Meaning-focused grammar instruction:
examining British, Chinese, French, and
Italian textbooks for teaching Chinese
as a foreign language
Enseñanza de la gramática centrada en el
signicado: un examen de los libros de texto
británicos, chinos, franceses e italianos para la
enseñanza del chino como lengua extranjera
University of Urbino Carlo Bo
Urbino, Italy
Abstract: The present study seeks to provide an analysis of how
grammar instruction is presented in four selected Chinese as a foreign
language textbooks published in four dierent countries. It explores how
each textbook presents grammar, and to what extent grammar activities
are presented in a meaning-use focused and contextualized way. Two
research questions guided the analysis: How is grammar presented in the
grammar description and target language samples? To what extent are
grammar exercises contextualized and meaning-use focused? The results
show that the role of grammar is still conspicuous, and textbooks tend
to provide more activities that focus on meaning-form relationships than
communicative tasks, still focusing more on accuracy than on interaction
and meaning-use relationships. Activities promoting interaction,
communicative tasks and meaning-use focused integrated in the analyzed
Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022
textbooks are still rare. The paper also highlights the importance of
cooperation among teachers, researchers, and authors in producing
teaching materials.
Keywords: Chinese as a foreign language; Chinese teaching; grammar
instruction; teaching material; foreign language textbook.
Resumen: El presente estudio busca proporcionar un análisis de
cómo se presenta la enseñanza de la gramática en cuatro libros de texto
seleccionados de chino como lengua extranjera utilizados en cuatro países
diferentes. Explora cómo cada libro de texto presenta la gramática y en
qué medida las actividades gramaticales se presentan de una manera
contextualizada y enfocada en el uso del signicado. Dos preguntas de
investigación guiaron el análisis: ¿Cómo se presenta la gramática en la
descripción gramatical y en las muestras del idioma de destino? ¿Hasta qué
punto los ejercicios de gramática están contextualizados y enfocados en el
uso del signicado? Los resultados muestran que el papel de la gramática
sigue siendo conspicuo, y los libros de texto tienden a proporcionar más
actividades que se centran en las relaciones signicado-forma que tareas
comunicativas, centrándose aún más en la precisión que en la interacción
y las relaciones signicado-uso. Las actividades que promueven la
interacción, las tareas comunicativas y centradas en el uso del signicado
integradas en los libros de texto analizados son aún escasas. El documento
también destaca la importancia de la cooperación entre profesores,
investigadores y autores en la producción de materiales didácticos.
Palabras clave: chino como lengua extranjera; Enseñanza de chino;
enseñanza de la gramática; material de enseñanza; libro de texto de lengua
Citar como: Gabbianelli, G. (2022). Meaning-focused grammar
instruction: examining British, Chinese, French, and Italian textbooks
for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Revista Internacional de
Estudios Asiáticos, 1(2), 148-173. DOI 10.15517/riea.v1i2.50385
Fecha de recepción: 11-03-2022 | Fecha de aceptación: 14-06-2022
150 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
Due to the increasing spread of interest in the study of Chinese lan-
guage and culture in the world, research in teaching Chinese as a foreign
language (CFL) methodology has also increased as well as the produc-
tion of teaching resources. In the past years, for students approaching
the study of Chinese language, Chinese-English teaching materials em-
ploying English as a tool for target language description and explanation
were the most easily available options. Such textbooks simply provided a
translation of the same contents created for learning the foreign language
in the Chinese context. Nowadays, course books and teaching resourc-
es tailored to dierent learners’ needs and contexts are available in many
dierent languages, allowing native speaker students to study the foreign
language by using their mother tongue, as well as to practice the foreign
language utilizing references within their learning context.
Foreign language (FL) Chinese course books employing dierent lan-
guages and destined to dierent learners are not only issued by publishers
of the People’s Republic of China, but also by authors and publishers
from dierent countries that oer many resources adapted to the specic
learning needs of their citizens.
