Monday, 28 October 2013

So where do you stand on the learning/acquisition continuum?

You can choose to look at approaches to second language learning in any number of ways, but it is common to view them as placed somewhere on a continuum:

learning    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> acquisition

conscious  <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> unconscious

formal  <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>  natural

Fans of explicit grammar teaching, grammar-translation and structured skill practice would lean towards the left and fans of comprehension based work, with little explanation of rules and little rote learning, would lean to the right. If you believe that second language learning is fundamentally like child language acquisition you would be on the right. If you believe that older learners bring a good deal more to the game (knowledge of their first language, literacy, experience of learning techniques), you might lean to the left rather more.

In practice, most teachers find themselves somewhere along the line, maybe near the middle, acknowledging that there is some place for structured practice and explanation, just as there is clearly a need for large amounts of target language input with an emphasis on meaning.

The context of the learning is also significant. You could argue that in an immersion environment there is more room for natural acquisition, whereas in the traditional foreign language classroom, where you only get limited input each week, you need to take some short cuts and introduce more rote learning and explanation. Or could you argue the precise opposite? If you only have two or three contacts a week, should you maximise acquisition and sacrifice formal explanation and practice?

It's worth having this continuum in the back of your mind when planning lessons. Why are we doing this activity? How much language input is the class getting? Does the class need some formal explanation of rules here? Is this activity aimed at developing fluency or accuracy?

The fact is that we do not know for certain how second language learning works best. Furthermore, different students may have different preferred learning styles. If that is the case, then perhaps teachers are wise to hedge their bets and adopt an eclectic approach, adapting to some extent to the context and the class in front of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment