Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors at Hanoi National University of Education

Abstract. Teaching and learning how to utilize cohesion ties have always been an issue in EFL settings. With the desire of making some contribution to the understanding of discourse cohesion, this research aims to investigate and compare the types and frequencies of cohesion ties utilized in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors at Hanoi National University of Education as well as the efficiency of these cohesive ties in the cohesion of students’ speaking performances. The issue is approached via Halliday and Hasan (1976)’s conjunction category, Tanskanen (2006)’s lexical cohesion and Cobb (2013)’s web-based program Vocabprofile. The findings of the study include: (1) Grammatical cohesion (conjunction) and lexical cohesion both contribute to the cohesion of the speaking tasks performed by English majors at Hanoi National University of Education though the former is more frequently used than the latter; (2) K63B’s students possessed a more steady execution of cohesion ties than K63A’s students did; (3) although the students’ performances show a certain quantity of inaccuracies, students in both classes have displayed their capability in satisfying the criteria used for the speaking task; (4) and supplementary exercises, specifically in equivalence, collocation and academic vocabulary, are advisedly added for students to improve their English competence in general and their speaking in particular.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1075.2016-0224 Educational Sci., 2016, Vol. 61, No. 11, pp. 120-129 This paper is available online at DISCOURSE COHESION IN RESPONSES TO SPEAKING TASKS OF THIRD-YEAR ENGLISH MAJORS AT HANOI NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION Nguyen Hong Lien Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. Teaching and learning how to utilize cohesion ties have always been an issue in EFL settings. With the desire of making some contribution to the understanding of discourse cohesion, this research aims to investigate and compare the types and frequencies of cohesion ties utilized in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors at Hanoi National University of Education as well as the efficiency of these cohesive ties in the cohesion of students’ speaking performances. The issue is approached via Halliday and Hasan (1976)’s conjunction category, Tanskanen (2006)’s lexical cohesion and Cobb (2013)’s web-based programVocabprofile. The findings of the study include: (1) Grammatical cohesion (conjunction) and lexical cohesion both contribute to the cohesion of the speaking tasks performed by English majors at Hanoi National University of Education though the former is more frequently used than the latter; (2) K63B’s students possessed a more steady execution of cohesion ties than K63A’s students did; (3) although the students’ performances show a certain quantity of inaccuracies, students in both classes have displayed their capability in satisfying the criteria used for the speaking task; (4) and supplementary exercises, specifically in equivalence, collocation and academic vocabulary, are advisedly added for students to improve their English competence in general and their speaking in particular. Keywords: Discourse cohesion, IELTS Speaking Part 2, collocation, academic vocabulary, conjunction. 1. Introduction 1.1. Rationale Cohesion has always been a matter in linguistics that arouses interests of scholars. Initially, language is not merely a series of words, a sequence of sounds or even a range of sentences connected together. To understand language, one must take more into consideration. That is to say, how words, sounds and sentences are linked to have meaning – or how the cohesion of discourse is executed. Using cohesion efficiently not only ensures the unity and consistency of discourse but also contributes to the success of how one can master the ideological significance of the discourse. IELTS is an international test that has been acknowledged worldwide to evaluate learners’ language competence. At Hanoi National University of Education, third-year students of English Received date: 28/9/2016. Published date: 10/12/2016. Contact: Nguyen Hong Lien, e-mail: nguyenhonglien.media@gmail.com 120 Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors... majors are assumed to achieve 6.5-7 band score of IELTS (which is equivalent to B2+ - C1 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) before entering their final year. The speaking band descriptors of IELTS and can-do statements of CEFR in the presumed level are summarized in the following table according to [18] and [19]: Table 1. Summarized speaking band descriptors of IELTS 6.5-7 and can-do statements of CEFR in the level B2+ - C1 (Adapted from [18] and [19]) CEFR IELTS - I can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes that make regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. - I can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts and formulate ideas and opinions with precision. - I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of subjects related to my field of interest, develop particular points and round off