Despite the large quantity of learning material available on abundant
online platforms, we know from literature that teaching materials are
still important for classroom activities and that both teachers and stu-
dents still rely on textbooks, particularly for grammar instruction.1 It is
therefore essential that textbooks, besides considering students’ learning
context, age, and objectives, also reect useful and eective pedagogical
The methodological way to teach grammar in the FL classroom is
still under debate; however, it is generally considered eective that learn-
1 Sue Garton, Kathleen Graves.“Identifying a research agenda for language tea-
ching materials”. The Modern Language Journal 98, n° 2 (2014): 654–657.
Brian Tomlinson. “Materials development for language learning and teaching”.
Language Teaching 45, n° 2 (2012): 143–179.
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 151
ers should be guided to focus on the formal aspects of the target language.
Researchers are no longer debating whether to present grammar, but how
to incorporate formal aspects, such as grammar structures, in a commu-
nicative teaching context. It seems that deductive and explicit grammar
instruction, as well as inductive and implicit instruction used by teachers,
could be both eective, whether such instructions are incorporated in
meaningful and communicative contexts.2
According to the communicative approach to language teaching, stu-
dents are taught to use the correct forms of the FL in real-life commu-
nicative contexts; for this purpose language teaching not only should
include grammar instruction, which plays an important part in the
learning process by providing the rules of the target language to achieve
language accuracy, but also such instruction should occur in contextual
and meaning-focused activities. These are the guiding principles of the
documents of reference for European language teaching, the Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe,
2001), and these are also considered in the International Curriculum for
Chinese Language Education (Oce of Chinese Language Council Inter-
national, 2008), in the Strategies section the communicative objectives are
described. Thus, according to the adopted teaching approaches grammar
is not considered the objective of language teaching; it is considered an
important tool for achieving the correct use of the target language.3
This study examines four CFL textbooks published in four dierent
countries, including British, Chinese, French, and Italian textbooks. It ex-
plores how each textbook presents grammar and to what extent grammar
activities are presented in a meaningful, use-focused, and contextualized
2 Rod Ellis. “Current issues in the teaching of grammar: An SLA perspective”.
TESOL Quarterly, 40, (2006): 83–107.
David, Newby. “Do grammar exercises help? Assessing the eectiveness of gram-
mar pedagogy”, In ELT: Harmony and Diversity, ed. ChristophHaaseand Nata-
liaOrlova, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014), 3–16.
3 Jianming Lu. 现代汉语语法研究教程 [A Course in Modern Chinese Gram-
mar]. (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2005).
152 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
way. Specically, it investigates to what extent grammar instruction is in-
tegrated into real communication and reproduction of real-life activities,
and to what extent the analyzed textbooks support teachers’ work and
students’ learning process. The paper also highlights the importance of
cooperation among teachers, researchers and authors in producing teach-
ing materials. Bringing together academic researchers, and teachers will
oer opportunities to explore results of experimental teaching and con-
verge the ndings in the creation of FL textbooks.
Review of literature: studies on grammar
instruction in foreign language textbooks
Although technology and web materials have been increasingly integrat-
ed as useful tools in educational processes, textbooks are still recognized
as crucial resources in teaching and learning processes. Furthermore, text-
books are often used as guidance in the curriculum and syllabus design,
dening approaches, activities, exercises, and grammar progression. Some
studies have observed that teachers and students rely on textbooks in the
FL classroom, conrming that teaching materials are a key component in
a language learning program, having an impact on what and how instruc-
tors teach.4 Such an impact may be more prominent in a CFL teaching
environment outside China. In order to provide simulations of everyday
context in the FL classroom, giving learners the opportunity to use FL
in real-life situations, teachers need to employ varied, authentic, and on-
line supplementary instructional materials. Nevertheless, textbooks may
represent an easily accessible and primary source of activities and target
language input. Considering the role of textbooks, it is important that
these reect the suggestions of research in second language acquisition
(SLA) to support students’ learning, and that is by providing grammar in-
struction that should occur in meaningful and communicative contexts.5
4 Dale Brown. “The power and authority of materials in the classroom ecology”.
The Modern Language Journal, 98, (2014): 658–661.
