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LANGUAGE AWARENESS IMPORTANCE IN ELT: THE CASE OF SUPERLATIVE ADJECTIVES PRESENTATION

Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova

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Abstract: The paper treats issues related to language awareness essence and concept development as well as to consciousness enhancement importance in ELT. Ideas are shared as to improving language awareness through language learning strategies application within superlative adjectives teaching.

Резюме: Статията третира проблематика, свързана със същността на езиковата осъзнатост и развитието на този концепт, както и с необходимостта тя да бъде повишена при преподаването на английски език. Споделят се идеи относно подобряването на езиковата осъзнатост посредством приложението на стратегии за езиково изучаване в рамките на преподаването на превъзходната степен на прилагателните.


 

1. Introduction

Language awareness (LA) has been topical for numerous years, this concept being discussed in various perspectives with different emphasis. The current paper sets the objective not only of presenting LA essential characteristics, but also of confirming LA crucial relevance in contemporary ELT. Definitions as well as important moments of the examined construct development are put forward in order to more fully and convincingly characterize LA concept. Author’s ideas are shared with respect to some language learning strategies (LLS) implementation aimed at LA enhancement in presenting superlative adjectives to university students.

The study will stick to the following layout. First, LA essence will be considered and definitions will be offered; second, essential moments in LA concept development will be presented; then, basic LLS applied in the purpose of LA improvement will be mentioned; some approaches use within superlative adjectives teaching will be shared, and, finally, conclusion as to LA enhancement role in ELT, based on theory and practice will be made.

 

2. LA essence and definitions

LA1 represents a complex construct, applicable at all levels of language and encompassing all spheres of language activity, incorporating teaching, learning and use. It relates to improving consciousness or promoting higher and higher levels of understanding of language phenomena, which, according to a significant number of findings in terms of theory and practice, greatly contributes to communicative competence improvement. If adequately taught, depending on the teaching circumstances, LA can precondition much better teaching / learning results. Thus, it can be affirmed that LA has not only had, but is expected to have even more significant influence as a relevant applied linguistics branch.

The following definitions present the treated construct, laying emphasis on its crucial characteristics, this way facilitating conclusion making as to LA essence. LA was first defined at the National Congress on Languages in Education (NCLE), quoted in Donmall’s report (Donmall 1985) and namely "Language Awareness is a person’s sensitivity to and conscious awareness of the nature of language and its role in human life" (in Barjesteh and Vaseghi 2012)2. According to the Association for Language Awareness, LA (in Soons 2008: 10) "can be defined as explicit knowledge about language, and conscious perception and sensitivity in language learning, language teaching and language use." To Alegre (2000) (in Araújo e Sá & Melo 2007: 9) LA represents "the ability to reflect on languages and to verbalise that reflection". In Fairclough’s perspective LA definition focuses on "conscious" attentiveness to language "properties" "and language use as an element of language education" (Fairclough 1992 in Farias 2005).

As it can be observed, LA does not relate uniquely to ELT, but to (FL, NL) teaching / learning / use in general; it is associated with studying, elucidating and comprehending not only an individual language system functioning, but also the way language in general works. Quite obviously, not all students and EL (FL) users are supposed to receive specialized language and linguistic training, though an important objective of applied linguists working in ELT (FLT) spheres needs to be learners’ sensitivity enhancement to a language (and language as a phenomenon) characteristics, patterns, structures, rules, regularities and dependencies underlying reasons at practical level. The better consciousness is obtained, the higher understanding and the more successful language knowledge learning, mastering and use is too. LA construction is evidently performed at various degrees; the more enhanced LA is, the more perfected learners’ linguistic thinking is, and, the more autonomous and motivated students grow. Not unexpectedly, Nunan (2003) recommends, in the objective of achieving the highest level of learner autonomy, to assisit learners in performing language research; this goal evidently cannot be obtained unless students will have acquired a considerable amount of language understanding allowing them to function as explorers3. Higher awareness and comprehension degree leads to better abilities of EL (NL, FL) lecturer-guided or individual linguistic analysis with learning purposes, based on observation, conclusion-making, hypothesis building and testing. Referring to the above LA definitions, LA deepening needs to be accompanied by creating situations prompting students into asking, themselves and / or teachers (lecturers), questions not only as to taught categories essence, individually or in terms of categories interrelations, but also with respect to language phenomena reasons of existence in language, their need to be studied, ways of teaching and learning language items, their communicative importance, the obtained degree of understanding, easily understood by learners items, comprehension problems and most likely underlying reasons for satisfactory or poor understanding and use. LA enhancement, due to integrative LA essence, needs to be likewise guided in terms of NL (FL) contrasts and intralingual4 comparisons between categories, all language components representing a unified system.

