Ways of teaching foreign languages

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1. Introduction

1.1 General characteristics of the work

2.1 How to teach foreign languages (general remarks)

2. The Main Part

1.2 Comparing instructed and natural settings for language learning

2.2 Natural and instructional settings

3.2 Classroom comparisons

4.2 Five principles for classroom teaching

5.2. The principle getting right from the beginning

6.2. The principle of saying what you mean and meaning what you say

7.2. The principle of listening

8.2. Teach what is teacheable

9.2. Getting right in the end

10.2. Grammar aquisition: Focusing on past tenses and conditionals (work-out)

11. 2. The implications of classroom research for teaching

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction


2.1. How to teach foreign languages (general remarks)

Every few years new foreign language teaching methods arrive on the scene. New textbooks appear far more frequently. They are usually proclaimed to be more effective than those that have gone before and in many cases these methods or textbooks are promoted or even prescribed for immediate use. New methods and textbooks may reflect current developments in linguistic/applied linguistic theory or recent pedagogical trends. Sometimes they are said to be based on recent developments in language acquisition theory and research. For example one approach to teaching may emphasize the value of having students imitate and practise a set of correct sentences while another emphasizes the importance of encouraging 'natural' communication be­tween learners. How is a teacher to evaluate the potential effectiveness of new methods? One important basis for evaluating is of course the teacher's own experience with previous successes or disappointments. In addition teachers who are informed about some of the findings of recent research are better prepared to judge whether the new proposals for language teaching are likely to bring about positive changes in students' learning.

Our graduation paper is about how English language can be learned at classrooms on the bases of new pedagogical technologies with having taking into consideration the national aspect i.e. influencing native Uzbek language and typical mistakes and difficulties in learning English by Uzbek speaking students. First of all we have written it for English language teachers who teach this language to Uzbek students at schools at 5-6 grades but it could also be useful for afult learners who are only going to learn a wonderful world of English. We believe that information about findings and theoretical views in second language acquisition research can make you a better judge of claims made by textbook writers and proponents of various language teaching methods. Such information combined with insights gained from your experience as a language teacher or learner can help you evaluate proposed changes in classroom methodology

2.The Main Part


1.2. Comparing instructed and natural settings for language learning[1]


Most people would agree that learning a second language in a natural acquisition context or 'on the street' is not the same as learning in the class­room. Many believe that learning 'on the street' is more effective. This belief may be based on the fact that most successful learners have had exposure to the language outside the classroom. What is special about natural language learning? Can we create the same environment in the classroom? Should we? Or are there essential contributions that only instruction—and not natural exposure—can provide?

In this chapter we will look at five proposals which theorists have made for how second languages should be taught. We will review research on second language learning which has been carried out in classroom settings. This will permit us to explore further the way in which second language research and theory contribute to our understanding of the advantages and the limita­tions of different approaches to second language teaching.

Before we go further let us take a moment to reflect on the differences between natural and instructional language learning settings. We will then look at transcripts from two classrooms and try to understand what principles guide the teacher in each case.

2.2. Natural and instructional settings

Natural acquisition contexts should be understood as those in which the learner is exposed to the language at work or in social interaction or if the learner is a child in a school situation where most of the other children are native speakers of the target language and where the instruction is directed toward native speakers rather than toward learners of the language.

The traditional instruction environment is one where the language is being taught to a group of second or foreign language learners. In this case the focus is on the language itself rather than on information which is carried by the language. The teacher's goal is to see to it that students learn the vocabu­lary and grammatical rules of the target language. The goal of learners in such courses is often to pass an examination rather than to use the language for daily communicative interaction.

Communicative instruction environments also involve learners whose goal is learning the language itself but the style of instruction places the emphasis on interaction conversation and language use rather than on learning about the language. The topics which are discussed in the communicative instruction environment are often topics of general interest to the learner for example how to reply to a classified advertisement from a newspaper. Alternatively the focus of a lesson may be on the subject matter such as his­tory or mathematics which students are learning through the medium of the second language. In these classes the focus may occasionally be on lan­guage itself but the emphasis is on using the language rather than on talking about it. The language which teachers use for teaching is not selected on the basis of teaching a specific feature of the language but on teaching learners to use the language in a variety of contexts. Students' success in these courses is often measured in terms of their ability to 'get things done' in the second language rather than on their accuracy in using certain grammatical features.