with an appropriate conclusion. - May demonstrate language-related hesitation at times, or some repetition and/or self-correction - Uses a range of connectives and discourse markers with some flexibility - Uses idiomatic vocabulary and shows some awareness of style and collocation, with some inappropriate choices - Uses paraphrase effectively The descriptions show that in order to achieve the necessary language level, test-takers are required to successfully use cohesion, which in IELTS band score descriptors identify as “some repetition” “a range of connectives and discourse markers”, “idiomatic vocabulary”, “collocation” and “paraphrase.” In the can-do statements of CEFR, the requirement is generally indicated as “can use language flexibly and effectively.” Consequently, efficacious accomplishment of cohesion is definite to boost one’s discourse cohesion and the overall score. On the current, domestic and international articles on discourse cohesion mainly collect data from written texts (Banerjee et al [2], Lewin et al [11], Mayor et al [13], Samraj [14]). Spoken or oral discourse is a rising topic in this field as existing studies are growing in number and some of the articles focus on conversational cohesion (Angermeyer [1], Gonzalez [5], Taboada [15]). Iwashita and Vasquez [8] carried out a research in IELTS Speaking Part 2; however, they studied discourse competence of test-takers, which is a broader field than the sole cohesion – the topic of this study. Additionally, the need to examine students’ performance of IELTS Speaking Part 2 in Vietnam is indeed pivotal as to not only assess their competence in language but also suggest any implications for their further practice. Therefore, with all above-mentioned reasons, a study entitled “Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors at Hanoi National University of Education” is implemented. 1.2. Research questions The study aims to examine and compare third-year English majors’ cohesion ties during their performance in a speaking task, specifically IELTS Speaking Part 2 and the efficiency of cohesion ties to the oral speaking’s cohesion. Consequently, the study seeks to answer the following research questions: - What are the types and frequencies of cohesion ties utilized in the speaking task by third-year English majors in K63A and K63B at Hanoi National University of Education? 121 Nguyen Hong Lien - How successfully do third-year English majors in K63A at Hanoi National University of Education employ cohesion ties in their speaking task compared to their counterpart in K63B? - How do the cohesion ties utilized in IELTS Speaking part 2 by third-year English majors at Hanoi National University of Education contribute to the cohesion of their speaking? 2. Content 2.1. Research approach Among different approaches to study cohesion in discourse, Halliday and Hasan [6] and Hoey’s [7] are the most prominent and have been followed by a number of researchers, such as (Jabeen [9], Malah [12], Gonzalez [5], Taboada [15]). Halliday and Hasan [6] categorise their cohesion into grammatical and lexical cohesion. The sub-categories under grammatical cohesion include reference, substitution, ellipsis and conjunctions. Lexical cohesion is divided into reiteration (repetition, synonymy, near-synonymy, superordinate and general words) and collocation (hyponymy, antonymy, meronymy, ordered set, and also relations that are not systematic) (Halliday and Hasan [6]). However, one of the categories in Halliday and Hasan’s approach – collocation – seems to be vaguely defined. They state, “cohesion that is achieved through the association of lexical items that regularly co-occur” (Halliday & Hasan, [6;284]). Responding to this, Hoey [7;7] even criticizes it as “a ragbag of lexical relations”. That is a harsh criticism. However, it is true that their definition does not give a clear understanding, particularly in this study. Concerning Hoey’s classification of lexical cohesion in his work “Patterns of lexis in texts”[7], the model comprises of ten categories which are ranked in the order of the most important to the least important. These types include simple repetition, complex repetition, simple paraphrase, complex paraphrase, antonym, superordinate and hyponymy, substitution, co-reference, ellipsis, and deixis. Hoey does not include collocation in this classification; he replaces it with complex paraphrase - “whether or not it is actually an improvement on the notion of collocation.” (Tanskanen [16]). After thorough examination and debates, Tanskanen [16] revises Halliday and Hasan’s model [6] and presents her framework. She modifies it into two categories as shown in Table 2: Table 2. Reiteration types in K63A and K63B’s IELTS Speaking Part 2 Category Definition Example REITERATION Simple repetition This item is repeated either in an identical form or with no other than a simple grammatical change. student - students Complex repetition The items may be identical but serve different grammatical functions, or they may not be identical but share a lexical morpheme. to grade – the grade Substitution This item is used to reiterate other items. any racist employer or group - they Equivalence This type is used to refer to the relation more commonly referred