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Evaluation of the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA) for FSL [French as a second language] with first- and

second-year university-level Chinese students1

Claude Germain
Universit du Qubec Montral / South China Normal University
South China Normal University / EA 4246 PREFics-Dynadiv
Ins Ricordel
South China Normal University

A two-year experiment of the neurolinguistic approach (NLA) is presented. Results in oral and written
production for two experimental classes after one and two years of instruction (1 year: n=28; 2 years:
n=26) are compared with those of two classes (1 year: n=27; 2 years: n=28) at another Chinese university
using the traditional Chinese method (TCM). Despite some variations on specific criteria for writing, test
results indicate superior performance for the experimental group. These findings tend to replicate those
for young anglophone students (11 or 12 years old) in Intensive French, the application of NLA in Canada.
Contrary to expectations, there is a tendency for Chinese students to be open to more interactive ways of
learning a foreign language.

Key-words: neurolinguistic approach (NLA), traditional Chinese method (TCM), internal grammar (non-
conscious), external grammar (conscious), evaluation, oral production, written production

Since 1998, the neurolinguistic approach (NLA) has been used with young students and teenagers (10
11 to 17 years of age)2. In 2010, the NLA was implemented in China at the South China Normal
University (SCNU) with young adults (18 to 21 years old). As would be anticipated, certain modifications
to the curriculum and teaching strategies had to be made, but the basic principles of the approach were
respected. The following year, 2011, a comparison was made with the results of a traditional method,
designated as the Chinese traditional method (TCM), used in a comparable situation at another
university. The characteristics of each of these approaches/methods will be presented, followed by two
research hypotheses. Next, the research methodology used in order to compare the results obtained
with the NLA and the TCM in oral and written production will be explained. Finally, results of the
experiment will be given and discussed.

1. Research problem
The NLA was evaluated on several occasions in most of the provinces and territories where it was
implemented in Canada (Netten and Germain, 2009). Between 1998 and 2001, in the Province of
Newfoundland and Labrador, an individual oral interview was given to 587 students in 23 Grade 6
classes (average age: 11 years) in two school districts, one urban and one rural. The outcome of this
three year research project was that, after five months of intensive learning (approximately 275 to 300
hours), the students who participated in the NLA experiment were able to engage in, and maintain, a

This text is the English version, translated by the authors and for which they are solely responsible, of an article
originally published in French: Germain, C., Liang, M. et Ricordel, I. (2015). 'valuation de l'approche
neurolinguistique (ANL) auprs d'apprenants chinois de franais en premire et en deuxime anne d'universit',
RDLC [Recherches en didactique des langues et des cultures], vol. 12, no 1, 55-81:
Between 1998 and June 2015, close to 70 000 students have learned to communicate in French using the NLA
(better known in Canada as Intensive French).

conversation in French with some spontaneity (Germain, Netten and Movassat, 2004). During this
period, the written production of the same students was also evaluated by means of a composition on a
given theme, using a standardized evaluation instrument composed of 13 different criteria (Germain,
Netten and Seguin, 2004). The result of the evaluation showed that the students, all Anglophones,
achieved an average level of performance similar to that of Grade 3 or 4 Quebec francophone students.
This result was considered to be very satisfactory (Germain, Netten and Seguin, 2004).

From 2002 to the end of the 2006-2007 school year, another experiment was undertaken with Grade 5
students (average age: 10 years) in another Canadian province, New Brunswick, which is officially
bilingual. This experiment included a pre-test and a post-test, and involved 36 classes, representing
approximately 800 students. Taking into consideration the different levels of cognitive development, the
results obtained were substantially the same, in both oral and written production, as those obtained in
previous years in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Based on these positive results, the New
Brunswick Department of Education decided that the Intensive French program (based on the NLA)
would become compulsory for all Grade 5 students of the Province who did not opt for the French
Immersion program in Grade 3 (Netten and Germain, 2009, 2007).

Therefore, in light of these encouraging results obtained with young anglophones learning French in
Canada, it was deemed appropriate to determine if the results would be similar with a public of young
university students in a Chinese milieu, despite the considerable difference between the learning
cultures in Canada and China.

2. Conceptual framework and research hypotheses

In order to appreciate better the effect of the NLA in a Chinese university setting, it was decided to
compare results in oral and written production for the use of the approach with those obtained with the
method usually used in this milieu, that is, the TCM.

