Nina Spada the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
What I think that um making the input comprehensible involves teachers giving learners messages that they’re uh that they need to be rephrasing their entrances, you’re talking about teachers providing learners with input or learners providing each other with input?
Well obviously one of the ways in which teachers can provide learners with comprehensible input is to give give them and use materials that are appropriate to their age and their interests and that are at a level of their linguistic proficiency that um that’s meaningful and relevant to their lives and to their experiences but also engaging in the sort of classic interaction strategies that involve repeating and clarifying things and uh rephrasing uh sentences um keeping an eye on your learners eyes is always a good thing to do because that’s a good indication that they’re, you know are they with me or are they no with me and do I need to uh um slow down a little bit do I need to simplify my language a little bit more. Um, so teachers need to be constantly aware of and in touch with their students. Um, any indications that their students are providing in terms of whether they’re comprehending. Uh in terms of students interacting with students I think that teachers teachers can do things to helps students understand each other as well. I mean they can provide them with uh, strategies that they can use for learning how to pause and ask for clarification requests or asking for repetition and giving learners some strategies to to uh create more opportunities for comprehensible input when they’re interacting with each other.
Well it’s really important for for with students, we’re talking about students in main second language learners in main stream classes then teachers obviously have to be crucially aware of the fact that they are speaking to and interacting with non-native speakers of the language and so in that instance um it’s absolutely essential for teachers to remember that that even though they are teaching the learners the content and that and that there may be other learners in the classroom who are native speakers of the language um if the majority of or even a few speakers of the language are non-native speakers teachers have to be absolutely vigilant about remembering that it’s not just content that they’re that the students are having to struggle with but the language it self and so often what’ll happen when your teaching content is you’ll get quite understandably very emmersed in the content of what’s being taught and lose touch with the language forms that are being that are imbedded within the content. And so teachers have to remember constantly when they are dealing with non-native speakers that it’s not just the content that they need to communicate but the vehicle through which that content is being communicated and so they mustn’t ever, they must always keep in their minds the language that they’re using to express that content and be vigilant about um being a tuned to the learners to make sure that they’re still with them because of course uh many teachers might think that they’re understanding the lesson when in fact the learners are struggling a great deal with the linguistic input of the content.
Well one of the, I mean it’s, one of the claims it’s made in the literature of course is that interaction um, the the process of learners interacting with each other and negotiating meaning is a good way of providing them with input that is more comprehensible so as Mike Long has has proposed in his interaction hypothesis that through the process of negotiating meaning input becomes more comprehensible and so learners can understand what it is they are saying to each other so comprehension is increased. Another function of interaction that people like Merrill Swain for example, have proposed is that in the interaction event learners are not only creating comprehensible input but they’re also getting an opportunity to produce language and it’s comprehensible output that provides them with an opportunity to push themselves linguistically and perhaps in the process of pushing themselves linguistically paying a little bit more attention to the forms of language that they’re using while they’re negotiating meaning so that that that interaction becomes not only an opportunity for input and exchanging meaning but an opportunity for learners to perhaps focus a little bit more on how they’re expressing they’re meaning at the same time.