5 Rod Ellis. Language Teaching Research and Language Pedagogy. (West Sussex,
UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).
Rod Ellis. “Task-based language teaching: Sorting out the misunderstandings”.
International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 19, (2009): 221−246.
David, Newby. “Do grammar exercises help? Assessing the eectiveness of gram-
mar pedagogy”, In ELT: Harmony and Diversity, ed. ChristophHaaseand Nata-
liaOrlova, (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014), 3–16.
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 153
Previous studies investigating how grammatical instructions are pre-
sented have shown that dierent FL textbooks tend not to or only par-
tially incorporate ndings on grammar acquisition6. Studies on English
as a second language textbooks have observed a tendency of using explicit
grammar description and controlled production-based activities, show-
ing a discrepancy between textbook design and second language acquisi-
tion perspectives on grammar instruction.7
Investigating seven elementary Italian as a second language course
books, Aski8 analyzed dierent types of production activities found in
textbooks. The author reported a prevalence of highly structured ac-
tivities, such as mechanical drills; activities that require processing and
negotiating meaning were also included, such as meaningful and com-
municative drills. However, free communicative practice activities were
few. She concluded that textbooks heavily relied on traditional methods
of grammar teaching, and suggested information exchange between tea-
chers and publishers, in order to update publishing houses on educators’
preferences and the newest ndings in SLA research.
Other studies found a partial tendency to include contextualized and
meaning-focused activities. The study by Tammenga-Helmantel & Mai-
jala9 analyzed textbooks for teaching German as a foreign language; the
results showed that although textbooks present a traditional position
of grammar, they also revealed innovative aspects in the presentation of
grammar, such as inductive grammar teaching and self-evaluation.
6 Claudia Fernández, Approaches to grammar instruction in teaching mate-
rials: A study in current L2 beginning-level Spanish textbooks”. Hispania 94, n°1
(2011): 155-170.
7 Rod Ellis. “Methodological options in grammar teaching materials”, In New
Perspectives on Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms, ed. Eli Hinkel
and Sandra Fotos. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 155–179.
Carlos Islam. “Materials for Beginners.” In Developing Materials for Language
Teaching, ed. Brian Tomlinson (London: Continuum Print., 2003), 257-74.
8 Janice Aski. “Foreign Language Textbook Activities: Keeping Pace with Second
Language Acquisition Research”. Foreign Language Annals, 36, n°1 (2003):
9 Marjon Tammenga-Helmantel, Minna Maijala. “The position of grammar in
Finnish, Dutch, and global course books for German as a foreign language”. Lan-
guage Teaching Research, 23, n°5(2018): 1-22.
154 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
Research on French as a foreign language textbooks10 , exploring
methods and types of activities oered in grammar exercises, found some
traces of language research indications in lower secondary textbooks. For
instance, input-based activities and discovery approaches, while upper se-
condary textbooks are traditional in their approach to grammar; although
they present grammar tasks based on authentic material and continuous
text. The author concluded that teaching materials are beginning to re-
ect research perspectives, providing meaningful and contextualized
Textbook analysis appears to be more challenging when applied to CFL
teaching materials. In response to the increasing number of non-native
Chinese speakers learning Chinese worldwide, publishers have launched
new teaching materials. Nonetheless it is important to explore to what ex-
tent publishers and authors are taking into consideration issues of applied
linguistic research to facilitate the acquisition of Chinese. Regarding Chi-
nese teaching, some studies have observed how CFL textbooks introduce
culture11, language functions12, and the use of situation-bound utteran-
ces13. One recent study investigated grammar instruction in Italian CFL
10 Eva Vold. “Meaningful and contextualised grammar instruction: what can fo-
reign language textbooks oer?”. The Language Learning Journal, (2017): 1-15.
