in that it enables two activities – vocabulary acquisition and reading – to occur at the same time. Thirdly, it is more individualized and learner-based because the vocabulary being acquired is dependent on the learner’s own selection of reading materials. Lastly, presentation, consolidation and lexical/semantic development occur at the same time. In summary, at the beginning level, explicit learning seems more important than implicit learning, and the more advanced students become, the more the implicit learning becomes practical. It is also important to consider what Schmitt (2000) declares, “... for second language learners, at least, both explicit and incidental learning are necessary, and should be seen as complementary”. In fact, many students at Hanoi Community College tend to acquire vocabulary through explicit learning rather than implicit learning. They have not reached the language level high enough to guess words from contexts; they want to get explanations and meanings directly from teachers. Instead of trying to understand new words in English with both meanings and sense, they always attempt to translate the whole phrases and terms into Vietnamese and feel satisfied when they succeed in doing this. They spend little time on self-study. That means they neither read more, write more, nor translate or communicate in English outside the classroom. In short, they do not practice using English as much as they should. This results in their inability to guess words or involve in the implicit learning process. To acquire vocabulary through implicit learning, students have to improve their own knowledge and studying methods. Teachers’ instruction can help to influence the explicit learning process so as to provide them with precise word meanings and usage, to make them practice using the words, to make them aware of the advantages of learning strategies and to motivate them to spend more time and energy on vocabulary so that they will somehow develop implicit learning. Some factors affecting vocabulary acquisition 1.3.1. Intralexical factors: According to Schmitt and McCarthy (1997:142-153) intralexical factors that affect the learning of words include: -Pronounce ability Foreign learners experience phonological difficulties related to phonemes, combinations of phonemes and suprasegmental features. (Schmitt and McCarthy, 1997: 142). What makes some words phonologically more difficult than others is very much determined by the learner’s L1 system. The L1 system may be responsible for the learner’s inability to discriminate between some phonemes and subsequent confusion of words differing precisely in these problematic phonemes. For example, learners of accounting terms may have difficulty with distinguishing words like durable, divisible, portable, and recognizable. Some may find it difficult to pronounce final consonant clusters in pieces and traders. Familiarity with phonological features and a word’s phonotactic regularity (its familiar combinations of features) were shown to affect accuracy in perceiving, saying and remembering the word. Some studies have shown that foreign words which were difficult to pronounce were not learned as well as the more pronounceable ones. For example, accounting terms: collateral security, liability, indebtedness, mortgage, and encumbrance. Correct pronunciation of a word requires stress on the right syllable. Learners of English may have difficulty because the place of the stress is variable and has to be learned as part of the word’s spoken form. Moreover, the weakening of unstressed vowels introduces yet another factor of difficulty, particularly for Vietnamese learners who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon in their L1. -orthography If word knowledge requires correct pronunciation and correct spelling, then the degree of sound-script correspondence in a word is a facilitating – or difficulty – inducing factor. A Vietnamese word encountered in reading presents no pronunciation mystery to the learner, provided the learner knows which letter combinations represent which sounds and drops the final consonants in speech. An English written word, however, may provide no clues to its pronunciation (e.g. different pronunciation of the letter ‘e’ in accounting terms pledge and retire or the letter ‘o’ in mortgage and open note or the letter ‘u’ in current assets and security). Words characterized by such sound-script incongruence are good candidates for pronunciation and spelling errors. -length Intuitively, it would seem that longer words should be more difficult simply because there is more to learn and remember. Learners of English might memorize more easily one-syllable words than two-syllable words, two-syllable words more easily than three-syllable words, especially for Vietnamese learners as the Vietnamese language is a monosyllabic language. Some learners may have more difficulty in learning longer words than shorter ones and it decreases with the increase in the learner’s proficiency. If the length factor could be properly isolated we might find longer words more difficult to learn than the shorter ones. In a learning situation, however, it is hard to attribute the difficulty of learning a particular word to its length rather than to a variety of factors.
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