2.1 Characteristics of the TCM

Briefly, the major characteristics of the TCM could be described as follows: a very important role given
to written language, a rigid separation between the different language components (grammar courses,
conversation courses, etc.), the use of a grammar-translation method, a textbook with a
predetermined selection and progression of linguistic elements and, finally, on the part of the students,
a very strong demand for grammatical explanations, translation, and formulation of rules and
exceptions (Perche, 2011; Gal Bailly, 2011: p. 23)3. For example, 25 of 36 Chinese teachers of French
considered that learning French was knowing French grammar rules (Martin, 2007: p. 54 quoted in
Gal Bailly, 2011: p. 14).

How can such a view of language learning be explained? According to YANG (2007), if the TCM is still
used extensively, it is that in the past, it gave good results. Moreover, for PU, LU and SU (2005), if China
prefers its own method, it is that the TCM is well adapted to Chinese learners because it follows the
traditional grammatical progression (quoted in Gal Bailly, 2001: p. 16). According to FU (2005), teachers
tend to reproduce in their daily practice what was used in their own school language learning. Lastly,
even if the Chinese learners are aware that, at the end of their language curriculum, they are unable to
understand even a simple sentence, they are at ease with the TCM because they encounter few risks:
the teacher explains the grammar rules in Chinese, or in French, immediately followed by the Chinese
translation (Haiyan and Bel, 2007: p. 96 quoted in Gal Bally, 2011: p. 17). This strong support of the

In order to appreciate further the use of this method in actual classrooms, see Gal Baillys Master II dissertation

traditional approach is also explained by the Confucian view of the teacher, who is seen as a great
transmitter of knowledge.

2.2. Characteristics of the NLA

2.2.1. Theoretical framework
The basic theoretical framework of the NLA is derived from research conducted in cognitive
neuroscience, mainly the neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism of Paradis (1994, 2004, 2009). One of the
key elements is the distinction between metalinguistic knowledge and the ability to communicate
spontaneously. Knowledge (or conscious awareness) is supported by the declarative memory, while
ability (or non-conscious processes) is supported by procedural memory. Ability is made up of
connections (or patterns) between neurones created by the frequent use of a limited number of
language structures (Paradis, 2004; Ellis, 2011). Moreover, research on bilingual patients suffering from
Alzheimer (the knowledge is affected) and those suffering from aphasia (the language skills are affected)
shows that there is no direct connection between the two memories: metalinguistic knowledge (explicit,
conscious) cannot be transformed into the ability to communicate (implicit, non-conscious). Knowledge
can monitor the ability in a real communication activity but, in this case, knowledge presupposes,
generally speaking, the previous development of ability: for example, during a conversation, when self-
correction of a language error occurs, there is reference to the declarative memory (or explicit
knowledge), but this action of knowledge is on a pre-existing ability.

2.2.2. Distinction between two grammars in NLA

Based on the previously mentioned distinction between declarative and procedural memories, the
authors of the NLA make a distinction between two grammars4: an external, conscious grammar that
mainly manifests itself in a written activity, but, occasionally, can also manifests itself when self-
correction of an oral language error occurs, and a non-conscious internal grammar that mainly
manifests itself during an oral activity of communication but, also, during a written activity that calls for
non-conscious mechanisms. While the external, conscious grammar is supported by the declarative
memory, the internal, non-conscious grammar is supported by the procedural memory. On the one
hand, the external grammar is mainly what allows us to communicate in written language, but also
makes us able to self-correct oral errors; on the other hand, the internal grammar is mainly what allows
us to communicate orally with some ease and spontaneity, but is also necessary for non-conscious
mechanisms in any written activity (Germain and Netten, 2014, 2013b).

2.2.3. Acquisition of non-conscious grammar (internal)

Internal grammar is, however, not made up of rules, as is the case for external grammar, but of frequent
statistical regularities. That is why it requires the use and re-use of a limited number of language
structures in authentic situations of communication with a high degree of frequency. It is the reason
why, in the NLA, there are only three of four functions of communication (on the same theme) in each
pedagogical unit. These functions are part of three or four mini-projects leading to a final project in a
unit5. In each mini-project, the teacher begins by an authentic oral language model based on his/her

