An ecological approach to detecting the functional value of foreign text: Figuring out a language in context through perception

Date of Completion

January 2006


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Educational Psychology|Language, General




This study suggests that people are able to detect the functional value of foreign text before they know the semantics, syntax, or deep structure of the language. An ecological approach to language acquisition and development locates language development neither in the human's internal constituents (thoughts or genetic make-up) alone, nor in the language environment alone, but in the reciprocity of perception and action cycles (Dent, 1990). Based on the assumption of the reciprocity of perception and action cycles, this research suggests how readers discover the functional value of foreign text in a given language learning situation. ^ Three research questions were addressed (1) To what extent is it possible for native English speakers with no experience with Korean to detect the functional value of Korean text within four simple computer-based contexts; (2) How do native English speakers detect the structural and functional value to carry out simple instructions written in Korean; and (3) What structural and functional invariance is reported by native English speakers unfamiliar with Korean, as they attempt to follow directions written in Korean? ^ The experimental task involved following directions written in Korean in four different multimedia contexts (i.e., placing one object above or below another). Twenty-nine undergraduate students who used English as their main language and had no experience with Korean participated in this study. Both quantitative and qualitative research methods were used. Quantitative analyses including ANOVAs were applied to answer the first and second research questions. For the third research question, log files and verbal protocols were analyzed to qualitatively reveal the dynamic performance process. ^ This study provides a pragmatic account of how readers, unfamiliar with a language, can detect the functional value of a foreign language by direct perception of invariant structure of text-based directions. By understanding better the process by which people understand meaning and the functional value of text from context, we can inform functional literacy and language instruction in work places and schools, and suggest guidelines for the design of educational software for learning foreign languages. ^