Randall Lund

RANDALL LUND

I’m Randall Lund. I belong to the German department at Brigham Young University. Did you want that spelled? R-A-N-D-A-L-L L-U-N-D.

LUND, RANDALL: Proficiency, I think, is what it means to know a language. Um.

LUND, RANDALL: The people who have studied proficiency have come to understand that there are just a few components that make it up. In other words, why is somebody better than somebody else? I guess one thing to get straight now is that proficiency isn’t just one, uh, thing that you either have or don’t have.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, proficiency is, uh, what it means to know a language and we understand that there are a few components that make that up and it’s how those components combine and change that determines whether one person is more proficient than another. Presumably, everybody that has begun a language is proficient at some level, so the question is, uh, ‘How proficient?’ And we define that in terms of what can you do, what kinds of things can you accomplish by using language. Uh, something like, you know, order a meal or take part in an argument or persuade someone or express your feelings and so forth. So what can you do? Another important part of that is how well can you do it. So, a beginner, uh, maybe can do things, but not as accurately as a more advanced person. And those two things, what you can do and how well you can do it, are going to change depending on what the topic is or what the content is. So that’s the third main component. And so those comb--the combination of those three things is what determines how proficient you are.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, let’s take--let’s keep the other things constant and let’s say that--that content is constant, that we’re talking about, uh, food as a topic. Uh, a person at lower proficiency would be able to probably name foods, uh, do straight forward things like ask for or give somebody something, but a more advanced person would be able to do additional things in rela--in relation to food, like talk about preferences or justify preferences. Why do you like something or not like something? Or complain about the food that you get in a restaurant, for example. So the topic, uh, the topic doesn’t say everything. We need to--to understand what it is that you’re--that you need to do in regard to that topic.

LUND, RANDALL: By foreign language environment I think you mean, um, that we’re learning a language in a--in a country that is not where the language is spoken. Um, that’s not necessarily, uh, a bad thing. I think there’s advantages to that. Uh, I think the biggest problem is making it real for the learner because they’re not going to go out of your classroom, step onto the street and be immersed in the language. Uh, they won’t have the exposure that they would have if they’re in the country. And also they won’t have the opportunities to, uh, to--to engage in, uh, use of the language. And so it, uh, it’s not as real to them. And then, I guess, going along with that is that they then lack the opportunity, uh, to--to be exposed and to try the language out.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, I think, uh, in a good program that we can expect, uh, actually, quite a lot. That learners can be, uh, into--certainly into the intermediate and possibly into some of the advance, uh, the advance language, uh, skills by that time. There--there--there are limitations. The, uh, and so if--and--and one of the things we need to do to--to make that optimal or to--or to get the best that we can out of them is to somehow combine that with, uh, uh, residence or assimilation of residence in the language. The more that we can achieve that, the--the farther people are going to go.

LUND, RANDALL: Upper intermediate students, um, can do things very well involving the here and the now. Present tense, things around me, uh, things of immediate interest and importance to me. Uh, we sometimes talk about survival skills because those are of immediate importance if that’s an issue. Uh, getting food, getting clothing, getting shelter, uh, taking care of basic needs, getting information. When you talk about the upper end of the intermediate range, then we’re getting into things that, uh, involve more advanced skills but maybe can’t be sustained. Uh, in certain areas where they’re well prepared, they may be--be able to do other things. And those more advanced skills would involve anything that involves more connected use of language. Uh, more detail, more elaboration, uh, getting out of present time into past time and future time and adding detail to things like narration and description and those kinds of things. But again, the--the ability to do that would be limited, uh, by the topic and whether they’re prepared and--and whether they’ve learned in that--in that particular area or not.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, the expertise in the profession, I think, consists, in some ways of--of one thing and that is to understand that a language is not another school subject. It’s not just history or math, uh, and they all have their own problems, but we also have specific needs and we understand we think a little about how language is a specific human activity that has certain attributes and a certain dynamic and we try to take advantage of that and so we do things differently to some degree in--in teaching language.

LUND, RANDALL: It would be a very busy active place. Uh, people would be, essentially, communicating. What is language? It’s a means of communicating and you can tell right away if you’re in a good classroom, I think, if you see that not too many minutes have gone by and people are communicating. And if you sit through a whole hour and that never happens, you may not be in a good language program.

LUND, RANDALL: Um, an optimal environment. I--I envision a room where the students are engaged meaningfully with the topic which is the language. The teacher is, uh, in a facilitating role. The teacher is, um, the teacher’s work has been done behind the scenes in setting up opportunities and an environment and tasks that the students are engaged in. So the students are active. They’re--they’re talking to each other. Uh, i--if it’s listening it may look passive. Or reading. But they’re doing active things in their mind and that’s going to turn into some kind of product or discussion, uh, as soon as they’re done with the listening or reading. Uh, and if you see the students active, using the language, talking most of the time, they’re the ones that have to learn, they’re the ones that have to be doing the talking. So the teacher is facilitating, the teacher is setting up, uh, tasks. The teacher is giving feedback, uh, is motivating, uh, encouraging and so forth.

LUND, RANDALL: Teaching listening, I think, involves two things, uh, that is there’s two ways we can go about it. One way is to, uh, simply give them experiences where they can be successful because what they do is what they’re going to learn. And the more they listen with success, so that they’re motivated, and, uh, they can see that they’re doing well, then they’re going to--they’re going to get better with listening. The other thing that we can do is try to make them more aware and more effective listeners by teaching them strategies. So I think there’s two things. You--you give them opportunity to listen successfully and as they’re doing that, almost as an overlay to that concern, you are also, uh, teaching them how to be in charge of their own listening. How to not be passive. How to decide what it is that they are interested in getting out of the material and how they’re going to do it and what techniques, uh, they need to apply in order to--to meet those ends.