 

3. LA concept development

Important moments in LA construct development, being relevant to LA essence presentation and, hence, to LA teaching peculiarities, will be mentioned here below.

LA concept has been developing for more than sixty years over some stages, each one bearing its characteristic features. LA history is tightly related to NL and, FL teaching and learning results studies, a significant number of LA ideas stemming from NL, FL teaching experience conclusions, with emphasis on English as NL (Ellis 2012). This very first period (until the end of the 1960s) is marked by studies into individual learning styles, prerequisite to the objective of language learning process explicitation in the purpose of equipping learners with their studying peculiarities awareness, and, thus promoting learning strategies conscious use (Jones 1997). Eric Hawkins, one of LA concept authors, supports during the 1960s and continues to corroborate later on in his works explicit teaching need to prompt consciousness in NL and FL teaching, approach, included in the curriculum (Hawkins 1984 in Ellis 2012). Explicitness is aimed at learners cultivating taught items features awareness and linguistic analysis skills (Hawkins 1984 in Ellis 2012).

An important point in LA development is Peal and Lambert’s work (Peal and Lambert 1962), being pioneers in putting forward advantages of bilinguism due to bilinguals’ typical possession of metalinguistic awareness5. Likewise, Lambert and Tucker (1972) need to be referred to, due to their affirmation of bilinguals practising a type of "incipient contrastive analysis" (in Ellis 2012).

Notwithstanding developments in LA field, the term becomes extensively implemented in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. The concept acquires wide acceptance, being mainly applied in schools and partially in higher education and linguistics, with Donmall’s definition (rf. above). In Donmall’s view (Donmall 1985) LA functions at cognitive, affective and social levels, focusing respectively on language patterns consciousness, building attitudes, and communicative learners' efficiency enhancement (in Farias 2005).

To Tomlinson (1994: 123) LA is "gradually developed internally by the learner". LA main objective (Tomlinson 1994: 122) is to assist learners in noticing language use peculiarities which will make them "achieve learning readiness"; learners need to be also facilitated in cognitive skills formation and acquiring studying independence, in individual language learning (Tomlinson 1994 in Barjesteh and Vaseghi 2012).

Further concept development is related to Hawkins’ viewpoint (Hawkins 1999) on FL learning, considered to impact language awareness by shedding light on NL peculiar features, by promoting careful observation of words as to their meanings and by receiving information about the world through language (in Ellis 2012). LA includes, in Hawkins’ perspective (Hawkins 1999), facilitating learners in making queries about language and developing their understanding about the way it functions (in Barjesteh and Vaseghi 2012). Likewise James (1999) lays emphasis on NL exploration shedding light on FL functioning (in Ellis 2012).

Later, Arndt, Harvey and Nuttall (2000) consider LA teaching really fruitful as to realizing the complexity of language communication, researching multiple facets of language, conclusion making concerning languages connections and the way English functions (in Farias 2005).

To be mentioned, Jessner (2006), Herdina and Jessner (Herdina and Jessner 2002) treat, in multilingualism perspective, though, individual language systems interaction, leading to "multilingual proficiency", bearing the features of heightened LA. Jessner (2006) postulates that L2 acquisition leads to insights in terms of language (as a phenomenon) structure and adequate LLS implemented in future FLs learning (in Ellis 2012).

 

4. LLS applied in the purpose of LA enhancement

LA building importance is not only theoretically, but also practically confirmed through a variety of studies6. The current paper aims at commenting LA improvement in the field of superlative adjectives in terms of university students teaching.

Before proceeding with the approaches applied in superlative adjectives presentation and elucidation, a few lines will be written in general, with respect to LLS, the implementation of which is a crucial prerequisite to LA building.

