Group photo with ASUM teachers
Professor Ronald Fong has run two workshops on English vocabulary learning by Macau pupils for teachers of English at the Affiliated School of the University of Macau (ASUM). The first workshop introduces how linguistic theories may possibly provide teachers of English some ideas as to how pupils’ English performance can be improved by enlarging their size of vocabulary. Linguistic ideas should ideally explain how school pupils (from P1 to P6) can learn English words more effectively and efficiently when English is a foreign language to the pupils. The mainstream linguistic model assumes that all normal humans can acquire at least one language with Universal Grammar (普遍語法); while the more useful approach to the learning English words is to regard them as constructions (構式). Pupils, thus, learn “mind” as a construction and “mind your own business please” is also a construction.
This concept of construction extends to more complex and advanced issues such as the Phrasal Verb, which more senior pupils will learn the alternate patterns as in “John looks up 10 new words in a dictionary every day ” and “John looks 10 new words up…” . Hence, in this way there is no sharp division between grammar and vocabulary. To fully understand a word is to know how it is produced and used in an appropriate context.
In the second workshop Professor Fong turns to how vocabulary learning by Macau pupils could possibly be assessed. Following a cognitive linguistic spirit, an assessor should I able to identify the properties of the vocabulary such as meaning, grammar, and usage. The pronunciation of English words is also important as part of a well-round evaluation of the pupils’ knowledge of vocabulary. Another important idea from the workshops is that of reinforcement, which can take different forms. Repetition is only one of them, and activities should involve reinforcing what pupils have learnt. Towards the end of the workshops ASUM teachers and professor Fong were engaged in active fruitful discussions and raised many important issues about potential pupils’ improvement in the learning of English vocabulary and about how it could possibly be better assessed.