Well I think that um well that’s a big question. I think that uh teachers need to be aware of the fact that a that learners do go through um a series of predictable stages in their acquisition of the second language that a that a lot of language learning um happens on it’s own as it were. There’s a great deal of of learning that’s driven by internal mechanisms if one is going to uh lean a little bit more in the direction of Anatist (?)or a Chompskian (?) perspective on how languages are learned. Uh certainly a great deal of language acquisition takes place without instruction a great deal of language acquisition takes place through exposure to comprehensible input um and teachers need to know that a lot of that does take place, on the other hand, thank goodness for teachers, a lot of language acquisition doesn’t take place simply by exposure to comprehensible input and so um I think teachers need to recognize that there are times in the language learning process when it’s absolutely necessary for them to intervene and to help learners move along in their acquisition. Um, but at the same time I think teachers need to know that not everything that they teach uh, learners will not learn everything that teachers teach and learners will often learn things that teachers haven’t taught, and so it’s this complex interaction between a natural internal process that takes place in relation to the instructional input that’s provided but at the same time guided practice in certain features of the language that learners don’t appear to be able to learn simply via exposure to meaningful comprehensible input so teachers need to be aware of the fact that there’s this internal internally driven process taking place at the same time that external input needs to be uh provided to guide the learner along in their in their acquisition. Well in terms of the learner what’s the learner’s role um in in the language acquisition process. Well obviously there are tremendous individual differences uh among second language learners and learners approach language learning in such a variety of ways. I think that learners probably um learners can be trained to take a little bit more responsibility for their learning and part of that um can include um opportunities for learners to become aware of their own learning styles and their their own ways in which they approach the language learning experience and perhaps even given some tips along the way from their teachers to as to how to about maximizing their particular learning style in their acquisition um in their acquisition of the second language.
Yah I think that um certainly we know from first language acquisition that that uh a great deal of knowledge initially about our language takes place at the level of comprehension and so what children are able to comprehend is far more than what they are able to produce in their in their first language and a this is certainly the case for second language learners as well. Um their comprehension levels typically exceed their production (clear throat) abilities, excuse me. Um, and so I think that that what learners might be able to um produce spontaneously is can also be quite different form what they might be able to produce in a more ah monitored or or more reflective practice so that the important thing for I think the important message to teachers um given the fact that learners have different types of competence and different strengths in different areas of their knowledge and different points in their development is that teachers need to make sure when they’re uh providing learners with instruction that they tap as many different areas of a learners um knowledge abilities as they can that so they can, some learners may be very very strong in their ability to produce a language spontaneously, other learners may have strengths in being able to produce language accurately in pencil and paper tasks and making sure that you’ve got a variety of different task types and opportunities for learners to display their strengths in these different areas is particularly important um in um in the class room.
Well um certainly it’s very important for teachers to know that language learning is not a linear process and that learners do not move from one stage in their development into into into the next in a linear kind of way. That language learning is is much more creative and and constructive than that and it’s dy—it’s more dynamic than that and so that learners may give evidence of having knowledge in some areas of their production at certain points um and then a week later they may say something that suggests that they never had that knowledge in the first place. For example, if you think about formulate language (?) or memorize chunks and so children may be able to to use little chunks of speech that they’ve memorized as wholes um and yet not have any knowledge of how those little those little pieces that form that whole break down um or segment and so their using these as kind of chunks in their production but their not and teacher might misinterpret that as as as that gee they they understand that or they know that, or that this is part of their their language knowledge and discover a week later that in fact um it’s not at all, it’s a memorized a memorized chunk. And so I think that teachers need to realize that language learning is not linear that learners may be able to produce s-some language at one point in their development which suggests that they know a great deal and yet at a later point in their development what may be a sign of of regression is in fact a sign of progress. If we think about the classic sort of U shaped development that’s often discussed in the literature where a learner may produce um he goed, he went, uh the correct uh um um past tense of the verb to go in one instance and then a week later will say something he goed and then two weeks later may produce something like he went again and so you’ve got this went – goed – went which suggests a kind of back sliding of a learners development but in fact the he goed you know is probably an indication of a learners greater knowledge of a language than he went is because he went he’s probably producing them, just like you memorize a lexical item where as he goed is a reflection of some kind of underlying rule that the learner has picked up somewhere along the way and he just happens to be applying in a context where it’s uh where it’s an exception. So learning is not a linear process um um learners, I think, um you know there are there are various theories of of second language language learning that are out there that have been applied to second language learning as well, and I think that there’s certainly some evidence for the fact that that a lot of language learning takes place via some kind of internal mechanism. There’s also evidence however to to demonstrate that the environment and the language to which learners are exposed can also contribute to their language development, and I think that that these these theories um looking at one theory and how can I say it except, the best way to say it perhaps is no one theory, at least to date, is capable of explaining all that we need to understand about how languages are learned and it may very well be the case that that an Anatist view can explain some parts of how languages are learned. A more associated model of learning is capable of expressing of uh explaining certain other aspects of how languages are learned and this is probably best represented in the interactionist model that recognizes the contributions of both external and internal factors in how they contribute to the language learning process. So I think it’s, I think that teachers have to be careful not to um invest themselves to heavily in one perspective on language learning and recognize that that there’re that there’re external and internal processese taking place simultaneously that um that contribute to language acquisition and just one explanation and one view of a language learning process um is probably not going to help them understand the whole picture.