In the chart below mark a plus (+) if the characteristic in the left-hand col­umn is typical of the learning environment in the three remaining columns. Mark a minus (-) if it is not something you usually find in that context. Write '?' if you are not sure.

Table 1: Comparison of natural and instructional settings

Characteristics Natural acquisition Traditional instruction Communicative instruction
error correction
learning one thing at a time
ample time available for learning
high ratio of native speakers to learners
variety of language and discourse types
pressure to speak
access to modified input

As you look at the pattern of + and - signs you have placed in the chart you will probably find it matches the following descriptions.

In natural acquisition settings

- Learners are rarely corrected. If their interlocutors can understand what they are saying they do not remark on the correctness of the learners' speech. They would probably feel it was rude to do so.

- Language is not structured step by step. In communicative interactions the learner will be exposed to a wide variety of vocabulary and structures.

- The learner is surrounded by the language for many hours each day. Some of it is addressed to the learner; much of it is simply 'overheard'.

- The learner encounters a number of different people who use the target language proficiently.

- The learner observes or participates in many different types of language events: brief greetings commercial transactions exchanges of informa­tion arguments instructions at school or in the workplace.

- Learners must often use their limited second language ability to respond to questions or get information. In these situations the emphasis is on getting meaning across clearly and more proficient speakers tend to be tollerant of errors that do not interfere with meaning.

- Modified input is available in many one-on-one conversations. In situ­ations where many native speakers are involved in the conversation however the learner often has difficulty getting access to language he or she can understand.

Learners in traditional instruction

These differ from natural learners in that:

- Errors are frequently corrected. Accuracy tends to be given priority over meaningful interaction.

- Input is structurally simplified and sequenced. Linguistic items are pres­ented and practised in isolation one item at a time.

- There is limited time for learning (usually only a few hours a week).

- There is a small ratio of native speakers to non-native speakers. The teacher is often the only native or proficient speaker the student comes in contact with.

- Students experience a limited range of language discourse types (often a chain of 'Teacher asks a question/Student answers/Teacher evaluates response').

- Students often feel great pressure to speak or write the second language and to do so correctly from the very beginning.

- When teachers use the target language to give instructions or in other classroom management events they often modify their language in order to ensure comprehension and compliance.

Not all language classrooms are alike. The conditions for learning differ in terms of the physical environment the age and motivation of the students the amount of rime available for learning and many other variables. Class­rooms also differ in terms of the principles which guide teachers in their language teaching methods and techniques. The design of communicative language teaching programs has sought to replace some of the characteristics of traditional instruction with those more typical of natural acquisition contexts.

Communicative language teaching classrooms

Thus in communicative language teaching classrooms we may find the fol­lowing characteristics:

- There is a limited amount of error correction and meaning is emphasized over form.

- Input is simplified and made comprehensible by the use of contextual cues props and gestures rather than through structural grading (the pre­sentation of one grammatical item at a time in a sequence of 'simple' to 'complex').

- Learners usually have only limited time for learning. Sometimes how­ever subject-matter courses taught through the second language can add time for language learning.

- Contact with proficient or native speakers of the language is limited. As

with traditional instruction it is often only the teacher who is a proficient speaker. In communicative classrooms learners have considerable expos­ure to the second language speech of other learners. This naturally contains errors which would not be heard in an environment where one's interlocutors are native speakers.

- A variety of discourse types are introduced through stories role playing the use of 'real-life' materials such as newspapers and television broad­casts and field trips.

- There is little pressure to perform at high levels of accuracy and there is often a greater emphasis on comprehension than on production in the early stages of learning.

- Modified input is a defining feature of this approach to instruction. The teacher in these classes makes every effort to speak to students in a level of language they can understand. In addition other students speak a simpli­fied language.

3.2 Classroom comparisons

In this activity we are going to look at transcripts from two classrooms one using a traditional audiolingual structure-based approach to teaching and the other a communicative approach. Audiolingualteaching is based on the behaviourist theory of learning which places emphasis on forming habits and practising grammatical structures in isolation. The communicative approach in contrast is based on innatist and interactionist theories of language learning and emphasizes the communication of meaning. Grammatical forms are only focused on in order to clarify meaning. The theory is that learners can and must do the grammatical development on their own.

With each transcript there is a little grid for you to check off whether certain things are happening in the interaction from the point of view of the teacher and of the students. Before you begin reading the transcripts study the following definitions of the categories used in the grids:

1 Errors

Are there errors in the language of either the teacher or the students?

