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VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES -------- NGUYỄN THỊ MINH HIẾU STUDENTS’ BELIEFS ABOUT VOCABULARY LEARNING: A MIXED METHODS STUDY ( Sử dụng phương pháp hỗn hợp nghiên cứu niềm tin của học sinh về việc học từ vựng) M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS Field: Language Teaching Methodology Code: 60140111 HANOI, 2014 VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES -------- NGUYỄN THỊ MINH HIẾU STUDENTS’ BELIEFS ABOUT VOCABULARY LEARNING: A MIXED METHODS STUDY ( Sử dụng phương pháp hỗn hợp nghiên cứu niềm tin của học sinh về việc học từ vựng) M.A. MINOR PROGRAMME THESIS Field: Language Teaching Methodology Code: 60140111 Superisor: Dr. Lê Văn Canh HANOI, 2014 DECLARATION I hereby declare that this thesis is my own work and effort and that has not been submitted anywhere for any award. Where other sources of information have been used, they have been acknowledged. I cede copyright of the thesis in favor of PostGraduate Department- Vietnam National University. Ha noi, 2014 Nguyễn Thi ̣Minh Hiế u i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First of all, I wish to send my sincere thanks to my supervisor, Dr Lê Văn Canh for his expert guidance, helpful suggestions and critical feedback throughout the study. Secondly, I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to all the lectures in the Faculty of Post-graduate Studies of Hanoi University of Languages and International Studies for their useful lessons from which I have benefited a lot for the accomplishment of this study. And I am also indebted to my students from class 11A1, 11A4, 11A7 and my colleagues at Ha Long high school for their participation and assistance without which this study could not have been successful. Last but not least, I would like to express my special thanks to my family, my beloved parents, my younger brother and my dear younger for their love, encouragement, immeasurable support and concrete help for me to complete this research. Many thanks also go to all of you, to anyone I have forgotten to mention here. ii ABSTRACT The construct of learner beliefs is a topic that has gained much attention in education in recent years. Nearly two decades of research has revealed that beliefs about second/foreign language learning are strong influential factors on learning achievements. This study explores the beliefs about vocabulary learning held by the secondary school students specializing in English, their employed vocabulary learning strategies as well as the extent to which their beliefs influenced their use of vocabulary learning strategies. The participants were 95 secondary school students of the Englishspecialization stream in one specialized secondary school in Quang Ninh province. The study used a mixed-methods design with questionnaires and interviews being the instruments of data collection. The questionnaire was administered to identify the students‟ beliefs about vocabulary learning and their employed vocabulary learning strategies. A small number of the questionnaire respondents were chosen for the follow-up interviews. The interview questions were developed on the basis of the initial results of the analysis of the questionnaire responses. The purpose of the interview was two-fold. First, it was to elicit more information that the questionnaire responses failed to provide. Second, it was to cross-check the responses the students gave to the questionnaire. The obtained results revealed that the students in general had positive beliefs about vocabulary learning. They attached great importance to the role of vocabulary and lexical knowledge to their learning English at the school. However, they had conflicting beliefs about how words should be learned. In addition, there is consistence between their reported beliefs about vocabulary learning and their reported vocabulary learning strategies. The findings of the study also indicated that most of the strategies the students reported that they employed were cognitive trategies. Even in the interview, none of them mentioned any metacognitive or motivational strategies. iii LIST OF ABBRIVIATIONS VLB: Vocabulary Learning Beliefs VLS: Vocabulary Learning Strategies EFL: English as a Foreign Language BALLI: Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language US: The United States of America L1: First Language L2: Second Language iv LIST OF TABLES Table 2.1. Beliefs about the importance of vocabulary 20 Table 2.2. Beliefs about vocabulary learning 22 Table 2.3. Students‟ self-report of the vocabulary learning strategies they used 23 Table 2.4. Strategies preferences reported by the students in the interviews 26 v TABLE OF CONTENTS Declaration ……………………………………………………………………………i Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………ii Abstract………………………………………………………………………………..iii List of abbriviations……………………………………………………………………iv List of tables……………………………………………………………………………v Table of contents……………………………………………………………………….vi PART A: INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................... 1 1. Statement of Problem .............................................................................................. 1 2. Aims of the Study...................................................................................................... 2 3. Research Questions ................................................................................................... 2 4. Methods of the Study .............................................................................................. 3 5. Significance of the Study .......................................................................................... 