Well the the teachablity hypothesis is essentially one which claims that um certain aspects of a language are best learned at particular times in the learners development and the times in the learners development are are uh associated with the notion of psycho-linguistic readiness. Um, learners, it’s been observed in the Second Language Acquisition literature, that learners go through a series of stages in their acquisition of particular linguistic forms. For example, the acquisition of question forms in English, the acquisition of negation. It’s been observed in both first and second language that here is series of fairly predictable, fairly rigid stages of development. Um, working from that knowledge um Peidaman(?) has argued that may be um it would be a good idea for us teachers to provide learners with instruction um in in say question forms for example um if we can if we can a determine what stage the learners are in their acquisition of question forms, for example, then we might be able to provide them with instruction that’s just slightly the next stage of their development so if learners are at stage two, or let’s say stage ya, stage two in their acquisition of question forms which is uh stage two in the acquisition of question is when learners are producing question that consist of declarative word order with rising intonation. That if we want, so that would be a stage two learner, if we wanted to move that learner a little further along in their development we might provide them with stage three instruction which would be the next inter-language stage that they would go through. And perhaps Peidaman(?) would argue that that might be the best time to provide instruction for learners. So it’s a very interesting um hypothesis and one that is particularly controversial um um. One of the reasons it’s exciting and interesting is because for many many many years the kinds of language syllabi that exist in uh second language teaching programs if you think about structural language syllabi they tend to be ordered from simple to complex. But the simple to complex ordering is not based on any kind of psycho-linguistic principles, it’s based on linguistic description all right so what ever linguists have determined to be simple to describe linguistically tend to come early in a syllabus and what ever linguists describe as as being difficult to describe tend to come a little later in a syllabus. So you will end up with something like the subjunctive tense later than you will the present simple tense. So that’s a linguistic rational for the ordering of language teaching syllabi. When you think about the implications, the possible implications, of Peidaman’s(?) teachablity hypothesis or curriculum development then what you’re looking at is you’re looking at a syllabus that is psych-- that has a psycho-linguistic rational. In other words you would expect in the first chapter of a textbook uh to teach uh in the table of contents in the textbook to have, the first feature would be the feature that was determined as being the easiest to learn. Whereas, and as you moved logically through the table of contents and come to the end of the last chapter of the book, presumably you would be dealing with a feature that was much more difficult to learn than in chapter one, so the syllabus would be based on a psycho-linguistic rational as opposed to a linguistic sort of descriptive rational. Um, so the claim is that if we teach learners something about the language at precisely the time when they’re ready to learn it we may be able to move them along more successfully then if we teach learners something at a time that they’re not ready to learn it. When you think of it so many teachers you know just at times are very perplexed by the fact that some things that they teach their learners they learn right away and sometimes they teach things to their learners and they don’t seem to get it and teachers -----------(?) heads against the wall thinking why is it that I teach some things that they pick up so quickly and others that seems to other features seem to take a much longer time. One of the explanations that Peidaman(?) might offer for this in the teachability hypothesis is that the things that learners learn when they do are the things that they’re psycho-linguistically ready to learn, whereas the things they don’t learn are features of the language that they’re not yet ready to learn in terms of their own internal developmental process.
