Language Acquisition Essay Research Paper Abstract The

Language Acquisition Essay, Research Paper Abstract The purpose of this paper is to offer a summary and synthesis of some of the more recent research in the areas of Applied Linguistics that is most relevant to the teaching of vocabulary and writing in the ESL classroom. ESL will be defined here as instruction in English to non-native speakers that happens in the United States.

Language Acquisition Essay, Research Paper


The purpose of this paper is to offer a summary and synthesis of some of the more recent research in the areas of Applied Linguistics that is most relevant to the teaching of vocabulary and writing in the ESL classroom. ESL will be defined here as instruction in English to non-native speakers that happens in the United States. The articles synopsized for this paper were chosen specifically because they focus upon the pedagogies of writing and vocabulary, as well as on the current research (l990-current) in the field of vocabulary and writing as these skills relate to L2 acquisition.

As a new student researcher in the field of ESL, I already know that the area of focus I will choose will be the teaching of writing and vocabulary in the ESL classroom. This paper discusses the importance of vocabulary in the teaching of the writing process in the ESL classroom. Much of this paper focuses on the research of Dr. Grabe and Dr. Stoller in the area of vocabulary acquisition. I chose to focus on their l993 research because it so strongly supports the contention that vocabulary enhancement helps writing skills.

The career I chose is the teaching of English, but my emphasis over the last twenty years has been the teaching of writing. It is primarily upon this area of the teaching of English in the ESL environment that this paper will focus. From the research gathered in preparation for writing this synthesis paper, it became clear that there is no lack of good instruction in the ESL classroom with regard to speaking and listening skills. There is, however, much to be learned in reference to specific skills for writing and vocabulary enrichment in the ESL classroom. As a graduate student at Northern Arizona University, it is pleasing to utilize an article entitled, Implications for L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Instruction from Li Vocabulary Research, for my paper because it was written by our English Department Chair, William Grabe, and Fredricka Stoller, Professor at NAU.

Because the instruction of vocabulary is integral to the teaching of writing skills, this synthesis paper includes many voices that speak to issues related to theories and practices of the teaching of vocabulary in the ESL classroom. It is important that new graduate students with a focus in TESOL and Applied Linguistics keep abreast of the research in their chosen fields, and that we continue in the conversation and the quest for new teaching modalities and paradigms from which to branch off into new horizons in the ever-evolving field of ESL.

The teaching of the special skills of writing and vocabulary acquisition in the ESL classroom is not synonymous with the teaching of the other special skills of speaking and listening. Much more research has been centered, however, upon the latter two skills, according to many who authored the articles written for this synthesis paper. It is imperative that as ESL teachers in the classroom, we allow our students to learn specific writing skills which will be necessary in their academic and non-academic daily lives. As well, teaching good vocabulary acquisition skills will enhance the confidence of second language learners so that, in turn, their writing skills will improve. The peer-editing practices that have been implemented in so many regular English classrooms around the world need to be utilized as well in the ESK classroom. Peer editing and revising can help lower the affective filters of second language learners by: l) allowing a peer an equal to look at the paper before the teacher gets to; 2) allowing the student to re-write the paper to correct mistakes, and; 30 giving the student more time to think about what they are actually trying to get across and to whom.

It has been assumed, for a while, amongst researchers in the field that the learning of writing skills will automatically follow those of speaking and listening skills. The facts do not bear this out. There is so much more to go on when one is speaking face to face with someone. One can notice facial expressions and gestures to gather more meaning. A listener can obtain much meaning just from grasping most of the context of the spoken word if they are at the Intermediate level, for example. This does not mean at all that the writing skills of that same listener will be at the same level. Writing skills are specific.

In their article, Implications for L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Instruction from L1 Vocabulary Research, a chapter from Second Language Reading and Vocabulary Learning (Stoller and Grabe, Norwood, NJ:Ablex), Stoller and Grabe suggest that research on vocabulary development in first language educational contexts has been much more extensive in the last ten years than has parallel research in second language contexts, (p. 24). In particular, they state in their article, that the development of a large vocabulary appears to be inextricably tied to the development of reading skills, (p. 27). Grabe and Stoller state as the purpose of their article, to review current research in first language contexts to assess what is now known about the nature of vocabulary acquisition, (p. 27). Grabe and Stoller ask the question, How is vocabulary learned, organized, and retrieved? (p. 27). The authors clearly have a concern that they voice. They are concerned that the evaluation of competency in the ESL classroom, for comprehension gives a false sense of security to ESL students because most students can pass a comprehensive test because of their ability to comprehend by context clues. This does not mean, necessarily that these same students have added to the true vocabulary words that they know.

