A Case Study Comparing the Use of Three Discrete Vocabulary Tests in Primary School in China
Chapter II Literature Review 文献综述
2.1 The historical evolution and theoretical basis of English vocabulary test
2.1.1 History of English vocabulary test
Modern Language Testing (LT) is an important branch of applied linguistics, which developed and matured with the independence and development of educational measurement in the early 20th century (Li, 2005). Many language tests are based on English language, involving teaching methods, second language acquisition theory, linguistics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, educational measurement, computer science and so on (Li, 2005). Nearly a century, the development of foreign language testing has gone through four stages (Li, 2006). The first stage was pre-science stage, at this stage, foreign language teaching using a traditional grammar translation method, the testing is an entirely subjective testing method (Li, 2006); at second stage, structuralist linguistics and psychometric measurement were combined to form a listening and speaking stage. It mainly used separate test questions, a subject's language knowledge and skills were tested (Davies, 1968); at third stage, transformational-generative grammar and cognitive psychology were combined to generate a cognitive method, it mainly used comprehensive questions (Oller, 1979); at fourth stage, sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics were combined to enter the stage of functional method, it mainly used of communicative questions (Li, 2006). Judging from the history of English tests, an important feature is that English tests gradually transform from the past emphasis on grammar, vocabulary and other theoretical knowledge test to the tests paying attention to the ability of the use of English. Entering the 21st century, English language testing has been greatly developed, involving a number of disciplines such as Psycholinguistics, Pedagogy, Cognitive Science, Language Acquisition Theory, Linguistics and Educational Surveying, becoming as an interdisciplinary field, and it has developed into a professional occupation and become an important content of development of profession of English teachers. The development trend of modern foreign language testing is the introduction of computer technology, with the maturity of computer technology, computer has been widely used in the field of foreign language testing, thus the development of foreign language testing has entered a new stage (Li, 2005).
2.1.2 Theoretical basis
220.127.116.11 Theory of structural linguistics
In the 1940s and 1950s, structural linguistics was born (Yang, 1999). Structural linguistics divides languages into hierarchical systems composed of different linguistic units. The smallest linguistic units are phonemes, phonemes constitute morphemes, morphemes constitute words, phrases, words and phrases constitute sentences. In this way, structuralist linguists divide language into four levels: phoneme, syntax, vocabulary, and culture (Davies, 1968). This division of levels provides language testers with the basis for language test content selection. According to the division of language by structural linguists, testers break down language into different test points to test candidates’ corresponding language proficiency, this test method is called discrete vocabulary tests (Davies, 1968).
18.104.22.168 Communicative language theory
In the 1960s, people put forward different views on the theoretical basis of English vocabulary testing - the definition of English ability, and put forward the concept of communicative competence (Wu, 2002). Oller (1979) proposed unitary competence hypothesis, pointing out that vocabulary level is an inseparable whole, vocabulary testing practices should be replaced by an overall vocabulary test, this test method is called as a "pragmatic" test. He argued that discrete vocabulary tests do not reflect the language level of a person being tested, only "pragmatic" test can truly reflect the level of vocabulary ability of a tested person. Hymes (1974) put forward the concept of linguistic communicative competence. He believed that linguistic competence should be expressed in the use of verbal communicative competence, which includes possible, feasible, appropriate, done, vocabulary ability test should test the vocabulary communication ability that a person being tested has. In 1980, Canale and Swain (1980) proposed another model of communicative competence, which consists of three parts: grammar knowledge, sociolinguistic knowledge and communicative strategy knowledge, and in 1990, Bachman (1990) put forward a communicative vocabulary competence model, a speaker plays the common role of its knowledge structure, language ability, strategy ability and physiological and psychological mechanisms in a specific scene to achieve communicative purposes. In 1999, Bachman and Palmer (1996) also made clear that the main factor of communicative competence is vocabulary knowledge (grammatical knowledge, discourse knowledge) and pragmatic knowledge (functional knowledge, social language knowledge).Therefore, communicative competence has become one of the most important concepts in English teaching.
The theory of communicative competence not only gave birth to the communicative vocabulary teaching method, but also promoted the development of communicative vocabulary testing theory and practice (Zhou and Gao, 1998). Vocabulary tests gradually developed from discrete vocabulary tests of structuralism to comprehensive and holistic "communicative" vocabulary tests. In 1993, Weir completed a book named Communicative Language Testing, which described the theory, principles and rules of communication language testing, since then, communicative vocabulary tests has become the mainstream of vocabulary tests (He, 2001).
2.2 Empirical research on discrete vocabulary tests and integrated vocabulary tests
2.2.1 Content of discrete vocabulary tests
In "Language Testing", the famous language testing authority named Lado (1961) divided language ability into speech, syntax, vocabulary and culture, believing that language tests can be by listening, speaking, reading and writing, these four ways to test pronunciation, syntax, vocabulary and culture. Because language can be broken down into elements, discrete items can be designed to test whether students have mastered these elements. This test method is called discrete-point test, it is also known as atomistic approach (Lado, 1961). According to language skills, discrete vocabulary testing usually divide vocabulary testing into several parts, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing four parts respectively for testing. Teachers can determine what they will test according to what they need to test.
2.2.2 Characteristics of discrete vocabulary tests
Each examination question of discrete vocabulary tests usually only test a examination point, the main types of questions include filling in blanks, completing sentences, error correction and so on (Yang, 1999). The most widely used type of questions in discrete vocabulary tests are multiple-choice questions (Gong, 2002). Because discrete vocabulary tests usually test only a language point, within limited time, students may answer a lot of questions, thus increasing the coverage of sampling. Sampling large helps to achieve high reliability. In addition, the use of multiple-choice questions has objectivity, which further enhances the reliability of vocabulary testing (Wu, 2002; Han, 2000). However, tests of pre-science stage, such as essay writing are highly subjective, the objectivity and reliability is low, thus multiple-choice item / questions with a high degree of reliability came into being. Although this type of questions is controversial, the design of science multiple-choice questions contributes great to large-scale standardized testing and machine scoring (Lyle, 1999). Heaton, a language-testing expert, argued that multiple-choice questions and integrated vocabulary tests are not a one-to-one relationship, and multiple-choice questions can be used restrictively in many integrated vocabulary tests (Heaton, 1988). Discrete vocabulary tests are very particular about the scientific nature of tests, during this period, a series of statistical analysis methods has been developed, including quantitative analysis methods for analyzing the difficulty of test questions, distinctions, reliability of a whole paper and so on, making vocabulary testing a branch of learning with a solid theoretical foundation and a mature measurement of statistical methods (Li, 2005). However, structuralism tests ignore linguistic situation, during this period, it has little concern for the validity of tests.