Teachers' use of target language in the German classroom

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Cambridge]On: 15 October 2014, At: 03:39Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Teachers' use of target language in the GermanclassroomPS Neil a , J Salters a & A McEwen aa The Queen's University of BelfastPublished online: 06 Aug 2007.

    To cite this article: PS Neil , J Salters & A McEwen (1999) Teachers' use of target language in the German classroom, TheLanguage Learning Journal, 19:1, 12-18, DOI: 10.1080/09571739985200041

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  • Language Learning Journal, June 1999, No 19, 12-18

    Teachers' use of target language in the German classroom P S Neil, J Salters and A McEwen The Queen's University of Belfast

    This article examines the target language used by ten teachers of German and compares the grammatical features of their language with the appearance of forms in the textbook. It is argued that whilst teachers have increased the amount of target language used, there appears to be a lack of progression in linguistic complexity.

    INTRODUCTION

    Since the advent of the communicative approach to language teaching, teachers of modern languages have been encouraged by curricular documents and inspectors' reports to increase the amount of the target language in their lessons. It has been sug- gested that in practice this appears to have led to an increase in quantity which has not been matched by an increase in quality (Neil, 1995, 1997). Despite appeals for a move away from teacher-centred approaches to language teaching (Little, 1991) and for a post-communicative approach (Byram, 1988), whereby pupils have access to various media to supplement the foreign language they receive at school, the teacher remains the main source of lin- guistic input for pupils in UK classrooms.

    INPUT

    The language provided by teachers has been called 'input', a term which has its origin in information processing (Sharwood Smith, 1993), although it has been adopted by researchers in second language acquisition and foreign language learning to refer to language used by interlocutors in various contexts. In first language acquisition, input has been referred to as 'motherese', ' caretaker talk' or ' child-directed speech' (Snow and Ferguson, 1977; Gallaway and Richards (eds), 1994). The language used by native speakers when addressing non-native speakers has been termed 'foreigner talk' (Hatch et al., 1978) and the language used by teachers as 'teacher talk' (Henzl, 1973, 1979). Saleemi comments that input is

    an amorphous and ambiguous entity, often

    depending for the precise specification of its content on the resources and interests of the indi- vidual researcher (Saleemi, 1989: 174).

    It is necessary, therefore, to define what is meant by input within the foreign language classroom. Bahns (1986) suggests that input can refer to linguistic data which is directed at the learner, or to data which is available in the environment but not directed specifically at the learner. Zobl (1985) maintains that whatever the input, it can only con- tain a sample of the so-called data universe, so that learners have to be able to predict from the avail- able evidence in the input an infinite number of possible forms. However, as Liceras (1985) points out, learners do not assimilate all the language data they are exposed to, with the result that their inter- language contains rules and constructions which do not occur in L2 input. One of the main research questions which needs to be addressed, therefore, is what properties the input should contain in order to enable learners to acquire the foreign language; in other words, what is it that converts input to intake (Corder, 1967), or what are characteristics of input that facilitate the L2 learners' grammatical devel- opment? (Braidi, 1995)

    Krashen (1981, 1982, 1985) draws a distinction between the two processes of language 'acquisi- tion' and language 'learning', the former being the more effective. According to this theory, input should be comprehensible and pitched beyond the learners' current level (i+l). Since it would be impossible to identify individuals' interlanguage level, the input should not be artificially con- structed nor graded according to some pre-con- ceived notion of linguistic difficulty. Furthermore, there should be no explicit teaching of grammatical

    12 Language Learning Journal

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  • structures; pupils need not produce the language and correction of errors is seen as unnecessary since it does not facilitate acquisition. Krashen's non-inter- face hypothesis has been widely criticised (e.g. Brumfit, 1983; Faltis, 1984; Gregg, 1984, 1986; McLaughlin, 1978, 1987; White, 1987; Cook, 1993). Despite the cogency of the criticisms, however, the fact remains that this theory has had considerable influence on current language teaching in the UK and has been referred to as providing theoretical jus- tification for maximum TL use by teachers in the classroom (Atkinson, 1993). The insistence that teachers should use the target language almost 100% of the time, despite their many reservations (Neil, 1997), is based on the assumption that more TL input results in more effective acquisition.

    Research in foreign language learning has moved on considerably since Krashen introduced the input hypothesis, and other aspects of input have been examined. It has been shown, for exam- ple, that formal instruction can influence acquisi- tion (Long, 1983; Spada, 1997) and that negative evidence, including error correction, corrected rep- etitions, clarification checks etc. are a necessary part of language teaching (Schachter, 1991). Within the time and curricular constraints of the modern foreign language classroom, common sense would suggest that an input-only approach is not feasible. Johnstone (1995) concludes that the case for an approach based entirely on primary linguistic data (PLD) has not been established and that the modern foreign language lesson should contain, in addition to PLD, explicit positive evidence or grammar teaching, and negative evidence or error correction. Communicative language teaching, the aim of which is to encourage communicative competence in pupils requires, in addition, a focus on the four elements of grammatical, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competence (Canale, 1983) which presupposes that there are opportunities for output (Swain, 1985) and interaction and negotiation (Long, 1981; Pica, 1994). Recent research has focused on teacher input in order to identify the characteristics of the input which contribute to learners' L2 grammatical development (Braidi, 1995).

    THE NORTHERN IRELAND STUDY: GERMAN IN THE CLASSROOM

    The focus of this study was on the quantitative and qualitative features of the target language used by ten teachers of German to pupils in Key Stage 4, that is to say pupils who had been learning the lan- guage for at least two years.