Grabe and Stoller assert, however, that this does not accurately show the accurate number of words that the student knows. They say that the biggest fallout, if you will, of this travesty occurring in the teaching of vocabulary in ESL classrooms nationally is simultaneously, the teacher, unaware of the potential pitfalls of such vocabulary exercises, will assume improved vocabulary knowledge and plan future lessons accordingly neglecting the needs of the students, (p.26).

This is a tragedy that would, it seems, perpetuate bad teaching and deprive students of the ability to reach their full potential. In defense of the limitations of the scope of their article, Stoller and Grabe say, while this may simplify some of the issues involved, it points but standard problems with vocabulary instruction as it is presented in text book material, (p. 26)

Grabe and Stoller suggest that the text books which are now written to help facilitate the acquisition of learning new skills actually perpetuate the problem. They both concur, as do I, that there are many ideas and techniques that can be incorporated into larger L2 instructional designs with more effective results.

Some of the topics most recently addressed in journals in the field of L2 acquisition are l) vocabulary growth; 2) the organization of t he lexicon; 3) degrees of word knowledge; and 4) the use of contextual information. Of the various fields attempting to address the educational, linguistic, political, and psychological ramifications and constructs of language, psycholinguistics and cognitive psychologies are two fields which are emerging into the forefront, according to Grabe and Stoller. The problem, as they identify it is that the central phenomena which puzzles first language researchers is how to account for the seemingly natural and phenomenal growth of L1 vocabulary from grades l-l2 which in some cases can continue for a lifetime, and which seems to be primarily an outgrowth of literary training, (p. 27). They go on to note, in their article, that research shows that theoretical discussions which attempt to explain this vocabulary growth often center around its relationship to reading comprehension..

Grabe and Stoller cite one explanation offered by scholars that being the aptitude hypothesis, which states that one s intellect is the primary force behind vocabulary acquisition and reading skills, (p. 27). As a teacher, this hypothesis seems severely limiting to humanity, to people, to students. In other words, as Stoller and Grabe note, intelligent people know more words and are better readers because of their intellect, (p. 27). Another possible explanation offered by the current research states by way of the knowledge hypothesis that vocabulary knowledge is a reflection of general knowledge. Finally, the instrumentalist hypothesis asserts that there is a direct relationship between the actual number of words known and reading comprehansion, (p. 27). Proponents of this last hypothesis stress the need for multiple exposures to words as well as multiple opportunities to practice. The need for practice also points to the use of reading itself as a means to develop vocabulary so that vocabulary and reading are seen as reciprocally developing abilities, (p. 27). Perhaps it is time to comment on the above research findings and their implications for the teaching of writing and vocabulary skills in the ESL classroom.

As a teacher who uses the eclectic approach to teaching in general, I would tend to use all three hypotheses as guides for theoretical positions from which to launch my lesson plans. In practice, I would use just about any exercise that would facilitate fluency and content in my student s writings, as well as any technique I could employ that would facilitate the learning of specific grammar rules and writing conventions. For example, daily I would have students do free-writing exercises. Prior to each writing assignment, a vocabulary assignment must be presented because new vocabulary should be presented before every writing assignment. (see homepage lesson plans). Students should be encouraged to write their new vocabulary words in sentences. As well, word walls should be put up in the classroom. Peer-editing needs to be instituted early on in the semester so that students can work on the mistakes in their papers before they hand it in to the teacher. When formal writing assignments are assigned, the proper writing conventions for that particular written assignment need to be gone over on the board. Vocabulary and writing skills are intertwined. Each time one learns a new word, one can write a little more specifically and with more accuracy.

Also presented in their article, Implications for L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Instruction from L1 Vocabulary Research, are the views of other researchers in the field. In contrast to the more theoretical acquisition hypotheses described above, other researchers have explained vocabulary development in more practical terms, (p. 28). They cite Jenkins and Discon (l983) as suggesting that most vocabulary learning occurs-in and out of the classroom by means of a combination of two or more of the following strategies: l) through explicit reference (ie. definitions); 2 ) through example, 3) through context; 4) through morphological analysis.

