Language alternation practices of novice EFL teachers in Vietnam

2017-02-26T23:58:20Z (GMT) by Hoang, Thi Giang Lam
Understanding teachers’ practices in language alternation is an essential component in the context of L2 classroom interaction and teacher talk. For novice teachers, who have to deal with a number of difficulties when experiencing a transition from teacher training institutions to the school classroom to teach for the first time, it is challenging to make a confident and effective choice regarding how and which language should be used in specific circumstances. However, there have been no studies investigating the specific issue of language alternation performed by novice teachers during their teacher-fronted instruction. To fill the gap, this study applies conversation analysis methods and findings to investigate the language alternation practices performed by novice teachers in the EFL university classroom in Vietnam. With a specific focus on language choice (Auer, 1984), the study investigates the recurring patterns of their language alternation practices, how these practices were structurally organized within different phases and sequence structures of the lesson, and the students’ subsequent actions in response to these language switches. The socially constructed manifestations of novice teachers’ language alternation practices were identified and analysed from (1) video recorded classroom observations of novice teachers and (2) audio recorded interviews with teacher educators and novice teachers to gain insights into novice teachers’ language alternation training background. The findings reveal that there was insufficient background concerning the employment of language alternation in teacher education programs for novice EFL teachers, specifically the absence of five major domains of knowledge. These include theories of teaching, teaching skills, communication skills, pedagogical reasoning and decision-making, and contextual knowledge. Without orientation and support from teacher education programs, these teachers also lacked awareness about this practice which was revealed in the focus of their lesson plans and reflection. Regarding teachers’ actual practices, a key and recurring finding is that novice teachers often started their instruction or pre-instruction in English but quickly switched to Vietnamese for immediate translation without providing any wait time or interactional space for students to show their understanding or to give responses. Their switches to English in the space of the first language, on the other hand, mostly occurred for the quick insertion of English lexical items, of the language associated with the teaching of English, and of brief comprehension checks or comments due to the convenience and availability of those inserted items at the time they were needed. Briefly stated, their language alternation behaviour reveals their orientation to what Cromdal (2005, p. 333) calls “a division in labour” for the use of the two languages: the target language played the role of temporary medium while the first language served as the main medium or vehicle of teacher instruction and class interaction. The findings also show that novice teachers employed language alternation in all phases of the lesson (1) to provide information needed in pre-entry or lead-in phases, (2) to pursue students’ understanding and responses in both lead-in and main instructional phases, (3) to scaffold students’ comprehension, responses and their task completion in a range of insert sequences, and (4) to achieve affiliation and intimacy with students in side-sequences. Their language alternation, in fact, was employed as an important tool in the organization of their instructional talk to pursue student responses and to establish understanding or a foundation for students’ epistemic status (Heritage, 2013) before the class could proceed and commence the main language learning tasks. The teachers’ actions of frequently alternating languages to provide students with social, cognitive and affective support for their second language learning or to achieve intersubjective understanding in the classroom reveal their orientation to the distribution of languages in the sequence structure: English is used to frame by opening and closing instructional sequences and Vietnamese is used as the main language of instruction and class interaction. In addition, the data show that students often adopted the teachers’ language use in their responses when the teachers’ language alternation occurred. Indeed, by switching languages teachers could prompt or steer the students’ responses, renegotiate the language of ongoing interaction, and signal their language preference in a pedagogical way.