11 Wen Yue Lin, Ang lay Hoon, Mei Yuit Chan, Shamal Paramasivam. A sys-
tematic Review to Comprehend the Cultural Representation in L2 Mandarin
Textbooks”. Social Science & Humanites Journal, 29, n°4 (2021): 2653 – 2674.
Wen Yue Lin, Ang lay Hoon, Mei Yuit Chan, Shamal Paramasivam. Analyzing
cultural elements in L2 Mandarin textbooks for Malaysian learners. Journal of
Language and Education, 6, N° 4 (2020): 121-137.
12 Perci T. Adil, Princess H. Policarpio Princess, and Cavin F. Pamintuan. A
communicative analysis of language functions in the Chinese as a Foreign Lan-
guage (CFL) textbooks: the case of Happy Chinese”. Universal Journal of Educa-
tional Research, 8, n°8(2020): 3725-3733.
13 Shu-Han Yeh. “The use of situation-bound utterances in Chinese foreign lan-
guage textbooks.”. Chinese as a Second Language Research, 5, n°. 2 (2016): 187-
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 155
textbooks.14 The study analyzed four beginner-level textbooks for CFL
destined for Italian native speakers, to observe whether the newly publi-
shed textbooks reect the indications suggested by research in the eld
of language acquisition and incorporate the revised grammar teaching
techniques. Results of the study are in line with those on dierent FL
textbooks; they reveal that the analyzed textbooks tend not to integrate
activities according to new teaching perspectives, for example, the central
role of input and input-based activities. However, the study also showed
that the newest published textbooks introduce few activities, which are
based on the theories of the action-oriented approach, providing con-
textualized, communicative and, meaning-focused activities. The author
concluded that this nding represents an attempt to consider the innova-
tive perspectives on grammar instruction.
The purpose of the present analysis is to explore how grammatical ins-
tructions included in four CFL textbooks support teachers’ practice and
contribute to research on Chinese teaching.
Study purpose and research questions
The present study seeks to provide an analysis of how gram-
mar instruction is presented in four selected CFL textbooks published in
four dierent countries and oers a comparison among those textbooks.
The purpose of the analysis is to examine whether and how
textbooks present grammar structures focusing on their meaning-form
relationship and integrating form-accuracy with content. It aims at inves-
tigating how they provide communicative language processing and mean-
ing-use focused activities, based on real-life use of the language. Speci-
cally, it explores how textbooks introduce grammar items, and whether
grammar activities are presented in a meaning-use focused and contextu-
alized way. Two research questions guided the analysis:
14 Gloria Gabbianelli. An analysis of grammar instruction in beginner-level fo-
reign language Chinese textbooks”. Confuci AcadÈmic Journal, 1, (2020): 12-21.
156 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
RQ1 - How is grammar presented in the grammar description and target
language samples?
RQ2 - To what extent are grammar exercises contextualized and meaning-use
Research Method
The CFL textbooks
The study includes four CFL textbooks for beginners (A1-A2/HSK1-
2), destined to dierent markets. The analyzed textbooks are the fo-
1. Discover China. Vol. 1, London, UK: Macmillan Education, 2019.
2. New Practical Chinese Reader, English version, Beijing, China: Beijing
Language Culture University Press, 2011.
3. Ni shuo ya! A1/A2, Paris, France: Editions Didier, 2016.
4. Parliamo Cinese. Corso di lingua e cultura cinese, Vol. 1, Milano, Italy:
Hoepli, 2018.
These textbooks were chosen since they all claim to use a communi-
cative approach to language teaching. Furthermore, the textbooks are
currently used in four dierent European countries. The New Practical
Chinese Reader, published in China, is a very popular CFL global text-
book, currently used in some Spanish universities. The other textbooks
are destined for students of specic countries and are written using di-
erent languages; Discover China is destined for English-speaking stu-
dents, Ni shuo ya for French-speaking students, and Parliamo Cinese for
Italian-speaking students. Ni shuo ya and Parliamo Cinese are specically
destined for high school students, whereas New Practical Chinese Reader
and Discover China are intended for all learners.