They note, Despite conflicting opinions, applying morphological knowledge of the language to the vocabulary learning has been a widely recognized aid for students. There may e somewhere on the order of 3,000 to 4,000 affixes in the English language, and the random treatment of a large subset may serve as much to confuse students as it may to help them, (p. 28).

Stoller and Grabe go on to define many positive implications for the teaching of vocabulary to L2 learners from having done research with L2 learners. For the sake of space, I will name only a few of the implications:

l. A practical implication of this research is that providing students with

simple definitions, synonyms, associations, glosses, etc. has a place in

vocabulary teaching, particulary for low-frequency and less important words.

2. Because L2 students are usually quite at a loss for words, they are

very motivated to improve their vocabularies.

3. Improving vocabulary improves writing skills in L2

In conclusion, Stoller and Grabe state, Vocabulary is a language area that needs continued growth and development for native and nonnative speakers alike, (p. 38). The authors point out that a curriculum with a comprehensive vocabulary component should include opportunities for explicit learning as well as implicit learning. They also point out that students themselves also need to develop independent learning strategies that will allow them to expand their vocabularies both in and out of the classroom, (p. 39).

Rebecca Hughes and Michael Mc Carthy in their article, From Sentence to Discourse: Discourse Grammar and English Language Teaching, argue that there are very good reasons for developing discourse grammars for L2 teaching. Intheir article, they lay out the criteria for moving from sentence-based grammar to the discourse level. They dedicate their energies to looking at the teaching of grammar principles thorugh discourse writing. As their purpose for writing the article, the authors state, In this article, we exemplify what we mean by discourse grammar and set out our criteria for analyzing grammar as an aspect f discourse rather than as something that operates only within the boundaries of the clause or the sentence, (TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer l998). The authors further state that the corpus examples demonstrate that the kinds of grammatical choices that speakers and writers make often depend on contextual features, (p. 265). The authors also argue that grammatical statements do not take account of such contextual features are inadequate and unable to support grammar teaching effectively, (265). I take issue with this premise because I do think some grammar principles can be taught within sentences if done well. (ie. see my grammar lesson plan on my web page). In general, it is better to teach grammar within writing. However, as in the sentence combining grammar lesson that is part of my coursework for this class, I think it is fine.

The authors warn that just because ESL students show competency in doing sentence or clause-based grammar assignments does not mean that these students wouldn t fare better if they were able to correct grammar within the context of paragraphs or discourse. There are many differences in the way people pause when they are talking out loud, for example, and when one writes a conversation. The authors state, learning the paradigms of a target language is, of course, an important step in mastering its range of grammatical forms. In real-life situations, however, the selection of any item may be from only a small set of plausible alternatives, (p. 265). Another criticism which the authors levy toward their own profession, is that pedagogical grammars often simplify the grammatical facts and provide rules of thumb that work for most learners in most situations.

The primary point that these researchers are making is that moving beyond the sentence, in the teaching of grammar to ESL students is necessary to answer questions about the differences between spoken and written grammar. This point is of paramount importance. In the ESL classroom setting, most grammar should be taught within discourse. It is very important to note that, however, there is still a place for sentence-based grammar. The authors stipulate that, only by observing actual discourse can grammar teachers accurately represent the distribution of forms in the spoken and written modes, (p. 272).

One of the other points of this article is that in our spoken language there is a relative absence of forms, common in written texts, that are usually considered to be core features of grammar, for example, well-formed sentences with main and subordinate clauses, (p. 276). The problem is that when we speak, we don t use well- formed sentences that adhere to any convention at all. Many of our spoken sentences are fragments or running clauses. So, to teach grammar with cohesive sentences combined with perfect subordinate clauses exclusively can be very misleading to the L2 language learner.

Some additional points presented in the article are that with regard to both individual grammatical items, such as pronouns or demonstratives, and wider structural features of spoken discourse, grammar is often best explained by referring to context and, above all, by taking into account interpersonal aspects of communication, (p. 278). In other words, when one teaches grammar in the ESL classroom, it is imperative to point out the differences to our students, about discourse grammar and written sentence-based grammar. (Note: I used sentence-based grammar in my grammar lesson designed for English 559 because it worked well with the grammar point I was introducing, see Web page). This will also improve the writing of the students, in particular when they write conversations.