According to some frequently referred to definitions, LLS represent "behaviours and thoughts that a learner engages in during learning" and, which are supposed to affect "the learner’s encoding process (Weinstein & Mayer 1986: 135). To Oxford (1992/1993: 18) LLS function as "specific actions, behaviours, steps, or techniques that students (often intentionally) use to improve their progress in developing L2 skills. These strategies can facilitate the internalization, storage, retrieval, or use of the new language. Strategies are tools for the self-directed involvement necessary for developing communicative ability". LLS can be compared to "a useful toolkit for active, conscious, and purposeful self-regulation of learning" (Oxford 2003: 2). LLS are essentially subdivided into cognitive, metacognitive, memory-related, compensatory, affective and social (rf. Oxford 2003). Cognitive LLS train learners in retrieving, treating, using, handling and summing up taught language phenomena information in the purpose of enhancing understanding. Metacognitive LLS focus on students’ consciousness of learning process characteristics and their underlying reasons; they are tightly interconnected with cognitive approaches, cognitive LLS mastering impacting metacognitive techniques knowledge and application, and vice-versa. Memory-related LLS precondition memorization based on specific mental representation building, facilitated by flashcards, associations, key words and structures handling; compensatory approaches involve rephrasing and circumlocution in case of missing vocabulary, grammar or language functions; affective strategies encompass learners’ mood identification in the aim of anxiety fighting; social approaches include asking for verification, for instance, and working with other learners on taught items problems solution (rf. Oxford 2003, Ruzhekova-Rogozherova 2018). Despite the fact that LLS types function in complementarity due to the constant leakage between them, in this paper author’s view cognitive and metacognitive LLS turn out to be the most essential as memory-related, compensatory, affective and social approaches are strongly dependent on improved understanding and awareness of learning process parameters (rf. Ruzhekova-Rogozherova 2104b, 2016, 2017a,b, 2018).

Here below will be commented on superlative adjectives teaching among university learners based on some cognitive approaches aimed at LA enhancement.

 

5. Teaching superlative adjectives to university learners

This paper section will not dwell on frequently occurring learner errors while forming superlative adjectives. Current section objective will be rather to present cognitive approaches referring to the philosophy of grading elucidation as well as to the explanation of definite article use accompanying superlative adjectives.

First of all, students need to be explained superlative adjectives in grading perspective. Learners must be told that the semantics of grading require the presence of entities belonging to a unified set of things and, consequently, possessing an identical quality, grading representing determining the quantity of a quality. Thus, for example, learners may be shown a diagram or a photograph of four buildings with different heights, accompanied by written utterances with characteristic underlinings to focus the attention on morphology of comparative and superlative adjectives as well as on overall typical features of comparative and superlative constructions.

Learners may be offered instances, aimed at diagram description, such as: "Building 1 is (much) taller than building 2."; Building 3 is the tallest."; "Building 1 is (just) as tall as building 4." To strengthen students’ understanding of the essence of grading, learners can be told that the quality compared is height, whereas the quantity of graded quality is expressed by means of respective constructions and adjectives. This way, learners realize that a superlative adjective refers to a superior quantity of a quality of entities belonging to a set of things, or, that is to say, a superlative adjective points to a unique entity within this very set of objects.

Having discussed the above examples, learners are told that the grading structure illustrated is nonperiphrastic; though, it has identical functions with the periphrastic one. To reveal connections between both, periphrastic and nonperiphrastic grading, learners need to be referred to other exemplifying utterances allowing a comparative teaching approach7 implementation as well as the strategies of pattern observation and analysis. Thus, for instance, another diagram or a photograph of four various architectural styles buildings may be offered accompanied by utterances (containing specific underlining to focus learners’ attention on peculiarities), such as: "Building 1 is (much) more attractive than building 2."; "Building 3 is the most attractive one."; "Building 1 is (just) as attractive as building 4."

To adequately apply a CpT strategy, learners may be asked to write on the same line both grading types instances as shown below.

"Building 1 is (much) taller than building 2." / "Building 1 is (much) more attractive than building 2."

"Building 3 is the tallest." / "Building 3 is the most attractive one."

"Building 1 is (just) as tall as building 4." / "Building 1 is (just) as attractive as building 4."

Questions may be asked to elicit learners’ statements that -er (taller), in a nonperiphrastic construction, functions identically as more (more attractive), in a periphrastic one; likewise, -est (the tallest) performs the same role as most (the most attractive); the as - adjective - as construction does not alter its structure. However, learners need to be explained that the adjective in this construction does not change morphologically due to the fact that the quantity of the quality compared is the same.

CT approach ought to be also implemented, referring students to Bulgarian (and / or a FL) grading construction, this type of semantics being conveyed in modern Bulgarian8 differently, to some extent. Learners’ attention needs to be focused on the fact that in Bulgarian grading is performed analytically9, not by means of suffixation, as this is the case with some types of adjectives in English. Translating the above utterances can be really useful illustrating this point; all necessary contrasted features may be likewise underlined. Thus, the examples translated may look this way: "Сграда 1 е (много) по-висока от сграда 2."; "Сграда 1 е (много) по-привлекателна от сграда 2"; "Сграда 3 е най-високата."; "Сграда 3 е най-привлекателната."; "Сграда 1 е (точно) толкова висока колкото сграда 4."; "Сграда 1 е (точно) толкова привлекателна колкото сграда 4."

