Thanks to the BLC and its generous travel grant, I was able to attend the 2012 Chinese Language Teachers Association Conference held in Philadelphia.
During the three-day conference, hundreds of Chinese language teachers shared their research results and different views of how to teach Chinese effectively. I was honored to have the opportunity to share with my peers about my study on the implications of incidental vocabulary learning for in-class vocabulary teaching. It is known to all that vocabulary should be taught in some way since it is one of the most important components in a language learning. So what is the best way to teach vocabulary? It has been accepted by many Chinese language instructors for a long time that in-class drill is the only way for students to grasp vocabulary and grammar effectively and quickly. This point of view was re-raised and emphasized by one the most well known Chinese educators, Professor Chow. However, to me, vocabulary is an open set in any language, and there is no way for a language instructor to teach and drill all the words in a language. In my opinion, helping students to gain a morphological awareness is more useful and therefore more important than doing vocabulary drills. So how can students gain morphological awareness? The answer lies in the process of students’ learning vocabulary through a large amount of reading and other language-related activities, such as watching movies and listening to music in the target language unconsciously, thus acquiring vocabulary incidentally. Teachers should provide students with appropriate reading material and vocabulary lists, and teach them useful word guessing skills to trigger their process of incidental vocabulary learning.
There were two more presenters on our panel who consider vocabulary teaching to be a key aspect of foreign language instruction. They, too, discussed effective classroom practices for enlarging students’ vocabulary. A presenter from the Defense Language Institute talked about the necessity of introducing Internet-emergent Chinese words to students. This is quite an interesting topic since there are more and more newly created words emerging online, a lot of which have already been included in the Modern Chinese Dictionary. For each new word, there is culture-enriched background, whereby students not only acquire the word itself but also learn about Chinese culture. According to the presenter, for those who would like to study abroad, this is the fastest way to reduce culture shock when arriving in China. Another presenter from Vanderbilt University showed us her survey of vocabulary instructions in CFL classrooms.