Nanyang Technological University (SINGAPORE)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Pages: 5193-5199
ISBN: 978-84-615-5563-5
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
Vocabulary is known to be an essential foundation to language learning. In general, words in a language are often compared to the basic building blocks or bricks by which a building is constructed. The number of words children have acquired naturally is found to have significant consequences on children’s cognition and subsequent formal learning in schools (e.g., Hu & Nation, 2000; Lightbown & Spada, 1993; Liu & Zhao, 2007; Nation, 2001; Zhu, 1990). Hence, the vocabulary children acquire during the foundation years of education will have significance impact on their comprehension of the language and future progress. A study of the vocabulary of the primary school language textbooks will provide insights into the acquisition of a language in the foundation years.

According to the report of the Ministry of Education of Singapore (2010), among ethnic Chinese students, the proportion with English as the home language has risen from 28% in 1991 to 59% in 2010. Unlike the past, nowadays well educated parents prefer to communicate with their children in English at home, and this trend tends to continue. Young adults also tend to limit their use of Mandarin both at home and in social circles. This consequential outcome implied that Singapore government’s language-in-education policy has not further developed Singaporean Mandarin implicitly as the policy intended to be. Although it is the mother tongue of the majority community (about 76%), the pressure of the dominant English in Singapore society is driving it out of the household, the place designated by policy makers where cultural values can be preserved and carried on through intergenerational transmission. For these reasons, the teaching of Chinese language has posed great challenges for Chinese language classroom teachers.

This article reports the findings of a study of the vocabulary of Singapore current primary school Chinese language textbooks. In order to carry out this study, text data from the current primary one to primary six Singapore Chinese language textbooks were being collected to construct a specialized corpus. Upon completion of manual proofreading and cleaning for errors, the data was being segmented and annotated by using the “Corpus-Assisted Language Analysis System” developed by Hunan University of Science and Technology. Exclude punctuations, the corpus collected 27,499 Chinese character-tokens, which consolidates into 1,843 character-types. The character-tokens were further consolidates into 19,512 word-tokens and 3,622 word-types.

With the character-types and word-types, the corpus calculated the percentage of the textbooks coverage by the character-types and word-types as well as the coverage of the high frequency words at different levels. In addition, comparisons of the character-types and word-types between different levels were being made. With a scientific corpus approach, this study provides insights into the learning of Chinese vocabulary at Singapore primary level, in particular, the spread and coverage of the list of vocabulary across a six-year primary school education. Findings from this study not only provide important information for curriculum developers in their future curriculum reform, but also serve as important referencing for Chinese language classroom teachers and researchers.
Vocabulary, Chinese language, Singapore, corpus.