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LINGUIST List 16.3032

Thu Oct 20 2005

Qs: Method Comparison Research; Intro Ling Classes

Editor for this issue: Jessica Boynton <jessicalinguistlist.org>

We'd like to remind readers that the responses to queries are usually best posted to the individual asking the question. That individual is then strongly encouraged to post a summary to the list. This policy was instituted to help control the huge volume of mail on LINGUIST; so we would appreciate your cooperating with it whenever it seems appropriate. In addition to posting a summary, we'd like to remind people that it is usually a good idea to personally thank those individuals who have taken the trouble to respond to the query. To post to LINGUIST, use our convenient web form at http://linguistlist.org/LL/posttolinguist.html.
        1.    Ronald Sheen, Method Comparison Research of the 60s and 70s
        2.    Tony DeFazio, Introductory Linguistics Classes

Message 1: Method Comparison Research of the 60s and 70s
Date: 20-Oct-2005
From: Ronald Sheen <rsheenausharjah.edu>
Subject: Method Comparison Research of the 60s and 70s

The following is an appeal to "senior" members who were in any way
involved in the method comparison research (MCR) of the 60s and 70s and/or
to any members who have looked into it in any depth. I first give my
requests and then provide the relevant background..

(1) Are there any members who were involved in the MCR of the past who
could provide relevant feedback on what is below.. (2) Are there any
members who have delved into this same research who could provide relevant
feedback. (3) Does anyone know if Philip Smith is still active and if he
has an e-mail address. I have tried in vain to find it.

The 50s and 60s saw the implementation of the audiolingual method (ALM)
for the teaching of foreign languages (henceforth used to include second
languages) and the use of language labs. This provoked much discussion on
the relative merits of ALM and traditional FL teaching and then extensive
CMR on the relative merits of various exponents of both options. The most
well-known major research of this type was the 1970 "A Comparison of the
Cognitive and Audiolingual Approaches to Foreign Language Instruction" by
Philip Smith. a book of some 370 pages.

Though there is much to discuss in the research design etc., the overall
findings were in favour of traditional FL teaching. This provoked a
firestorm of protest on the part of proponents of ALM seeking to demonstrate
such flaws in the findings that they could not be regarded as reliable.

However, Von Elek & Oskarsson (1973) in a thorough review of the relevant
research including a study of their own, describe 22 such projects 19 of
which produced such similar results that they concluded that typical
components of traditional deductive methods should be integral parts of FL
instruction (p. 145). More recently, Decoo (2001) has provided support for
these findings.

However, all this controversy ultimately proved to be something of a
sideshow for Chomsky's 1957 demonstration of the sterility of Skinner's
behaviourism and the establishment in linguistics of his ideas had by the
60s filtered down to the world of applied linguistics and caused the
subsequent rejection of ALM. There then followed in the 70s and 80s the
acceptance of strong communicative language teaching (SCLT) which outlawed
the teaching of grammar on the assumption that exposure to understood
language would result in acquisition. (Krashen's Input Hypothesis).

To cut a long and protracted story short, in the late 80s and early 90s,
following the failure of SCLT, Michael Long published articles which sought to
do what was hardly necessary given the available literature.

That is to demonstrate that classroom instruction had a positive effect on
learning. The acceptance of this principle came, however, with a price -
the rejection of the value of traditional language teaching his argument
being based on the false assumption that the CMR proved inconclusive because
different methods produced more or less the same results.

Now, though Long's claim was demonstrated in the literature to be unfounded, it
is that claim which has become the contemporary wisdom of the current mindset in
applied linguistics. Thus, one finds Doughty (2004) claiming ".two "methods" of
instruction were pitted against each other and the findings were always the
same: no difference between the two (see e.g., Smith, 1970), notably without
page reference..

This claim is so inaccurate (see above) that one can only conclude it has
become one of those myths which editors appear to publish without submitting
them to critical scrutiny.

This issue is of some moment for many applied linguists continue to use it
as a means of stigmatising an approach to language teaching and learning
which has been a major component in helping countless FL learners to be

I will, of course, provide a summary of the content of replies to the
above requests.

Ron Sheen
University of Quebec,
Trois Rivieres, Canada.


Decoo, Wilfried, (2001) "On the mortality of language learning methods",
given as the James L. Barker lecture, 8 November 2001, College of
Humanities, BYU.

Doughty, C.J. (2004) "Effects of instruction on learning a second
language: A critique of instructed SLA research" in (Eds.) B. VanPatten, J.
Williams, S. Rott & M. Overstreet Form-Meaning Connections in SLA. London:
Lawtrrence Erlbaum.

Smith. P.D. Jr. (1970). "A comparison of the cognitive and audio-lingual
approaches to foreign language instruction" The Pennsylvania Foreign
Language Project. Philadelphia: The Center for Curriculum Development.

Von Elek, T. & Oskarsson, M. (1973). Teaching Foreign Language Grammar to
Adults: A comparative study. Almquist & Wiksell: Stockholm.

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Message 2: Introductory Linguistics Classes
Date: 19-Oct-2005
From: Tony DeFazio <AJDeFazaol.com>
Subject: Introductory Linguistics Classes

Can anyone point me to an online group that deals with questions that arise
in the teaching of introductory linguistics classes? I am interested in
discussing some of the teaching and other issues that arise when teaching this
material to non linguistics majors. I will post a summary if replies warrant.

Tony DeFazio, New York University

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics

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