Effective foreign language teaching and assessment tools
【Abstract】 Dictation is an effective means of foreign language teaching as well as teaching evaluation. The scholars criticized the worthiness of its practicality and even were
against it both at home and abroad at the beginning. As the language testing entered the psycho-socio - linguistic stage,
Hymes's theory of communicative competence and Oller's theory of 'Unitary Competence Hypothesis' were put forward, dictation is applied widely in the foreign language classroom. As an effective teaching strategy, dictation has its own theory of the psycholinguistics. The language information processing system, and the application of the top-down and bottom-up
approaches have exerted their significant functions in the
whole process of dictation. Dictation is conducive to improve the receptive skill of listening and the productive skill of writing, which can also facilitate the students 'integrated linguistic competence. However, people have some prejudice
against dictation. Hence, dictation fails to gain enough attention in the foreign language teaching. Based upon psycholinguistic theory, the paper analyses the language information processing system and the psychological process. And it also introduces six kinds of dictation and explores the significance of dictation in the foreign language teaching and teaching evaluation based on the analysis of some common errors made in dictation, and tries to meet the purpose of developing students' integrated linguistic competence by
cultivating their dictation ability through teaching .
【Key Words】 dictation; FL teaching; FL teaching evaluation; skill
Abstract dictation of foreign language teaching is an effective assessment tools is also an effective means of
teaching foreign languages. Although the value has been used before the fact, critics and scholars at home and abroad, and even opposition, but the dictation in the language after a period of access to psycho-social linguistics, and Hymes,
"communicative competence" and Euler, "the overall capacity of the hypothesis" and other arguments that, dictation communicative and applicability has been widely used. Dictation as an effective teaching strategies have their psycholinguistic theory. Language information processing, two kinds of top-down and bottom-up strategy for the integrated
applications in the entire process of dictation played an extremely important role. Dictation help improve language input and output levels, and promote the integrated use of
language capabilities. But it is lack of knowledge of the dictation and have a certain bias, dictation in foreign language teaching has been given due attention.
In this paper, a brief analysis of psycholinguistic point of view of the language of information acceptance process and student dictation process of cognitive psychology at the same time introducing the six forms of dictation, and dictation in the analysis of some of the common mistakes, focusing on the dictation in foreign language teaching and assessment process The meaning, and by teaching students the dictation capabilities, and ultimately achieving integrated applications to improve English language ability purposes.
Key words dictation; foreign language teaching; foreign
language teaching evaluation; Skills
1 Introduction: the background of dictation
1.1 criticism of dictation
Dictation constitutes a part in some national English proficiency tests in China, such as Test of English Majors (TEM 4, TEM 8), and College English Test (CET 4, CET 6). As a traditional language-teaching device, dictation has gone its long way from criticism to approval over the decades in accordance with the development of foreign language teaching. Although many researchers approved of the use of dictation as a classroom exercise, dictation practice was firstly
criticized as a simply copy practice and just a test of spelling .
"Spolsky identifies three stages in the recent history of language testing: the pre-scientific, the psychometric-
structuralist, and the psycho-socio-linguistic."  Critics
of the "pre-scientific" approach to testing are already familiar, since language testing during this stage is thought of as testing the students' reception of language knowledge,
which has a very low degree of reliability and validity. During the second stage, language is regarded as a series of structure form, symbolic system, and the learning of language is to obtain the skill to manipulate this system. Since structures and skills can be learned and trained separately, as for testing, the main test items are discrete point "objective" test formats. Discrete items should be constructed, each of which will ideally reveal the learner's ability to handle one level of the language in terms of one of
the four skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Therefore, criticism of dictation in the past stemmed from the viewpoint influenced heavily by structural linguistics that favored testing the more discrete elements of language
skills and wished to avoid the possibility of muddy measurement.
"Heaton commented on dictation: 'a testing device it measures too many different language features to be effective in providing a means of assessing any one particular skill.'
This kind of test emphasizes strongly the accuracy and objectivity of scoring, which has a high reliability but on the other hand neglects the context and situation. Dictation measures a complex range of integrated skills and should not be regarded as constituting simply a test of spelling. The dictation of single words, nevertheless, can prove a fairly reliable test of spelling. "  Although dictation was considered as an effective means of testing device, Heaton still argued that dictation just test the students' discrete
elements of their language skills.
1.2 Approval of dictation
However, from the early 1970s, a new theory of language and language use began to exert a significant
influence on language teaching and potentially on language
testing. This was Hymes's theory of communicative competence, which greatly expanded the scope of what was covered by an understanding of language and the ability to use language in context, particularly in terms of the social demands of performance. Hymes also saw that knowing a language was more than knowing its rules of grammar. Although the relevance of Hymes's theory to language testing was recognized more or less immediately on its appearance, it took a decade for its actual impact on practice to be felt, in the development of
communicative language tests. The theory of communicative competence represented a profound shift from a psychological perspective on language, which sees language as an internal phenomenon, to a sociological one, focusing on the external,
social functions of language.