The textbooks present a dierent structure; the British and French
teaching materials consist of a textbook, exercise workbook and CD,
whereas the Italian and Chinese textbooks have a section of exercises to
do at home included in the same book. Supplementary online materials,
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 157
such as an e-book, mp3 tracks, and videos are also available for all the
The French course book contains 12 units, each one consisting of three
lessons, a listening and repeating section (écoutes et répétez), a reading and
writing section (atelier de lecture et d’écriture), a section destined to voca-
bulary (lexique) and one to grammar description (grammaire), a section
devoted to cultural aspects and a nal section for testing the competences
of the unit (testons-nous!). Every two units it includes a review section (Je
revise). A dictionary of lexical items is integrated at the end of the course
The British course book presents a set of 12 units of three lessons, each
with the subcategory of vocabulary and listening, pronunciation and
speaking in Lesson 1; reading and writing, and language in use in Lesson
2; a communication activity, character writing, review and practice, and
vocabulary extension in Lesson 3. Every four units it includes a review
section. In the nal part, the course book includes a language support sec-
tion featuring numbers, months and days, measure words, and a section
of Grammar references for each unit in the course book
The Chinese textbook presents 14 lessons, each one including a set of
six sections: text, notes, drills and practice, reading comprehension and
paraphrasing, grammar, and comprehensive practice. The beginner les-
sons have a section on phonetics, appendices of the map of China, abbre-
viations for grammar terms, and a vocabulary index.
Finally, the Italian textbook consists of seven units, with each unit
consisting of four lessons (a,b,c,d). Each lesson presents introduction
activities, text, a section on grammar, and exercises, which are presented
in four subcategories: listening and pronunciation, reading and writing,
communication, and writing. At the end of each unit a review and testing
sections are included. Glossaries at the end of the course book present a
vocabulary index, communicative functions, grammar structures and a
pinyin table.
158 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
Framework analysis
For the present analysis one lesson form each textbook was selected to
be analyzed as a sample. The chosen units were: New Practical Chinese
Reader Unit 8, Ni shuo ya! Unit 7, Parliamo Cinese Unit 3 Lesson 3c,
and Discover China Unit 5. These were chosen in order to obtain more
homogeneous data for the analysis, since they present the same grammati-
cal item, the question pronoun duoshao 多少 (how many) and are located
in the central part of each course book.15 As the purpose of the investi-
gation is to observe the approach to grammar instruction and grammar
activities, only grammar description and exercises that students have to
complete for acquiring the target grammar forms were considered. The-
refore, only activities that help learners reect on or practice morpho-syn-
tactic features of the target language were identied as grammar exercises
(Tammenga-Helmantel & Maijala, 2018: 7), such as matching activities
(a paragraph or sentences to imagine, questions to answer, etc.), reorde-
ring a text, selecting true or false, completion activities, ll in the blank or
complete the sentence, combination, reordering words to create a senten-
ce, translation and transformation. All exercises for practicing and lear-
ning phonetic and character writing, such as pronunciation, matching
character-pinyin, radical recognition, and listening recognition activities
were excluded from the analysis. In addition, since in the Chinese langua-
ge the lexical class of function words plays a key role in grammar acqui-
sition, vocabulary exercises including function words were also conside-
red.16 However, general vocabulary activities such as matching images to
one character and ll in the blank exercises focusing only on vocabulary
knowledge were not considered.
15 Claudia Fernández, Approaches to grammar instruction in teaching mate-
rials: A study in current L2 beginning-level Spanish textbooks”. Hispania 94, n°1
(2011): 155-170.
16 Romagnoli, Chiara. Grammatica cinese. Le parole vuote del cinese moderno.
(Milano Italy: Hoepli, 2012).
Hongying Zan, Kunli Zhang, Xuefeng Zhu, Shiwen Yu. “Research on the Chi-
nese Function Word Usage Knowledge Base”. International Journal on Asian
Language Processing, 21, n° 4 (2011): 185– 198.
