L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

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L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby justthedave » 07 Sep 2019 21:24

My fellow lecturers in the Business English dept of my university asked me about my stance on using Thai transliteration strategies for English learning.

Williams (2016) in his work, Teaching English Reading in the Chinese-Speaking World: Building Strategies Across Scripts, rationalized that problems occur when students overuse L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning (Eg. using Thai script to write English vocabulary).

He continued that if students are largely (or even exclusively) memorizing L2 forms via their connection to L1 transliterations, they are guaranteed to be relying exclusively on an orthographic form approach to future recognition. Their knowledge of phonological forms will only be attainable by tracing back through their mental links (affecting cognitive latency) to the L1 transliteration. Put simply, students memorize the word shape and connect that to the L1 transliteration from which phonology is accessed. In doing so, no productive connection will be made between L2 form and phonology.

In short, Williams maintains that this practice of transliteration is tolerable for a language beginner (A0), but must be discontinued once the learner reaches an A1 competency stage. If not then the practice of transliteration will cause permanent (fossilized) dependence.

What is your take on the use of L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning?
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Re: L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby sgtowns » 10 Sep 2019 09:42

I should start by saying that I don't have any research to back up my opinions here, but I am going to share my thoughts anyway: Transliteration has no place in language learning, except maybe in extreme beginning vocabulary learning.

This is true for English speakers learning Thai too. In my opinion, we should absolutely learn the Thai script in very early stages of learning Thai. The reason for this is that there is not a one-to-one mapping of English letters to Thai letters, and transcription schemes always fail in one way or another. For example, I used to live in วัฒนา which can be spelled Wattana or Vadhana. To me, these two words are pronounced very differently.

(I did do a little research on this, and just now learned that "Wattana" is a transliteration while "Vadhana" is a transcription. So there's another issue that complicates matters.)

As you all know, there is no "th" sound in Thai. So there is no way to transliterate this sound using Thai characters. I think Thais usually use a ธ for this in Thai (right?), but that doesn't necessarily help Thai students remember that the sound is completely different. Or if you tell students that ฟุตบอล is how you pronounce football, they will never learn to say the final "l" sound.

Trying to use transcriptions or transliterations only hurts in the long run. Bottom line: learn the orthography of the language you are learning first, especially if it is script-to-script. (Perhaps though, we can let English speakers learning Chinese use the romanization crutch a little bit longer because it takes forever to learn thousands of characters.)
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Re: L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby Richard » 10 Sep 2019 12:46

Afraid I'm going to disagree fairly strongly with Stuart on this one. Learners should use (judiciously) all available resources that help them in learning. If transliterating aids learning, then use it. If I hear a new Thai word that I want to remember, I might write it down (I almost never actually do this as I'm too lazy) but, especially if it contains an 's' sound, I would have no idea what the right Thai spelling is, so I could write it in English. I'm reasonably aware of the mismatches in sounds between Thai and English and can adjust my spelling to account for this. If a Thai learner of English learns a new word with an unexpected pronunciation (not uncommon given the opacity of English spelling), why not use Thai letters to show the strange pronunciation in addition to the English letters showing the spelling?

An extreme example comes from when I was in Colombia. One of the most frequent expressions I heard (I wasn't mixing in the highest circles) sounded to me like 'ichweputa' and I would use it like that with no problems. After a couple of months I realised the expression was actually 'hijo de puta', but when I pronounced it in a formal way, no-one understood me. My transliteration of the sounds in my head was more successful than the real spelling.

While I agree with Stuart that foreigners in Thailand should learn the Thai script early, my main beef with what he says is that it demeans learners' intelligence. Thai learners know that ธ for 'th' doesn't represent the actual sound (even if they can't quite pronounce it right); and whether learners end up pronouncing 'football' reasonably correctly depends more on exposure and use than how the word was originally introduced. To me, these arguments are similar to the old arguments that the L1 should be banned in the classroom because students get into bad habits. Excessive reliance on anything normally has negative effects (95% Thai in the English classroom, for instance), but judicious use of a resource that can help should be encouraged.
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Re: L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby sgtowns » 10 Sep 2019 20:53

Richard wrote: Learners should use (judiciously) all available resources that help them in learning. If transliterating aids learning, then use it.


I absolutely agree with Richard. As I said:

sgtowns wrote:Transliteration has no place in language learning, except maybe in extreme beginning vocabulary learning.


In other words, I can see some instances where seeing a new word written down phonetically might be useful. For example, when native English speakers are learning English as children, the phonetic pronunciation guides in the dictionary are very useful. (And as one gets older, IPA is even better. Unfortunately, hardly anyone learns how to use IPA. but I digress...) So, I agree that maybe the first time an English learner sees a new word, they can look up the "Thai Phonetic" version and it will help them plant a seed of the word in their brain.

However, I do not believe that this counts as "learning the word". The fact remains that many English words can not be written correctly using Thai letters. ฟุตบอล is one of them. My full name is another one -- all three of my names (first, middle, and last) can not be pronounced correctly when written using only Thai letters. It is impossible. Yes, you can get 70% there, but I believe that my students are more intelligent than that and have the potential to get it 100% correct if I teach them the right way.

So my view of teaching English is that I don't want to demean my students' intelligence by giving them a crutch that only solves part of the problem, some of the time. They are smarter than that, and therefore they should be spending most of their efforts on learning how to use English correctly.
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Re: L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby justthedave » 17 Sep 2019 08:03

I must say that I agree with our Supreme System (being dominant, having power over all others)
Richard wrote:Learners should use (judiciously) all available resources that help them in learning. If transliterating aids learning, then use it.


In further readings about TRANSLITERATION, this type of sound replacement of an L2 with the sound system of an L1 is quite similar to what I learned of PHONICS as a child. (See https://tinyurl.com/y2ptdtdm) I find this humourous because this may be the reason why I cannot spell worth a darn now.... :D :D :D

The one and only Professor Stephen Krashen states in his reference to Frank Smith's (2004) work Understanding Reading, that "a small amount of consciously learned knowledge of the rules of phonics can help in the beginning stages to make texts comprehensible, but there are severe limits on how much phonics can be learned and applied ...." (https://tinyurl.com/yya8gscq) Professor Krashen continues that although PHONICS leads to becoming better pronunciation test-takers, the students "do not do better on tests in which they have to understand what they read."

Hence, I agree that TRANSLITERATION has its place... But I ask myself this question, should the ultimate goal of a second language learner be fluency in the target language? If so, then the use of TRANSLITERATION may be initially necessary but it is not sufficient for and, according to Professor Krashen, may severely interfere with target language fluency.
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Re: L1 transliteration strategies for L2 vocabulary learning

Postby sgtowns » 26 Sep 2019 09:25

Since Steve is posting cat memes (in another thread), here is my showerthought for today:

Phonics is an interesting case. I definitely remember learning it when I was a kid. But now I am wondering if it is a completely analogous situation to what we have here in Thailand. Instead, I see it as being similar to Richard's anecdote about learning Spanish. In both cases, the learner is using roman letters that they already know to symbolize sounds that are usually written in roman letters. Dave's original citation though was Chinese students using Chinese characters to represent sounds normally written in roman letters. And then we started discussing using Thai letters to represent sounds that are normally written using roman letters. So it seems to me that there are three different transliteration contexts. Does anyone think that this might impact the usefulness of the method?
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