Apart from laying emphasis on analytical (English, Bulgarian) vs suffixal (English) grading morphology, learners need to be shown superlative the - correspondence in contrasted languages: "Building 3 is the tallest and the most attractive one." / "Сграда 3 е най-високата и най-привлекателната".

This leads us to a rather crucial topic in teaching, and namely, the compulsory use of definite article the, preceding the superlative adjective. This issue is quite important as a significant number of students tend to omit definite article in this context. Evidently, learners need to be explained adequately that, in English definite article the obligatorily precedes nonperiphrastic and periphrastic superlatives unless there is another determiner in the same position. Thus, for example, in "This is her (the*) most beautiful dress" definite article the is incompatible with the possessive. In Bulgarian translation it needs to be shown, applying the CT approach, that the preceding possessive pronoun receives determination, e.g. "Това е нейната най-хубава (та*) рокля."

To corroborate understanding, learners can be referred to the uses of definite article the and its essence. Theory has to be presented in practical perspective and supported by examples to let the students see the underlying value of uniqueness contained in the determiner. They need to understand that due to the fact that "the tallest or the most attractive building" is unique within a set of buildings there is high compatibility between both language phenomena - superlative adjectives and determiner the, predetermining the use with superlative ajectives. While presenting definite article uses, CT (with Bulgarian and / or a FL), along with CpT, referring to uses similarities and differences, need to be used.

 

5.1. Definite article uses learners need to be acquainted with

Definite article the belonging to the group of central determiners (Quirk et al. 1985: 253, 265-272) is used to refer to an entity which "can be identified uniquely in the contextual or general knowledge shared by speaker and hearer" (ibid.: 265). Thus, learners may be visually offered exemplifying sentences, such as the following ones, illustrating uses of English definite article the, presenting the entity marked by the definite article as unique. The instances significantly comply with referred to definite article uses classification and explanation in Quirk et al. (Quirk et al. 1985: 266-272), though examples belong to this paper author. In the purpose of CT they need to be also translated. Both, English instances and translations bear characteristic underlinings allowing students to carry out English / Bulgarian comparisons with respect to definite article use.

1. The engine doesn’t work properly. Двигателят не работи добре.

Students are told that the (as well as Bulgarian ят) signal the engine uniqueness as speaker and listener are sitting in one and the same car; thus, this use of the is referred to as immediate situation use.

2. He was given the Rector’s award. Дадоха му наградата на ректора.

Students are explained that the entity uniqueness is evident from speaker’s and listener’s common general situation; most probably this is the Rector of the University they are studying in or of a University they are familiar with; according to shared knowledge, the institution’s Rector is most likely to give a specific award on a regular basis. Learners’ attention needs to be drawn at the fact that in Bulgarian article use is rather similar though definite article is used twice (та and а). Based on explanation, this is an example of larger situation (general knowledge) use.

3. There is a car and a motorbike in front of the garage; the motorbike is being repaired. Пред гаража има автомобил и мотоциклет; някой поправя мотоциклета.

Learners are told that the referent’s uniqueness, in English and in Bulgarian, is evident based on preceding the (а) use information, and, namely, "a car and a motorbike" ("автомобил и мотоциклет"), which makes communication process participants aware of which motorbike is being referred to. Consequently, this is an instance of anaphoric reference: direct use, the motorbike directly referring to the motorbike parked in front of the garage.

4. There is a car in front of the garage; the brake is being repaired. Пред гаража има автомобил. Някой поправя спирачката.

Learners are shown similarity between this use and the above one, both being anaphoric; they are also told that in this example (in English and in Bulgarian), though, the referent’s uniqueness is understood based on conclusion-making (not directly, as in the above case) as the car inherently has its brake. Thus, this is an example of anaphoric reference: indirect use.

5. The car which is being repaired is in front of the garage. Автомобилът, който поправят, е пред гаража.

Students need to be explained that this type of examples (in English and in Bulgarian) is opposite to the previous ones, the referent’s uniqueness being determined based on following ("which is being repaired", "който поправят"), not preceding information; consequently, it is an illustrative example of cataphoric reference use.

6. They read about the disaster in the paper / papers. Те прочетоха за бедствието във вестника / вестниците.

Learners can be told that in this case the referent’s uniqueness ("the paper / papers", "вестника / вестниците") is either bounded to a specific paper or relates to a social institution, depending on overall context, and, so this definite article the instance can be treated as an example of sporadic reference use.