Well yah some of the limitations of the teachablity hypothesis are first of all um if you well first of all we know we just don’t know enough about um these developmental sequences and stages to be able to develop a syllabus based on this so we know a little bit about we know something about negation, something about question formation, and something about word order, and something about past tense formation and relative clause acquisition but you know if you count up the number of features that we know something about in terms of developmental stages we’d end up with a syllabus that was pretty limited. We might end up with something two or three weeks of of material for for a syllabus. That’s the first problem with it. The second problem um is that the work that has been done to date on the teachablitiy hypothesis is focused on the acquisition of syntactic features, grammatical features, morphological features of the language and if we were to put them all together in a language teaching syllabus we’d end up with something that might be different from the more traditional syllabus’ because they were based on learning theory rather than sort of linguistic descriptions. So there is a psycho-linguistic as opposed to a linguistic rational so they would they would be different but they really wouldn’t look much different there’d just be difference in the ordering so maybe you learn the negation a few weeks later than you would have in a traditional linguistically structured syllabus. What I’m saying is essentially that we would I think take a step back and and end up we’ve gone along we’ve come a long way in terms of moving from traditional discreet point structure based syllabus’ in the last twenty years in the field of second language teaching. I wouldn’t like us I really wouldn’t like to see us going back to structure based syllabuses even if they were even if they were founded on a psycho-linguistic rational. So I think that we’ve we’ve seen over the last twenty years that there’s more to language learning than the acquisition of particular morphological or syntactic features. Yes, that’s part of language learning but it’s a small part of it and so I wouldn’t like to see us shifting back to a structured based syllabus even if it did have a psycho-linguistic rational.
Another problem that comes that arises from the teachability hypothesis in terms of it’s applications to teaching is that we have to remember that in our classrooms a classroom of thirty learners what you have is you have thirty inter-languages. So you have learners who are all at slightly different stages of development in their acquisition of particular forms and so it would be a very difficult undertaking indeed to be able to provide all the learners in a classroom at the same time with precisely the kind of input that they needed that was targeted to each of their levels and stages of development in fact it would probably be almost impossible to do that. So um it’s it would be it would necessitate very tailor-made input uh for learners um and of course the one of the implications of this highly controversial perhaps the most controversial is that if we assume that teaching learners language that matches their inter-language development then it would mean that we would teachers would be put in the position of teaching inter-language. So if you were teaching according to the stages of development it means that you would probably be teaching for example in the acquisition of question forms stage three is typically a fronting stage. It’s a stage when learners operate on the assumption at this particular point in their development that putting a question word at the beginning of a sentence makes a question and so they front. So they say things like do the child is happy and is the mother is going and where the father is standing. So you have this fronting strategy um and there variety of different words that students have been observed to placed at the beginning of the sentence to form a question. Obviously their inter-language rule at that point is to form a question you put a word like this at the front of the question at the front of the question you’ve got a question. Put it in front of the statement and you’ve got a question. Um so if you have learners in a classroom who are at stage two in their development so they haven’t they were ready to go into stage three they were ready to move into the fronting stage then that would mean that teachers would be asked to teach stage three. So in other words teachers would be asked to teach inter-language ungrammatical uh features of the language and I’m sure a lot of teachers would be very reluctant to do that. So that’s probably one of the most controversial applications of uh of the teachability hypothesis.
Well I think that that I guess at some level the knowledge knowledge about the fact that learners go through these developmental stages I think is very important for teachers to know to have a better understanding of the language acquisition process itself. It maybe that this doesn’t provide teachers with specific guidelines as to what to do in their classroom tomorrow or um gives them insight into their own lesson planning for teaching students but what I think it this information can offer teacher’s um is an insight into the actual process so that they know that learners do go through these stages, that they don’t learn everything that you teach them as soon as you teach them, that they may not learn certain things because they’re not ready to learn them and that it may always it may not be eh eh don’t be too hard on yourself as a teacher um if students don’t learn everything that you want them to be taught because they may not be at a point in their developmental uh in their development where they’re ready to learn certain things. So I think it’s it’s really um information that should should not, I mean I would ---(?) should not be uh applied too readily in the lesson planning and the organization of ones teaching practice. I wouldn’t encourage that kind of application of this knowledge. I think what it can do however is give them insight and understanding to the acquisition process um and helps them understand their learners a bit better as a result.
