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Vocabulary comprehension in the process of foreign bilingual (English and German) training
Zamkova Nataliya Leonidivna, Ph.D. (Pedagogical Sciences)
Voinarovs’ka Natalya Viktorivna, Ph.D. (Pedagogical Sciences), Vinnytsia Institute of Trade and Economics of Kyiv National University of Trade and Economics
The importance of bilingual foreign language teaching is growing rapidly in higher educational institutions of various specializations. Teachers without special preparation in concurrent language instruction tend to alternate between two languages on the basis of how well students comprehend the language of the lesson, how well they are paying attention and how well they are participating in it. This leads to an extensive use of translation from English into the students' primary language to facilitate comprehension and to move the lesson along.
During the research we found out that none of the teachers said that translation was a significant feature of their bilingual teaching strategies. Translation, especially the quick translation of words and short phrases to move the lesson along, was viewed as a code switching behavior and therefore, not part of bilingual teaching. It is acknowledged, however, that translation is a valuable tool for aiding language comprehension within a lesson framework, especially for vocabulary and clarifying directions.
Paying attention to the fact that the primary goal of bilingual teaching is comprehension through translation, rather than enabling students to understand concepts, principles and processes through exchanges and the negotiation of meaning, joining the community of knowledge in either language is difficult. Not only do students tune out when the teacher is talking in their second language, they learn quickly that the teacher will translate the talk into their primary language to make sure they comprehend the language, but not necessarily the concepts, principles, and processes associated with the knowledge system.
Bilingual teachers organize their instruction so that they do most of the classroom talking , . They open their lessons with instructions and often with an advance organizer which they wrote on the chalkboard. Next they present the major concepts and principles to be covered in the lesson, and intersperse this phase with known information questions as a way to check for comprehension. Some teachers tended to begin the introduction and advance organizers in English and then would switch to German and translate what she had said to make sure that students were with her. Other educators tend to switch back and forth from one language to the other during this phase of the lesson, and then try to interact with students in English. Again, however, these educators translate from English to German, but they also tend to stay in German for a longer period of time than other teachers do.
Most of the interaction with students occurs either during "giving directions" time or during "giving examples" time. Students frequently ask teachers for clarification about what they are supposed to do, especially if the instructions were presented in English. All educators rarely try to rephrase or to scaffold the meaning of what they were trying to say; instead, they simply translated the instructions quickly and continued on with the lesson. The same kind of pattern emerges from observations of when the teachers ask students for examples or for meaning of words that were assumed to be difficult. Moreover, the teachers often ask students to translate the gloss of a word from one language to another.
When teachers start the academic year, they talk very openly and strongly about the need to teach "most of the content classes in German". Their reasoning was that students need to be able to understand the content subject matter and participate more fully when instruction was conducted in a meaningful language. However, by mid-year, they began to sense that their bilingual teaching practices and their views of learning need revamping.
After the workshops, discussions and practice two substantial changes were revealed: (1) teachers stopped translation from English to German for the purpose of increasing student comprehension, and (2) the teachers distributed to the two languages so that they spent more or less equal amounts of time in the two languages . The teachers remarked that they had also begun to prepare their lessons more carefully that they did before the second phase started. They thought about ways to present ideas, vocabulary, and processes using visuals and other manipulatives. They planned out where in the lesson they would try to speak and interact all in German and where they would try to speak and interact all in English. Instead of asking students for a translation of a word, they would ask for a definition or an application of the concept the word represented.
In terms of the kinds of cues that teachers relied on when making switching decisions, both still mentioned student comprehension, but they talked more about concept understanding than language comprehension. This seemingly minor adjustment had a major influence on the way the teachers used the two languages for instruction. Once concept understanding became the goal, along with language acquisition, the teachers worked very hard to keep students in the language that they were using at any point in the lesson. This had the effect of "pushing" students to communicate ideas in both languages, a goal that M.Swain has found to be necessary for language as well as content development .
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