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Vocabulary Learning On Low Proficiency Learners English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4586 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In many research on second language classroom, the role and influences of mother tongue or first language (L1) on second language (L2) learning has always been a hotly debated issue. There have always been contradicting views about whether or not to use L1 of the students in the second language classroom. During the past 30 years, in the late seventies to early eighties, the idea of using mother tongue in language classroom was not a favored one. Majority of the language classroom used solely L2 while the use of L1 is avoided totally (Liu, 2008). In fact, many supported the use of L2 only so as to provide full exposure to that language. The use of L1 in the language classroom is deemed as depriving the learners input in L2 (Ellis, 1984).

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Despite the many arguments from both proponents and opponents of the use of L1 in the L2 language classroom, linguistic researchers failed to provide a conclusion for this issue and could not reach a common ground on whether the use of L1 is considered as a facilitator or a barrier in the acquisition of second language. According to Nation (2003), L2 should be fully utilized as much as possible in a foreign language classroom (in this context, English). Though L2 should be the core language used in classroom management and learning, the use of L1 should not be abandoned as it has a minute but significant role in language learning (Nation, 2003).

Apart from Nation (2003), there are many linguists and researchers in the field of second language acquisition who agreed that L1 should be utilized in the language classroom in particular with students who are not highly proficient in the target language (Swain & Lapkin, 2000; Tang, 2002; Mattioli 2004). This suggests that L1 plays an important role in the language classroom especially for the low proficiency learners. However, not many empirical studies have been conducted to examine the effectiveness of using L1 as a tool for low proficiency learners in L2 classroom (Bouangeune, 2009). Therefore, this paper seeks to find evidence to support the theory that L1 can facilitate the learning of L2 in the classroom learning. Classroom learning for languages encompasses four language skills, for example, reading comprehension, writing, and vocabulary learning. As a head start, this paper will examine the use of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning.

1.2 Research Objectives

Liu (2008) did a rather straightforward and comprehensive research on the effects of L1 use on L2 vocabulary learning. In his study, he managed to prove that bilingual vocabulary teaching method is actually suitable for Chinese EFL learners (Liu, 2008). Inspired by his research, this study aims to address the problem of low proficiency learners in Malaysian secondary government school.

This study will replicate the research done by Liu (2008) to investigate the role of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning. Also, this study intended to identify whether L1 is a facilitator or a barrier to the L2 vocabulary learning in Malaysian context and how L1 facilitates the language learning. The main objective of this study is to examine the effects of L1 use in L2 vocabulary learning on low proficiency L2 learners.

1.3 Research Questions

Based on the objective, this study seeks to measure how L1 facilitates the low proficiency L2 learners to understand the meanings of new words. This study aims to answer the following questions:

What are the effects of using L1 in L2 vocabulary learning classroom?

To what extend does the use of L1 increase the performances of L2 vocabulary learning.

From here, we propose the following hypotheses:

There are significant differences between the performances of students with different language approach in the vocabulary learning.

The bilingual approach (incorporating L1 in L2 classroom learning) is suitable to low proficiency L2 learners.

1.4 Purpose of the Study

This study sets to focus on L2 vocabulary learning due to the reason that acquisition of vocabulary has a fundamental role in learning a second language (Sökmen, 1997). In other words, vocabulary learning is inter-related to other language skills. A number of studies claimed that L2 learners need to have extensive knowledge of vocabulary as it is useful in the long term run (Nation, 2001). Since the acquisition of vocabulary is so important in learning a second language, effective ways of teaching and learning vocabulary should be emphasized.

Research has confirmed that proper application of L1 can effectively assist the memorization of new words during L2 vocabulary learning process. Liu (2008) used the fact that L1 is present in L2 learners’ mind, therefore, whether the teacher uses L1 or not, the L2 knowledge that is being formed in their mind is linked in all sorts of ways with their L1 knowledge. This observation is supported from the sociocultural theory perspective that L1 meanings continue to have a persistent effect in the L2 learning (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). Therefore, it is hope that through this study, we are able to draw some insights concerning the role of L1 and how L1 provides a familiar and effective way for acquiring and understanding the meaning of new words in L2 vocabulary learning.