LUND, RANDALL: Accuracy and fluency are both important and we do talk about the balance, but, uh, I don’t think the balance is constant. There is a proper balance, but it’s probably shifting and changing over time depending on what you’re doing and I--I tend to think of, uh, the progression of learning as--for a particular teaching point, as going through some simple stages. There’s a beginning stage where they need to become aware of the teaching point, whether that’s by, uh, uh, simply perceiving input or whether it’s in a more formal way that you’re showing them. Somehow they have to be shown and come to understand what is the point and that’s, in my mind, that’s a fairly, uh, active thing. That is they’re consciously aware of what they need to be learning. Um, then, I think we move into a practice stage where in control--in a controlled situation they learn to manipulate the--the teaching point somehow. At that point, I think accuracy is very important because they’re practicing a certain thing. Why practice it wrong? Uh, if you’re trying to learn a golf stroke, you don’t want to keep repeating it doing the thing that’s wrong. You want somebody to--to correct you and get so where you’re doing it right and then that repetition, doing it right, would be helpful. Otherwise you’d be--you’d be, uh, learning something counterproductive. But then to--to get that incorporated into actual language use we have to move into a--a phase of communication of using this material, of applying it. At that point, the focus needs to shift from accuracy onto meaning, uh, and the fluency which contributes to the successful communication of that meaning. So at that point it’s not true that we--we would never correct or be concerned about accuracy, but it’s less important. And we--and we approach the accuracy issue in a different way at that time, in a more indirect way.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, errors in language ca--uh, can’t normally be fixed by a correction as if you were turning a switch in their mind and that would take care of it. Um, that actually has happened to me once, but at a much more advanced level where when I became aware of something I could immediately take care of it and I don’t think that the problem ever came up again, but in most cases for beginners and intermediate learners, um, we understand that, especially language performance is something that, uh, is driven by a system. It’s--it’s, uh, it’s not--it’s driven by a system of ...

LUND, RANDALL: It’s driven by a system, uh, consisting of whatever rules we’ve internalized and we understand that those rules are in--in various stages of formation. They’re not--they’re not perfect. Some rules may exist there and we--this is what we have to understand, they’re--they are generating the communication that the student is giving. And that part of the system is working, but the rule that’s beginning the whole thing is--is imperfect. It’s not the target language, it’s something in-between or it’s being borrowed for the moment from the native language and--but we have to live with that. You can’t just change that overnight. So, there’s a certain tolerance that you have to have for rules. Uh, it might help to think about the difference between, uh, internalize sort of unconscious knowledge, what we like to call acquired knowledge of the language and formal knowledge. And a teacher, I think, can go ahead and deal with formal knowledge, that is conscious explicit knowledge, and if a student doesn’t know something we can maybe fix that so that they know it and understand it better. But then we have to understand that that isn’t going to fix the acquired part immediately, there’s going to be a--a time delay there. Sometimes it may take years for that to appear in--in the acquired part of the knowledge.

LUND, RANDALL: Well, vocabulary, um, vocabulary, uh, there are probably different opinions about vocabulary. My view is that context is the best way. Context is so important in lan--in everything in language learning. Uh, we’re talking about forms that are used to express a meaning and words are one way to look at--at what forms are. And we need to have them connected with meaning or we haven’t learned them. The meaning is the context, um, that is context is part of what meaning is all about so I think we need to use lang--to--to use words in context. We need to be--learners need to be exposed to the words that they’re going to learn in context, not as isolated lists, but in real communication. Now, the lists are useful, they have a purpose, but, uh, we always want to come back to communication to interaction. Let’s use those words, let’s show them the words in a communicative way and then let’s have the students practice in communicative or--or at least pseudocommunicative ways in using those words. I think we need to remember that you don’t know a word just because you know its, uh, translation in your native language. You don’t know a word until you can use it successfully, uh, in--with the appropriate syntax in--in correct, uh, good target language sentences. And I think one thing that helps us to get there is to think about deep processing. How do we remember the words? I mean we--we could introduce them in context and, uh, still fail if the students don’t do what I like to call ‘deep processing.’ That is you have to think about these words and what they mean to you and how you--how you’re going to use them and that, of course, leads them often directly into communication which is the end result that we want. Maybe I could give an example. Uh, you want to learn food words. Um, deep processing regarding food words would be to think about and to react as a learner to personal questions about these words like, when do you eat certain foods? What mealtimes do you eat them? Or do you like them or not like them? Um, do you like lemons in--in pie? In ice cream? Uh, do you like them in a salad? Uh, you know, when do you eat lemons? What kind of recipes involve certain kinds of food? What kinds of foods go in combinations? Categorizing things are very simple ways to get deep processing. What are vegetables? What are fruits? Where does a tomato fit in?

LUND, RANDALL: Well, I find that over the last few years what interests me most, what concerns me most, where I try to make improvements in--in our language teaching has very little to do with--with methodology. With second language acquisition, research or findings or--or--or pedagogy or methodology except in this broadest sense and that is to understand that learners are not going to learn unless they are responsible. Unless they are engaged. Unless they want to learn, unless they’re taking charge, unless they’re being encouraged to--to confront the content in--in a active way that--that ultimately changes their lives in some way. If that’s not happening, I don’t think we’re teaching effectively, and that, to me, is not primarily a matter of--of, uh, technique or methodology, it’s a matter of much broader and deeper, almost human issues about who is the teacher. Who is the student? Why are we here together? What is the subject that brings us together and--and--and what are we going to do about it? And how is it going to change the student’s life?