The distinction between two grammars comes from the authors of NLA and cannot be found as such in Paradis
theory (2004). However, it is a pedagogical consequence of Paradis contention that there is no direct connection
between declarative and procedural memories.
However, contrary to most current textbooks on the market, the functions of communication (in each unit) are
only identified after the unit has been conceptualized. Therefore, a unit is not built around a language problem.
Under the direction of the authors of the NLA, the choice of language elements of every pedagogical unit is
determined by experienced teachers, who know the interests of the students at a given grade level.

personal experience6, and then questions the students to create an authentic conversational context. In
this way, the teacher creates an informal atmosphere of communication in the classroom, using
numerous interactions between the students and him/herself, as well as amongst the students
themselves (Ricordel, 2012). It is important, above all, to create, in the classroom, conditions allowing
the use of the second or foreign language (SL/FL) by the students. The use of the language enables
students to develop a network of neuronal connections, their implicit competence or internal grammar,
so that they are able to communicate orally with some ease and spontaneity.

2.2.4. Learning of conscious grammar (external)

To complement non-conscious acquisition of an internal grammar, the conscious learning of external
grammar must be undertaken. This grammar is mainly used in writing language and, occasionally, in the
self-correction of an oral error. The NLA is also based on a literacy perspective of language learning that
implies not only the development of the oral language but also of reading and writing, in that order
(Germain and Netten, 2004, 2013a). Due to this perspective, the focus is primarily on language as a
means of communication and social interaction, as an ability, rather than as an object of study
(knowledge). This is the reason why, in the NLA, the teaching of conscious, external grammar that we
must use when writing starts with one of the strategies for teaching reading. Why? Because one of the
five basic principles of the NLA is authenticity. The grammar taught is necessarily a contextualized or
discursive grammar, as used in a real context of written communication. That is why the teaching of
grammar begins with an observation phase, in authentic reading texts, of language phenomena specific
to written language, for example, in French the ent (that cannot be heard) at the end of Ils mangent.
Once several occurrences of the same language phenomenon have been observed in a reading text, the
students are then encouraged, with the help of the teacher, to formulate their own grammar rule about
the phenomenon and write it in a booklet, called Autogrammaire. When the time comes to write their
own composition, they are encouraged to make reference to their Autogrammaire. Consequently, the
authors of the NLA make use of an inductive approach to the learning of grammar.

In order to have a better understanding of the distinction between internal and external grammar, let us
examine an example such as Jai onze ans. As long as the student, while speaking spontaneously, does
not say Jai onze ans (instead of Je suis onze, transferring from English, for example), he will be unable to
write spontaneously Jai onze ans because, at that level, he is only able to transcribe, generally
speaking, what he says. In order to write spontaneously Jai onze ans, the student must first be able to
say Jai onze ans. That is why the acquisition of an internal grammar must precede the learning of an
external grammar, that is, implicit competence must precede explicit knowledge.

Therefore, in the NLA, not only one, but two, grammars are taught: one which is non-conscious, for the
acquisition of the oral language and the other, which is conscious, for learning how to write the
language correctly (Germain and Netten, 2012; Netten and Germain, 2012). As teaching strategies are
derived from the underlying view of language acquisition/learning held by the teacher (Germain and
Netten, 2010), it is important that teachers understand the theoretical foundations of the
approach/method used. Within such a perspective, the NLA and the TCM rely on quite different
theoretical foundations, especially concerning the role of oral language and internal grammar.
Furthermore, with newer approaches/methods, language teachers must act as animators, which could
lead, for Chinese teachers, to the risk of losing face. As is well known, face in China is an essential
value which regulates social interactions at all levels (Martin, 2007: p. 50 quoted by Gal Bailly, 2011: p.
15). Therefore, since the theoretical bases and the practical methodology of the NLA and the TCM differ

Here again, this is a major difference between the NLA and approaches/methods currently used that are centered
on language forms (by means of speech acts or language tasks) rather than on the students authentic desire to
communicate their own thoughts (for more details, see Germain and Netten, 2011).

radically, the use of an approach, such as the NLA, could have a considerable unsettling effect on the