Well um what we found was um we designed a study um in which we were attempting to actually test the teachability hypothesis where we were interested in determining whether, well first of all we identified what stage learners were at in their acquisition of question forms. We identified where they were according to the developmental stages that have been observed in the in the second language literature. Once we determined what stage they were at in the acquisition of these forms we then provided them with instruction that was just one stage beyond their development. And we were interested in seeing for example the learners were all in stage two and stage three and we were interested in seeing if we provided them with input at stage four whether the learners at stage uh two would be able to move to stage four whether they would have to go through stage three which is one of the predictions um that the teachability hypothesis makes. You can’t skip any stages you go through these stages of development one at a time. What we found from that study in a in a nut shell was that on some of the tasks there was evidence well on the one the oral production tasks there was no evidence that learners were ready to move into stage four um did it anymore successfully, well no let me say this, learners who were at stage three moved into stage four learners who were at stage two moved into stage three. So that you know that was support for the the teachability hypothesis that you know you would predict learners at stage three to go on to stage four. But what we observed that was unusual was on the written measures where we found that learners seem to be accepting sentences that were at stage three and stage actually accepting sentences that were at stage four and stage five and rejecting other sentences that were at stage four and stage five and at the same time they were accepting sentences that were that were at stage one and stage two. So there was evidence that learners were um in some instances giving evidence of more advanced knowledge of the target form then they were in other instances and it took us a long time to figure out what was going on and it seemed to be that that learners that it had something to do with the internal structure of the sentence so then when there were nouns in the sentences learners were um considering those they were rejecting inversion I’m probably I’m not giving as much detail here for you to probably follow this um as well as you should. (conversation jumble) When there were nouns as subjects in sentences the students were more likely to reject them if they were inverted so um uh when your mother is coming home was accepted as a correct sentence by many of the students, um, and yet when there was um a pronoun in the sentence they intended to accept inversion so is the boy watching is he watching television. So that there seem to be a difference in their behavior depending on whether there was a noun or a pronoun in the sentence and what we discovered was that uh that it this noun/pronoun distinction seem to be uh an explanation for the fact that they were accepting inversion in some sentences and rejecting it in others and this seemed to be directly related to their first language. These were children who spoke who speak French as a first language and when we sort of got through analyzing the data we discovered this rule this rule that seemed to be present in their inter-language behavior that said if there’s a noun in the sentence there’s no inversion if there’s a pronoun in the sentence there is inversion and of course that’s how French works. In French inversion occurs with pronoun in sentences where as in with sentences that have nouns in them you can’t simply flip the the subject and the and the auxiliary and end up with a question form you have to do other kinds of things you have to say you have to add something like es au quer (?) at the beginning of a sentences or you need to get involved in some kind of topicalization in order to say to make a question um in French. So that seemed to be very interesting evidence of influence from a learners first language and what we then follow that study up with was, uh with one that we were curious to know whether learners who were behaving in fairly predictable ways in terms of their inter-language development had any knowledge of what it was they were doing. They were certainly consistent in their acceptance of sentences with inversion when they had pronouns in them and consistent in their rejection of sentences that were inverted that had nouns in them and what we thought we would do is ask them to see whether they had any mental linguistic awareness of what it was they were doing. So we set up a study to explore that with the learners and we found that the learners had very very little uh mental-linguistic (?) awareness of what it was they were they were doing. In in a a series of of um we gave them a task were they were asked to tell us whether a sentence was correct whether a sentence was correct or incorrect and if it was incorrect to tell us why, to give us an explanation for why it was correct and interestingly these students did not I think there was there was no not one student in the entire population of there were almost