2 Error correction

When grammatical errors are made are they corrected? By whom?

3 Genuine questions

Do teachers and students ask questions to which they don't know the answer in advance?

4 Display questions

Do teachers and students ask questions they know the answers to so that learners can display knowledge (or the lack of it)?

5 Negotiation of meaning

Do the teachers and students work to under­stand what the other speakers are saying? What efforts are made by teacher? By the students?

T eacner/student interactions

In the following excerpts T represents the teacher; S represents a student.

Classroom A: An audiolingual approach

(Students in this class are 15-year-old Uzbek speakers.)

Errors Teacher Student
Feedback on errors
Genuine questions
Display questions
Negotiation of meaning

T OK we finished the book - we finished in the book Unit 1 2 3. Finished Workbook 1 2 3. So today we're going to start with Unit 4. Don't take your books yet don't take your books. In 1 2 3 we worked in what tense? What tense did we work on? OK?

S Past

T In the past—What auxiliary in the past?

S Did

T Did (writes on board '1-2-3 Past'). Unit 4 Unit 4 we're going to work in the present present progressive present continuous—OK? You don't know what it is?

S Yes

T Yes? What is it?

S Little bit

T A little bit

S ... .

T. Eh?

S Uh present continuous

T Present continuous? What's that?

S e-n-g

T i-n-g

S Yes

T What does that mean present continuous? You don't know? OK

fine. What are you doing Mahmud?

S Rien

T Nothing?

S Rien—nothing

T You're not doing anything? You're doing something.

S Not doing anything.

T You're doing something.

S Not doing anything.

T You're doing something—Are are you listening to me? Are you talk­ing with Manzura? What are you doing?

S No no—uh—listen—uh—

T Eh?

S to you

T You're you're listening to me.

S Yes

T Oh—(writes 'What are you doing? I'm listening to you' on the board)

S Je-

T What are you—? You're excited.

S Yes

T You're playing with your eraser—(writes 'I'm playing with my eraser' on the board). Would you close the door please Bernard? Claude what is he doing?

S Close the door

T He is closing the door (writes 'He's closing the door' on the board) What are you doing Khamid?

S I listen to you.

T You're listening to me.

S Yes

T OK. Are you sleeping or are you listening to me?

S I don't – firty-fifty half and half.

T Half and half half sleeping half listening.

Classroom B: A communicative approach

(Students in this class are 10-year-old Native language speakers. In this activity they

are telling their teacher and their classmates what 'bugs' them. They have

written 'what bugs them' on a card or paper which they hold while


Errors Teacher Student
Feedback on errors
Genuine questions
Display questions
Negotiation of meaning

S It bugs me when a bee string me.

T Oh when a bee stings me.

S Stings me.

T Do you get stung often? Does that happen often? The bee stinging many times?

S Yeah.

T Often? (Teacher turns to students who aren't paying attention) OK. Salima and Bakhrom you may begin working on a research pro­ject hey? (Teacher turns her attention back to 'What bugs me')

S It bugs me (inaudible) and my sister put on my clothes.

T Ah! She—borrows your clothes? When you're older you may ap­preciate it because you can switch clothes maybe. (Teacher turns to check another student's written work) Mahliyo this is yours I will check.—OK. It's good.

S It bugs me when I'm sick and my brother doesn't help me— my—my brother 'cause he—me—

T OK. You know—when (inaudible) sick you're sick at home in bed and you say oh to your brother or your sister: 'Would you please get me a drink of water?'—'Ah! Drop dead!' you know 'Go play in the traffic!' You know it's not very nice. Doniyor!

S It bug me to have—

T It bugs me. It bugzz me

S It bugs me when my brother takes my bicycle. Every day.

T Every day? Ah! Doesn't your bro—(inaudible) his bicycle? Could his brother lend his bicycle? Uh your brother doesn't have a bi­cycle?

S Yeah! A new bicycle (inaudible) bicycle.

T Ah well. Talk to your mom and dad about it. Maybe negotiate a new bicycle for your brother.

S (inaudible)

T He has a new bicycle. But his brother needs a new one too.

S Yes!

T Hey whoa just a minute! Jean?   

S Martin's brother has—

T Martin who has a new bicycle? You or your brother?

S My brother.

T And you have an old one.

S (inaudible)

T And your brother takes your old one?