From an acquisitionist perspective, in a great majority of cases, textbooks actually on the market
(including those used with the TCM, communicative approach, task-based learning or action-oriented
approach of the CEF 2001 Puren, 2005), rely on the following assumption: in order to acquire a
second/foreign language, it is necessary, first of all, to encourage the students to learn a great quantity
of words, and grammar rules, as well as to conjugate verbs (Germain and Netten, 2011)7. Then,
secondly, numerous written exercises are proposed to the learners, hoping that, in a third stage, they
will be able to combine this knowledge in oral activities of communication. In other words, it is usually
believed that some explicit knowledge8 of the language (vocabulary, rules and conjugation) must be
learned first, and that this explicit knowledge will eventually be transformed through written exercises
into an implicit ability to communicate (Germain and Netten, 2011). In other words, knowledge is
crucial. Such an assumption is reinforced by some beliefs inspired by a certain trend in cognitive
psychology represented by authors, such as Anderson (1990) and De Keyser (1998). According to this
trend, knowledge can be transformed into a skill. That is, explicit knowledge can be transformed into
implicit competence through written exercises. This view is completely contrary to the NLA, which is
based upon the neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism of Paradis. To our knowledge, the NLA is probably
the only approach that develops implicit competence (internal grammar) first, even before making
reference to explicit knowledge (external grammar).

3. Research hypotheses
Based on the positive results achieved in Canada with the IF program, for both oral and written
production, it is hypothesized that similar positive results would occur with the use of the NLA in a
Chinese university. Our research hypotheses are:
H1: the use of the curriculum and teaching strategies of the NLA in an experimental group will lead to
superior results in oral production compared to a control group using the teaching strategies of the
H2: the use of the curriculum and teaching strategies of the NLA in an experimental group will lead to
superior results in written production compared to a control group using the teaching strategies of the
These are the two hypotheses that we tested during a two-year experiment from 2011 to 2013, using
the NLA at SCNU, compared to the utilization of the TCM in another university, during the same time

4. Research methodology
4.1. Context
The university with the control group is a first category, first sub-category, Chinese university. In order
to be admitted, students must obtain an excellent score in the national entrance examination for
university (the GaoKao), which entails excellent results in Chinese and in English (Gal Bailly, 2011).
French is taught as a speciality, using the TCM, meaning that French language courses (grammar and

None of these types of activities are used in the NLA in the teaching of oral language, due to Paradis theory that
implicit competence can only be developed by authentic use of the language.
Explicit knowledge refers to knowledge that can be consciously enunciated: for example, the past participle rule
of agreement with avoir. On the other hand, an example of an implicit, non-conscious competence is the ability to
place adjectives in the correct position, without being aware of or being able to enunciate any rule, for instance,
Cest un gros ballon rouge and not Cest un rouge gros ballon or Cest un rouge ballon gros. It is important to note
that it is possible to have knowledge of the rules, and yet not be able to speak accurately. It is also possible to
speak accurately, and not know the rules.

lexicon), reading and writing, phonetics, oral comprehension, and finally, oral expression (given by a
French native speaker), are included in the curriculum. In this university, French language teachers hold
a diploma and are highly experienced. Many of them have the status of Professor. At the time of the
experiment, from 2011 to 2013, four language teachers (3 Chinese and 1 French) taught French to first-
year students and five language teachers (4 Chinese and 1 French) taught the second-year students.

SCNU is also a first category Chinese university, but of the second sub-category. This fact means that, in
order to be admitted, students do not have to obtain results as high in the GaoKao as those in the
control group. This difference means that the students are more or less comparable, but that there is a
slight difference in the characteristics of the students in that those in the control group may be
favoured. French is also taught as a speciality at this university. Before the implementation of the NLA in
2010, the textbooks used were imported from France, and there was a rigid separation between the
different language components.

In the experimental group, for the two year period 2011-2013, four language teachers (2 Chinese and 2
French) taught the courses. Previously, a pre-experiment of the NLA, which was the subject of a Master
2 dissertation, was undertaken (Gal Bailly, 2011). In 2010, a training session, both theoretical and
practical, was given by one of the co-authors of the approach (C. Germain) to the teaching staff of SCNU
in order to familiarize them with the curriculum and teaching strategies used in the NLA. During the two
years of the experiment, certain language courses were observed and feedback was given by C. Germain
and, in his absence9, by two liaison-officers trained for that purpose in order to ensure regular
supervision of the classes (direct classroom observation, discussion of the videos of the classes, etc.) and
the appropriate use of the NLA teaching strategies.

Due to pre-existent administrative constraints in each of the two universities, oral and written
production tests were given at the end of the first year after a number of hours that was slightly higher
in the control group. Tests were also administered in the two groups at the end of the second year, after
a total number of hours that was much greater (106 hours more in total) for the control group, as
indicated in Table 1 below10. It is to be noted that class 2011 refers to students who started their
program in September 2011, but were tested in May-June 2013.

