Languages: Dear English teacher colleague,
How would your life be as a teacher if you knew the exact answer(s) to this question? The truth is, we teach English taking into account a variety of supposedly well-informed methodologies. Sometimes we follow them because we have to (it is demanded from us by our employers), while at the same time we introduce changes we believe will make our job more meaningful (even at the expense of feeling a bit guilty). When we change something to adapt it to our teaching context, we do so motivated by a belief that it will work better in the end; however, not always are we able to verbalize the reasons that led us to make such changes; not always do we feel sure what we are doing is the right thing to do.
Ideally, we would benefit greatly if we had consistent theories which would help us with the “how to go about” of everyday teaching in classrooms worldwide. Let’s not be taken in by the belief that all linguistic theories can be easily translated (if at all) into teaching practices, though. Noam Chomsky, when confronted with the applicability of his groundbreaking theory to language teaching, back in the 1950’s, said teachers had to find this out for themselves (in the traditional view that Linguistics was not interested in practical aspects). Guy Cook shows us that compelling though Krashen’s theories seemed at first, they led to wrong assumptions in English language teaching; in Cook’s own words, the applicability of Krashen’s theories was a lesson in what applied linguistics should not be. In other words: what should we do, trust our intuitions or blindly adhere to the theoretical fads that are sometimes imposed on us as cutting edge novelty?
Here are some theoretical questions teachers have to deal with, whether consciously or not:
1 – Are languages learned mainly through imitation?
2 – Do parents usually correct young children when they make grammatical errors?
3 – Are highly intelligent people good language learners?
4 – Is motivation the most important predictor of success in second language acquisition?
5 – Do you think the earlier a second language is introduced in school programs, the greater the likelihood of success?
6 – Do most of the mistakes second language learners make result from interference from their first language?
7 – Do you think the best way to learn new vocabulary is through reading?
(From LIGHTBOWN and SPADA)
You may answer some of the questions relying solely on feeling, but there is important, though not definitive, research in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics which will help teachers make informed choices while teaching. In other words, it is vital for teachers to examine their beliefs by confronting them with scientific evidence, not in a passive, uncritical way, such as when teachers are pushed to believe by following everything a certain method/methodology recommends. As Almeida Filho has once cogently argued, if we do not know the origin of our beliefs, we reproduce practices whose origins we are not even aware of, and that certainly contributes to ineffective language teaching, bringing about anxiety and insecurity.
ALMEIDA FILHO, José Carlos P. Dimensões comunicativas no ensino de língua. Campinas: Pontes, 1993.
COOK, Guy. Applied Linguistics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005.
Go to: http//www.profricardomadureira.com.br
for supplementary exercises to my book “Refresher vocabulary and…” (Lessons 36-40) (downloadable, free of charge)
Refresher Vocabulary & Grammar Tests For Advanced Proficiency Exams with Answers by Ricardo Madureira, Disal Editora.