The authors conclude their article with a comment about the strengths of the discoursal approach to the teaching of grammar. They state, specifically that the presentation of insights about language from the perspective longer sections of discourse rather than from isolated examples can be of particular help to the non-analytical learner, (p. 280). How would the insights and arguments made in this article transfer to the classroom in terms of the teaching of writing? Grammar would be taught predominantly within the writing of a paragraph or essay. (See my writing lesson). A particular grammar issue would be featured within the particular writing assignment and students would be taught the grammatical principle within the scope of their own paragraphs and papers. The authors conclude their article by stressing the argument that English language pedagogy should foster a practice-driven view of grammar teaching, with the teacher being empowered to take an active part in and an informed view of what features to present and how best to present them, (p. 284).

In her book,Teaching Techniques in Teaching Writing, Dr. Ann Raimes writes, When we learn a second language, we learn to communicate with other people: to understand them, talk to them, read what they have written and write to them, (Raimes, Ann, Teaching Techniques in Teaching Writing. Oxford. Oxford American English, l983, page Preface, viii.). She goes on to say that, an integral part of participating fully in a new cultural setting is learning how to communicate when the other person is not directly in front of us, listening to our words, and looking at our gestures and facial expressions, (p. viii). She lists as examples, situations in which a student of ESL may need to write, a note to the mailman, fill out a customer s declaration form, give written instructions, or write a thank you letter, (p. l). She explains that the fact that people frequently have to communicate with each other in writing is not the only reason to include writing as a part of our second-language syllabus. There is an additional important reason: writing helps our students learn, (p. l).

It is a known fact that writing facts down in a History class helps students memorize dates and places of important people and events. It is also a known fact amongst scholars in the field of education, that what people write (particularly with a pen or pencil) reinforces anything that they are learning. Raimes states, writing reinforces the grammatical structures, idioms and vocabulary that we have been teaching our students, (p. l). She also states that when our students write, they become necessarily involved in new language because they are highly motivated to find a specific word that holds the perfect meaning. She also notes that there is a very close relationship between the thinking process and the writing process. Professor Ann Raimes says a good deal of writing that goes on in ESL lessons is sentence writing, (. 4). She says that her book is predominately about concentrating on techniques to get students to go beyond sentence exercises so that they can write to: l) communicate with a reader; 2) express ideas without the pressure of face to face communication; 3) to explore a subject; 4) to record experience; and 5) to become familiar with the conventions of written language discourse, (Ann Raimes, Techniques in Teaching Writing. Oxford American English, l983). Learning how to write is simply NOT a natural extension of learning how to speak. Many adult native speakers of a language find writing a difficult task!, (p. 4).

Raimes cites some pedagogical implications of some of the differences she notices between spoken and written communication. For one, she states unequivocally, there is no one answer to the question of how to teach writing in ESL classes, (p. 5). She then goes on to elucidate in her article the primary theoretical approaches to the teaching of writing in the ESL classroom. She outlines the controlled approach which emphasizes accuracy rather than fluency; the free-writing method which emphasizes fluency rather than accuracy; the Grammar-Syntax-Writing Approach which relies on the belief that writing cannot be seen as composed of separate skills which are learned one by one, but rather on a design, a process. The designing of lesson plans within this process is imperative and sequential. For example, the students may be asked to write instructions for cooking a pie that need to be done in a specific sequential order. Within her book, Raimes illustrates many lesson plans that represent each of these approaches. Despite the fact that her textbook was not written recently, it still stands as one of the most clearly written and important books around for the teaching of writing in the ESL classroom. I used many of her ideas when designing the lesson plans for English 559.

Another excellent textbook for guidance in the teaching of writing in the ESL classroom is Ronald W. White s New Ways in Teaching Writing. Within the introduction, White stipulates that the ability to speak a foreign language has become a more highly-rated skill than being able to write in that same language. Even so, writing in a foreign language such as English still remains an important requirement for many learners especially given the role of English in International communication and commerce, (White, Ronald W. New Ways in Teaching Writing. Pub. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. copywrite, l995).