six hundred, three hundred students in that particular study, not one of the students was able to say articulate any kind of rule that was close to something like well in French we do this and in English you do that and that’s why the sentence is incorrect. Um, they talked about all kinds of other problems that were present in the sentences uh you know sentences like uh a question a sentence like why uh the chef likes to cook, um oh no, why does the chef, why does the chef like to cook and they would say that that sentence is incorrect and then and we would ask in the task it asked why was it incorrect and they would say because you can’t say chef in English. Um, so rather than focusing and noticing that there was an inversion problem they would focus on something else in the sentence so there didn’t seem to be much metal-linguistic (?) awareness at all on the part of the learners dispite the fact that their inter-language suggested fairly consistent robust be--behaviors for differences depending on whether they were nouns or pronouns in the sentence. Um now these children had um quite a bit of metal-linguistic (?) knowledge in their first language in French because a lot of instruction that they receive in French is metal-linguistic(?). But they have very little metal-linguistic (?) instruction in English um classes or any kind of instruction that focuses on language as a medium as the forms of language as opposed to the content uh that language um that language is used to express and ----(?) topics and themes that they deal in their classrooms so on the basis of those findings we thought that it might be helpful for learners to take a little more time and maybe uh draw their attention to the teachers could draw their attentions to the forms of these languages a little more to get them to think a little bit more about the kinds of language that they were using in their attempts to express meaning in their in their classrooms.
These are young Frankaphone(?) children who were in grade six um so they’re about eleven to twelve years old. Children who have had limited English language instruction prior to going into grade six. Um and these were children who were in experimental intensive programs so children who were getting um intensive English language instruction five days a week, five months of the school year and then in the remainder of the school year the remaining five months of the school year they went back to their regular subject matter instruction in French. So they were young primary school learners.
Well I think that teachers in this instance in the instance where um teachers are dealing with learners or you know um the majority of the learners in the classroom should share the first, share a first language, it can be very helpful for the teacher to watch out for features of the language the first language that have the potential to be easily transferred into the second language. When teachers have students only students who share the first language it’s a excuse me a wonder situation of course because teachers can make themselves aware of the kinds of features of the L-1 that might be easily transferable and that’s their students might run into trouble with as they learn their second language. The challenge is a much much more complicated and complex one for teachers who are teaching learners from a wide range of L-1 backgrounds and in those instances it’s it’s virtually impossible for the teacher to to be able to predict for each individual learner the kinds of L-1 influences that are going to take place with their learners but when you have a little cluster of learners who share the same L-1 and you notice that most of those learners in that cluster seem to be making the same kinds of mistakes then that is an opportunity for this for the teacher to think well now this may be something that is common to these four or five children because it’s related to their L-1 and that’s an opportunity for a teacher to explore that with the learners. You can ask the learners themselves um how it works in their L-1 and start bringing in, not in a way that suggests the sort of contrast of analysis battle days, but in a way that that provides learners with an opportunity to reflect a little bit themselves on how their first language works and how that might connect up to the second language. And of course another cluster of learners may have a different set of problems that the teacher can work with. So I think it’s -- teachers have to be made aware of the fact that the first language plays a role in second language acquisition. Not only does it play a role in confusing learners sometimes about certain information about the second language but it also plays a very positive role in the learners acquisition process when there’s something about the second language that’s very similar to the first language and gives them an extra little boost. Um so I think that that teachers have to be constantly aware of the potential for positive contributions that the first language can make to their learners to their second language learners development but also be sensitive to and aware of the potential for first language um influence that might be holding certain groups of learners in their classrooms back a little.