3 PART B: DEVELOPMENT....................................................................................... 4 CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW .................................................................. 4 1.1. Definition of Learner Beliefs ................................................................................ 4 1. 2. Why Study Learner Beliefs ................................................................................... 5 1. 3. Research on Learner Beliefs ................................................................................. 8 1. 4. Beliefs and Learning Successes ............................................................................ 9 1. 5. Vocabulary Learning ........................................................................................... 11 1. 6. What involves in knowing a word ...................................................................... 12 1.7. Vocabulary Strategies .......................................................................................... 14 1.8. Beliefs and Strategy Use ...................................................................................... 15 1.9. Chapter Summary................................................................................................. 16 CHAPTER II: THE STUDY ................................................................................... 17 2. 1. Research Methodology........................................................................................ 17 vi 2.2. The questionnaire ................................................................................................. 18 2.3. Participants ........................................................................................................... 20 2. 4. Findings ............................................................................................................... 20 2.4. 1. Quantitative Data ............................................................................................. 20 2.4.2. Qualitative Data ................................................................................................ 24 2.5. Discussion ............................................................................................................ 28 PART C: CONCLUSION......................................................................................... 30 1. Summary of key findings ........................................................................................ 30 2. Implications for teaching......................................................................................... 30 3. Suggestions for future research ............................................................................... 31 REFENRENCES ......................................................................................................... 33 APPENDICES................................................................................................................I APPENDIX 1 .................................................................................................................I APPENDIX 2 .............................................................................................................. VI vii PART A: INTRODUCTION LEARNERS’ BELIEFS ABOUT VOCABULARY LEARNING 1. Statement of Problem In recent decades, researchers in the field of second language acquisition have shown great interest in learners‟ individual characteristics that can affect the learners‟ success in language learning. The results of studies on second language learners‟ beliefs have revealed that beliefs about second/foreign language learning are strong influential factors on learning achievements, leading to a new wave of attention to beliefs about language learning (Heidari, Izadi, & Ahmadian, 2011). Researchers have found that second language learners come to the language class with some preconceived ideas or beliefs about language and language learning and that these beliefs can indicate what expectations the learners have and what actions in their language learning they will take (Abraham & Vann, 1987; Holec, 1987, Hortwitz, 1985; Wenden, 1987). Therefore, researchers have been investigating the beliefs that second language learners possess and the factors that affect learners‟ beliefs in order to find ways to help learners adjust their beliefs to facilitate their language learning. Vocabulary learning has been identified as their greatest problem in English learning (Si, 2005). Vocabulary learning beliefs, another learner variable that influences vocabulary learning (Moir & Nation, 2002; Gu, 2005), is an underresearched area. Although the importance of learners‟ beliefs is now generally recognized in the field of English language education, few studies have been reported about learners‟ beliefs about vocabulary learning. It is widely perceived that vocabulary learning is important and that vocabulary learning outcomes are not satisfactory for most learners. As beliefs are factors influencing vocabulary learning strategies, it is necessary to investigate learners‟ beliefs about vocabulary learning so as 1 appropriate pedagogical interventions can be decided to help learners to learn vocabulary more effectively and efficiently. In other words, understanding learners‟ varied orientations toward vocabulary learning can provide teachers with information to guide their teaching which is aimed at developing the students‟ vocabulary. As language learning beliefs can be shaped by culture and context (Horwitz, 1988), and language learning strategy choice is influenced by factors such as beliefs, cultural background and types of task (Oxford, 1994), the vocabulary learning beliefs may also differ among learners in different learning cultures and contexts. 