1.5 The Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework for this study is based on three prominent second language acquisition theory, namely the Krashen’s Monitor Model (1985), Swain’s Output Hypothesis (1985) and Comprehensible Output (1995) and Long’s Interaction Hypothesis (1981, 1996). It has been widely acknowledged that the three constructs of these theories, the input, interaction and output are closely related elements in L2 learning (Zhang, 2009). The input is vital for language acquisition. However, input alone is not sufficient. In addition, interaction comes into play as an equally important role in the process of learning. As for output, it is the final result or the goal in learning L2.

According to Krashen , the input and output of L2 learning and production is reflected by the model in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Krashen’s combined model of acquisition and production

Learners need to receive comprehensible input the L2 acquisition. Before the input is being processed into the Language Acquisition Device (LAD), it may or may not be filtered as the Affective Filter Hypothesis explains. With comprehensible input and low affective filter, learners will be able to acquire the L2 knowledge and produce output. However, the notion of output is not strongly stressed in this model, therefore a model of second language acquisition is also adopted. The model is reflected in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: A model of second language acquisition and use (based on VanPatten, 1995)

Based on the above Krashen’s combined model of acquisition and production (Figure 1) and a model of Van Patten’s second language acquisition (Figure 2), the framework below (Figure 3) is conceptualized to represent the relationship between Krashen’s comprehensible Input and Affective Filter Hypothesis, Long’s Interaction Hypothesis and Swain’s Output Hypothesis in second language acquisition process in the context of using L1 in L2 teaching of vocabulary.

Figure 3: Conceptualized framework based on combination of input, interaction and output

1.6 Significance of study

Since there has been few studies done by the language teachers and professionals in identifying whether the use of L1 in the learning of L2 vocabulary on low proficiency students, this study will serve as a groundwork to determine the effectiveness and to gain insight of whether there is any differences, of how well the low proficiency students response and improve by using L1 in vocabulary learning. This paper hopes that the result from this study would add to the betterment of interest and motivation among the students and improve their proficiency in second language vocabulary learning.

1.7 Limitation of the Study

This study examines only the low proficiency students who are studying in form 5, who are selected because they have been receiving below ‘C’ grade for their English result. Due to insufficient representations of students of other level, generalization is applicable only to the form five students of the particular school. There is also the matter of class control. Since the students were from low achievement class, they are also the possibilities that they had discussed the answers among themselves. The research also suffers from time constraints. The purpose of this quantitative study is to determine the usage of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning on low proficiency students. Further studies may carry out in different samples for identification of different strategies and method use.


2.1 History of language learning on L1 use in L2 teaching

Throughout the history of second language acquisition both in the context of learning and especially teaching, the role of L1 has long been the most long-standing controversies in the history of language pedagogy and this, according to Stern (as cited in Anh,2010) . This was further supported by Hitotuzi (2006) who stated that first and foremost, to further understand the important and significance of the relationship of L1 and L2 in second language acquisition, one should start as early as one could in the periodic the role of the learner’s first language in the process of foreign/ second language learning and acquisition. The issues of whether or not to use the L1 in the L2 teaching have left a debate among teachers with some feeling that under certain limitations, the L1 could be used as a tool while the other teachers feel that L1 should not be involved in the teaching of L2 (Stapa & Majid,2009). According to Anh (2010), the attention given to this matter has been increasing and has garner a lot of interest in research and studies carried out to further develop the methods and issues concerning to the qualities of using L1 as a resource in the language classroom and also among the language teaching profession.

