Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Psycholinguistic Justification of Dictation in TEM-4

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Psycholinguistic Justification of Dictation in TEM-4

Article excerpt


Dictation is an important way to check the examinees' language competence. To examine the examinee in this way, there must be some theoretical basis, and to prepare for it, there must also be some ways. This essay tries to look into the issue from the previous two aspects. We especially borrow the theories in psycholinguistics in dealing with the justification of dictation in TEM-4.

Keywords: dictation, error analysis, TEM-4, language competence

1. Introduction

Dictation finds its appearance in TEM-4 (test for English majors-band 4) in 1990 in China. As is pointed out by Brown & Barnard, to take dictation requires a lot of skills, and this test form can be used to train students' ears. It can also be used to train their writing skills and short-term memory of the sequence of the sentences(Carroll, 2000, p. 52). Ong also thinks that dictation can be used to help the learners to get familiar with the grammar of the target language, and it helps to enhance their writing competence(Carroll, 2000, p. 55). The style of the material to be copied is usually of all kinds, and the length is always within 150 words. In the exam, the essay is read four times: for the first reading, the essay is read at normal speed and the students are required to listen to understand the material; for the second and the third readings, the material is read slowly with intervals of 15 to 20 seconds, and students are supposed to copy down the text; for the fourth reading, the essay is read at normal speed again for the students to check. Finally, students are given 2 more minutes to have an overall understanding of the passage to make it as accurate as what is read. Students supposed to take the exam are the second year English majors in the second semester.

The initial purpose of TEM-4 is to check whether all the requirements have been met by the students after they have finished studying all the courses at the elementary stage of English study, and to see whether they have mastered all the basic skills required on the part of the English majors. (Team, 2004, p. 3)In practice, dictation tries to test the two skills: receptive skills and productive skills .

Except all these, the test is designed to see how much the second year English majors know about the English grammar and vocabulary. From the results of all these, teachers can have an all-round understanding of their students' comprehensive knowledge of English and the knowledge. Yet, from the outcomes of the test during the recent years, the conclusion can be made that dictation is a difficult part in TEM-4 for the English majors, and it is effort-consuming for the teachers to help their students to make some improvement in this part. At the same time, the results of this part during the recent years show that many students did a poor job, and some of them even got zero. Also, the national average score for this year is 7.02, and the national average score of the English majors at normal universities is 8.09 (the passing score is 9). Therefore, attention should be paid to this part, and this essay is aimed to find the theoretical basis of the test, to analyze the errors in taking this part, and to provide some suggestions for the English majors and their teachers.

2. Psycholinguistic Process Involved in Taking the Test

In taking the test, students would theoretically undergo the following stages: expectation, speech perception, taking words out of their mental lexicon, sentence comprehension and memory, discourse comprehension and memory, and spelling. On the very first stage, students should mentally get ready for the coming test, i.e., they have to stimulate all their understanding concerning how to take the exam, the skills they have gained on how to do it, and the words that might appear in the exam. The reason why the examiners give the topic or the title of the passage on the paper is that the examinees are supposed to gather the related words from their mental lexicon beforehand. …

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