Teaching Meanings at Three Levels

(Abstract for CLTA-GNY 2011)


Jenny Wang

United States Naval Academy, najenny@usna.edu



This presentation is linguistically based but pedagogically oriented.  It is in an attempt to help classroom teachers to raise awareness of the importance of teaching meanings through the forms, and of teaching different types, or levels, of meanings that their students need to identify and to learn to comprehend and express properly.


It is the investigator’s observation that often times a classroom teacher can easily reach the goal of teaching lexical meanings, especially those of content words, such as simple nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs which do not involve much difference in their Chinese usage than in English, but may encounter greater challenges in teaching the meanings of grammar words, such as question and negation words, time and location words, auxiliary and modal verbs, verb particles, prepositions and co-verbs, noun-phrase and verb-phrase builders, sentence and discourse connectors, and so on.  In this presentation, I will cite some student errors to illustrate that such grammar words, as well as some idiomatic usage and expressions, can not only function at the sentential level to express structural meanings, but also at the discourse level to express contextual meanings and even pragmatic (i.e. speakers’) meanings. The following are 3 examples of the 3 levels of meanings (where the star signs mark sentences with errors).


1)      Structural meaning

English – Last week I went swimming twice at the school swimming pool.



            Correct Chinese 上个星期我去学校游泳池游了两次泳。


2)      Contextual meaning

English – Yesterday the teacher came to class late and the students waited for him for 10 minutes.

* 昨天老师上课来晚了,学生们等他十分钟。

* 昨天老师上课来晚了,学生们等了他十分钟了。

            Correct Chinese 昨天老师上课来晚了,学生们等了他十分钟。


3)      Pragmatic (speaker’s) meaning

English –     Host: How come you’re not eating?  You should eat more!

Guest: (a good response in Chinese)

* 主人:你们怎么不在吃?你们应该吃得更多 

* 客人:我们不吃是因为我们不太饿。  

* 客人:对不起,因为我得减肥,所以我不可以吃这么多。

* 客人:对不起,可是你没有看见我刚才吃过了

Correct Chinese     主人:你们怎么不吃啊?你们得多吃点儿