to as synonymy. pausing – a breather 122 Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors... Generalisation This type covers the relation between an item and a more general item. energy products - imported oil Specification This type refers to the relation between an item and a more specific item. health, education - the other social services Contrast This refers to the relation between an item and another item which has an opposite meaning. old aged pensioners – working people COLLOCATION Ordered set It includes colours, numbers, months, days of the week and the like. today – tomorrow – yesterday Activity-related collocation This kind of collocation is, by definition nonsystematic, based only on an association between items, and thereby resists systematic classifications and definitions. meats - eat Elaborative collocation This type show items between which an association exists but which cannot be classified as ordered set or activity-related collocation. Cambridge - the Mill Lane lecture room - For substitution, Tanskanen [16;52-53] believes pronouns and substitution items such as “one, do and so” can reiterate previous items though Halliday and Hasan [6;31] discuss pronouns under reference and put substitution under grammatical cohesion. Since substitution items function in a way very similar to lexical repetitions, they are listed in this section. - The items that are considered to be related by contrast need not be strictly antonymous in the lexical semantic sense. What is important is that the items in question are used in a contrasting way in a particular text (Tanskanen [16;59]). This classification is relatively appropriate for this study but grammatical cohesion – especially, conjunction is invisible in Tanskanen’s approach. Therefore, Halliday and Hasan’s conjunction category and Tanskanen’s classification are combined for the analytical framework. Also, to explore the cohesion of discourse, lexical richness is a feature that can measure test-takers’ vocabulary. Vocabprofile (Cobb [3]) is a web-based program that relies on the measure of Lexical Frequency Profile (Laufer and Nation [10]), which is based on four word lists: K1 is the 1000 most frequent words and K2 is from 1001 to 2000 most frequent words (West [17]), AWL is the list containing academic words (Coxhead [4]) and Off-list are the word which are not contained in the previous lists. It also calculates lexical density and word-token per word-type. Iwashita and Vasquez [8;18] state the type-token ratio is a measure of the semantic density of speech, which may vary according to proficiency level. The word-token measure and word-token per type are used to investigate lexical output. The word-type measure is used to assess the range of vocabulary used. Lexical sophistication was examined in terms of the percentage of words in the four categories above (K1, K2, AWL and Off List). Using Vocabprofile can help to identify the richness in vocabulary that students use in their speaking, whether they have reached the assumed level or not. 123 Nguyen Hong Lien In sum, this study employs three approaches, namely conjunction category of Halliday and Hasan [6], lexical cohesion of Tanskanen [16] and the web-based program Vocabprofile of Cobb [3]. 2.2. Data collection framework and data analytical procedure The data were 61 transcribed IELTS Part 2 recordings of 32 students in K63A and 29 students K63B. The students are in their third year and their assumed level of English language proficiency is B2+ to C1 according to the CEFR. They sat for their final exam in an IELTS-constructed format but only Part 2 was recorded. Students had one minute to prepare before talking about a specified topic in two minutes. The topics were “Describe a shop near where you live that you sometimes visit; Describe a child that you know; Describe a city you would like to live in; Describe an interesting historic object you know; Describe a song or a piece of music you like.” The analytical framework combined three approaches, namely conjunction category of Halliday and Hasan [6], lexical cohesion of Tanskanen [16] and the web-based program Vocabprofile of Cobb [3]. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used in this study. Firstly, the data were quantified and coded for the statistical analysis. The coding was classified into A (class K63A) and B (class K63B), followed by the order of students’ answers. For example, in (B16). . . so in that song, the singer show his to that kind of person. . . , the 16th student in class K63B made a mistake in using reiteration. This answer was marked, and then was analyzed to provide a full examination. Then, the qualitative examination was carried out to further investigate different instances of how participants in both classes employ cohesion ties in their speaking performance. 