Table 1 Number of hours for the teaching of French in the control and experimental groups.

Class 2012 (1st year) Class 2011 (2nd year)

Control group 238 h. (n=27) 238 + 468 h.

Total : 706 h. (n=28)

Experimental group 220 h. (n=28) 220 + 380 h.

Ttotal : 600 h. (n=26)

4.2. Criteria and evaluation instruments

4.2.1. Evaluation of oral production

C. Germain can only be present at SCNU twice a year for a period of six weeks each time.
The difference in the number of hours is an important factor: such a large number of hours (106) corresponds to
the number of hours of an entire year in the regular Canadian school system.

Because the tests available on the European market were too expensive, the individual Oral Proficiency
Interview (OPI), used for many years in Canada, mainly in the province of New Brunswick,11 was used for
the evaluation of oral production. The use of this instrument had been piloted the previous year with
Chinese students for the pre-experimental study of Gal Bailly (2011). The OPI instrument is composed of
five levels, each of which is divided into two or three sub-categories: novice (ability to communicate by
using only learned or memorized sentences: sub-levels 11, 12 and 13), basic (beginning of spontaneous
communication: sub-levels 14, 15 and 16), intermediate (spontaneous communication on a variety of
topics: sub-levels 17 and 18), advanced (19) and superior (20). All the interviews (for a total of 109) were
recorded on a dictaphone and transferred to a computer.

Furthermore, in order to assure a certain degree of objectivity, C. Germain trained a team of three
evaluators (1 Chinese and 2 French), all teachers of French in a third university, in the interview
protocol. The score obtained in the training session with these evaluators using the coefficient alpha
reliability procedure of Cronbach (by SPSSX) was 0,87. This result means that the three judges attributed
the same score for the same interviews in 87% of the cases, indicating a satisfactory level of reliability.
Finally, ANOVA tests were applied to the results of the two groups.

4.2.2. Evaluation of written production

In order to evaluate the compositions, written on different themes by first and second year students,
standardized criteria set forth by the Quebec Society GRICS (GRICS, 1995) were used. The A category,
which aims at evaluating the Content of the composition, is composed of three criteria:
1. Development of ideas (relevancy and number of ideas)
2. Organization of ideas (order and coherence of text)
3. Structure of text (paragraphs corresponding to different ideas).
The B category assesses, on the one hand, the number of sentences and, on the other hand, the number
of words, subordinate clauses and adjectives/adverbs per sentence. The C category, which aims at
establishing the number of errors (a recurrent error is, however, counted only once), assesses errors in
punctuation, structures, spelling, gender/number and verb agreement. Based on these twelve criteria,
each composition must be read and assessed twelve times, using only one criterion at a time. Due to the
large number of compositions (109 in total), six copies per group, for each of the two years, were
selected at random and corrected (24 copies in total). Students were allowed a period of 40 minutes for
the composition, without referring to a dictionary or a grammar.

5. Results
5.1. Oral production

Graphs giving details of the results obtained can be found in Appendix 1. For oral production, for both
one and two years of instruction, the average score achieved by the experimental group is higher than
that achieved by the control group. As can be seen in the tables giving the results of the ANOVA, the
differences for each of the two years were statistically significant (p ,001). It is also to be noted that,
at the end of the second year, the control group had over a hundred more instructional hours than the
experimental group. It may also be hypothesized that students in the control group possessed academic
abilities that were somewhat superior to those of the experimental group.

This interview follows procedures and criteria originally developed by ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching
of Foreign Languages).

Table 2 Results comparing the two groups of first-year students


Group Mean Std. Deviation Minimum Maximum

Control 14,11 1,311 12 17

Experimental 15,46* 1,232 13 18

Total 14,80 1,432 12 18

* p ,001


Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.

Between Groups 25,169 1 25,169 15,578 ,000

Within Groups 85,631 53 1,616

Total 110,800 54

Table 3 Results comparing the two groups of second year students

Groups Mean Std. Deviation Minimum Maximum

Control 16,65 1,325 14 18

Experimental 17,68* ,819 16 19

Total 17,19 1,199 14 19

* p ,001


Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.