The history of L1 usage in L2 teaching can traced thought history and it could be considered to have started as early as in the nineteenth century in the western countries, where the Grammar Translation Method dominated the L2 classroom (Anh, 2010). Howatt (as cited in Hitotuzi, 2006) also stated that the Grammar Translation Method enjoyed a widespread acceptance excessively in the late nineteenth-century until the World War II, this is according to Bowen, Aden and Hilferty (as cited in Hitotuzi, 2006). Here, it can be seen that the usage and issues of L1 usage in L2 language acquisition has long started and practiced throughout history. According to Larsen-Freeman (as cited in Anh, 2010), the Grammar Translation Method derived from “the teaching of the classical languages, Latin and Greek”, where, through this method, L2 was used in grammar illustration, bilingual vocabulary lists and translation exercises and was a fundamental goal in helping learners be able to read literature (Anh, 2010). Since then, as stated by Hitotuzi (2006), many other significance occurrence can be seen in the development of L1 in L2 acquisition such as of Howatt’s Direct Method which focused on the extremisms in the usage of the mother tongue a movement that occur in the twentieth century and was according to him, was shortly preceded by Lambert Sauveur’s Natural Method and followed by the Army’s Method, or the Audiolingual Method (ALM). The matter of L1 usage in L2 teachng has a deep root in Second language and Hitotuzi (2006) further mentioned that “During these centuries of controversy over the role of L1 in the L2 learning context, many ‘untested’ teaching, practice and sinvolving (or excluding!) Learner L1 has been adopted; they rely essentially on popular beliefs.” Anh (2010) also stated with the aim of developing post-communicative methods which regard L1 as a classroom resource, several studies connected to the role of L1 in the teaching of L2 have been conducted.

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2.2 Krashen’s Monitor Model

In the theories of second language acquisition, the Input Hypothesis by Stephen Krashen (1985) is said to be one of the major theories frequently referred to (Zheng, 2008). This hypothesis aims to explain how learners acquire a second language. It claims that language input (vocabulary) is important to acquisition. For the acquisition of L2 vocabulary, comprehensible input is an essential factor. According to the hypothesis, second language acquisition happens when the learners understand input that contains grammatical forms at ‘i+1’ (Zhang, 2009). In simpler terms, if learners are able to understand the explanations and instructions given by teachers, then their current competence ‘i’ will be promoted to ‘i+1’. Learners tend to achieve optimal acquisition when they are able to understand most of the input while being challenged by some new vocabulary (Castro, 2010). It would be a waste of effort for a teacher to keep on speaking in L2 if the students are low proficiency L2 speakers. The teacher might be carrying many classroom activities but without the help of L1, the students cannot understand the instructions and participate in the activities. Therefore, it is crucial for teachers to provide sufficient comprehensible input to their students in the language classroom.

When Krashen came out with the Input Hypothesis, he further described acquisition with another closely related hypothesis, the Affective Filter Hypothesis. The Affective Filter Hypothesis explains that learners need to receive the comprehensible input into their brains. However, learners tend to filter or block out the target language if they become tense, confused, angry or bored (Lightbown & Spada, 1999). In order to prevent learners from having high affective filter towards target language, they need to be ‘fed’ with ‘acceptable taste of food’. Previous studies have reported that teachers tend to fine students for using their L1 in English language classroom (Weinberg, 1990). If the students speak their L1 (Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Russian or Farsi) in the English language classroom, they will be fined 25 cents. This reminds me of my primary schooling days where we were made compulsory to communicate in English during the English Week and if we fail to do so, we will be fined 10 cents for each word spoken in our mother tongue. As a result, many students dared not speak much or speak out loud during that week because they could not converse in English language fluently. This situation clearly explains that when learners become frustrated, upset, angry and resentful at the environment of the language classroom, their learning stops. Therefore, it is critical for teachers to consider the barriers faced by the L2 learners especially lower proficiency learners and provide comprehensible input to lower their affective filters.

2.3 Long’s Interaction Hypothesis

The other important element in L2 learning is interaction. Long (1981, 1996) influenced by Krashen’s theory on input developed the Interaction Hypothesis. In addition, Long (1981, 1996) focused on the link between the language learners and their language development. Since early 1980s, researchers have been concentrating on studying the role of interaction and considered it as important for second language acquisition (Xu, 2010). The central focus of the Interaction Hypothesis is on the ‘negotiation for meaning’ (Castro, 2010). Comprehensible input must be accompanied by interactions to yield a more desirable output. The occurrences of interaction produce significances, feedbacks and input modifications that help to increase comprehension of content. Long (1996) noted that interaction facilitated comprehension and acquisition. In other words, interactive input is more important than non-interactive input (Ellis, 1994).

