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Review of  Research in Chinese as a Second Language

Reviewer: Han Luo
Book Title: Research in Chinese as a Second Language
Book Author: Istvan Kecskes
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Issue Number: 24.4620

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As China plays an increasingly important role in the world economy and international politics, worldwide interest in learning Chinese has emerged. For example, from 1998 to 2002, enrollments in Chinese classes in American higher-education institutes increased 20%, from 28,456 to 34,153 students (Welles, 2004). In 2006, the number enrolled in Chinese classes rose to 51,582, a 51% increase compared to 2002. Despite this, the field of teaching Chinese as a foreign/second language (CFL/CSL) has not developed a strong research background. ''Research In Chinese as a Second Language'' edited by Istvan Kecskes collects eleven papers by scholars and researchers in Chinese linguistics and Chinese language education from around the world in an effort to promote a strong research base for Chinese language education. This book is intended for CFL/CSL teachers, researchers and other professionals in the field.

The eleven papers are divided into three sections: research base for practice, integrating culture and language, and acquisition of language structures.

Section 1 includes three papers. In the first, ''Developing Chinese oral skills -- A research base for practice'', Jane Orton examines and synthesizes research findings and existing knowledge in four major fields, the nature of spoken language, the nature of spoken Chinese, the nature of the learning task, and pedagogical principles and practices to shed light on the acquisition of Chinese oral skills, one of the most challenging tasks for CFL/CSL learners. Her literature review identifies the importance of teaching the rhythm of Chinese as a foundation for oral proficiency, recognizes how overlooked the learning task and processes have been in current practice and resources, and advises the development of learners' metacognitive awareness of the learning process through a wide variety of exercises. Ping Yang's ''Asymmetrical style of communication in Mandarin Chinese talk-in-interaction: Pedagogical implications for TCSOL professionals'' discusses status, power distance, verbal and non-verbal dominance, and asymmetrical styles of communication between CSL/CFL teachers and students drawing on a detailed analysis of audio and video data, providing pedagogical implications for CSL/CFL professionals. According to Yang, it is important for CSL/CFL teachers to understand different communication styles of varying cultural groups where students come from, to recognize the importance of promoting cultural diversity and equity, and to integrate this understanding into classroom learning activities and extra-curricular activities. The third paper, ''Learning tones Cooperatively in the CSL Classroom: A Proposal'' by Wang Chen, deals with the challenge of learning tones. This paper proposes an innovative method of tone learning, which views the learning of tones as a cognitive process occurring throughout all stages of Chinese language acquisition. In this framework, the teacher is a facilitator rather than a modeler or monitor and students learn cooperatively by providing each other learning tips and carrying out mini teaching tasks. Compared to traditional teacher-led tone training, this method provides more opportunities for meaningful language production among students.

The four articles in the second section focus on the element of culture in Chinese language classrooms. Ned Danison's ''Integrating culture and language in the CFL classroom: A view from the bottom up'' investigates CFL learners' perceptions of Chinese culture gained from learning the language texts. In-depth interviews with the students and the teacher of one class reveal students' impressions of culture when culture is not explicitly included as a component in the CFL classroom, the role of the target language in introducing the target culture, and the role of the native-speaker Chinese teacher. The researcher proposes that the teacher should not only have a thorough understanding of her native culture, but also needs to be well informed about differences between her native culture and the students' culture(s).

''Analysis of pragmatic functions of Chinese cultural markers'' by Xiaolu Wang and Tingting Ma explores the pragmatic complexity of Chinese cultural markers, defined as elements which can trigger Chinese culture and display distinctive ways of communication among Chinese. The theoretical framework is New Intention and New Common Ground Theory. In a close corpus analysis the researchers find that Chinese cultural markers can promote mutual reciprocity between interlocutors, soften tones, hide interlocutors' true feelings, alleviate negative expressions, and smooth the progress of discourse.

''Gestures as tone markers in multilingual communication'' by Chun-Mei Chen examines the effect of gestures as tone markers on the tonal achievements of CFL learners in classroom-based face-to-face communication. The researcher videotaped 180 hours of two elementary-level CFL classes which were divided into a control group and an experimental group. In the control group, tones were taught in the traditional five-scaled system; in the experimental group, hand gestures were used as tone markers in drills and classroom interaction. The results showed that the learners in the experimental group had significantly better communication achievements. However, it is difficult to understand why this paper appears in the section on integrating language and culture as this paper does not really focus on culture.

The last paper in the section, ''The collaborative construction of cultural knowledge in a Chinese movie class'', examines the observational data to reveal how target culture contexts were constructed in a second-year Chinese movie class. From the analysis, Ying Liu presents a model of cultural knowledge construction in CFL classes and shows that Chinese movie classes provide a good opportunity for CFL students to learn about Chinese culture.

Section 3 collects four papers on the acquisition of language structures. Wen Xiong's ''The acquisition of Chinese modal auxiliary Neng Verb Group (NVG): A case study of an English L2 learner of Chinese'' is a longitudinal case study of the acquisition path of the Neng Verb Group by an English L2 learner of Chinese. Xiong interviewed the learner over 35 school weeks. A close examination of the learner's L2 speech production shows that the learner's developmental use of the NVG words went through two broad phases: the interlocutor dependent uses (IDU) phase and the interlocutor independent uses (IIU) phase. The IDU reflects constraints imposed or support provided the interlocutor, whereas the IIU reflects the learner's own control of the interlanguage. This study also reveals that the acquisition of the NVG words could not have been completed in one step and that the learner initially used the NVG words as separate items rather than a connected group. However, current teaching practice tends to introduce these words as a group, which may not be the most effective way to handle the NVG words.

