Promoting second language development with concept-based language instruction and intelligent computer-assisted language learning

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Ai, Haiyang
Graduate Program:
Applied Linguistics
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 01, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Xiaofei Lu, Dissertation Advisor
  • Xiaofei Lu, Committee Chair
  • James Lantolf, Committee Member
  • Celeste S Kinginger, Committee Member
  • Matthew Edward Poehner, Committee Member
  • second language acquisition
  • computer-assisted language learning
  • ba-construction
  • Vygotsky
  • zone of proximal development
This dissertation reports on a study that aimed to support intermediate–level American university students of Chinese (N=6) in developing conceptual knowledge in the functional purpose of the Chinese ba-construction and its differences from the canonical SVO and the topicalization OSV word orders through concept-based language instruction and intelligent computer-assisted language learning (ICALL). Although the ba-construction has been heavily studied in the theoretical linguistics literature, and second language (L2) acquisition studies have shown that L2 speakers find it especially challenging, surprisingly, few studies have attempted to promote L2 acquisition of this grammatical structure through pedagogical intervention. Adopting the concept-based approach to language instruction, which originates from Vygotskian tradition of sociocultural theory and advocates that instruction should provide learners with abstract scientific concepts and then guide them to discover how these concepts are applicable in concrete circumstances, this study investigates how this pedagogical approach, coupled with an ICALL system, can help learners develop conceptual understanding and performance abilities regarding various aspects of the ba-construction. As part of the study, I have developed a socioculturally-informed ICALL system for Chinese, the first of its kind. Through the analyses of the participants’ performance on a translation, a cartoon description task, card play activities, computer-based practice in ICALL system, and verbalization data, this study found that over the course of the study, the participants have made marked improvement in conceptual knowledge and performance abilities. Finally, I argue for a reconceptualization of the notion of “intelligence” in ICALL—what makes ICALL intelligent is not simply the utilization of NLP technology, but how NLP and other technologies can be creatively used to provide meaningful and appropriate mediational feedback in order to promote L2 development.