Between Groups 14,156 1 14,156 11,875 ,001

Within Groups 61,992 52 1,192

Total 76,148 53

Moreover, according to the distribution of the students scores, it may be noted that results for the
experimental group are more homogenous than those for the control group, particularly at the end of

the second year, as per the Standard Deviation (see Tables 2 and 3). The same phenomenon occurred in
the pre-experimental study of Gal Bailly, with the 2010 classes (Gal Bailly, 2011). Furthermore, it should
also be noticed that the difference in average mean score for oral production between the two groups is
somewhat less after two years of instruction.

Nonetheless, hypothesis 1 is confirmed as the results in oral production of the Chinese learners of the
experimental group, using NLA, are superior to those of the control group, using the TCM, despite the
greater number of hours and the somewhat superior academic characteristics of the students in the
control group.

5.2. Written production

Graphs giving details of the results obtained in writing for each of the subtests in each category can be
found in Appendix 2. For Category A, the results achieved in the experimental group, in each of the sub-
categories, were superior to those of the control group after both one and two years of instruction. On
the whole, the difference between the two groups is greater at the end of the second year, except for
development of ideas.

For Category B, it may be seen that, after both one and two years of instruction, the results were slightly
higher in the experimental group, not only for the number of sentences used, but also for the number of
words and subordinate clauses per sentence. However, results were the same for the number of
adjective/adverbs per sentence. The number of sentences used decreased in both groups at the end of
the second year, but the number of words per sentence increased. The sentences were more complex
(there are more subordinate clauses) and richer (there are more adjectives/adverbs) in both groups.

For Category C, the interpretation of the results is more complex. Indeed, at the end of the first year of
instruction, the percentage of errors is higher for the students in the control group than for the students
in the experimental group, except for verb agreements, which were probably emphasized more in
teaching the students in the control group. This interpretation appears to be confirmed by the fact that,
at the end of the second year, the opposite result occurred for verb agreements; according to the
language teachers of the experimental group, they focused more on this aspect of the language
precisely because of the results obtained the previous year.

A comment should also be made with respect to the case of sentence structure: for both years, the
percentage of errors is higher in the control group, although the difference between the experimental
and control groups is relatively reduced after two years of instruction. This could be explained by the
fact that, according to the NLA, there is a close relationship between oral and written language, mainly
because the structures of the language are the same, both in oral and written form. If test results are
higher in oral language, it may be expected that they will also be higher for written language.

As for the gender and number agreement, percentages of errors was reversed at the end of the second
year. This result could be explained by the fact that, in the experimental group, the grammatical issue
was somewhat set aside to focus on other dimensions of language phenomena to prepare the students
for the TFS412. Further research is necessary to confirm such a hypothesis.

At the end of the second year of university, it is important for Chinese students specializing in French to achieve
high results in the TFS4 (or Test national de franais de spcialit niveau 4). This test is designed by the
Commission nationale dexamens des langues trangres and by the ACPF Association chinoise des professeurs de
franais (Dong, Y, 2012).

Generally speaking, in spite of the greater number of hours and the characteristics of the students in the
control group, it can be stated that, for Content and the quantitative aspects of the compositions, the
results are higher in the experimental group for both years. Nevertheless, for the third set of criteria, the
results for sentence structure and gender/number agreements are higher for the experimental group
at the end of the first year, and at the end of the second year are higher for sentence structure and verb
agreements. As a general rule, it may be concluded that the language is somewhat more accurate in the
experimental group, both for the oral and written language, despite the greater number of hours of
instruction for the control group.

Except for some variation in some of the criteria, it may be concluded that, in general, hypothesis 2 has
been confirmed because the TCM used in the control group, despite the increased number of hours and
the student characteristics that favoured this group, did not enable them to develop language
competence in written French superior to that obtained by using the NLA.

6. Discussion
As the protocol used, according to Van der Maren (2004), is a quasi-experimental design, there are
possible biases which may occur due to the research methodology used. The first possible bias is that
there was no random selection of the subjects. The four groups compared (two by two) are not entirely
comparable. The students in the control group, in first and second years, attend a first category, first
sub-category university, compared to the students participating in the experimental group who attend a
first category, second sub-category, university. Requirements for admission are lower in the
experimental group. The characteristics of the students should normally have favored the students in
the control group. Consequently, the higher results of the experimental group cannot be due to the
subject selection, even if it was not a random selection.