S —clutch—(inaudible) bicycle

T His bicycle! Ah! How old is your brother?

S March 23.

T His birthday?

S Yeah!

T And how old was he?

S Fourteen.

T Fourteen. Well why don't you tell your brother that when he takes

your bike you will take his bike. And he may have more scratches

than he figures for. OK?

Characteristics of input in the two classrooms

Classroom A

1 Errors: Very few on the part of the teacher. However the teacher's speech does have some peculiar characteristics typical of this type of teaching for example the questions in statement form—often asked with dramatic ris­ing intonation (for example 'You don't know what it is?'). The students don't make many errors because they don't say very much.

2 Error correction: Yes constantly from the teacher.

3 Genuine questions: Yes a few and they are almost always related to class­room management. No questions from the students.

4 Display questions: Yes almost all of the teacher's questions are of this type. Interestingly however the students sometimes interpret display questions as genuine questions (T: What are you doing Khamid? S: Nothing.)

5 Negotiation of meaning: Very little learners have no need to paraphrase or request clarifications and no opportunity to determine the direction of the discourse; the teacher is only focused on the formal aspects of the lear­ners' language.

Classroom B

1 Errors: Yes when students speak but hardly ever when the teacher does. Nevertheless the teacher's speech also contains incomplete sentences simplified ways of speaking and an informal speech style.

2 Error correction: Yes sometimes the teacher repeats what the student has said with the correct form (for example 'he bugjszme'—pointing out the third person singular). However this correction is not consistent or in­trusive as intrustive as the focus is primarily on letting students express their meanings.

3 Genuine questions: Yes almost all of the teacher's questions are focused on getting information from the students. The students are not asking questions in this exchange.

4 Display questions: No because there is a focus on meaning rather than on accuracy in grammatical form.

5 Negotiation of meaning: Yes from the teacher's side especially in the long exchange about who has a bicycle!

Summary of the two classroom excerpts

You have no doubt noticed how strikingly different these transcripts from the two classrooms are even though the activities are both teacher-centred. In the transcript from Classroom A the focus is on form (i.e. grammar) and in Classroom B it is on meaning. In Classroom A the only purpose of the interaction is to practise the present continuous. Although the teacher uses real classroom events and some humour to accomplish this there is no doubt about what really matters here. There is no real interest in what stu­dents 'are doing' but rather in their ability to say it. There is a primary focus on correct grammar display questions and error correction in the transcript from Classroom A.

In the transcript from Classroom B the primary focus is on meaning con­versational interaction and genuine questions although there are some brief references to grammatical accuracy when the teacher feels it is necessary.

4.2 Five principles for classroom teaching

The teaching methodologies in Classrooms A and B differ because they reflect opposing theoretical views concerning the most effective way to learn a second language in classroom settings.

Theories have been proposed for the best way to learn a second language in the classroom and teaching methods have been developed to implement them. But the only way to answer the question 'Which theoretical proposal holds the greatest promise for improving language learning in classroom set­tings?' is through research which specifically investigates relationships between teaching and learning.

Both formal and informal research are needed. Formal research involves careful control of the factors which may affect learning. It often uses large numbers of teachers and learners in order to try to limit the possibility that the unusual behaviour of one or two individuals might create a misleading impression about what one would expect in general. Researchers doing this kind of work must sometimes sacrifice naturalness in order to ensure that only those factors under investigation are different in the groups being compared.

Informal research often involves small numbers perhaps only one class with one teacher and the emphasis here is not on what is most general but rather on what is particular about this group or this teacher. While formal research may add strength to theoretical proposals informal research including that carried out by teachers in their own classrooms is also essential. It is hardly necessary to tell experienced teachers that what 'works' in one context may fail in another.

In the section below we will examine five proposals relating to this issue provide examples from classroom interaction to illustrate how the proposals get translated into classroom practice and discuss how the findings from some of the formal research in SLA fit them. For each proposal a few relev­ant studies will be presented discussed and compared with one another. The labels we have given these proposals are:

1 Get it right from the beginning

2 Say what you mean and mean what you say

3 Just listen

4 Teach what is teachable

5 Get it right in the end

5.2. The principle getting right from the beginning

The 'Get it right from the beginning' proposal for second language teaching best describes the underlying theory behind the teaching practices observed in Classroom A. Indeed it is the proposal which probably best de­scribes the way in which most of us were taught a second language in school. It reflects the behaviourist view of language acquisition in assuming that learners need to build up their language knowledge gradually by practising only correct forms. Teachers avoid letting beginning learners speak freely because this would allow them to make errors. The errors it is said could become habits. So it is better to prevent these bad habits before they happen. Here are some more examples from classes based on this approach.

