Chris O

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Chris O

Guiding principles are numbered, with corollaries and teaching practices underneath.

What is the difference between noticing and monitoring? Do they affect learning similarly?
Monitoring is being aware of your own output and knowing how to spot errors on your own. Noticing is when you identify a grammatical feature in some L2 source. Both of them involve metalinguistic knowledge, but noticing can lead to interlanguage augmentation whereas monitoring is more likely to help in correcting errors.

  1. L2 grammar forms come more naturally to learners whose NL is grammatically similar to the TL.
    • For learners whose NL is not similar to English, don't assume any transfer; i.e. start with the basic basics.
      + In this case there is no pre-existing tacit knowledge to that transfer; it's like learning one's native language but without heightened sensitivity to input.
    • For learners whose NL is similar to English, relate the TL forms to the NL, but be wary of fossilization.
      + The LAD will take any easy shortcut that works, more or less.
  2. Language in use is language in us (this is a pun); i.e. acquisition takes place when learners actually use the language.
    • Incorporate cooperative speaking activities in lessons, especially when two learners of differing competence levels can be paired together.
    • Minimize the use of explicit grammar instruction (when teaching advanced level learners)

Explicit grammar instruction does not directly effect acquisition.
  • Teach grammar in order to make learners better at self-monitoring and/or noticing.
    + Having a bit of metalinguistic knowledge has been shown to increase students' tendency to self-monitor, which is helpful in catching errors.
    + Intuitively I think that have a conscious understanding of a language makes it easier to notice its features: you don't take the grammar as much for granted, or you just learn to look out for unfamiliar forms.

There is no "proper" English; but English is a global language.
  • Like other languages with many speakers and much global coverage, English has many distinct dialects and accents.
    + Make ESL students aware of these different regional varieties; the extreme prevalence of English across the world makes it essential to be at least somewhat familiar with the major dialects.

High competence in a language is essential for native-like performance.
  • If competence is defined as a measure of one's ability to comprehend and produce the target language, then it follows that higher competence correlates with higher performance.
    + The language teacher should take time to develop both, ideally not necessarily emphasizing one over the other (but personally I think competence is more important). For example, in a lesson on a grammatical feature of English like wh-inversion, the teacher should first make sure students "get" its formal nature before taking them through meaning-based activities.
  • High level competence and smooth performance are together the defining characteristics of fluency

Practice makes perfect.
  • This old cliche is the best advice anyone can give on learning anything at all, especially language.
  • CLT/TBI activities are a form of practice, but they only occur within the classroom interior.
    + It is a given that language teachers should encourage their students to practice outside of class.

The best kind of instruction is context-appropriate instruction.
  • An ESL class should be guided by the intent of the students.
    + If students are more interested on attaining high fluency, then teaching practices should be more meaning-based. If students want to be more accurate in their English, then teaching practices should be more form-based. It is, I think, easy to do one or the other, but complete calance is rather more difficult and perhaps not worth the trouble.

Change in a learner's interlanguage cannot happen except through positive evidence.
  • From the more-or-less blind perspective of the LAD, interlanguage errors are not inherently less grammatical than whatever's correct.
    + Treating errors in a student's interlanguage is reinforcing the correct grammar until they re-learn it properly. Monitoring is a big help with this, because if they can't see the error for themselves it is less likely to change.
  • The LAD is lazy, so it will only ever effect interlanguage change as much as necessary to interpret input. (The Internal Consistency Constrain)
    + Hence SLA is a slow and often complicated process: nothing happens the way you want it to. Language teaching requires a lot of patience.

Students rely on the teacher to facilitate acquisition.
  • An ESL teacher needs to be patient and well-organized.
  • The classroom environment helps to compensate for the natural disadvantages on language learning wrought by maturity.
    + Learners need the guiding hand of the teacher in order for acquisition to happen easily and without an overabundance of trouble. Therefore the teacher should be as much as possible a facilitator and not a blockage to learners' progress, although the exact way to do this is not immediately obvious (because of the complex and long-term nature of the process).

New points added 5/9/2010:

Language is an organic thing
  • For language learners and native speakers alike, changes in languages (in the greater sense) as well as interlanguages are a reflection of the needs of the speaker(s).
    + The formation and development of a grammar in the mind follows a pattern similar to that of other organic things, like trees or animals or mountains: primarily, the grammar develops in response to external stimuli, & changes in reciprocation of the calls made on it by the mind.
  • As a principle, taking language as an organic entity has sweeping implications for teachers and learners of English.
    + This is probably my most integral belief about language acquisition, that, because it's an organic process, the only effective treatment of SLA is a holistic one that takes into account all the variables of SLA at once: motivation, affect, ZPD, monitoring, etc. are all part of the equation, and none of them is isolated from the others, just as, at a lower level, language cannot be isolated from thought or other areas of cognitive development.
  • In practice, this means that the teacher should foster a healthy self-awareness of the holistic process of language acquisition in his students, the better for them to direct the course of their own development and learning, and ultimately increasing the chances of attaining native-like competence.
    + I would do this directly, by continuously reminding my students of the importance of things like affect, motivation, and noticing.

Mistakes are okay, errors are not.
  • The teacher should give feedback to correct specific errors in learners' interlanguages.
    + Mistakes in language production are inevitable for any SLA student. The teacher's role as facilitator means that his feedback should pertain to IL development and not to surface level mistakes. Therefore the teacher should endeavor to distinguish errors from mistakes, and to identify errors for learners in both their oral and written production.
  • Feedback should be helpful and tactful.
    + The teacher should endeavor to target feedback at specific production errors, so that students have something real to work on. Feedback should be neither overly plentiful (and thus overwhelming for the students) nor overly critical (and thus discouraging), and critical feedback should always be tempered with positive feedback, so that students know what they're doing right, as well as what they're doing wrong.

Teaching methods should focus on building communicative competence.
  • The CLT methodology, wherein each lesson is predicated on a "real", communicative task, is the best for students' learning.
    + Having learners use English in ways that are immediately relevant to real-world communication is scientifically proven to be the most effective way to teach language (if I recall correctly). Individual teaching styles dictate the specific techniques used by teachers, but generally, as I've said, they should be geared toward facilitating learners' natural acquisition process.

Grammar is generally harder to acquire than lexis or pronunciation.
  • The teacher should foremost emphasize grammar as being of foremost importance, and incorporate lexis and pronunciation as corollary knowledge.
    + Language is a system of knowledge which draws on many areas of the brain, but grammar (or rather syntax, to be precise) is the primary interface between the subconscious mind and the stream of consciousness. Therefore it is the deepest and most difficult part of language to learn. Lexis is easier to learn because it's simple memorization. Pronunciation is hard because most people cannot learn a new phonology very well, so I would not over-emphasize correct pronunciation (beyond the level necessary to be understood) unless that were a specific goal of the class.

The four skills are all essential, but cannot be learned all at once.
  • Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all important skills that should be emphasized individually.
    + Especially in CLT style classes, the teacher should incorporate all four skills simultaneously (as appropriate to the students' relative level) but should emphasize them individually. Trying to emphasize all of them at once would be overwhelming to students and would not accomplish much.