Interactions in the language classroom are very important for both teachers and students. L2 learners should be given chances to interact with the teachers for clearer understanding. There should be possibilities for L2 learners to clarify requests, check comprehension and request for repetition in the classroom learning. Long (1981, 1996) noticed the differences in communication exchange between the native speakers and non-native speakers. For native speakers, they tend to continue communication despite the non-native speakers’ language limitations. Therefore, the non-native speakers need frequent negotiations for better understanding (Zhang, 1010). As such, the language used in delivering contents needs to be comprehensible to the learners so that their attention can be drawn in the classroom learning. Besides, L1 should be used as a tool to sustain the interactions between L2 low proficiency learners and their teachers so that both parties can enter into negotiation for meaning.

2.4 Swain’s Output Hypothesis

In response to the Input Hypothesis by Krashen (1985), Swain (1985) argued that comprehensible input may not be sufficient for successful second language acquisition (Zhang, 2009). Furthermore, in order to produce comprehensible output, comprehensible input alone is not sufficient to L2 learning process. Research has been conducted using the Output Hypothesis and the results show that there is a link between language use and language learning (Zhang, 2009). From here, we know that in order to yield desirable output, we have to consider the factors that contribute to a more effective learning process.

2.5 Low proficiency L2 learners and vocabulary learning

According to Anh (2010), due to the controversial of the impact of L1 usage in L2 teaching, many studies and research have been done on it. Although most of the research have been on the subject none really focused on how L1 usage in L2 teaching in the context of Low proficiency L2 learners. As stated by Latsanyphone and Bouangeune (2009), few experimental research and studies has been done on L1 to observe to find out whether it is an effective tool for teaching low proficiency learners. They further stated that The many agreement by professionals from the field of second language acquisitions such as Nation, 2001; Swain & Lapkin, 2000; Atkinson, 1987; Tang, 2002; Auerbach, 1993; Mattioli, 2004 that stated and agree L1 usage would be an advantage with low proficiency students in a target language suggested that L1 plays an significant function in language teaching, particularly for the low proficiency learners. According to Latsanyphone and Bouangeune (2009), result from a study conducted by Ramachandran and Rahim (2004), who studied the effectiveness of using L1 in translation method, suggested that using L1 in the course of translation method was more effective than not using L1 in developing ESL learners’ vocabulary knowledge ability, and could also advance elementary ESL learner’s skill to recall the meaning of the word that they have learnt. They further stated that “Based on the above, it seems necessary to look at the approaches for vocabulary teaching”. Such implication could only mean that L1 in the teaching of L2 in the context of low proficiency students could prove to an advantage and should be further investigate the effectiveness of using L1 in teaching vocabulary to low proficiency learners’ despite the controversy of L2 teaching should only used L2 language as the medium of teaching.

3.0 Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This section presents the study design and sets of procedures that were employed for the data collection of this research. The sample for this research was taken from a secondary school in Pasir Gudang, Johor Bahru. Only the Form five students from the low proficient class are involved in the study.

3.2 Subjects

The subjects for the study were selected of form five students in a secondary school in Pasir Gudang, Johor Bahru. They were selected from the classes that have the lowest result of English (‘c’ and below).

3.3 Instruments

Two tests (pre-test and post-test) were used to obtain and collect data in this study. The student’s literacy was measured using language tests. Two vocabulary tests were conducted in the classroom within 1 week. The students were instructed to tick or cross depending on whether they know the meaning of the word. If ‘yes’, then they need to provide the meaning using their own words and the answer in L1. Their test results were collected and analyzed.

3.2 Procedures

This approach is based on a questionnaire survey conducted on the target group. The main instrument used for this study is an open-ended vocabulary questionnaire that consists of ten chosen English vocabulary from SPM level essay. Where the students are instructed to tick or cross depending on whether they know the meaning of the word. If ‘yes’, then they need to provide the meaning using their own words and the answer in L1. A pre-test was conducted on the students. After the pre-test, the students were divided into two groups, experimental and control. The control group received explanation and discussion of the vocabulary and its meaning in English while the experimental group explanation and discussion were conducted in L1 (Bahasa Melayu). A post-test was done a week later. Both the experimental and control group were given the same format of questionnaire with the same questions/words as previous test. The purpose of the second test was to see how many words were acquired one week before could be remembered, and to see whether there was any difference in the vocabulary acquisition of the new words between the two groups.