Well um there hasn’t been a great deal of work, uh research that has investigated the notion of mast verses distributed instruction in actual classroom context. There is a great deal of this work that’s, mast verses distributed instruction in this sort of educational psychological literature and a lot of that work has been laboratory based kind of studies. There hasn’t been as much work looking at um time and the distribution of time in classroom settings although there is increasing work in this area. And s--we in our own work uh looking at this this theme this this question um it seems to be the case that when learners have an opportunity to get intensive exposure um even over relatively short periods of time um that that seems to um be more advantageous in terms of their language development than small doses of instruction that are spread over a longer period of time we this study very early on in our work together where we looked at intense—our work has taken place within the context of young Frankaphone (?) children learning English as a second language in in Quebec and specifically within the context of these experimental intensive programs where learners received five hours a day five days a week for five months of the year of English instruction and in the remaining five months of the year they go into their regular subject matter instruction in French.. So they study mathematics and social studies and French for five months of the year and for five – the remaining five months of the year they do English. So it’s not English immersion. It’s English thematically based instruction for five months. And one of the studies that we did um early on in our work with these young intensive program learners was to compare their acquisition of English with a group of secondary school students who had received approximately the same amount of instruction but over a much longer period of time, so it was distributed over um an eight year period and compared them with these children who were receiving instruction in grade six in these intensive programs and the results of that study suggested that the learners uh performed the learners in the intensive classrooms were not only more um fluent and more communicatively competent in English than learners who had received smittally(?) small little so we refer to these programs sometimes as th-the drip-feed programs. In fact I think it was David Stern who first used that term in one of his earlier paper on time and distribution of time, intensity of time and instruction. So the drip-feeders didn’t compare very well to the learners who had received this intensive hit of instruction. Um, we’ve recently completed the study uh where we compared different uh different types of intensive models in Quebec. There are, there’s a sort of variation in the intensive program theme in the schools in Quebec at the moment where the intensive programs are being implemented in rather different ways and the one model the model that Patsy (?) and I have investigated has been the five month model. But there are other model that have been tried out in the schools as well. Some of them have offered intensive – instead of doing it five hours a day, five days a week, it’s been offered ten hours a week um in some other programs it’s been eight hours a week and so we had an opportunity to to draw, to make some comparisons uh among these various programs. This intensive five month, slightly more distributed eight hour, ten hour a week program over ten months of the school year and we found in that study as well that there seemed to be an advantage for um intensive um instruction, the sort of uh focused um uh exposure and opportunity to to hear to listen to and use the language over the distributed distributed instruction.
Well um we the on the basis of a very small study that we reported on today it would appear that um context um is less um of a predictor interestingly enough in terms of the acquisition of vocabulary than frequency. Frequency seems to be a complicated uh variable as well because it seems that that frequency is very much tied to the level of vocabulary knowledge that learners have so that for example um more proficient learners in terms of their vocabulary uh appear to need fewer encounters with the word than less proficient learners which is -- intuitively makes sense of course that the the more advanced knowledge you have in terms of your vocabulary acquisition the less encounters you require um of a new word. So they’re very much um connected with each other so that so that we found in in our study that the higher uh proficient learners uh seem to be able to acquire uh vocabulary um with fewer encounters then the the lower proficiency learners. In term of context um it seem to be the case that that that some there’s an intui—there’s a sort of common assumption out there that rich contexts that are provided in text will enable learners to acquire vocabulary more readily, it’s an understandable assumption, um, but interestingly some of the research shows just the reverse that learners, that if you, that which contect context for the acquisition of words might lead to higher letter – levels of reading comprehension but not to higher levels of vocabulary acquisition. Um and that maybe of course because when you’ve got a rich context um you can that in itself provide you with the information that you need and you don’t need to understand that particular lexical item in order to make meaning of the text and so it appears that rich contexts are less predictive of vocabulary acquisition then they are of reading comprehension and that what seems to contribute to the acquisition of vocabulary in more productive ways is a is a variety and a mixture of context some of them being more uh some of them providing more contextual information about the word others less and it would appear that natural texts, texts that haven’t been tampered with in any way just naturally provide a variety of contexts for new words that are being acquir—acquired by learners. So context seems to be less a predictor of vocabulary acquisition than than frequency based on s-some of the work that that we have done as well as some of the other research and literature.
