Academic journal article Trames

Teachers' and Learners' Participation Opportunities in Meaning Construction for New Words in the Foreign Language Classroom

Academic journal article Trames

Teachers' and Learners' Participation Opportunities in Meaning Construction for New Words in the Foreign Language Classroom

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Interpersonal communication is an important way of learning, which is why learning often takes place in group settings. Foreign language learning is no different--a teacher and learners get together in a classroom. One of the main activities in the foreign language classroom is to learn new vocabulary items in addition to grammar and cultural phenomena. The present article brings into focus the communicative situations (see the definition in Chapter 2) in foreign language learning where meaning is constructed for new words via interpersonal interaction.

Unknown words and expressions may appear in written exercises or reading texts, audio and/or visual material, or conversation during the class. Unknown items may be simple words, compound words or longer expressions, or even word groups (e.g. in the vocabulary list). In this article the unknown word or expression is referred to as the Word (with a capital W) to distinguish it from the other uses of the word "word".

In the classes, some of the learners might have been interested in getting confirmation of the meaning of the Word and others might have needed to create the meaning if they did not know the Word at all. The construction of the meaning of the Word took place in interaction, as the participants used several means or resources to regulate the conversation, to express thoughts and emotions. Those resources were verbal expression (words and grammar), vocal expression (e.g. changes of the speed, pitch and volume of the voice, pauses, vocalizations), gestures (body movements and positions), and use of space and objects (e.g. writing on the paper or on the blackboard). The participants used these resources, for instance, to express the lack of knowledge, the wish to participate in the conversation, or to construct the meaning for the Word.

The present study relies on the theories (Jewitt 2008, Kress et al. 2001, Kress 2010, Norris 2006) that support the idea that human communication is multimodal --people use more than one means or resource to create signs for the purpose of meaning-making. In multimodal communication signs are weaved together and every sign partially adds to the meaning. Monomodal indicates that only one resource is used to construct meaning. The monomodal meaning construction can happen when specific conditions are set (e.g. a diver uses gestures). The present article pays attention to multimodal and monomodal ways for meaning construction for new vocabulary items in foreign language classroom.

The present study contributes a large sample of communicative episodes and a multimodal analysis thereof to the research on teachers' and learners' participation opportunities in meaning construction situations for a Word. The present article is based on 110 communicative episodes where meaning construction for a Word takes place. The episodes are transcribed with the help of the conversation analysis method, which has been adapted to the needs of micro-level multimodal discourse analysis. The episodes have been transcribed so as to allow for analysis of all potentially communicative actions (see the definition in Chapter 2) of all the teachers and learners. All sounds, movements and holding postures that have been produced by the participants in the classroom have been transcribed as actions that can be interpreted as signs.

The aim of the current research is to study teachers' and learners' participation opportunities in meaning construction situations and, accordingly, to distinguish different types of communicative situations. The research questions are:

1) Who construct(s) meaning for the Word?

2) What kind of models can be created with respect to the activity of different participants in the meaning construction process?

3) What kind of resources are used to construct meaning for the Word?

4) How can participation opportunities be classified with respect to the use of resources? …

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