Therefore, approval of dictation testing also has its theoretical basis. As the language testing entered the third stage, which was called the psycho-socio-linguistic stage. In
other word, communicative language testing has become more and
more predominant. As the main purpose of language learning is to acquire communicative skills, which contain language competence, discourse competence and language use skill, the effective tests should be those that can put each specific
skill together to test students' overall ability of using language.
During the 1970s there was much excitement in the world of language testing about what was called the 'Unitary Competence Hypothesis'. In brief, this was the suggestion that
the nature of language ability was such that it was impossible to break it down into component parts . Although the hypothesis was eventually shown to be false, the notion of overall ability can, in some circumstances, be a useful concept. "One reason why various studies provided statistical support for the Unitary Competence Hypothesis was that they were concerned with the performance of groups rather than of individuals. Where people have had training in both speaking and writing, the better someone writes, the better they are
likely to speak. So the way of measuring overall ability would of course not be to measure a variety of separate abilities and then to combine scores, but put each specific skill together. " Dictation recommended in this paper has its
advantage of being relatively easy to prepare, administer and
score. It has also been the subjects of quite considerable research, and for that reason it also showed more advantages than many other tests.
"Dictation is a good old fashioned way to get students
listening carefully, it needs no description."  Dictation forms a testing item in the foreign language testing. Perhaps it is affirmed that dictation exercise is an effective testing and teaching device. However , in order that students can
perform better on dictations in these proficiency tests, many teachers use dictation practice as an additional exercise. Dictation is largely confined to its use as a testing rather than a teaching device. The controversy whether dictation is a
useful practice is existed recently. Therefore this paper is inclined to investigate that systematic dictation practice has a great deal of effect on students' language skills, such as listening skills, grammatical and lexical knowledge, writing abilities, the abilities in taking dictations and so on.
2 Theoretical Reviews
In this part, the mechanism of dictation works in the foreign language learning including information processing system is reviewed in detail. And then the cognitive process
of dictation will be described, followed by various types of dictation as a means of language teaching and a language teaching evaluation. Application of dictation in some national tests in China is also discussed.
2.1 Information processing system
This paper relies on the theories in psycholinguistics, which focus on the study of how individuals comprehend, produce, and acquire language. In this period, the psychological mechanisms, which are involved in using language, will be discussed. These mechanisms provide the
basis for an integrated understanding of language use. As language processing is a joint product of linguistic principles and psychological mechanisms, some knowledge of the psychological mechanisms in language acquisition is very
essential and will become the theoretical background of the paper.
"The acts of language comprehension are performed within the constraints of our information processing system that move information from one structure to the next. Such a system
consists of three mental structural components, that is, sensory memory, working memory and permanent memory. Besides, there is a set of control processes that govern the flow of information. A general model of information processing system is presented as follows in Figure. "
As the first step in information processing sequence, the incoming information is represented in a literal, unanalyzed form in our sensory stores for at most of a few seconds, which will disappear rapidly, if it is not relevant
to the current goals. Then the information is moving to the working memory, which is the temporary holding place for many cognitive acts with a longer period of time. It has both storage and processing functions. However, it can hold only approximately seven plus or minus two units of information. Permanent memory is a repository of our knowledge of the world. It holds all of the information we have retained from the past that is not currently active. They are used to interpret the new incoming information during the first two
steps. If the incoming information is comprehended, in turn, the new incoming information may later be added to this storehouse of information. Finally, the incoming information is processed and retained.
2.2 The cognitive process of dictation
The human organism approaches any new problems with an existing set of cognitive structures, and through insight, logical thinking, and various forms of hypothesis testing, calls upon whatever prior experience he has had and whatever
cognitive structures he possesses to attempt a solution.
Dictation testing, just like some of other testing items, undergoes the problem-solving process, which mainly focuses on internalizing the dictation materials the student hears, what he originally hears is merely continuous, meaningless sound signals like a series of telegram codes which need decoding by using his already existing knowledge and experience, so that they can become meaningful to the receiver. Otherwise these sounds are meaningless and will quickly slip away from the
mind. If he has the ability to recognize these signals, they will be stored in the brain's working memory system. In doing so, the premise is that the student understands most parts of the passage on a discourse level which is a higher level of
language understanding. The student then makes use of his existing knowledge and experience, such as grammar, vocabulary and analysis skill to recognize the sound signals, encode them in his own language system, decode them, and put them into the
working memory system in his brain. Now the meaningless sound signals will become meaningful contents. When the student tries to write the passage out, he has to encode the message again by using his existing knowledge and experience to
reorganize them so that they are understandable to others. So, the student undergoes a complicated psychological and cognitive process, which involves his various language abilities and skills. The whole process of dictation checks the students' both receptive and productive ability and is
active and creative. 
According to the psycholinguistic model, the following process involved in dictation, which may obviously show the fact that the cognitive acts of dictation are performed within the constraints of our information processing system. When the student takes in a speech in a literal and unanalyzed state and holds an image of it in working memory. An attempt is made to organize what was heard into constituents, identifying their content and function. During this time, information from permanent memory is retrieved to recognize the incoming information patterns. Patterns recognition occurs when the incoming information matched with information retrieved from permanent memory. As the constituents are identified, they are
used to construct propositions, grouping the props together to form a coherent message. Once the student has identified and reconstructed the prepositional meaning, these are held in permanent memory. And the form in which the meaning was
originally received is deleted.
