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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Science register across Chinese and English : the relation between learners’ language production of scientific classification discourse in Chinese and English Tong, Esther Ka-Man

Abstract

Faced with a large inflow of students with limited English proficiency, educators in Canada are being challenged to prepare these students to learn content subjects in the mainstream classes through their second language, English. To help these language minority students achieve academically, Mohan (1986) addressed the need for students to have knowledge of genres, and in particular, an understanding of the knowledge structures involved in content areas to construe the content of their course. Classification, together with five other semantic structures of discourse which Mohan has identified, can be captured visually and linguistically constructed using specific language features. Tang (1994b) noted that similar visual representations of knowledge structures occur across languages. These views line up with Halliday (1993), who suggested that there are common features of science registers in English and Chinese. The current resarch explores these notions in detail, concentrating on the knowledge structure of classification. Specifically, this paper focused on exploring how the participants' first and second languages, Chinese and English, were used to create meaning and understanding of knowledge acquired through the participants' first language, Chinese. The analysis concentrated on identifying the ideational meaning of the texts collected in tasks which involved classifying living things on Earth, and then looking into how the participants used their L1 and L2 to represent the classification knowledge structure in the time series design. The results showed that the participants were able to use both their L1 and L2 as resources for learning and representing their knowledge of classification. Their learning of the new classification knowledge became evident in both their L1 and L2 texts, revealing that the content knowledge they acquired in their L1, Chinese was transferable to their L2, English. Knowledge structure graphics (KS graphics), which are graphic representation of the knowledge structures (Mohan, 1986), played the role of mediator, connecting the learners' background knowledge and the new knowledge. With the help of graphic organizers displaying the semantic structure and text structures of classification, the participants were able to use appropriate language features distinctive to the discourse of classification to realize their learning of the content knowledge in both their stronger language, Chinese, and weaker language, English. In addition, the comparison of the participants' post-reading classification texts, which were written based on their learning about the classification discourse in Chinese, and the texts produced after a one-hour instructional session about writing classification discourse in Chinese showed that instruction in the L1 helped students write a more developed classification discourse not only in their L1 but also in their L2. The participants were able to create a more extended discourse with an increasing number and a greater variety of language features used to realize the knowledge structure of classification. These findings suggest an interdependent relation between bilingual learners' language production of scientific classification discourse across their first and second languages, reinforcing Halliday's (1993, 1999) notion of a common language of science. Recognizing the important roles that KS graphics play in assisting the transfer and reconstruction of knowledge across languages, this study addresses the importance of extending learners' academic language learning experience in both their first and second language.

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