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Critique on a journal

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  1. 1. Summary This research article was written to identify the feasibility of integrating formfocused instructions with communicative language approach in a Chinese baseduniversity. The problem that the writer found was the inadequate English competencyamong students who were majoring in English. To improve their linguistic capability, thewriter believed that there is a need to improve on the grammatical functions within acommunicative language classroom. The writer began his research article by arguing that behaviourist approach is notsuitable for second language learning. He quoted this from Littlewood (1990) andsubsequently Lightbown and Spada (1999) who had done researches on that. Thewriter also emphasized Chomsky’s theory that human language is not through imitatedbehaviour but created from innate knowledge rebounded the behaviourists approaches. However, the writer did not believe that using Communicative LanguageTeaching (CLT) per se was good enough. This is because in CLT, L2 learners acquiregrammatical accuracy through conversations with native speakers, based on Krashen’sMonitor Model. However, in China, natural acquisition will be impossible. Thus,grammar instruction is deemed fundamental. This was supported by Wei (2005) whosaid that grammar can provide input for noticing language forms and helps learnersbecome aware of their own output, especially for L2 learners in such conditions. Based on the findings, there is a significant improvement on students who weretaught the integrated way. Because there was a control group which showed the lowestresult in the nationwide test, Qian concludes that FFI does help in improving thestudents’ English proficiency. 1
  2. 2. Critique The research article is done by Qian Xiao-xia, a lecturer from ZhejiangGongshang University, China. In this research, Qian concluded that explicit formfocused instruction (FFI) within a communicative language teaching (CLT) classincreases the proficiency of the students. In my opinion, this is an interesting approachas both FFI and CLT have different teaching methodology and language focus. FFIfocuses on explicitly teaching the grammar rules and forms to learners in order for themto be consciously aware of the usage. It is more teacher centered and languageaccuracy is the main objective of such teaching method. CLT is more focused onspeaking and conveying meaning to the audience. It is learner centered and learnersare given various real life situations to increase their speaking coherence and fluency. This research is related to the Malaysian context where CLT and grammarteaching are integrated within the English language learning. However, in Malaysia,English accuracy is deemed the fundamental standards towards having fully acquire thelanguage for all students. In fact, to be acknowledged as being proficient in thelanguage, learners have to score high marks in the English subject during school andgovernment examinations. Thus, this research article is beneficial for teachers inimproving students’ English proficiency for them to use in their everyday life. Therefore, I agree with Qian in the importance of FFI to be taught explicitly to L2learners in order for them to be aware consciously of the grammatical rules in English.In both Malaysia and China, English is not the first language. Thus, when learnersacquire another language, they will first try to construct their understanding of thegrammar rules by testing them with their first language to be used within the context ofthe target language. If these learners are not given feedback during this process, they 2
  3. 3. will not be aware of the errors made and continue to use them. In the end, the wronglyused language will fossilize and will subsequently need certain teaching techniques inorder to break it up. This can be seen in Qian’s problem that even when the studentsare already in tertiary education and majoring in English, they could still commit errorsnot because they do not know but might be caused by the influence from the firstlanguage and the lack of corrections or feedback throughout their acquisition process. Moreover, the usage of CLT before the presentation of the FFI presents astronger support towards providing a meaning-focused input (MFI) and meaning-focused output (MFO) in second language acquisition. Both these approaches arecoherent with the tertiary learners as they are learning specifically towards their contentknowledge and need the ideas and language styles to interact socially with other people.As learners brainstorm ideas within the topics learnt in the classroom setting, they willsoon be familiar with the tasks and could achieve a high chance to succeed when facingthe real world. Because learners are already engaged in the meaning, they can start tonotice the grammars and language forms used to provide an accurate meaning across.By then, they will be able to assimilate or accommodate the new knowledge as theyhave reasoned out the differences. When learners continually use the accurate forms,they will be able to reach the level of automaticity. Nonetheless, I do have my hesitation in agreeing totally with Qian on theresearch methods that he had used to carry out the theories. Firstly, Qian had used aconfusing research terminology due to the lack of definition. Qian did not explain on themeaning between ‘dominantly taught’ and ‘integrated’. Based on my understanding, theusage of FFI within a CLT classroom after or while MFI and MFO are being delivered isa form of integrating both methodologies together which has been explained by Qian in 3