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 159
For the analysis, a framework based on Ellis’ typology17 was adopted
to examine grammar instruction and grammar exercises. Qualitative and
quantitative analysis were both used; a qualitative analysis was rstly used
to identify and classify the types of grammar description and types of
grammar exercises in each textbook; secondly, a quantitative analysis was
adopted to quantify the activities for each type, in order to observe what
kind of exercises are frequently used, and to reveal the approach used in
the textbooks. Following Ellis’ typology, we identied grammar instruc-
tional features according to three categories: grammar description, data
and exercises. Grammar description refers to the way in which grammar
information is provided in the textbooks: whether the description of the
grammar item oers an explicit explanation is named supplied or deduc-
tive, and an exercise requiring students to discover the grammar rule is
named discover or inductive. Data are samples of the target language and
do not include any activities or reection on the grammar item presented.
This category refers to “text containing exemplars of the target structu-
re” (Ellis, 2002: 161). The Data category can be subdivided into source,
text size and medium. Source may consist of authentic input, derived from
original material created and used for real life purposes and not adapted
to the teaching needs, or contrived input, entirely created, or adapted by
teachers to the needs of language students, and to explain a specic gram-
mar point. The size category refers to whether the data consists of discrete
or continuous sentences, such as texts or paragraphs. Finally, the medium
refers to whether the data are written or oral.
The exercises category refers to grammar exercises students have to
complete; these were classied and quantied according to their type,
production-based or input-based. The production-based category inclu-
des activities that require students to produce the target language and
make something using the target form (e.g. completing sentences, wri-
ting sentences or text, orally answering questions, creating a dialogue,
17 Ellis (2002) named the rst category grammar explicit description, however,
since data from our analysis include implicit and explicit explanations, in the pre-
sent analysis we name this category grammar description. The operations category,
in the present analysis, is named exercises.
160 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
etc.). The input-based category refers to exercises in which students have
to demonstrate that they comprehend or have noticed the target struc-
ture, but do not have to use the target language (e.g. true/false exercises,
underlying, selecting, choosing the answer, reordering the text, etc.). In
order to examine to what extent grammar exercises are meaning-form
and meaning-use oriented, exercises were further classied into three
subcategories: mechanical, meaningful and communicative. Each exerci-
se was identied according to its focus on meaning and the occurrence
of communicative situations, from less contextualized exercises in which
students don’t need to understand the meaning but only replicate a given
pattern or form (mechanical), to more meaning-form oriented exercises,
in which students are required to comprehend and make meaning-form
connections (meaningful), to more interactional exercises that require the
student to negotiate the meaning to be completed (communicative). The
framework was created by adopting Aski’s typology18 and Vold’s19 crite-
ria for the classication of exercises. Each exercise was classied following
two criteria: the exercise is classied as a communicative activity if a) stu-
dents have to understand the content of the FL used in the exercise and b)
the exercise simulates a communicative and interactional situation; whe-
ther it only requires a) understanding the content but does not include b)
communicative aspects is considered a meaningful exercise; when neither
criteria a) and b) are reected, the exercise is included in the mechanical
exercise category. Examples of mechanical exercises are substitution and
transformation activities. Exercises such as translation, reordering senten-
ces or parts of a text, lling in the blanks or providing words or sentences
from a text, in which students have to understand the content but are not
involved in an interactional setting, are classied as meaningful activities.
All exercises that are presented reproducing an interaction, even with pro-
vided patterns, such as conducting an interview with your colleagues by
using the questions provided, reordering the dialogue by using the provi-
18 Aski’s typology (2003) divides production-based activities into drills, hi-
ghly-structured exercises and non-drills, activities that do not present any pattern
and request students to focus on the link between form and meaning. The typo-
logy includes four categories mechanical drills, meaningful drills, communicative
drills and communicative language practice.
