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Jing Peng and Lili Zhang published their work entitled ‘An eye on target language use in elementary English classrooms in China’ in an edited book by M. Nikolov titled ‘Early Learning of Modern Foreign Languages: Processes and Outcomes’ which was published in the year 2009.
There is a general agreement among researchers in second language learning that target language input plays a critical role in acquiring second and foreign language (Peng and Zhang, 2009). This essay will offer a critique of the research that was conducted and published by the two authors in which it can be argued that they made positive contribution to the teachers’ use of TL in elementary schools in China.
There is general agreement among researchers in second language acquisition which asserts that target language (TL) is critical in learning of the second and foreign language. Since learning often happens in a classroom environment, the use of TL by teachers is crucial as it becomes resourceful for students in obtaining knowledge in TL (Ellis, 1997; Ellis, 1984).
The study by Jing Peng and Lili Zhang aimed to establish how the Chinese teachers made use of TL in elementary school English classes.
The sample population for the study included fifty-four English teachers and two hundred and three students in elementary schools in China. Of the fifty-four teachers, four were subjected to observation whereas the rest were given questionnaires which they were required to fill (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The study aimed at finding out the manner in which teachers used TL in English classes. More emphasis was laid on the quantity and suitability of target language usage.
It was hoped that the information gathered would be of great help in generating recommendations for English teachers to enhance their understanding of the significance of using TL while teaching. The data collected was also aimed at facilitating effectiveness among teachers in using TL in elementary schools while conducting foreign language classes (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
A naturalistic model was used, and the results were subjected to statistical analysis. The investigation was conducted for a period of three months. The investigation made use of various methods that included interviews, questionnaires and observation methods in gathering data.
In analyzing the results of the study, it was found out that significant variations existed in respect to the amount of TL used by the Chinese teachers. The results revealed that, in most instances, the teachers used less than 60% of their talk time on TL (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
It has to be noted that, the time used by teachers on TL was not commendable for the students who were learning a foreign language. In addition, from a pragmatic point of view, the used of TL by teachers was not sufficiently differentiated, and in most instances, was found not to be appropriate.
From the findings of the research work, it was concluded that the usage of TL in foreign language classes, as observed in the study of elementary schools in China, was not reasonable (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The researchers aimed to positively contribute to effective use of target language among teachers in elementary schools in China. This study relied on various methods of data collection including observation, interviews and questionnaires. However, it can be noted that the use of observation as a tool for data collection was not conducted in an appropriate way.
This is because the four teachers who were observed were all from the main city areas of Shapingba District in Chonqing. This sample was not representative as the typical elementary schools were avoided (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The reason given for selecting the four elementary school teachers in city areas is that these schools put a lot of emphasis on English learning compared to other schools (Peng and Zhang, 2009). It is always recommended that the study population must be representative of the whole population.
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In this regard, there was bias in selecting the four teachers and their students to be subjected to the observation methods. Nonetheless, the other fifty teachers who were issued with questionnaires were sampled randomly which is plausible in any research undertaking (Kumar, 2005).
There is another weakness that can be noted in this study. This is particularly in respect to the observational method used in studying the four teachers and students. In this regard, the views by the students from the questionnaire seem to be contradicting what had been observed in class.
It was found out that over 80% of the students were of the view that the TL usage by the teachers was relatively scarce, contrary to what had been recorded from observation, especially in respect to teacher A and B (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The other weakness was noted in the manner in which the study was undertaken where focus was put on the relationship between the teacher and students in respect to TL usage. The study failed to explore the relationship amongst students in respect to the same (Ellis, 1997). It has been noted that social aspects cannot be separated from the learning process (Kirshner and Whitson, 1997).
Socio-cultural contexts in the learning process cannot be ignored as emphasized by Hall (1993) who noted that, “the ability to participate as a competent member in the practices of a group is learned through repeated engagement in and experience with these activities with more competent members of a group” (p 148).
Besides the weaknesses that have been noted, generally, it can be pointed out that the study was insightful in shading some light on the TL use by teachers. The methodology used can be hailed to have been effective as it was diverse considering that it included observation, interviews and questionnaires. This enabled the researchers to capture all the necessary information for the study (Kumar, 2005).
For instance; from the observation, it was noted that the use of TL among teachers from the student perspective was in contrast with what was observed in class. This was after the students responded to the questionnaire in which over 60% indicated that TL use in class was quite at a low scale (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The research is also presented in an insightful language that can easily be understood by scholars who are interested in TL issues, and this adds to the strengths of the study. The findings of the study were also useful in the sense that they provided useful tips which can be exploited to improve the learning of foreign language in elementary schools (Ellis, 1984).
It was established that there was need to raise the teachers’ effectiveness in the use of target language. Also, the study recommends course coordinators to facilitate more workshops and teacher training courses which emphasize on strategies aimed at enhancing TL use by teachers. This will be aimed at helping teachers in facilitating the learning of students through the emphasis on the varied use of English (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
The study points out some of the weaknesses identified in the system which can be improved to enhance learning of the English language in elementary schools.
This includes the insufficient use of TL in respect to teaching of foreign language in elementary schools, and insufficient variations in teachers’ TL use which was also unsuitable (Peng and Zhang, 2009). Having pointed out these issues, the study brings forth the necessity required to correct the mess so as to improve on how foreign languages can be learnt effectively.
Therefore, it was necessary for the study to be conducted as it enabled the Chinese education system know about the performance of their system, which they might have been thinking to be on the right track.
For instance, in the observation of the classroom presentations, it was discovered that some teachers allocated substantial time communicating in English to the students. However, in most occasions, more talk time was dedicated on repetition and short commends which added little value to the learning process (Peng and Zhang, 2009).
Conclusion and Recommendations
It can be observed that the contributions made by the research were insightful and appropriate in boosting the use of TL in elementary schools offering foreign language in China. This is because the study highlighted the TL use among the elementary school teachers with the aim of making suggestions and recommendation on how it could be improved.
From the revelation of the study, it can be recommended that more time should be dedicated on effective TL use in class so as to realize good results. Also, more use of TL in elementary schools should be fostered to reach satisfactory levels. There is need to raise the teachers’ awareness in respect to TL use in class.
There is no doubt that the main objective of the study was achieved as it gives a clear picture of the TL use among teachers in English classes. This can be replicated to other classes teaching foreign languages. The study also gives suggestions on how the efficiency of TL usage in class can be enhanced.
Ellis, E, 1984, Classroom Second language Development: A study of Classroom Interaction and language Acquisition. Oxford [Oxfordshire]; New York: Pergamon Press.
Ellis, R, 1997, Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hall, J K, 1993, The role of oral practices in the accomplishment of our everyday lives: The socio-cultural dimension of interaction with implications for the learning of another language. Applied Linguistics, 14(2): 145–165.
Kirshner, D and Whitson, A, 1997, Situated cognition: social, semiotic, and psychological perspectives. New York: Routledge.
Kumar, R, 2005, Research methodology: a step-by-step guide for beginners. London: Sage.
Peng, J and Zhang, L, 2009, ‘An eye on target language use in elementary English classrooms in China’, in M. Nikolov (ed.), Early Learning of Modern Foreign Languages: Processes and Outcomes, Multilingual Matters, Bristol, pp. 212-228.