CALL and the One-Stem System for Russian Verbs

Lauren Warner, Bryn Mawr College

In this study, I intend to discuss data gathered from preliminary student use of an original CALL tutorial that assists with the acquisition of Russian verbs to second-year students and advanced first-year students of Russian. The pedagogical design of the tutorial falls under the category of explicit learning approaches. The tutorial brings together a focus on form and CALL. Research indicates that with careful consideration, a focus on form (attention to linguistic forms as they occur in context) can benefit learners in improving their recall of the accompanying function (Doughty and Williams, Focus on Form in Classroom and Second Language Acquisition). I have selected verbs as the topic of my tutorial since familiarity with the Russian verb system requires significant effort by non-native learners. “Major grammatical topics in the target language” have been recommended as a basis for CALL programs (Garrett, “A Psycholinguistic Perspective in Grammar and CALL”). CALL environments have been shown to increase learners’ motivation, raise their confidence level, and offer extra practice in the target language than they would not receive in the classroom (Ruehlmann, “Towards Replacement of the Teaching Process: The Emulation of the Teaching Process with CAL and Its Implications for the Design of a Multimedia CAL Tutorial”). Further, CALL provides researchers with an opportunity to collect data on learners for any number of projects. In this tutorial, learners can view an introduction either in English or in Russian, to the one-stem verb system and then utilize this information in the exercises that follow. Using the one-stem system as a means to learn conjugation of Russian verbs provides learners with specific guidelines. These guidelines present patterns inherent in the Russian language that assist learners in improving their language level (Channon, “The Single-Stem Verb System Revisited,” Garretson, “Proceeding: One Stem or Two?”). Offering this tool serves as a way to help prevent learners from becoming discouraged by the complexities of Russian (Townsend, Russian Word-Formation).

Practice in the tutorial with the one-stem system occurs through sets of dialogues with cloze procedure. The sets represent selected verb groups and each dialogue features a particular verb. Learners submit their responses for feedback at the end of each dialogue, as opposed to after each response. Feedback is provided for both correct and incorrect responses. Feedback on correct responses either reaffirms learners’ knowledge or reinforces what may have simply been a lucky guess. Feedback on incorrect responses addresses each specific part that is inappropriate. For each question, learners are allowed three attempts. Each attempt is marked and recorded into the log. This procedure serves as a means of discouraging learners from simply pushing buttons to obtain the correct response. At the completion of each dialogue, the tutorial assesses the learners’ correct and incorrect responses and indicates the learners’ strengths and weaknesses through appropriate feedback. Learners are assisted in several ways in formulating their responses. All dialogues are preceded by a title, which serves as an advanced-organizer for learners. In order to aid vocabulary comprehension, glosses are periodically provided. Glosses appear either in Russian (synonyms or paraphrases) or in English (when appropriate). Further, learners have the option of accessing “clues” for each response. The clues consist of three types: hints on stress, mutation, and conjugation type. Finally, a “Help” option directs learners to areas in the Introduction related to the question(s) at hand. Although learners do not receive a penalty for utilizing any of the above features, a log records the type of features and number of times learners access them. Also listed in learners’ logs is the number of color-coded response attempts for each verb group. Learners may print their log at any time.

This tutorial on the one-stem system will be available on the Internet for public use.