Skip to main content

Conscious and unconscious language learning (3)

Continuing my historical overview I am going to look at the post Reform era in Europe and the theoretical basis for the rise of the communicative movement.

As we trace the conscious/unconscious distinction through the 20th century when, by the 1970s, it was rechristened the "learning/acquisition" distinction we can agree with Kelly (1969)

   Few theories of language learning are peculiar to the twentieth century, but modern psychological research has given them a point and clarity they had lacked, while clothing them in language that disguises their relationship to older ideas (p.303).

Following the tradition of H.E. Palmer, despite the predominance of grammar-translation approaches in schools worldwide, F.M Hodgson (1955) maintains that the "feeling of what sounds right" cannot be engendered by grammatical study. More precisely, she states that the acquisition of "new linguistic habits":

   ... can only be done by constant practice, not in making statements about language, but in using it meaningfully (Hodgson, 1955)

With his eclectic approach Palmer had not objected to the use of some translation in the classroom, nor did Hodgson discount the possibility of some rule-giving, following oral practice, but the fundamental belief was that language learning was best facilitated by great use of the second language in the classroom, careful selection and grading, and the use of texts rather than isolated words or sentences. The learner was encouraged to use their inductive powers (conscious or unconscious, the distinction was not made clear) in order to "internalise" language. This general approach maintains a strong current in Europe and has been termed, for example,  "rational direct method" (in Krashen, 1982) or more loosely, an "oral approach".

From the 1970s the principal emphasis was as much on the use of meaning rather than form, as on conscious and unconscious learning, although the two are related. This shift of emphasis is associated with what became known as the "communicative" movement, which had its roots in teaching English as a foreign language as well as speech act semantics, discourse analysis and general linguistics.

Butzkamm and Dodson (1980), for example, distinguished between two types of language use, the first stressing conscious manipulation of forms ("medium orientated"), the second where the learner is genuinely interested in expressing a meaning ("message orientated"). They are careful to point out that message and medium do not represent a dichotomy, but the opposite poles of a continuum:

   Medium- and message-orientated communication is not always a clear-cut either-or matter, but a matter of degrees (p.292).

They stress that formal structural practice is a necessary prerequisite to fluency activities and that:

   Methodological substructure is absolutely vital if the learner is to profit from subsequent communicative activities (p. 299).

Widdowson (1978) drew an analogous, but apparently apparently more watertight distinction between "usage" (where the focus is on conscious, correct grammatical formation) and "use" (where language is used as "appropriate meaningful behaviour" and where conscious attention is moved away from linguistic form (cf. Belyayev and Leontiev, from the previous blog). The implication is that second language learning is more likely to be effective when genuine messages are being communicated, when there is a need to communicate and when language is therefore "embedded in events". As soon as language becomes an abstract symbolic structure, isolated from the real world, it becomes more difficult to apprehend.

It is easy to see, in this context, how the information gap task and task-centred oral work became staples of modern communicative language teaching.

The influence of the philosophers Austin and Searle is also notable in this context. Searle (1969), following Austin, postulated that speech which carries "force", i.e. which carries out a purposeful function as well as having propositional content, is more "serious" and is more likely, some have concluded, to be easily learned. A "speech act" is an utterance which carries force as well as propositional content. The argument runs as follows: "serious" utterances are those which carry an "intention to mean", which actually "do" or "achieve" something and such language is more likely to be internalised. As Hawkins (1981) put it:

   The motor that propels language acquisition seems to be the drive to "do things with words" (p.210).

Hawkins believed that:

   Exchanges in the foreign language classroom... are not uttered with intention to mean (ibid).

To sum up, conscious attention to meaning rather than form will best facilitate second language acquisition. When language is used as a tool it will be learned more quickly. This view is echoed frequently elsewhere:

Hirst (1974), in his book on the school curriculum, writes:

   Learning a concept is like learning to play tennis, not like learning to state the rules and principles that govern play (p.125).

Searle (1969) writes:

   Purely formal study (of language) is necessarily incomplete. It would be as if baseball were studied only as a formal system of rules and not as a game.

Brumfit (1984) adopted a similar position in referring to "accuracy" and "fluency" activities in the classroom. The former aim to develop correct use, whilst the latter aim to develop communicative ability. This is a handy distinction for teachers when they plan their lessons.

In the next blog in this series, I shall look at some important North American perspectives on the conscious/unconscious issue.

References

J.L. Austin (1962) How to do things with words. Oxford; O.U.P.

C. Brumfit (1984) Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: C.U.P
W. Butzkamm and C.J. Dodson (1980) "The Teaching of Communication: from Theory to Practice". I.R.A.L. (p.289-309)
E.W. Hawkins (1981) Modern Languages in the Curriculum. Cambridge: C.U.P.

P. Hirst (1974) Knowledge and the Curriculum. London: Routledge and Paul.
F.M. Hodgson (1955) Learning Modern Languages. Routledge and Kegan paul. Republished 1976 by Portway Education
L.G. Kelly (1969) 25 Centuries of Language Teaching: 500 B.C. - 1969. Rowley, Mass.: Newbery House
S.D. Krashen (1982) Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press

J. Searle (1969) Speech Acts. Cambridge: C.U.P
H.G. Widdowson (1980) "Models and Fictions", Applied Linguistics. Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 165-169



  



Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Three AQA A-level courses compared

I've put together my three reviews of worthy A-level courses which you might be considering for next September. They are all very useful courses, but with significant differences. The traditional Hodder and OUP book-based courses differ in that the former comes in one chunky two year book, whilst OUP's comes in two parts, the first for AS or the first year of an A-level course. The Attitudes16 course by Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri is based on an online platform from which you would download worksheets and share a logon with studenst who would do the interactive parts (Textivate and video work). The two text books are supported by interactive material (Kerboodle) or an e-text book.

Attitudes16





An excellent resource which should be competing for your attention at the moment is the Attitudes16 course which writers Steve Glover and Nathalie Kaddouri have been working on for some time. You can find it here at dolanguages.com, along with his excellent resources for film and li…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’(http://pdcinmfl.com). The point i…