Example 1

(The teacher and students from Classroom A. This time the exercise in based on the simple present of English verbs.)

S1 And uh in the afternoon uh I come home and uh uh I uh wash­ing my dog.

T I wash.

S1 My dog.

T       Every day you wash your dog?

S1     No.

S2     He doesn't have a dog!

S1     No but we can say it!

Clearly in this case the student's real experience with his dog (or even the fact that he did or did not have a dog) was irrelevant. What mattered was the correct use of the simple present verb.

Example 2

(A group of 12-year-old learners of English as a foreign language.)

T   Repeat after me. Is there any butter in the refrigerator?

Group         Is there any butter in the refrigerator?

T   There's very little Mom.

Group         There's very little Mom.

T   Are there any tomatoes in the refrigerator?

Group         Are there any tomatoes in the refrigerator?

T   There are very few Mom.

Group There are very few Mom. (etc.)

Pure repetition. The students have no reason to get involved or to think about what they are saying. Indeed some students who have no idea what the sentences mean will successfully repeat them anyway while their minds wander off to other things.

Research findings

There is little classroom research to support this proposal. In fact it was the frequent failure of traditional grammar-based methods to produce fluency and accuracy in second language learners which led to the development of more communicative approaches to teaching in the first place.

Supporters of communicative language teaching have argued that language is not learned by the gradual accumulation of one item after another. They suggest that errors are a natural and valuable part of the language learning process. Furthermore they believe that the motivation of learners is often stifled by an insistence on correctness in the earliest stages of second language learning. These opponents of the 'Get it right from the beginning' proposal argue that it is better to encourage learners to develop 'fluency' before 'accuracy'.

Recently some researchers and educators have reacted to the trend toward communicative language teaching and have revived the concern that allowing learners too much 'freedom' without correction and explicit instruction will lead to early fossilization of errors. Once again we hear the call for making sure learners 'get it right from the beginning'.

Unfortunately little research has been carried out to test the hypothesis that an early and exclusive emphasis on form will in the long run lead to higher levels of linguistic performance and knowledge than an early and exclusive emphasis on meaning. The widespread adoption of communicative language teaching in recent years has meant that researchers in some settings have not been able to find classrooms which are exclusively form-oriented in order to make direct comparisons with classrooms that are exclusively meaning-oriented. None the less there are findings from second language classroom research which are relevant to this issue. These include descriptive studies of the interlanguage development of second language learners in audiolingual programs (Study 1) and studies of the development of second language proficiency in classroom learners who have received different amounts of form- and meaning-based instruction (Studies 2 and 3).

Study 1: Audiolingual pattern drill

In the late 1970s Patsy Lightbown and her colleagues in Quebec Canada carried out a series of longitudinal and cross-sectional investigations into the effect of audiolingual instruction on the second language interlanguage development of francophone ESL learners aged eleven to sixteen[2] (Lightbown 1983 1987). Students in these programs typically participated in the types of rote repetition and pattern practice drill we saw in Classroom A.

The researchers compared aspects of the learners' acquisition of English grammatical morphemes (such as plural –s and the progressive -ing) with the 'natural' order of acquisition by uninstructed second language learners. The results indicated several differences between the 'natural order' and the order in which these classroom learners produced them. The findings also suggested that the type of instruction provided a regular diet of isolated pattern practice drills contributed to the alterations in the learners' natural interlanguage development. For example while learners were able to produce a particular form (for example the -ing form) with a high degree of accuracy during the time that their instruction focused on it the same form was produced with considerably less accuracy (and frequency) when it was no longer being practised in class. These findings provided evidence that an exclusive emphasis on accuracy and practice of particular grammatical forms does not mean that learners will be able to use the forms. Not surprisingly this type of instruction did not seem to favour the development of fluency and communicative abilities either.

Study 2: Grammar plus communicative practice

Sandra Savignon[3] (1972) studied the linguistic and communicative skills of 48 college students enrolled in Native language language courses at an American university. The students were divided into three groups all of which received the same number of hours per week of audiolingual instruction where the focus was on the practice and manipulation of grammatical forms.

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