19 Eva Vold. “Meaningful and contextualised grammar instruction: what can fo-
reign language textbooks oer?”. The Language Learning Journal, (2017): 1-15.
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 161
ded sentences, or completely free of patterns, such as writing a text to re-
ply to a message from your friend, creating a dialogue by playing a specic
role and following the instructions, are intended as communicative.
The results providing an answer to the RQ1 are described in Tables
1 and 2. Table 1 represents instructional features in grammar teaching
found in the four course books.
Table 1
Description of grammar information in the four textbooks.
Textbook New Practical
Chinese Reader
Ni shuo ya! Parliamo
Cinese Discover China
DESCRIPTION Unit 8 Unit 7 Unit 3c Unit 5
Three of the four textbooks oer explicit and deductive grammar des-
criptions. New Practical Chinese Reader and Parliamo Cinese present a
short and concise explanation of the grammar structure within the lesson,
just before the grammar exercises.
The French textbook, Ni shuo ya!, contains several reading and liste-
ning activities that use the grammar structure. It also includes a repetition
activity requiring students to practice the formula duoshao qian (how
much), which is only presented in pinyin, without providing any reec-
ting activities or explicit grammar description before the exercise. The
textbook oers a brief explicit explanation of the grammar form at the
end of the unit and provides grammar exercises in the exercises workbook.
The course book Discover China does not explicitly explain grammar
rules but provides inductive-based activities to stimulate learners to nd
162 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
the rule, such as input-based exercises employing the new grammatical
item that students have to complete (such as selecting the correct answers
according to questions or writing sentences according to the pictures),
without providing any explanation on how to use the new form but sti-
mulating learners to understand it from the examples. Is also shows in-
ference-based techniques, for instance, providing dierent rule explana-
tions for the new grammatical item and requiring students to select the
correct one. In order to complete the exercises, students have to focus on
the meaning-form relationship, obtaining information on the meaning
conveyed by the grammar form in the specic context provided. After the
activity a note is supplied referring to a specic grammar section in the
nal part of the book in which an explicit grammar explanation is oered.
Table 2
Description of data in the four textbooks.
Ni shuo ya! Parliamo
Discrete Sentences
Paragraphs Continuous
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 163
Findings referring to data are very similar in the four textbooks. The
data category was represented by contrived source of the target language
in all four textbooks; none employed original material but texts created
by authors for the specic purpose of illustrating the grammar structure
were included.
In all the course books samples of the target language are introduced
with discrete sentences, generally derived from the lesson text but presen-
ted in a decontextualized way. Samples of the target form are limited and
concise; in Parliamo Cinese and New Practical Chinese Reader, samples
only consist of the grammar structure neither are included in paragraphs
or short texts. In addition, New Practical Chinese Reader is the only text-
book that introduces the grammar item duoshao together with the ques-
tion pronoun ji (it is used to ask about numbers less than 10) expli-
citly explaining the dierence between the two question pronouns and
presenting two sentences as samples. In the other three course books the
two pronouns are introduced separately and in dierent lessons.
Ni shuo ya! introduces the grammar form duoshao through listening
and repeating exercises with no specic focus on grammar, while writ-
ten discrete sentences that include the characters are used to describe the
grammar form in the grammar section at the end of the lesson.
Nevertheless, the British textbook presents the target form through
short sentences in activities that students have to complete. This textbook
contains language resources based on continuous and long paragraphs
and employs discrete sentences to explicitly explain the grammar form in
the dedicated section at the end of the book.
The four textbooks provide written options of grammar explanations
and samples of the target language. However, the Italian textbook, Par-
liamo Cinese, includes a “model sentences (句型)” section, which occurs
in both oral and written form, without including pinyin. These senten-
ces are derived from the lessons’ input text and dialogue and include the
grammar item described in the grammar explanation. Nevertheless, these
model samples are presented in a dierent section, just before the gram-
mar description. They are still in the form of discrete sentences and are
not included in continuous and contextualized paragraphs.
