Traditional Language Instruction: Why it Doesn’t Work
Do grammar instruction, corrections and role playing help us learn languages? I guess it does but only to a very limited degree. Here is an interesting excerpt from a discussion on a recent Internet forum.
“To me, the research appears to indicate that explicit form focused instruction (EFFI) and corrective feedback (CF) as they are commonly practiced don’t have a particularly significant effect on learners’ underlying linguistic systems (See John Truscott’s criticisms of corrective feedback for example).”
It is worth reading this sentence a few times, in order to really understand it. “Form focused” instruction means grammar instruction. “Corrective feedback” means correcting learners’ mistakes. Research indicates that these two mainstays of language instruction don’t have much impact. A good example of this is the “s” in the third person singular, present tense, in English. We say “he goes”, “he works”, “he lives” etc.. This is taught very early, yet most English learners continue to struggle with this simple rule, even after years of studying the language.
I have three Romanian tutors with whom I talk via Skype. Two are women, neither of whom were trained as teachers. They are happy just to converse with me and send me a report with a list of phrases containing the mistakes I made during the conversation. This is enjoyable and works well.
Today I started with a new tutor since I want to step up the pace of my conversations. I will be in Romania in a couple of weeks. This man is a trained teacher of Romanian, and an editor of educational books and magazines in Romania. At first he insisted on correcting everything I said. Then he told me that I should only use very simple short sentences for the first few weeks. To top it all off, he proposed that we choose a theme to talk about. Rather than just converse on subjects of interest, he suggested we pretend that I am in a store. We could then talk about the items that could be found in the store, sort of like role-playing I guess.
I told him that I was not interested in this traditional approach to language learning, with corrections, and artificial dialogues. I just wanted to have a natural conversation. I don’t want him to speak English. I don’t want him to correct me while I speak. Both of these activities interrupt the flow of our conversation.
I do want a thorough list of the phrases that I use incorrectly. I import this list into LingQ and save the words and phrases to my personal database at LingQ. In this way I take advantage of speaking in Romania with a native speaker, and then later can take my time reviewing my mistakes or the vocabulary that I need to learn. The whole process is enjoyable and I look forward to my next lesson.
When I hire my teachers I can tell them what I want. I would not want to sit in language classroom where I am at the mercy of the teacher.