Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Language Proficiency Level and Intake of Nominal Group Use in Scientific English: A Web Classroom Empirical Study

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Language Proficiency Level and Intake of Nominal Group Use in Scientific English: A Web Classroom Empirical Study

Article excerpt


Focusing on the teaching-learning of nominal group use in science and technology through input noticing, this article deals with a pedagogical application of technological resources to the acquisition of grammar competence in English by a group of 50 senior year Spanish engineering students with different CEFR English level, ranging from A2 to C1. Students received training to notice nominal groups in an input of specialized engineering articles in the Web classroom, as part of the core subject English for Academic and Professional Communication syllabus, taught at the Technical University of Madrid (Spain). The results of the statistical analysis revealed that the entire group improved their ability to use noun compounds correctly, and that the students' CEFR level affects the student's initial and final marks, but not their improvement in nominal group use. It was concluded that this approach, which integrated technology-enhanced noticing into the course methodology, improved the students' performance and, therefore, can be profitably implemented for the acquisition of grammar competence.

Keywords: input noticing, nominal groups, scientific English, technology-enhanced noticing

1. Introduction

The scarce grammar instruction in the Communicative Approach to English for Science and Technology (EST) teaching has often produced students who communicate well but lack grammatical competency. Academic and professional communication demands correctness, but how is it possible to teach grammar in a way that will help students develop grammatical competency with a communicative approach? This article discusses a possible answer to this question: the theory of noticing and its implementation through technology-enhanced language intake. Previous data confirm that students who have explicit grammar instruction as part of their study achieve a higher level of grammatical accuracy than those who do not (Ellis, 2002, p. 19). Both Long (1988) and Ellis (1990), through reviewing a number of such empirical studies, have concluded that, overall, conscious learning seems to contribute to successful L2 development. However, there are too many linguistic rules for any learner, native speaker or not, to learn them all consciously. Therefore, the grammar features chosen for teaching-learning activities should not only be well selected on the basis of their relevance for the aims of the course and the students' language needs, but their teaching methodology updated.

1.1 The Salience of Nominal Group Use in EST

There are several ways of naming those long noun chains which function together as a unit and may become the subject of a verb in a sentence: noun compounds, nominal groups, nominal compounds, multiple noun compounds, etc. For the purpose of this paper, we will use 'nominal groups', as this term clearly refers to a noun phrase made up of two, three or more nouns functioning together as a unit, vs 'noun compounds' which is often used (though not exclusively) to refer to two-word expressions such as 'telephone box', 'switch board' or 'personal computer', whose meaning cannot be expressed in a single word.

Nominal groups (NGs) occur in EST much more frequently than in any other field. Salager-Meyer (1984, pp. 15-146) carried out a study to compare the occurrence of long NGs in general and technical English texts. Using two similar corpora in length and quality of language, the author found out that long NGs in general English appeared 0.87%, whereas in technical English it occurred 12.37%. Furthermore, focusing on long NGs of more than four elements, she found out that NGs were used 20 times more frequently in technical English. Likewise, Biber, Conrad and Reppen (1998, p. 579) corpus linguistics study found out that "proportionally, in academic prose, almost 60% of all noun phrases have some modifier, of which 25% have a premodifier and 20% have a postmodifier". Premodifiers studied went up to four tokens. …

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