164 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
The results of quantitative analysis in Table 3 describe to what extent
grammar exercises of each textbook are presented in contextualized con-
texts and whether they are form or accuracy focused, meaning-form re-
lationships or meaning-use oriented. Findings are shown according to
the input-based and production-based classication of activities and to the
three subcategories of mechanical, meaningful and communicative.
Table 3
Types of exercises distribution in the analyzed textbooks.
Textbook New
Ni shuo
ya! Parliamo
Cinese Discover
MECHANICAL 1 / 6,2%20 1/ 4,7%
MEANINGFUL 2 / 12,5% 7 / 29,1% 8/ 61,5% 2 / 9% 19/
COMMUNICATIVE - 1 / 4,5% 1/ 4,7%
TOTAL INPUT-BASED 3 / 18,7% 7 / 29,1% 8 / 61,5% 3 / 13,6% 21 /28%
MECHANICAL 3 / 18,7% 3 /5,5%
MEANINGFUL 7 / 43,7% 14 /
58,3% 4 / 30,7% 10 /
45,4% 35/ 64,8
COMMUNICATIVE 3 / 18,7% 3 /12,5% 1 / 7,6% 9 / 40,9% 16/
81,2% 17/
70,8% 5 / 38,4% 19 /
86,3% 54/ 72%
TOTAL 16 /
100% 24/100% 13/100% 22/100% 75/100%
20 Results for each category are presented through both numerical and percen-
tage values.
Gloria Gabbianelli | Meaning-focused grammar instruction 165
From an overall analysis we can see that there is a majority of produc-
tion-based activities (72%). However, in examining the dierences among
textbooks, it is noted that Parliamo Cinese contains a bigger quantity of
input-based activities (61,5%) compared to production-based (38,4%). In
this textbook, the majority of input-based activities consist of matching
exercises (e.g. match a picture with a written or audio text, a sentence or
paragraph), allowing students to focus on the link between form-mea-
ning, but not fostering interactional and communicative competence.
In the other three textbooks, the quantity of production-based exercises
exceeds more than twice that of input-based activities.
As for the types of exercises, which are classied according to their
focus on meaning-form relationship and occurrence of communicative
situations, ndings from the four textbooks are similar. In all four text-
books the majority of activities are included in the meaningful category,
which are structured exercises in which students are required to compre-
hend the meaning to complete the exercise, but do not need to negotiate
the meaning and no interaction is expected. This nding reveals that in
the analyzed textbooks, the importance of linking the grammar form to
its meaning is recognized, but the role of grammar is still prominent com-
pared to communicative tasks.
Among the four textbooks, Parliamo Cinese contains the biggest quan-
tity of input-based exercises. Frequent activity types are completing or
lling in the blanks, exercises requiring students to select or order the sen-
tences provided, matching answers and questions, or matching two parts
of a long sentence. However, all textbooks contain signicantly more
meaningful exercises than those classied as communicative; in three text-
books, the majority of meaningful exercises are production-based: 45,4%
in Discover China, 58,3% in Ni shuo ya! and 43,7% in New Practical Chi-
nese Reader, while in Parliamo Cinese the majority of meaningful activi-
ties are classied as input-based (61,5%).
Very few exercises are classied in the communicative category. Discover
China includes the highest number of communicative exercises, mainly
classied as production-based (40,9%) and oered in a similar number as
the meaningful activities (45,4%). The textbook presents numerous acti-
vities requiring students to work in pairs to perform a dialogue based on a
166 Revista Internacional de Estudios Asiáticos,
Vol. 1(2): 148-173, Julio-Diciembre 2022.
specic communicative situation or write a reply to a given mobile phone
message. Such exercises, intended as communicative, require understan-
ding of the context in which the specic grammatical structure is used
and developing a communicative interaction.
Exercises classied as mechanical were only found in the Chinese text-
book; these are production-based exercises, such as substitution drill ac-
tivities that require students to change one component and reproduce a
provided structure. One input-based exercise, which asks students to de-<