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Schematicity and learnability in the process of acquisition of present perfect in the EFL learning setting


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Glavaš, Tea. (2016). Schematicity and learnability in the process of acquisition of present perfect in the EFL learning setting. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of English Language and Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij glotodidaktike) [mentor Geld, Renata].

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A widely held view among SLA researches today seems to be that at least some focus on the target language grammar may be necessary if the objective of learning is the achievement of high levels of accuracy and communicative fluency. Formal instruction seems to be especially beneficent when dealing with highly abstract or less salient grammatical elements. Methodological options in grammar teaching are numerous and versatile, with the first choices being those between the explicit or implicit, and deductive or inductive form of teaching. Another important notion to be taken into account is the theoretical assumptions behind the grammatical structure presented to the learner. The meaningfulness of grammar and not grammar per se which is at the heart of cognitive grammar (CG) seems very natural in the context of language teaching being the first major advantage of CG in service of form-focused instruction. Other advantages of CG over traditional grammar descriptions in the context of language instruction, such as the motivated character of grammatical components and logical explanations of the so called „exceptions“ to the general grammatical rule, seem to make CG potentially highly suitable for the basis of pedagogical grammar. Schematic description of grammatical structures advocated by CG is especially of potential interest within the scope of foreign language teaching and learning. The narrow scope of empirical research validating the application of CG in foreign language learning makes further research necessary in order to explore the effectiveness of form-focused instruction based on CG descriptions. Having the potential pedagogical implications of CG in mind, along with the scarcity of the conducted research so far, the aim of the described study is to empirically test the assumption that raising learners’ awareness of the meaning behind the grammatical structure can have a positive effect on its learnability. The theoretical part of the work is divided into four subparts starting with the overall introduction into the various attitudes regarding the issues of teaching grammar in the foreign language learning (FLL) context. Due to its importance in defining the role of teaching in FLL and clarifying the question whether adult learners can master a foreign language only implicitly, the author touches upon the issue of explicit/implicit knowledge/learning/teaching of a language. Pointing to the age factor as the most relevant component when discussing different learning mechanisms, the explicit type of learning/teaching is emphasised as more effective considering adult learners. The mentioned type of teaching is also highlighted as more suitable for teaching abstract and less salient language features since the research has not yet indicated mastering such elements in an exclusively implicit manner. The dichotomy between deductive and inductive form of teaching, listing its advantages and disadvantages is also discussed. The first subchapter also touches upon various models of second language learning (SLA) dividing them into those with a more negative (e.g. Krashen’s Monitor Model, the interlanguage theory, models based on universal grammar, etc.) and a more positive attitude toward the effectiveness of teaching itself (e.g. Pienemann’s Processability Theory, the noticing hypothesis, etc.). The overview of various methods of FL teaching used in the classrooms since the 18th century is given at the end of the subchapter. The second subchapter named An introduction into cognitive linguistics lays down the basic assumptions of the theoretical framework of the study, especially focusing on those relevant in the context of FL learning: the usage-based model, meaning as the basis of describing language structures and categorization as the fundamental process of organizing human knowledge in general. Special attention is given to the specificity of defining meaning within cognitive linguistics, particularly to the notion of construal reflecting human ability to see and describe the same situation in different ways. Categorization according to the prototype and schema is also discussed. Since the study is concerned with presenting grammatical structures to a FL learner, the subchapter discuses the representation of grammatical knowledge within cognitive linguistics outlining various models of construction grammars devised within cognitive linguistics, highlighting their shared characteristic of defining a construction as a basic syntactic unit while emphasizing the importance of meaning in its background. The focus is placed on cognitive grammar and its semantic approach to grammatical categories underlying their conceptual grounding. Special attention is given to the notion of schematicity seen as a cognitive mechanism, i.e. human ability to generalize on the basis of similarity while abstracting difference, and its importance in defining grammatical structures in terms of abstract schematic representations. The third subchapter (SLA and cognitive linguistics) further explores the pedagogical potential of cognitive linguistic perspective on language: the usage-based model, meaning behind the language structures, strategic construal of meaning, metaphor and metonymy as cognitive mechanisms visible in language production. Empirical research focused on exploiting these assumptions in FL classroom, especially in the context of vocabulary acquisition, is listed. Special attention is given to the pedagogical potential of cognitive grammar, specifically the idea of presenting the grammatical structures as non-arbitrary and more meaningful to the learner, having in mind their conceptual grounding and solely schematic representations. Detailed description of empirical research concerned with the effectiveness of directing learner awareness toward the background meaning of grammatical structures ends with a conclusion that the scope and the length of the observed positive effect has not yet been fully defined. The final part of the theoretical introduction (Grammatical category of present perfect) concentrates on the complexity behind the chosen structure of the study, exploring the opposing views on how to describe this category (within the category of tense or aspect) and how to approach the description of its meaning (as having a uniform meaning or as having multiple meanings). With a remark that the difference in approaches is based on the difference of defining the categories of tense and aspect in the first place as well as the difficulty of defining aspect in English since it cannot be described