Writing is perceived by these authors as a skill which is imperative in the evolving world of international commerce and information trading. Writing can be viewed as involving a number of thinking processes which are drawn upon in varied and complex ways as an individual composes, transcribes, evaluates and revises. Ferris and Hedgcock in Chapter Six of their Teaching ESL Composition outline the benefits of utilizing the techniques of peer revision and peer review in ESL writing instruction classes. They note that the affective filter of the students can be lowered by this technique because it allows the anxious student to clean up his/her mistakes before turning in a paper for the feared instructor. As well, it can be assumed that the basic level of writing will be somewhat similar, at least more equal, than the writing levels when the student is compared with the teacher. Peer-revision, then, enables students to feel less intimidated. They are being corrected by people who know about as much about the writing process as themselves.

In the book, New Ways in Teaching Writing, edited by Ronald W. White, there is a clarity in the way it is organized. It is divided into four parts which are respectively: Part I The Writing Process; Part II Academic Writing: from paragraph to essay; Part III, Expressive Writing: Creative and Personal; Part IV Personal Business Correspondence: Writing in the New World, (White, p. 3). This book is excellently written, clear and focused. It s premise is that clear instruction and good modeling behavior on the part of the teacher can elicit much success in the area of the teaching of writing to ESL students. All of the familiar types of writing are discussed: narrative, descriptive, discursive, argumentative, and comparative prose. This author highly recommends both the Ferris and Hedgcock book in conjunction with the White and Raimes books. The Ferris and Hedgcock book is not as clear, or do the authors come out for one position or the other.

B. Susser in the article, Process Approaches in ESL/EFL Writing Instruction, l994, says that a wide use of modalities needs to be used in the construction of lesson plans for the ESL and EFL classrooms. James Coady, in his Research on ESL/EFL Vocabulaty Acquisition: Putting It in Context, from Second Language Reading and Vocabulary Learning, surveys the recent research of L2 vocabulary acquisition in the context of reading. The focus of this synthesis paper is on vocabulary acquisition as it relates to improved writing skills, but some of the ideas presented in Coady s chapter are relevant to our discussion. One of the relevant issues discussed in his paper is the issue of how words are stored. A long-standing pedagogical question concerns whether a foreign language should be taught in conjunction with the native language or not, such as through translation and dual language texts. Many researchers have felt that a significant clue to the answer depends upon whether the vocabulary of two different languages is totally separate in the mind or interlinked in some manner, (p. l4). The question has mplications for the writing instruction that goes on in a classroom. The answers to such a question clearly has implications that could impact a student s writing, because clearly it impacts the issue of vocabulary, hich is inextricably tied to that of writing.

Research findings have shown that the words in the L2 are less well organized and less easily accessible than those of L1. This finding would clearly have implications when students are doing written work They may, for example, turn in papers which have phrases or chunks of L1 and L2 language interspersed within their paper. When reviewing this article, I drew some clear implications for the writing classroom even though the article had more to do with reading. The components of teaching in the ESL classroom are all intertwined. This is what comes out of most of the research articles that have been read and synthesized for this paper. In order for one to be a student-centered teacher who is compassionate and serious about creating a true learning environment for one s students, one must employ a number of approaches in the teaching of vocabulary so as to reach each type of learner. It is imperative to understand the differences in the skills of writing, speaking and listening when teaching in the ESL classroom because these skills each require their own separate, carefully designed activities, that when should be built into a context-based thematic unit for presentation.


Coady, James. Second language Reading and Vocabulary Learning. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, (l993), Chapter 1 Research on ESL/EFL Vocabulary Acquisition: Putting It in Context,

Hughes, Rebecca, Mc Carthy, Michael, From Sentence to Discourse: Discourse Grammar and English Language Teaching, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 3. No. 2, Summer, l998.

Raimes, Anne Teaching Techniques in Teaching Writing. Oxford American English, l983.

Raimes, Anne. Out of the Woods: Emerging traditions in the teaching of writing, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 25, 407-430.

Stoller, Fredricka L. and Grabe, William. Second Language Reading and Vocabulary Learning. Implications for L2 Vocabulary Acquisition and Instruction from L1 Vocabulary Research, Norwood, NJ: Ablex, l993.

Susser, B. Process Approaches in ESL/EFL Writing Instruction. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 27, pp. 657-677.

White, Ronald W. Editor, New Ways in Teaching Writing. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., l995).