Academic journal article New Waves

English Vocabulary and Comprehension Instruction in Secondary Schools in China

Academic journal article New Waves

English Vocabulary and Comprehension Instruction in Secondary Schools in China

Article excerpt

English Vocabulary and Comprehension Instruction in Secondary Schools in China

Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in China has undergone significant changes in the last decade. In 2001, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in China published the National English Curriculum Standard (NECS) requiring English instruction be introduced in elementary school, and it has set higher objectives for students' vocabulary and comprehension achievement in secondary school (MOE, 2001). For example, it required students to master 1,500 to 1,600 vocabulary words and 200 to 300 phrases at the end of grade 9, and to understand and appreciate simplified version of English Classics at the end of grade 12 (MOE, 2001, p. 20, p. 17). In the two most important nation-wide examinations conducted at the end of middle school (grade 9) and at the end of high school (grade 12) - High School Entrance Examination (ZhongKao) and College Entrance Examination (GaoKao), the total points assigned to vocabulary and comprehension have also been increasing (Hu, Y. 2006; Zhang, Y. 2006). Although vocabulary and comprehension seem to have the increased significance, empirical studies on how and what vocabulary and comprehension instruction have been taught are limited. The goal of this paper, therefore, is to investigate vocabulary and comprehension instruction in secondary schools under the 2001 NECS. The research question investigated is: How and what aspects are vocabulary and comprehension taught in secondary school classrooms in China?

Literature Review

Reading is the most important skill in language learning (Gu, 2010). Although phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension have been regarded as necessary components of reading that should be taught to both native English speaking and English as a second or foreign language speaking (ESL and EFL) students (Hu, R. 2009; NRP, 2000; Tindall & Nisbet, 2010), vocabulary and comprehension have been the focus of instruction. While comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading, vocabulary has been regarded as the base for English language learning and has played an important role in achieving comprehension (Lu, 2010; Luo, 2007). The literature review is divided into two sections: studies on vocabulary instruction and on comprehension instruction.

Vocabulary Instruction

Studies focusing on vocabulary instruction at the secondary school level in China pointed out current instructional problems (Lu, 2010; Luo, 2007; Miao, 2010). First of all, new vocabulary words are taught in isolation when research has shown that children better learn words when taught in the context of other words (Matsuoka & Hirsh, 2010). Lu (2010) stated that many teachers taught unknown vocabulary words independently using the rote learning method, and failed to provide an appropriate context for students to remember the meaning and usage of the target word. Miao (2010) further indicated that some teachers depended on the glossary and neglected quality vocabulary exercises. Secondly, vocabulary instruction was partial, covering only the single aspect of a target word. Luo (2007) and Miao (2010) argued that knowing a word thoroughly means knowing its synonyms, antonyms, adjectives, adverbs, and different forms under different tenses (if it is a verb). Hence, teachers should introduce multiple meanings and usages of the word in different contexts (Lu, 2010). Thirdly, teachers failed to provide opportunities for students to repeatedly visit and review previous learned vocabulary words to enhance memorization. And lastly, under this technology-prevailed world, teachers failed to use multiple media to support vocabulary instruction and there was limited opportunity for students to practice using the learned vocabulary in reality.

Other studies offered suggestions and recommendations about how vocabulary should be taught and what strategies should be used in second or foreign language education (Hunt & Beglar, 2005; Lu, 2010; Luo, 2007; McBride-Chang et al. …

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