  4. 4. Section 4.1: An Integrated Methodology (pg. 24). In fact, according to Spada (2008),integrated FFI is defined as ‘drawing the learners’ attention to language form duringcommunicative or content-based instruction where the overall focus remains on theexchange of meaning’. So, when Qian introduces the words ‘dominantly taught’ forClass 0302, what are the differences with Class 0301 which is taught in the integratedmanner since they are both given the FFI treatment within the CLT class. Moreover,since there is a difference in the results between dominantly and integrated FFIteaching, it may imply that there were other reasons which had caused Class 0301 tofair lower than Class 0302, considering that dominantly taught and integrated has thesame idea of teaching FFI within the CLT classroom. The reliability of this research is also disputable because there seem to be a biasin the sample respondents. The students had already been categorized accordingly totheir results when entering university. Therefore, the samples were not random. Lookingat Table 1, students of Class 0302 are of best results among the three. By having thetreatment on this group of students, it further reinforces their acquisition of the language.It is thus within their prior knowledge on the language which could be comparativelybetter than the other two classes. In my opinion, it would be better if Qian carry out the One-Group Pretest-Posttestdesign. Learners are first given a pretest to know their weaknesses before given the FFItreatment. Using this method, the significant difference in their language before andafter the treatment will become apparent, especially on whether there is animprovement across the abilities of learners in the English majored classes. Althoughthere may be some setbacks for this type of design, it is fairer for all learners as they all 4
  5. 5. have similar problems with FFI. The pre-test can resemble that of the Test for EnglishMajors-Band Four (TEM-4). Scrutinizing further on the research, the validity of the findings is questionablebecause of the usage of the Band system. The nationwide Test for English Majors-BandFour (TEM-4) to test on the proficiency may not signify whether students have acquiredmastery in the aspects of language forms and grammar. As Qian had stated, studentshad problems with pronunciation, spelling, grammatical structures, word formation andmany more. Having gone over and over again the English linguistic and semanticswithin the teaching units, there may be a possibility that it is a form of regurgitationduring the examination. Thus, it may be inapt to be acknowledged as a benchmark inproving that students are proficient in English. This is because in my opinion, learnerswere given topics throughout their course where the sentence forms and vocabulary aresimilar based on the content that they are studying. Thus, in a way, it might be a form ofrepetition for learners where they became familiar with the style, manner and even thecontent to be tested in the TEM-4. After all, in most nationwide examination, students are already given theexposure on the types of questions being asked. For example, in Malaysia, we do havetopics across the curriculum for English and that classes are taught using the CLTapproach in line with the aim of producing students who are able to communicateeffectively in the real world. Nonetheless, because the format of the nationalexaminations such as Penilaian Menengah Rendah and Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia aregiven to the learners, they will tend to be proficient within the aspects of what is beingtested because they are familiar with it. However, students who scored a high gradewhich indicates the high proficiency acquired by the learner will not suffice once they 5
  6. 6. enter the real working world as they struggle to search for the best way to communicatewithin a context. This, I assume is the drawback for Qian since the definition ofproficiency is not explained. Will it represent the ability to communicate accurately inEnglish, excelling in the TEM-4 test or just communicating meaningfully within asituation? The objectives are thus vague in the implementation of the FFI in a CLT class,affecting the usage of TEM-4. In conclusion, Qian has succeeded in justifying his own reasons for the teachingmethodology which he had chosen but was unable to carry it out in a clear manner. Hisreasons cut across from the literature review to researches done on similar variablesbut he was not able to provide a strong discussion relating to his research. In fact, hehad failed to link the findings of the research with the literature and statements which hehad presented at the beginning of the article. Based on the findings of his research, Ithink it is quite difficult for Qian to strongly prove the feasibility of using FFI in a CLTclass due to biasness of respondents and loosely defined research terminologies. So,there needs to be a well planned research to investigate further in integrating both FFIand CLT together. It is after all, a strong assimilation which focuses on Englishacquisition, extending from meanings to the forms of the language. Generally, thisresearch has inspired me to develop my teaching methodology in class as I weigh thepracticality and possibility of integrating FFI within my CLT class. It has allowed me tothink of my aims in teaching to produce second language learners who are able tospeak effectively in English for their own benefits. 6

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