2.3. Results and findings of the research 2.3.1. Results of the research Conjunction Figure 1. Conjunction words/phrases used in K63A and K63B’s IELTS Speaking Part 2 124 Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors... Figure 2. Conjunction types used in K63A and K63B’s IELTS Speaking Part 2 From the quantitative analysis of the data, it is found that conjunction is the most frequently used cohesive tie by the students as presented in figures 1, 2. According to the information collected, consequential conjunction tops the list in both classes while comparative conjunction is not very frequently used by the participants. The most preferred consequential conjunction is used seven times more considerable than the least favored comparative conjunction although the total quantity in both classes is relatively similar. Interestingly, the most frequently used conjunction belongs to additive type, which is “and” in the two classes (147 times in K63A and 111 times in K63B). “So” of consequential conjunction stands second to “and” with 130 times in K63A and 84 times in K63B. Notably, complex conjunctions such as “moreover” and “however” are documented slightly higher in K63B than that in K63A. Reiteration Table 2. Reiteration types in K63A and K63B’s IELTS Speaking Part 2 Types K63A K63B Frequency Percent-age Accuracy rate Frequency Percent-age Accuracy rate Simple repetition 194 39.9% 100% 114 31.6% 100% Complex repetition 6 1.23% 83% 3 0.83% 100% Substitution 251 51.6% 98% 220 60.9% 98% Equivalence 8 1.65% 75% 5 1.39% 100% Generalisation - Specification 23 4.73% 100% 15 4.16% 100% Contrast 4 0.82% 100% 4 1.11% 80% Total 486 100% 361 100% 125 Nguyen Hong Lien As presented above, substitution records the highest percentage in both classes’ answers and significantly dominates other reiteration kinds. This includes the usage of adjective pronouns (him, her, them. . . ), possessive pronouns (my, his, her, their, etc. and reference (that, there, here, one, etc). In particular, test-takers make some mistakes using this kind of reiteration. In example A7 in K63A, this student uses the singular form of “assistant” as she conjugates the verb “be” in “is”. However, she mistakes this singular now with “they” in her following sentences. (A7) Especially the most important thing I like about the shop is the assistant of the shop is really friendly. And they always care about what I like. They always give me some kinds of best advice whenever I choose some kinds of unsuitable jeans or clothes. Similarly, in A9, there is an inaccuracy in the usage of “the seller” and “their” as they do not indicate the same quantity. In the case of B16 in K63B, this student made a wrong use of “his” as she would like to use possessive pronoun “his” but then she forgets to add a noun after it. The occurrence of mistakes in substitution is the same in both classes. (A9) Even though many customers they just go window shopping, the seller is still enthusiastic and introduce them many clothes of their shop. (B16) . . . so in that song, the singer show his to that kind of person. . . . Simple repetition ranks second in the list with 194 recorded instances though the statistics in K63A is higher than that in K63B (this is partly due to the uneven number of students in two classes: 32 and 29). The frequency of the remainder decreases with visible counts as follows: generalization - specification, equivalence, complex repetition and contrast. Most of the uses are correct but the students in K63A misuse more words than their counterpart in K63B, in which examples A31 and A29 display mistakes in complex repetition and equivalence while B27 showcases student’s errors in contrast. In A29, there is a mismatch between “stressful” and “tension” as they are not in the same part of speech. Likewise, “her smart” in A31 is also wrongly used since it is supposedly a complex repetition of “smart” - an adjective in a previous sentence. The wrong use should be replaced with “her smartness.” (A29) . . . also music help me out of stressful and tension. . . (A31) . . . now she is 1 year old. Her high is about 90cma and she looks so cute and smart. . . Because of her smart even the neighbor they go to my house and play with her. . . Meanwhile, the contrast of “long short” in B27 does not seem to make sense when they are next to each other, not supplementary for any subject, not to mention its ungrammatical use. (B27) . . . the dragon of Ly dynasty is different from others. It long short, the most I like it people interested in Buddhism. . . Collocation Figure 3. Usage of collocation in K63A and K63B’s IELTS Speaking Part 2 126 Discourse cohesion in responses to speaking tasks of third-year English majors... There are three sub-categories in this section, among which ordered set is not found in test-takers’ speaking. K63A students possess marginally higher frequencies in using collocation than their friends in K63B. Notably, in K63B students’ speeches, there are two collocations that are repeated twice (hustle and bustle: 2; broaden my mind: 2) while K63A students used no such repetition. Moreover, all collocations of K63B were correctly used whereas K63A students made some mistakes with wrong preposition (A16: “on” should be “for”) or inappropriate word choice (A15: “unspoilt” does not go with “weather” to show the type of weather). (A16) I think that at a little age, she has her own appetite on clothing. (A15) It’s Sapa and the reason why I would like to live in this town because it has imposing nature and unspoilt weather. On a side note, both classes recorded the same count of idioms’ usage. K63A’s students us
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