I think that that there are a number of of of tools that are available out there for researchers um to describe um a variety of interactions that take place in classrooms um these schemes tend to be rather complicated um and detailed because of course many of these observation schemes are developed specifically with a purpose of of responding to some kind of research question not uh for teachers to use in their own uh reflections on their teaching. Having said that however uh some of the observation schemes that are available um to in the research literature can be easily simplified and easily adapted in ways that teachers can use I think in in informative and helpful ways for example I was involved in the development of a an observation scheme for research purposes the communicative orientation of language teaching observations scheme and in that scheme which is a complex scheme which contains many categories uh one can easily retrieve certain categories that individual teachers may be interested in determining uh how it’s how they represent themselves in their own classrooms, so for example um teachers might be able to, might be interested in well what kinds of questions do I ask my students. Do ask my students questions that that I that they have that I already have know the answers to or do I ask them questions that enable them to um open ended questions that enable them to engage in more sustained discourse and and give them enough time so that they can produce um more extended text in their responses. Um teachers might also um want to look at the ways in which they respond to their learner’s errors. Uh sometimes teachers don’t – we’re so busy when we’re teaching that we really don’t have often a very clear idea of what it is we’re actually doing when we’re at work we’re just busy helping our learners learn and so sometimes we don’t know whether we’re how it is we’re correcting students. Are we do we have a tendency to to provide rather implicit ways of of letting our learners know that they’re making errors do we correct at all um and wa-- if we do correct how do we correct our learners. So teachers can develop more sense of their own behaviors in the classroom um and reflect on those and determine the extent to which they might want to make some changes in their teaching or not. I mean I think that um the use of the L-1 teachers might might also uh be operating on the assumption that they never use the learners first language in the classroom and yet when they listen to a tape or or see a video tape of themselves they see that oh my goodness I do use the learners first language at times and oh isn’t that interesting. I tend to use it in this occasions and not in others. Um so there -- depending on on um the the kinds of questions that the teacher herself or himself generates about their own teachings, if teachers are uh reflect on their teaching practices um they can usually identify particular areas of their instruction that they’re perhaps not entirely satisfied with or would like to know more about and even though it’s um a very uh humbling experience to tape record or video tape yourself as you’re teaching your learners it can provide an enormous wealth of information and and teachers can simplify or access a few categories that exist on some of the observation, classroom observation schemes that are available in the literature to do that.
It think the -- I think for me it’s really the recognition and the understanding of the fact that the first language can play a tremendously beneficial role in the acquisition of a second language. There seems to be insufficient understanding and awareness of this on part of parents on the part of teachers um that the first language is is seen as a kind of it’s going to interfere it’s going to get in the way it’s not it’s going to hinder the learners second language development let’s move very quickly and get them using their second language as quickly as possible. There seems to be uh not enough understanding of the positive contributions that knowledge uh of a first language can play in the acquisition of a second language that teachers need to know and parents need to know that um encourage encouragement for the development of the first language even if that takes a little bit of time away from the teaching and learning of a second language in the short term in the long term it’s going to benefit their second language learners tremendously and so I think that’s certainly one uh one issue that I feel particularly uh passionate about. I think another one when it comes to the actual teaching of language um in this current uh uh world of communicative language instruction content based instruction meaning based instruction I think that teachers can somehow very easily lose sight of the fact that they are language teachers and that their language needs to be taught. I know that I I -- this is something that I feel particularly uh uh concerned about when I’m observing student teachers in the schools and they’re teaching in highly communicative programs or content based classrooms and they’re developing extraordinarily interesting and motivating activities for their students um and are keeping them engaged and interested in terms of the content but some how in putting together all of these interesting activities in terms of content they some times lose sight of the language focus and so I think it’s very easy to have that happen as a as a communicative teacher as a teacher of content in content based language programs and so um I’m very vigilant with my student teachers about making sure that they have a a very clear agenda in terms of what their language goals are within a content based activity. That doesn’t mean that they have to provide grammar rules or discrete point presentation of language forms or get into doing some of the sort of drills from the battle days of audio-lingual teaching but rather that they have to be conscious of the fact that they’re language teachers and that there’s a language component that is embedded within their context content based instruction and to make their learners aware of that as well.