3 Types of Dictation
Dictation is a technique associated with traditional, accuracy-focused methodology: the teacher reads a text passage aloud right through and then with some pauses, and the
students need to write down exactly what is said.
The following passages focus on the description of six other types of dictation practice that are adopted widely in the foreign language learning. They are: standard dictation, partial dictation, dito-comp and dictogloss, elicited
Imitation, dictation with competing noise and graduated dictation.
3.1 Standard Dictation
Standard dictation, also called "ordinary dictation", is the well-known type of dictation. "It requires the students to write out the verbal sequences of material as spoken by the teacher or played with a recording. The text passage is usually read three times. This type of dictation is somewhat longer, but it provides a more valid measure of overall language. "
For instance, in TEM 4 (Part II), students are required to dictate a 150 to 200-word passage. Altogether the passage is read four times. During the first and the fourth readings, the passage is read at normal speed, while in the second and third readings, the passage is read sentence by sentence, or
phrase by phrase with intervals of 15 to 20 seconds. The students are instructed to listen and try to understand the meaning without writing anything in the first reading, to write down every word they hear from the tape in the second
and third readings and to check their work in the last reading. Then the students are given 2 minutes to check through their work once more.
"The dictation passage consists of 15chunks. Students can be awarded one point if the chunk is correctly taken down but
one minor mistake is allowed. If there are some major mistakes and the meaning of the chunk is not correctly conveyed, then they are not awarded the point for this chunk. The dictation part accounts for 15% of the total score of TEM 4. The
objective of dictation in TEM 4 is to test students' ability in comprehension and writing, and correctness in spelling and punctuations. In TEM 4, dictation is highly related with students' overall scores "
3.2 Partial Dictation
Partial dictation, which is also called "spot dictation", is similar to standard dictation, except that the students have been given a print copy of a passage in which certain words and phrase have been omitted. As the passage is read, the students must listen to the spoken material carefully and fill in the blanks in time. It is considered as a valid pragmatic testing measure because it requires subjects to interpret what they hear as part of natural spoken discourse, and hence subjects' global language proficiency can be tapped.
"Johansson concludes that partial dictation is a valid and reliable test measure of listening comprehension and implies that because of the high correlations with other measures of foreign language proficiency in a foreign language." 
Compound-dictation or spot-dictation began to be used
in CET 4 in 1997. It is a combination of partial dictation and dicto-comp. The objective is to test students' listening comprehension and certain ability in written expression. A written version of a passage of about 200 words is printed on the test paper with seven content words and three long sentences deleted. The passage is read three times. For the first reading, the students listen for general ideas. For the second reading, the students are required to fill in the
blanks numbered from S1 to S7 with the exact words they hear from the tape. There is a one or two second interval right after the deleted word. For the blanks numbered S8 to S10, the students are required to fill in the missing information. The
interval after each deleted sentence is about 15 seconds. The students can either write in exact forms they hear from the tape or reconstruct sentences with their own words whose meanings are similar to those conveyed by the speaker. And for the third reading, the students listen again to check their writings.
3.3 Dicto-comp and Dictogloss
Another type of dictation is what has sometimes been called "dictation composition". It offers an interesting variation on word-for-word dictation. The exercise is a mixed
skill one. Students are conducted to listen to a text passage one or more times while it is read by the teacher or played on tape at a conversational rate. Then they are asked to reconstruct the passage from memory what they have heard.
"Dicto-comp is also known as dictogloss, but in fact is quite distinct from dictation in both procedure and objectives. In dictogloss, a passage is read at normal speed to the students who take some notes with the familiar words or note some key words as they listen. Sometimes, the passage is read two times for the students. And, in small groups, the students discuss and compare their words with their partner. After that, students should gather their key words to reconstruct their written versions of the original text.
Through both the task of reconstruction and the following analysis, students refine their understanding of the language they have used. "
3.4 Elicited Imitation
According to Oller, elicited imitation is an auditory
task that is similar to dictation in terms of the passage read to the students but different from respect to the response mode. In this case, the students hear the passage, the same as in dictation, but the students are asked to repeat it what they have heard instead of writing down the passage. Then the verbatim tasks and more retelling tasks have been used. The teachers need to try to elicit some pieces of information. Although some may consider the task superficial or mechanical, it is also a good way to explore the working memory, which
requires a deep level of processing and requires the students to repeat what he or she has heard. The task is classified as a kind of dictation-type activity because the students have to produce what he or she has heard, of course not in written
form as in standard dictation, but in oral form. This technique is quite effective with children and preliterate adults. It can be used quite effectively in the foreign language teaching as well as testing, which is also developed
as a device for the oral teachers to improve their students' listening skills and spoken skills in the class.
3.5 Dictation with Competing Noise
This kind of dictation is also called "white noise dictation". It involves leaving gaps usually replaced with a
noise or a whistle, so on and so forth in the text. As a classroom exercise it follows basically four steps: firstly, the teacher reads the passage once at a normal speed for the