2. Aims of the Study The study was designed to achieve the two following aims: 1. To explore the beliefs about English language vocabulary learning held by a group of students in a Vietnamese specialized secondary school. 2. To find out the vocabulary learning strategies employed by this group of students. 3. To examine the extent to which their beliefs affect their choice of vocabulary learning strategies 3. Research Questions In order to achieve the above aims, the study was designed to answer the following questions: 1. What are the beliefs about vocabulary learning held by the English-specializing stream students? 2. What vocabulary learning strategies do these students self-report that they use in learning vocabulary? 3. How do their beliefs influence their use of vocabulary learning strategies? 2 4. Methods of the Study In order to provide a more objective and comprehensive picture of learners‟ VLB and VLS in the English as a foreign language (EFL) context, the present study adopted a mixed methods approach. The study was conducted among the students studying in one specialized secondary school in Quang Ninh province. 5. Significance of the Study Many researchers have suggested that knowledge of the students‟ beliefs about language learning should provide teachers with better understandings of their students‟ “expectation of, commitment to, success in, and satisfaction with their language classes” (Horwitz, 1988, p. 283). Thus, findings of this study would help classroom teachers to find more effective ways of helping the students to learn English vocabulary better. 3 PART B: DEVELOPMENT CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW This chapter reviews the literature on learners‟ beliefs about second language learning, particularly learners‟ beliefs about vocabulary. The chapter begins with a definition of learner beliefs, the rationale for researching learner beliefs about second language learning, the research on language learners‟ beliefs, and the relationship between learners‟ beliefs and their success in learning the second language. This is followed by a review of the literature on vocabulary learning. This includes the vocabulary knowledge and vocabulary learning strategies. 1.1. Definition of Learner Beliefs While the significance of researching beliefs has been widely acknowledged, defining what belief is a big challenge because of the complexity of the concept. Pajares (1992) refers to it as a “messy construct”. Horwitz (1985), one of the pioneer researchers of the studies on beliefs about language learning, did not give any definition of beliefs about language learning in her articles. She used the terms such as “preconceptions”, “preconceived ideas”, and “preconceived notions” to refer to „beliefs‟ without giving specific descriptions about the construct. Huang (1997) viewed beliefs about language learning as “preconceptions language learners have about the task of learning the target language” (p. 20). Hosenfeld (1978) viewed learner beliefs as their „mini theories‟ of L2 learning which shape the way they set about the learning task. These theories are made up of beliefs about language and language learning. Clearly „beliefs‟ constitute an individual difference variable notably different from the other individual difference factors such as language aptitude or motivation but, like these variables, beliefs influence both the 4 process and product of learning. Also, like a number of other individual difference variables, they are dynamic and situated. Richardson (1996) defined beliefs as “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” ( p.102), and these beliefs were said to act as strong filters of reality (Arnold, 1999). Despite the variety of terms, learners‟ beliefs can be broadly defined as opinions and ideas that learners have about the task of learning a second/foreign language (Kalaja & Barcelos, 2003). Borg (2001) sums up the common features of beliefs and develops the following definition: A belief is a proposition which may be consciously or unconsciously held, is evaluative in that it is accepted as true by the individual, and is therefore imbued with emotive commitment; further, it serves as a guide to thought and behaviour (Borg, 2001, p. 186). This definition is adopted for this study because the study was aimed at identifying the high school learners‟ vocabulary learning behaviours in learning English as a foreign language and what guides those behaviours. Horwitz (1987) concludes that some beliefs are probably shaped by students‟ previous experiences as language learners, and other beliefs are probably shaped by students‟ cultural background. 1. 2. Why Study Learner Beliefs Learner belief is a central construct which deals with human behaviour and influence learners‟ consciousness, learning attitude, learning strategies (Horwitz, 1985). During the last two decades, second language learning researchers have spent a lot of effort on the cognitive aspects of language learning. Research indicates that 5 individual students differ considerably in their use of learning strategies (e.g. Altan, 2003; O‟Malley Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1992,1993). An important question is what causes students to approach a specific language task differently. What accounts for the individual differences observed even among learners with similar language proficiency? A reasonable answer may be found in learner perception. Since we are what we believe in, in recent years, researchers have increasingly focused on students‟ beliefs about the nature of language learning and the strategies they use. The literature on learner beliefs has been identified beliefs as an important individual difference variable in