    Sample All teachers were German specialists who had an hon- ours degree in the language. The youngest teacher had been teaching for three years and the most experienced

    P ~ No 19 June 1999

    TEACHERS' USE OF THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN THE GERMAN CLASSROOM

    for 20 years. Full details of the project teachers and their classes can be found elsewhere (Neil, 1995,1997).

    Method Teachers who participated in the investigation agreed to the video-recording of ten lessons. For each teacher 120 minutes of lesson were tran- scribed and analysed manually for various linguis- tic features. Previous studies of teachers' use of the foreign language in the UK classroom have con- centrated on verbs (Mitchell, 1986; Franklin, 1990) and, in addition, use of co-ordination and subordi- nation (Mitchell, 1986). Various features were analysed in this study, but the two which will be highlighted here as giving some indication of the quality of the language are clauses and verbs.

    Results The coursebook used by all teachers was Deutsch Heute (Sidwell and Capoore, 1991), a communica- tive course which presents the grammar in topic areas according to functions and notions. With one exception the classes had reached the middle of the second part of the course, by which time they should be familiar with main and subordinate clauses and with the present, perfect and imperfect tenses for the main types of verbs (strong, weak, mixed, separable, auxiliary, modal).

    Clauses In German, word order depends on the type of clause used; in main clauses the verb is the second idea, whereas in a subordinate clause it is placed at the end. Where two clauses are used consecutively and the subordinate clause comes first, the two verbs appear together, one at the end of the subordi- nate clause and the other at the beginning of the fol- lowing main clause. The linguistic distance of word order from English is greater than that of other ele- ments of the language which pupils have met up to this point, so that it is a more difficult aspect for them to produce, although not necessarily more demanding in terms of understanding.

    For the purposes of this part of the analysis a clause was defined as a group of words containing a verb; main clauses were those which could stand alone and subordinate clauses were those which usually appeared in conjunction with a main clause. In isolated instances subordinate clauses were used alone, for example when teachers were prompting an utterance from the pupils. Coordinating clauses were counted simply as main clauses since the coordinating conjunctions required no change in word order. Table 1 gives the number of both types of clauses for all teachers with the exception of Teacher F, since this teacher restricted herself almost entirely to the textbook and comments and asides were in English.

    By expressing the above as percentages, it can

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  • P S NElL ET AL

    A B C D E G H K M

    Main 584 677 683 662 753 749 360 796 625 Sub. 49 18 26 14 14 25 29 9 11

    Total 633 695 709 876 767 774 389 805 636

    Table I Numberof clauses used by teachers

    A B C D E G H K M

    Main% 92.2 97.4 96.3 g7.9 98.2 96.8 92.5 98.9 98.3 Sub. % 7.8 2.6 3.7 2.1 t.8 3.2 7.4 1.1 1.7

    Table 2 Teachers' use of clauses expressed as percentages

    SUBORDINATE CLAUSES- beginning

    one exception (B) had reached the third chapter of book two of the course. By that time they should have met wenn [if] clauses, subordinate clauses after daft [that] and was [which]. Table 3 reveals that the most widely used subordinate clauses were those beginning with wenn and was. Relative clauses with der, die, das etc. are introduced gradually in the coursebook from a very early stage and would, therefore, be within the experience of most pupils. The fact that such relative clauses were used by only half the teachers in the sample suggests that their input in terms of syntactic complexity not only does not go beyond the features presented in the text- book, but does not even consolidate constructions with which pupils were already familiar. Therefore, although most pupils should be familiar with the concept of subordination in German and would understand it in context, teachers failed to provide many opportunities in the input for the learners to acquire this form of syntax in a naturalistic way.

    wenn [if, when] A B well [because] A sis [when] da [since] dab [that] A B was [which] A B worin [in which] A ob [whether, if] B wo [where] wie [how] damit [so that] bevor [before] nachdem [after + clause]

    RELATIVE CLAUSES

    C D E G H C H C

    C F C D E G H

    D G H G H G

    Subject A C E Object A B

    Table 3 Types of clauses used by teachers

    Tense In Textbook/Chapter

    Present Perfect Imperfect Pluperfect Future Conditional Passive (present+ imperfect)

    from 1/1 from 1/3 (isolated examples) 1/14;15;16;19 2/1 (haben, sein); 2/3 (strong, weak) introduced as note at end of Book 2 2/5 introduced as note at end of Book 2 2/2 (isolated examples) note at end of Book 2

    K M M

    K

    K

    K

    Verbs Verbs form the backbone to the language and as such they merit detailed analysis. In total 296 verbs were used by the teachers in the lessons which were transcribed; for full details of the verbs used see Nell (1995). Obviously the use of verbs is dependent upon the aim and topic of the lessons which were recorded. There were, however, some verbs which were common to all teachers: brauchen [to need]; geben (es gibt) [there is/are]; glauben [to think/believe]; haben [to have]; k6n- nen [to be able to]; lesen [to read]; machen [to do]; miigen (conditional) [to want; would like]; miissen [to have to]; sagen [to say]; sein [to be]; wissen [to know]; wollen [to want]; zuhi~ren [to listen to]. These verbs were used in at least one tense by all teachers and some of them are easily identified as the core of the language, for example the auxil- iaries (haben; sein), the modals (k6nnen, miigen, miissen and wollen) and those which relate to the general work of the classroom (lesen, machen, sagen, zuh6ren). It is noteworthy that the verb wiederholen [to repeat] is absent from the reper- toire of...

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