Skip to main content

The TSC view of second language acquisition

As I said in my previous blog, there is much to like in the Teaching Schools Council review of MFL pedagogy, but one aspect stood out to me and I'd like to say a bit more about this. The review argues strongly for a skill-acquisition model of second language acquisition: presentation and practice lead to automaticity and long-term acquisition. For many teachers this will make sense since they were usually taught within that general paradigm.

Here is the link to the review once again:

http://tscouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/MFL-Pedagogy-Review-Report-2.pdf

Note this important paragraph about automaticity from the review:

"Automaticity means that, through regular, meaningful practice, learning becomes stored in long-term memory (sometimes known as procedural memory) and can be accessed without conscious thought. Developing automaticity in a language can enable pupils to devote working memory resources to the meaning being conveyed or on noticing or mastering new or more difficult language."

This is fundamental to the review's theoretical bias, but it is fair to say that this view ignores a large body of thought and research which argues that language acquisition does not work in this way at all. I am referring, of course, to those academics and teachers who believe that acquisition is a sub-conscious process which only occurs when learners are exposed to meaningful messages. Stephen Krashen, the best known proponent of this view, calls this the "comprehension hypothesis".

The argument will be familiar to those of you who are interested in these matters, but for those who know less this is how it goes:

Research shows that learners do not acquire grammatical structures in the order they are taught. They develop their own interlanguage (Selinker) the rules of which evolve and are impervious to instruction. For example, just because you teach and practise the perfect tense in French does not mean that students will be able to use it freely and spontaneously. It is argued they they will eventually achieve this mastery but only through exposure to lots of comprehensible input over a period of time. Acquisition is a sub-conscious process, as it is with first language acquisition. Explicit grammar teaching does not produce fluency.

Furthermore, the idea that you can transfer consciously learned structures into long-term memory or "mental representation" is said to be illusory. There is evidence from brain research that consciously learned language and acquired mental representation are stored differently and that it is not clear whether the first can cross the "interface" into the second. Automaticity (the ability to freely produce spontaneous speech) does not evolve from attention to form and practice.

Arguments such as these persuade many scholars that our best bet about second language acquisition at the moment is that you need meaningful input aided by some attention to form. Michael Long refers to this as "focus on form". The same writer argues against what he calls "focus on forms" (with an s) because this neglects meaning and is ultimately a switch-off for most pupils.

The TSC review is essentially arguing for focus on forms, which has been a long-held view in MFL in the UK and goes back to the grammar-translation approach. You see it through numerous textbooks right up to the present day. Grammar is at the heart of the syllabus. Although the TSC review makes reference to providing stimulating content for students (the comparison with Latin teaching is revealing), there is no explicit acknowledgment that skill-acquisition is not the only game in town.

Now, I don't have a major issue with skill-acquisition and it certainly formed part of my own teaching approach. Skill-acquisition also features strongly in our book The Language Teacher Toolkit. However, as a model it has its limitations and the TSC review should have acknowledged them. We do not yet know how languages are acquired, so it would be more honest to accept this fact and to avoid cherry-picking from research, which is what the TSC report does.

For a good presentation of the interface problem and the limitations of "automaticity" (crossing the interface) do have a look at this excellent video by Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell.

http://musicuentos.com/2015/08/blackbox-interfac/


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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)

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…

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…

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…