second language (L2) learning (Kalaja & Barcelos, 2003). The importance of learner beliefs lies in the fact that they underlie learner behavior to a large extent (Horwitz, 1988). Grotjahn (1991) argues that learner beliefs are “highly individual, relatively stable, and relatively enduring” (p. 189) and that studying learner beliefs might help explain and predict behaviors that learners demonstrate when learning an L2. In addition, research indicates that L2 learner beliefs correlate with strategy use, motivation, proficiency (Mori, 1999; Yang, 1999), learner anxiety, and autonomous learning (Kalaja & Barcelos, 2003). Furthermore, learner beliefs may influence teachers‟ classroom activities (Borg, 2003; Burgess & Etherington, 2002), and unrealistic beliefs or misconceptions about language learning can impede the learning process (Sawir, 2002). In cognitive psychology, learner beliefs about the nature of knowledge and learning, or epistemological beliefs, have been investigated with the idea that they are part of the underlying mechanisms of metacognition (Flavell, 1987; Ryan, 1984), form the building blocks of epistemology (Goldman, 1986), and are a driving force in intellectual performance. Psychologists have begun to acknowledge the pervasive influence of personal and social epistemologies on academic learning, thinking, 6 reasoning, and problem solving (Schommer, 1993), persistence (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), and interpretation of information (Ryan, 1984; Schommer, 1990). From this perspective, beliefs about language learning are viewed as a component of metacognitive knowledge (Flavell, 1987), which include all that individuals understand about themselves as learners and thinkers, including their goals and needs. Flavell (1979, 1981) emphasizes the study of meta-cognitive knowledge in second language learning and focuses on the person. He calls this "person knowledge." Person knowledge is knowledge learners have acquired about how cognitive and affective factors such as learner aptitude, personality, and motivation may influence learning. In addition, it includes specific knowledge about how the above factors apply in their experience. For example, is it the learners' belief that they do, or do not, have an aptitude for learning another language or, that their particular type of personality will inhibit or facilitate language learning (Wenden, 2001). In the classroom context, the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and metacognitive knowledge that students bring with them to the learning situation have been recognized as a significant contributory factor in the learning process and ultimate success (Breen, 2001). For example, second or foreign language students may hold strong beliefs about the nature of the language under study, its difficulty, the process of its acquisition, the success of certain learning strategies, the existence of aptitude, their own expectations about achievement and teaching methodologies. Identification of these beliefs and reflection on their potential impact on language learning and teaching in general, as well as in more specific areas such as the learners' expectations and strategies used, can inform future syllabus design and teacher practice in the course. Pedagogy has the capacity to provide the opportunities and conditions within which these learner contributions are found to have a positive effect upon learning and may be more fully engaged (Breen, 2001; Arnold, 1999). 7 1. 3. Research on Learner Beliefs Research on the beliefs about language learning since Horwitz‟s pioneering study in 1985 has shown that some of these beliefs held by learners have damaging effects on their learning. However, there is still a great shortage of research that investigates the beliefs of learners and especially on those who are foreign-language major students. Recent research on the beliefs of second and foreign language learners‟ beliefs has examined different learning settings in different cultures( e.g. Wenden,1986; Horwitz 1985, 1987, 1988). These research studies have collected and analyzed data on learners‟ beliefs in different ways and they were mainly done with those learning foreign languages. However, very few empirical studies have researched Vietnamese high school learners‟ beliefs about vocabulary and vocabulary learning. In an early attempt to identify the types of beliefs held by language learners, Horwitz (1987) administered the BALLI to groups of learners. Five general areas of beliefs emerged from the analysis of the responses relating to (1) the difficulty of language learning, (2) aptitude for language learning, (3) the nature of language learning, (4) learning and communication strategies, and (5) motivation and expectations. Wenden (1986, 1987) grouped the beliefs she identified in 25 adults enrolled in a part-time advanced-level class at an American university into three general categories: (1) use of the language (for example, the importance of „learning in a natural way‟), (2) beliefs relating to learning about the language (for example, the importance of learning grammar and vocabulary), and (3) the importance of personal factors (i.e. beliefs about the feelings that facilitate or inhibit learning, self-concept, and aptitude for learning). Both of these early studies, then, identified a very similar set of learner beliefs. For example, the learners in both Horwitz‟s and Wenden‟s studies demonstrated beliefs about the need to study grammar. This dominant belief was also reported by Schulz (2001), who found that both Colombian learners of English in 8 Colombia and American learners of foreign languages in the US placed great store on explicit grammar study and error correction. The previous studies investigating learners‟ beliefs about language learning strategies have made it clear that belief is an important factor affecting the choice of strategy use, and that beliefs about language learning strategies may vary from one cultural group to another. According to Stevick (1980, p. 4), “success depends less on materials, techniques, and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between the people in the classroom.” This implies that what goes on inside learners, which includes learners‟ beliefs, seems to have a strong impact on learners‟ learning process. 