The second possible bias is the absence of a pre-test. A pre-test was not administered because in China
the learning of French as a foreign language only begins at the university level. At the time of their
admission at the university, the students are normally real beginners in French. We did not want to take
the risk of discouraging the students who would have misinterpreted their weak performance at the
pre-test, both in oral and written language, as a personal failure or lack of aptitude, even before
beginning the study of French. Moreover, following the experiment, the teachers of the experimental
group were interviewed; they confirmed that, at the moment of their arrival at the university, all the
students of the two classes at SCNU, except for one student (whose level was very low), were real
beginners in French: they were not even able to produce a simple stereotyped sentence such as
Bonjour, je mappelle N The higher results of the experimental group cannot be due to the fact that the
students in the experimental group were more competent in French than those in the control group at
the beginning of the experiment.

A third possible source of bias is the Hawthorne effect. As we know, the Hawthorne effect refers to a
situation in which the results of an experiment are not due to experimental factors (in this case, the
NLA), but to the fact that the subjects are aware that they are participating in an experiment, a factor
which could lead to a greater motivation. In the case of the experimental group, it is important to
mention, first, that it was not a new experiment, as such, because the TCM had not been previously
used with these students. Secondly, because the NLA had been implemented the previous year, on the
very first day, the approach was explained in Chinese and presented as the only option for the learning
of French at SCNU. It was never mentioned that the students were participating in an experiment or
research project. The higher results of the experimental group cannot be due to the Hawthorne effect.

Therefore, after examining these three possible biases which could occur with the protocol used, a
quasi-experimental design (the absence of a random selection, the absence of a pre-test, the Hawthorne
effect), it can be stated that the higher results achieved in the experimental group are effectively due to
the NLA approach rather than to external factors or research design.

7. Limitations
The results of this research could have been more detailed had we been able to proceed, with validated
instruments, to systematic classroom observations in the two university settings, as well as with semi-
directional interviews of the teachers concerned. In the case of the NLA, many classroom observations
were made by the principal researcher (during his visit to China twice a year) and, in his absence, by the
two liaison-officers, in order to ensure that the fundamental principles of the NLA were correctly
applied. However, for the TCM, for reasons beyond our control, it was impossible to proceed to
classroom observations. For this reason, it is impossible to confirm without a doubt that the TCM was
effectively taught following the characteristics described above by different researchers.

In conclusion, the NLA was created and developed in Canada more than fifteen years ago, beginning in
1998, and has given very positive results with young learners of French. One of the reasons for its
success is the fact that the NLA gives priority to the development of implicit competence (or internal
grammar), without the long detour of learning first explicit knowledge, that is, without the learning of
grammar rules, in order to interact orally. Such a procedure gives positive results not only for oral
language, but also for written language. This research should not be interpreted as a Western approach
imposed upon Asia, as its fundamental principles are based on cognitive neurosciences; indeed, the NLA
is considered to be a universal approach which requires only local adaptations, particularly taking into
account the learning culture of the students. This is the reason why the NLA seems to be a promising
route to take with young Chinese university students. As the learning culture of Chinese students is not
innate, as is the case with any culture, and taking into account the changes taking place in China, it
appears that young university students are more open than before to more modern and interactive
ways of learning a foreign language.

Appendix 1 : ORAL RESULTS


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About the authors

Claude Germain, Professor emeritus, retired from the Department of Second Language Teaching at
the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), is an invited professor in the French Department,
South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China. He is the author of numerous books and articles
on second language teaching and has given numerous presentations in many countries. With an
anglophone colleague, Joan Netten, he designed and developed the Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA),
widely implemented in Canada and piloted in China. The NLA is also being implemented for the
teaching of other second languages (English, Spanish), including several First Nations languages in
Articles available for download: https://uqam.academia.edu/ClaudeGermain
Email: germain.claude@uqam.ca

Minyi Liang
Teacher of French at the South China Normal University (SCNU), Ph.D. student in language
sciences at Franois-Rabelais University, Tours (France), Minyi Liang acts as liaison officer (with
Ins Ricordel) between Canada and SCNU for the implementation of the Neurolinguistic Approach
at SCNU.
Email: myliang@ibc.scnu.edu.cn

Ins Ricordel
Teacher of French and in charge of the NLA at the South China Normal University (SCNU), Ins
Ricordel acts as liaison officer (with Minyi Liang) between Canada and SCNU for the
implementation for the Neurolinguistic Approach at SCNU.
Email: inesnanhai@hotmail.fr