7. He showed a wound on the leg. Той показа рана на крака (си).

Learners can be explained that the referent’s uniqueness in both languages is due to the connection between the body and its parts. Thus, the instance is considered as use of the with reference to body parts.

8. This is the best novel she has ever read. This is the first novel she has ever read. Това е най-хубавият роман, който тя е чела досега. Това е първият роман, който е прочела досега.

Learners need to be told that this use, tightly connected to superlative adjectives teaching, can be treated in the perspective of the others, all of them being related to definite article the emphasizing on referent’s uniqueness. In that case, in English and in Bulgarian, uniqueness does not stem from general situation, common knowledge or additional (preceding or following) information, but inherently derives from the meaning of superlatives as well as from phrases referring to a certain number of entities or actions (the first, първият). That is why, these are examples of the so-called ‘logical’ use10 of the11.

 

6. Conclusion

The paper dwells on language awareness essence, this concept development and language awareness teaching importance in the perspective of superlative adjectives presentation. The study puts forward cognitive approaches such as use of appropriate exemplifying utterances, schemes or diagrams, specific underlinings, examples translation, contrastive and comparative teaching, explanation of a language phenomenon logic of functioning, and more specifically, elucidation focusing on correspondences between superlative adjectives concept and definite article underlying value of uniqueness as well as on the philosophy of grading. All strategies are aimed at language awareness enhancement, preconditioning better performance, while teaching superlative adjectives to university learners. It can be estimated, based on author’s teaching experience, and, namely, through learners’ highly satisfactory testing performance, that some approaches implementation influences beneficially learners’ language awareness in terms of superlative adjectives meaning and use, as well as of grading as a whole. Practical results do not contradict published so far research findings on language awareness crucial relevance in E(F)LT due to its direct relation with various spheres of communicative competence improvement.

 

 

NOTES

1. Rf. as to LA essence and definitions in Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2018) presenting renowned researchers in the field views as well as author’s ideas. [back]

2. Malmberg (2001: 141 in Soons 2008: 10) refers to the same definition. [back]

3. This stage obtained does not make a lecturer useless, ELT (FLT) specialists being able to answer questions, provide explanation and inspire further thinking in the appropriate direction professionally. [back]

4. Comparisons within an individual language itself; rf. as to comparative teaching in Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2014a, 2018). [back]

5. Rf. to Ben-Zeev (Ben-Zeev 1977 in Ellis 2012) as to similar views. [back]

6. LA improvement and learner performance connection in E(F)LT has been proved unequivocally not only in theoretical, but also in practical perspective. Rf. in Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2018) as to researchers offering evidence of the advantages of explicit EFL (FL) teaching and learning over their implicit version in terms of achieved better communicative competence, and, hence, task performance. [back]

7. Comparative teaching (CpT) and contrastive teaching (CT), mentioned below, are powerful cognitive strategies; CpT refers to jointly examining categories similar in terms of form / semantics within a language, this way laying stress on taught items peculiarities. CT presents to learners studied categories based on contrasts with NL or a FL equivalent items. Rf. to researchers in the field in Ruzhekova-Rogozherova (2018). [back]

8. If there are students having a level of knowledge in French, the above examples can be translated not only in Bulgarian, but in French as well, this way making CT approach more convincing; specific features must be likewise underlined and learners’ attention drawn to, to facilitate further comments in terms of form / semantics, e.g. "Le bâtiment 1 est (beaucoup) plus haut (beau) que le bâtiment 2."; "Le bâtiment 3 est le plus haut (beau)"; Le bâtiment 1 est aussi haut (beau) que le bâtiment 4." [back]

9. Grading is likewise analytical in French; this fact may be also put forward to students learning French along with English. [back]

10. Quirk et al. 1985 consider the logical use before the reference to body parts use. [back]

11. As above, exemplifying instances may be translated into French as well in the case of French learning students in the ELT group to corroborate language awareness. Translation examples need specific underlining to promote contrastive observation and sharing of ideas; e.g. Le moteur ne fonctionne pas bien.; Il a reçu le Prix du recteur.; Il y a une auto et une moto devant le garage ; la moto est en train d’être réparée.; Il y a une auto devant le garage; le frein est en train d’être réparé.; L’auto qui est en train d’être réparée est devant le garage.; Ils ont lu au sujet du désastre dans le (les) journal (journaux).; Il a montré une plaie sur la (sa) jambe.; C’est le meilleur roman qu’elle ait jamais lu. C’est le premier roman qu’elle ait jamais lu. [back]

 

 

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