1. 4. Beliefs and Learning Successes A number of studies have been conducted in the past few decades to examine the relationships between learners‟ beliefs about language learning and factors that can affect language learning success such as motivation, autonomy, language learning strategies, and anxiety. Also some beliefs about language learning have been found to correlate with English proficiency. These findings suggest that second language teachers, with an understanding of learners‟ beliefs about language learning, can help enhance learners‟ success in language learning in two ways: by promoting their students‟ beliefs that are facilitative to language learning and by refining those that are debilitative. Abraham and Vann (1987) found some evidence that beliefs might affect learning outcomes in a case study of two learners, Gerardo and Pedro. Both learners believed that it was important to create situations for using English outside the classroom, to practise as much as possible, and to have errors corrected. Both also believed it important to participate actively in class. Gerardo, however, believed that 9 paying conscious attention to grammar was important, while Pedro did not and expressed a strong dislike of meta-language. Also, Gerardo thought that it was important to persevere in communicating or understanding an idea, while Pedro considered topic abandonment the best strategy in some cases. Abraham and Vann characterized Gerardo‟s philosophy of language learning as „broad‟ and Pedro‟s as „narrow‟. They suggested that this might have contributed to Gerardo‟s better TOEFL score (523 versus 473) at the end of a course of instruction. Pedro, however, did better on a test of spoken English, which might suggest that different views about language learning result in different kinds of success. Mori (1999) investigated the beliefs of 187 university students enrolled in Japanese at various proficiency levels in the US. She examined the relationship between epistemological beliefs (i.e. beliefs about learning in general) and beliefs about language learning and also the relationship between beliefs and L2 achievement. She found that strong beliefs in innate ability (i.e. the ability to learn is inherited and cannot be improved by effort) and in avoidance of ambiguity (i.e. the need for single, clear-cut answers) were associated with lower achievement. Learners who believed that L2 learning was easy manifested higher levels of achievement. In addition, this study showed that there were belief differences between novices and advanced learners. Advanced learners were less likely to believe in simple, unambiguous knowledge or the existence of absolute, single answers than novice learners. This study also revealed that epistemological beliefs and beliefs about language learning were for the most part unrelated. In other words, learner beliefs about language learning seemed to be task and domain specific. Peacock (1999) reported on a study that investigated the beliefs about language learning of 202 EFL students and 45 EFL teachers in the Department of English at the City University of Hong Kong. The primary aim of the study was to determine if the 10 differences between student and teacher beliefs about language learning affect proficiency. Secondary aims were to develop hypotheses about the origins of Chinese learner beliefs about language learning, and to check the correlation between learner self-rated proficiency and tested proficiency. Data were collected using a 34-item selfreport questionnaire (Horwitz's BALLI – Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory), a comprehensive proficiency test, an interview, and a self-rated proficiency sheet. Results indicated that four of the mismatched learner beliefs negatively affected EFL proficiency: additionally, learner answers on seven other BALLI items were considered to have implications for the learning and teaching of EFL. It was concluded that a number of different learner beliefs were detrimental to language learning, and also that they resulted in many dissatisfied and frustrated students who could not understand the rationale behind the tasks they carried out in class. Studies on learners‟ beliefs focusing on specific language components have mostly dealt with grammar. The extent to which grammar instruction should be included in second language teaching and how it should be taught is a matter of continued debate among scholars, researchers and classroom teachers. Recently, there have been studies which are aimed at examining learners‟ beliefs about the role of grammar instruction. However, studies on students‟ beliefs about vocabulary learning are quite rare. Since the aim of the study is to address the English L2 vocabulary learning problems, this study will focus on learner‟s beliefs about learning vocabulary only. 1. 5. Vocabulary Learning Since the mid 1980s vocabulary learning has been drawing growing attention from second language researchers, and vocabulary is now a current focus of second language pedagogy and research. Vocabulary has been increasingly recognized as 11
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