''Acquisition of Chinese relative clauses at the initial stage'' by Yi Xu explores the initial acquisition of Chinese relative clauses by CFL learners based on a listening comprehension task. According to Xu, CFL learners tend to have a slight preference for the subject relativization structure of Chinese relative clauses and they rely on semantic knowledge to process relative clauses. Pedagogically, it is important to provide explicit grammar explanation of Chinese relative clauses to students.

Zi-Yu Lin's article ''Conceptual similarities in languages -- Evidence from English be going to and its Chinese counterparts'' uses the principles of grammaticalization to examine the grammatical and semantic behavior of ''be going to'' and its Chinese counterparts within Cognitive Linguistics. In the view of cognitive linguists, grammatical morphemes develop from lexical items via a diachronic process of semantic extension motivated by a wide range of cognitive mechanisms such as metaphor and metonymy. Xu explains the grammaticalization of ''be going to'' and its Chinese counterparts by applying the concepts and mechanisms of metonymy, embodiment, practicality, decategorization, frequency, relevance and iconicity, showing that English and Chinese share many conceptual similarities in the development of future and modality grams.

The last paper, ''SLA of Mandarin nominal syntax: Emergence order in the early stages'' by Helen Charters, demonstrates how Emergent Functional Grammar, an acquisition theory based on universal grammar, could effectively account for observed emergence order of nominal structures in the spontaneous speech of second language learners of Mandarin. The three major phases of Emergent Functional Grammar are the pre-syntactic phase, the local-syntax phase, and the long-distance syntax phase and each phase involve a number of relevant processes, which could readily explain the emergence order of nominal structures of Mandarin resulted from empirical findings from three independent longitudinal studies within the framework of Processability Theory.

This book is among the first attempts to bring scholars and researchers in Chinese language education together to create a platform and set a research base for teaching and learning Chinese as a second/foreign language. The topics discussed are diverse and interesting. The studies cover linguistics, second language acquisition, language pedagogy, and culture. This book is a much-needed and long-awaited collection for language teachers, researchers, and other professionals in field of Chinese as a second/ foreign language. However, a few areas leave something to be desired.

Some papers are somewhat difficult to understand, likely due to the fact that the writers are not native speakers of English. Other papers are very well written in terms of language quality, but contain a lot of linguistic jargon. While specialized terminology is unavoidable for some discussions, simple language would be helpful in a book intended to promote language teaching.

The four papers on the acquisition of language structures in Section 3 set good examples of research methodology, probably because of the relative maturity of linguistics and SLA. For example, Wen Xiong's case study of an English L2 learner of Chinese not only has useful implications for language teaching, but also contributes to SLA methodology by introducing and exemplifying how to analyze learner speech production. In contrast, the papers on practice in the classroom and integration of language and culture have great room for improvement in terms of research methodology. For instance, Xiaolu Wang and Tingting Ma give a nice analysis of pragmatic functions of Chinese cultural markers, but do not provide any information about their research design and method.

Finally, as the purpose of this book is to promote Chinese language teaching, practical implications are particularly relevant, though the pedagogical implications of some studies may not benefit language teachers and students due to their over reliance on linguistic jargons. For example, in the article on the grammatical and semantic behavior of ''be going to'' and its Chinese counterparts, Zi-Yu Lin proposes that language teachers should tell their students that ''while English future grams evolved from both volitional verbs and movement verbs, Chinese future grams mostly developed from volitional verbs''. On the other hand, another study (i.e. Helen Charter's paper on SLA of Mandarin Nominal Syntax), a paper of theoretical significance, does not seem to have any clear pedagogical implications.

The field of teaching Chinese as a second/foreign language is still developing, full of challenges and opportunities. High-quality studies directly related to classroom teaching are scarce and much needed. For example, we particularly need studies on material development, curriculum design, and assessment to guide CFL/CSL teaching. Although there has been a rapid increase of interest in learning the Chinese language, CFL/CSL learners seem to have difficulty sustaining their efforts in learning Chinese (Luo, 2013). Thus, research is needed on affective factors such as motivation, anxiety, and attitudes associated with Chinese language learning. Another trend in Chinese language education lies in the boom of Chinese heritage learners, so that Chinese heritage language education deserves attention (He & Xiao, 2008).

He, A. & Y. Xiao. (2008). Chinese as a heritage language: Fostering rooted world citizenry. Honolulu: University of Hawaii National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Luo, H. (2013). Chinese Language Learning Anxiety and its Associated Factors. Journal of Chinese Language Teachers Association, 48 (2), 109-133.

Welles, E.B. (2004). Foreign language enrollments in United States institutions of higher education, fall 2002. ADFL Bulletin, 35, 7-26.
Dr. Han Luo joined Northwestern University as a Chinese lecturer in the Fall of 2011. She received a PhD in Foreign Language Education with a specialization in the teaching of Chinese from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011, and a PhD in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2007. Before coming to the U.S., she taught English and linguistics at the Graduate School of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing for 6 years. Her research interests include second language acquisition, teaching Chinese as a foreign language, foreign language learning anxiety, Chinese linguistics, cognitive linguistics, and heritage language education.