3.3 Data analysis

A quantitative method was used in processing the data. The data collected in the study was inspected. Tests were objectively marked by the researchers. For each correct answer/ meaning, they were given 1 mark. Data scores were carefully typed into the SPSS data table in order to gain the desired data and analyzed using independent sample T-test analysis.


4.1 Pre-test

The objective of the analysis of the questionnaire is to answer the two questions of “What are the effects of using L1 in L2 vocabulary learning classroom?” and “To what extend does the use of L1 increase the performances of L2 vocabulary learning”. The results were interpreted independent sample T-test analysis shown in the graph below.

The distribution of pre-test score by Class 1 (Experimental Group) is skewed to the right. It has a range from 0 to 2. IQR is 1. The mean and median are similar at 1.1 and 1 respectively. According to this graph, two of the students received 0 marks, 5 of them with 1 mark, and three of them with 3 marks. This could probably due to lack of knowledge of the given words and their meaning. However, from the answered questionnaire received, it could be seen that they do showed sign of positiveness and effort when they do try to answer each words in direct translation using L1 for example ‘homeless’, answered as ‘kurang rumah’.

The distribution of pre-test score by Class 2 (Control Group) is skewed to the right too. It has a range from 0 to 8. IQR is 1. The mean and median are similar at 2 and 1 respectively. Accordingly, I students with 0 mark, 5 students achieved 3 mark, 2 student with 2 mark, I student with 3 marks and only 1 students received 6 marks. This group also showed poor comprehension of the given word although fared slightly better than the experimental group.

From the above result, we can see that the post-test mean of Experimental Group (Class 1) is 14.2 and the post-test mean of Control Group (Class 2) is 11.8. Compare with the pre-test mean of Experimental Group (Class 1) is 1.1 and the pre-test mean of Control Group (Class 2) is 2, Experimental Group (Class 1) improve mean of 13.1 and Control Group (Class 2) improve mean of 9.8. The Improvement of Experimental Group (Class 1) is higher than Control Group (Class 2).

4.2 Post-test

The distribution of post-test score by Class 1 (Experimental Group) is skewed to the left. It has a range from 11 to 15. IQR is 1. The mean and median are similar at 14.3 and 15 respectively. For this post-test, there seems to be an improvement according to the data results. Eight of students in the experimental group achieved 15 words correct, compared to the previous test where the highest is 3 words correct. The usage of L1 had further enhanced their understanding of the word and therefore resulting them to perform better in the post-test.

The distribution of post-test score by Class 2 (Control Group) is skewed to the left too. It has a range from 7 to 13. IQR is 1. The mean and median are similar at 11.8 and 12 respectively. We could see from the result that there is improvement from the pre-test. Eight of the students had managed to get 12 and 13 correct.

From the result above, we could see that the usage of L1 in the learning of vocabulary on low proficiency students do have a differences.

4.2 Problems with this study

There were also problems and limitation that needed to be addressed in regards to this study. First and foremost, are the time constraints. As we progress with the research, we found that the duration of one week interval is not sufficient to test their understanding and memory. Another matter that concerns us is the insufficient representations of subjects; therefore, generalization could not be made for all form five low proficiency students. From the questionnaires that received back, we could not guaranty on the class control since we, the researcher are not there our self. Therefore, we could not be positive that the test was done under control situation, meaning, the teacher had made sure that the students had answered all the questions on their own.


From the independent samples test, p-value was not above 5%, we have found a statistically significant difference between the true population mean post-test result by Experimental Group (Class 1) and Control Group (Class 2) at the significance level. This means that the Experimental Group (Class 1) has the sufficient evidence to suggest that they should teach the students base on their mother tongue language. However, from the result, by using L2 in vocabulary learning, could also achieve improvement. Therefore, it is hard to conclude which of the method is most effective if we were to compare them. However, the result remains that L1 usage do enhance the vocabulary acquisition. Taken together, the effects of using of L1 in L2 vocabulary learning classroom is encouraging and constructive. L1 should be used as a facilitator in the L2 vocabulary learning especially with students of lower proficiency.


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