Learning a second language is undoubtedly a challenging undertaking, and the pedagogical methods involved in teaching a second language can make the process easier or more difficult for students. Despite the large range of foreign language classes offered in American schools and colleges, there remains some mystery as to which methods are most effective. Linda Yu ’12 will spend this summer with Professor Hong Gang Jin, the William R. Kenan Professor of East Asian Languages, testing different pedagogical methods for teaching Chinese. Their project, “Attention to What? An Investigation on the Linkage Between Attention and Input,” is funded by an Emerson Summer Grant.
While studying foreign language acquisition and learning Chinese, Yu, an Asian studies and Chinese double-major, began to see how little is truly known about the process. She explains, “Without clearer understanding of the process of second language acquisition, our pedagogical methods will always be largely inefficient and out of date.” Her research with Professor Jin will aim to shed light on which teaching strategies are most effective for native English speakers learning Chinese. Specifically, they will study the syntactic, lexical and morphological elements of Chinese.
Their testing will rely on a series of pre-tests and post-tests to compare different methods and will compare the results from different pedagogical treatments. These treatments deal primarily with listening and reading comprehension. Apart from the project’s direct goals, Yu hopes that participants complete the study with a better understanding of what it means to learn a language like Chinese. Yu relates, “The process is so very much more than just memorization and completion of homework assignments,” and students must remain dedicated in order to make significant strides.
The project will be carried out in China, and Yu is excited to explore this unfamiliar region. The participants will be students from the Associated Colleges in China program, or ACC. They come from Hamilton College, as well as other institutions such as Williams College, George Washington University and Brown University.
On campus, Yu is a DEAR Tutor, a Chinese tutor through the Asian Cultural Society, and she is looking forward to joining the America Reads program this fall. She also looks forward to joining the Tai Chi Club and learning about Confucius.
Fluency in a foreign language can expand a student’s horizons, help bridge cultural gaps and forge connections between people. To reap these rewards, however, students must overcome the struggle to learn a new language. Yu and Jin hope to shed some light on this process in order to make learning Chinese as accessible and comprehensible as possible.
Linda Yu is a graduate of Shaker High School in Latham, New York.