morphologically but at the crossroads of syntactic-semantic interface, the subchapter gives an overview of the authors describing present perfect within the category of tense (e.g. Jespersen, 1924; McCoard, 1918; Radden and Dirven, 2007, etc.) and aspect (e.g. Comrie, 1976; Klein, 1994; Michaelis, 1999, etc.) respectively. Authors describing the meaning of present perfect as uniform (e.g. Fenn, 1987; Klein, 1994; Langacker, 1991; Radden and Dirven, 2009, etc.) talk about a single meaning covering various uses while those insisting on present perfect as a polysemous category (e.g. Comrie, 1976; Briton, 1988; Michaelis, 1998, etc.) assert the importance of its description outside the context of time seeing the uniform meanings as reductionist and too general. Since both are important for the description of present perfect on the theoretical as well as pedagogical level, the subchapter also touches upon the relation of present perfect and its functionally competing structure past simple, along with its relation to the time markers that can or cannot go with it. Due to its focus on the pedagogical perspective on the representation of a grammatical structure, the chapter ends with a description of present perfect in the light of the challenges of its acquisition in the context of English as a foreign language (EFL) learning, in addition to the analysis of its representation in textbooks for learning English as a foreign language. The second part of the work (Research) describes the goals, hypotheses and the methodology of the conducted research. The main aim of the study was to explore the relationship between the schematicity of a grammatical representation and its learnability in the case of present perfect tense within the EFL learning context among adult learners. Furthermore, the study was set out to explore the effect of the level of language proficiency on the success of learnability based on a schematic representation. The hypothesis of the study was that the schematicity of a grammatical representation will have a significantly beneficial effect on the level of learnability due to its conceptual uniformity, predominantly on the lower level of language learning when this category is being formed in learner interlanguage, but also on the higher level of language knowledge where this category is already a part of the learner interlanguage. The research included 149 participants whose first language (L1) was Croatian and was conducted in the form of a quasi-experiment on two levels of language proficiency: A2 (65 participants) and B1 (84 participants) according to Common European Framework for Languages. Teaching grounded in cognitive grammar was conducted in the experimental groups while that in the control groups was based on the textbook. The sample included adult learners, average age being 38. Learner’s initial language knowledge was tested by means of a written test and orally in the presence of three English language teachers, and the statistical analysis showed there was no significant difference in learner knowledge in experimental and control groups on both language levels. Learners’ motivation for language learning was also tested and no difference between the groups was observed. The effect of the teacher was also controlled since the 149 participants were divided into 14 learning groups (six on the lower, and eight on the higher level of language knowledge) with two different teachers working with each group. Learners’ knowledge of present perfect was measured immediately after the teaching session and five weeks afterwards. The detailed description of the teaching methodology in experimental and control groups is also provided in the chapter. The third chapter (Results) brings the results of the data collected through grammar tests, questionnaires and open-ended questions analyzed qualitatively and quantitatively using the SPSS programme. The learners in experimental groups on A2 level of language learning demonstrated statistically significant better knowledge of present perfect both immediately after and five weeks after the teaching session than their colleagues in the control groups. The same results were obtained among the learners on B2 level of language knowledge, with the advantage of the learners in experimental groups being somewhat lost on the post-test five weeks after the teaching session. The analysis of the results also revealed that the teaching based on a schematic uniform definition of present perfect levelled out the difference in knowledge between the experimental groups of A2 and B1 level of language proficiency, while the same was not observed among the control groups where the learners on B1 level continually demonstrated better knowledge of present perfect than those on A2 level. The fourth chapter (Discussion) focuses on the interpretation of the given results suggesting that the schematicity of a grammatical representation can have a significantly positive effect on its learnability, both on the lower level of language learning when this complex category is being formed in learner interlanguage as well as on the higher level of language knowledge where this category is at least partially already existent in learner interlanguage. The conceptual clarity and meaningfulness in the background of a schematic representation resulted in better understanding of a mental configuration behind such a complex structure, especially when dealing with learners whose conceptualization of the dimension of time acquired through their L1 does not include the time span covered by present perfect. The awareness of meaning behind the presented structure resulted in conceptually clearer foundation of the initial phase of category formation among lower level proficiency learners, at the same time helping those on a higher level of language proficiency to deepen their understanding and clarify the potential conceptual misunderstanding of the already formed category of present perfect in their interlanguage. The factor of understanding was observed to be of vital importance when considering the learnability of semantically (and conceptually) complex language structures, a factor which can be potentially of greater importance than learner's previous language knowledge. The fifth chapter discusses the limitations of the study and suggests its potential theoretical and practical implications pointing to the importance of directing learners’ attention to the meaning behind a particular grammatical structure and adding to the conceptual clarity as well as greater understanding of the grammatical category in learners’ interlanguage.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: cognitive grammar, language learning, schematicity and learnability of a grammatical structure, (inductive) teaching
Subjects: English language and literature
Departments: Department of English Language and Literature
Supervisor: Geld, Renata
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij glotodidaktike
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2016 11:24
Last Modified: 23 May 2019 12:26

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