SSHRC /CRSH  (No. 410-2000-1283)  |  $69,000   |  2001-2003
Language awareness of
Quebec TESL trainees: Implications for teacher training
(With Lori Morris, TESL Centre,
Concordia University, Montreal)


Brief summary of project (Sept 2000) plus Update (July 2002)


The majority of ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers in the Quebec school system are speakers of French as a first language who have themselves learned English within the Quebec school system. Few of these teachers have ever had their competence in English assessed outside of this system, which thus can be reasonably described as a closed system. It is widely believed, mainly on anecdotal evidence in the newspapers, that many of these teachers are far from strong in English.


At the same time, teacher training institutions (such as Concordia University, to some extent, but mainly the several branches of the Université du Québec or UQ province-wide where most Francophone ESL teachers receive their training) are required to divide their emphases between language skills and pedagogical skills, without any real way of knowing the exact state of their students’ language ability. In this absence of information, most training courses greatly emphasize pedagogy over language skills.


In our research, we propose an objective assessment of the language competence of Francophone ESL teacher trainees in Quebec, especially within the UQ system, with a view to determining the relative needs of pedagogy vs. language training in programs for teacher preparation. The specific aspects of language competence that we propose to examine are vocabulary and grammar. Thomas Cobb is a specialist in vocabulary and the measurement and teaching thereof, while Lori Morris is a specialist in both grammar and pedagogical grammar.


Our data will come mainly from computer-based testing at the Université du Québec á Montréal (UQAM) over a period of two or more years involving several hundred trainee candidates. Our data collection will be based on a methodology of learner corpus analysis which we are currently developing, and following that on a series of dedicated computational instruments including tests and text analysis programs. We intend to disseminate our findings through publications and conference presentations, and our instruments over the World Wide Web.


The final phase of our project will move from problems to solutions. If, as we expect, our findings suggest a need for more extensive language instruction for these ESL trainees, then we intend to develop computer-based training materials in line with our findings. Network-delivered tutorial materials make sense because the UQ system is so widely dispersed.


Project Update (July 2002)


By now, we have disseminated results in the following categories:


A. Methodology Development

1.      Cobb, T. (In press).  Analyzing late interlanguage with learner corpora: Quebec replications of three European studiesCanadian Modern Language Review.

2.      Cobb, T. (2001) One size fits all? Francophone learners and English vocabulary tests. Canadian Modern Language Review, 57 (2), 295-324.

  1. Cobb T. & L. Morris (2002) Vocabulary profiles as a predictor of TESL student performance. American Association for Applied Linguistics, April, Salt Lake City, Utah.



B. Software tools development


1. Vocabulary Profiler in both English  and  French


This text analysis tool has a long pedigree in the research literature. It decomposes any text into its lexical frequency zones. Our online version of the tool  is dedicated to our own needs, for example to comparing vocabulary levels between native speakers and various levels of learners; between pre- and post instruction; and notably between L1 and L2.


2. Vocab Stats


Since we have students helping us who have no statistical training, we have found it necessary to develop a a set of vocabulary-relevant statistics programs (e.g., X-square for comparing vocabulary profiles) which are more straightforward that usual in their use.


3. Placement tests


These of course cannot be disseminated as they are still in use.

C. Tutorial tools development

Since one of our preliminary findings is the systematic lack of vocabulary knowledge among our trainees, we are experimenting already with software tools for collaborative lexical development. A literacy course at UQAM for TESL trainees successfully piloted a Collaborative Lexical Database in Summer 2002.

Other tools for grammatical awareness raising are under development, notably the idea of precast concordance links being explored in a classroom based MA study by one of our students.