LINGUIST List 11.2520

Wed Nov 22 2000

Review: Hall & Verplaetz: SLA thru Classroom, part 2

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  1. Ronald Sheen, Review - Part 2

Message 1: Review - Part 2

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 15:32:35 -0500
From: Ronald Sheen <Ronald_SheenUQTR.UQuebec.CA>
Subject: Review - Part 2

Ch. 2. "Learning the pragmatics of solidarity in the networked foreign
language classroom" by Celeste Kinginger.

Kinginger does, in fact, report findings which show that interaction with
French peers by means of internet correspondence results in the learners'
modification of their understanding and immediate use of "tu" and "vous" to
render it more compatible with current usage among students. However, this
is no more than is covered by the SLA interaction hypothesis. In fact, this
chapter could well be included in the purview of traditional SLA had it
attempted any rigorous evaluation of the extent to which the modification
in the understanding of the two pronouns were manifest in the subsequent
spontaneous production of the students in the study. It does not do so.
The findings do not, therefore, in anyway support the claims of the editors
in terms of verfiable additional language development. Furthermore,
though the author rightly points out that in terms of pedagogical grammars
that "Knowledge of the rules governing address form usage in French is
inadequate to guide their use by learners in actual social situations.",
this in no way constitutes support for the necessity of exploiting the new
approach. After all, the author provides evidence that the knowledge is
available (see p. 31). The writers of pedagogical grammars need,
therefore, only to modify the rule to make it compatible with current
usage.

Kinginger also makes an unjustified claim as to how the difference between
"tu" and "vous" is taught. She states that it is learned primarily by
"rote memorization rather than being based on social understanding.". She
cites no references to support this claim, possibly because "rote
memorization" has been a thing of the past in most classrooms for decades.
One has only to look at contemporary textbooks to demonstrate that the
author's contention is untenable. Take for example a popular textbook for
self-instruction, "French all the way" by Annie Hemingway. On page 12, she
provides a summary of the rules for the use of the pronouns based on
various social situations and provides follow-up exercises. There is not a
hint of "rote memorization". Furthermore, Kinginger, herself, cites a
similar approach from Amon, Muyskens, & Omaggio-Hadley (1995). Where,
then, she derives her information concerning "rote memorization" remains
something of a mystery.

These criticisms are minor, however, compared with a major inconsistency
which characterizes the author's fundamental argument. She contends that
given the difficulty of these two pronouns and the inadequacy of our
knowledge of the pragmatic rules concerning their use, students need to
resort to social interaction with French peers in order to acquire these
rules. However, as the students in the study appear to have already
learned the sort of rules exemplified in the two textbooks cited above and
actually apply them often correctly in their first contacts with their
French peers (ie using "vous" with strangers) according to those rules, it
seems rather obvious that all one need to do is to fine-tune the initial
rule presentation to account for the special cases of inter-student
exchanges. After all, they learned the other rules well enough; why should
they not learn the modified one? Kinginger does not consider this
possibility for she assumes, without justification, that students must
necessarily acquire them by means of peer-interaction.

Ch. 3. "Rethinking recasts: A learner-centred examination of corrective
feedback in the Japanese language classroom" by Amy Snyder Ohta

Though Ohta does exploit an original slant on corrective feedback
(self-addressed utterances), it remains very much a study in line with the
many others on recasts and corrective feedback produced by traditional SLA.
More to the point, the study provides no evidence of actual language
learning in terms of the modification of the learners' underlying
competence. What it does do is show no more than we already know. That is
that corrective feedback, whether provided by teachers, peers or oneself,
can produce on-the-spot correction. However, that is not the issue. What
is at issue in SLA is the long term effect of that correction on a
learner's competence. As Ohta does not address this question, her findings
add little to our knowledge of the relevance of corrective feedback to SLA.
Furthermore, though she does make some reference to the SLA literature in
referring to Lyster (1998), she neglects to address the crucial issues
raised in the debate by numerous others such as Calv� (1992), Carroll &
Swain (1993), Han (1995), Truscott (1996) and Han & Selinker (1999) on the
same and related issues.

Ch. 4. "Spoken artistry: Performance in a foreign language classroom." by
Patricia N. Sullivan.

Sullivan's chapter demonstrates how an imaginative and inspiring teacher
can motivate students to "play" with words and possibly broaden their use
thereof. However, once again no data is provided to demonstrate that the
learners have in any way modified their lexical competence. Yet, the
author feels justified in concluding that the approach resulted in
"vocabulary expansion". However, as there is already ample empirical
evidence from studies on vocabulary learning to demonstrate that learners
can expand their vocabulary in all sorts of ways, including using
translation equivalents (See, for example, Nation, 1982), Sullivan needs to
show that what she advocates is the most effective means of doing so. As
it provides no empirical evidence of actual language learning, this is
impossible. We are thus left with a description of an apparently
excellent teacher and his motivating of his students effort at language
learning - hardly a ground-breaking revelation.

Ch. 5. "Teachers' action and student oral participation in classroom
interaction" by Douglas Altamiro Consolo.

Consolo's underlying premise is ironically one of the cornerstones of some
of those in traditional SLA. That is that interaction brings about
language learning. He cites Ellis (1984), among others, in support of
this: "...the generation of language input by means of classroom
interaction is believed to favor language acquisition.". Therefore, it is
assumed that the more interaction provoked by some pedagogical intervention
there is, the more effective it is. The problem with this, apart from its
ignoring of other crucial factors such as the role of instruction, is that
this premise has nowhere been demonstrated to be valid in terms of SLA
(See, for example, Palmer, 1992, for a relevant comparative study). That
is, no research findings have demonstrated there to be a convincingly
positive correlation between frequency of interaction and effective,
accurate language learning. Thus, though Consolo's findings concerning the
lack of difference between NS's and NNS's in terms of promoting interaction
is of some interest and though his findings indicate aspects of teaching
style which may be effective in promoting interaction, he offers no
findings of direct relevance to the accurate acquisition of either foreign
or second languages.

Ch. 6. "Repetition in foreign language classroom interaction" by Patrica A.
Duff.

A very positive feature of this chapter is the challenge it makes to
contemporary wisdom which still conceives of repetition as being inevitably
linked to audiolingualism with its behaviourist principles. As the basing
of prescriptions and proscriptons in the past on a putative pedagogical
contemporary wisdom has not produced any marked success, there is every
reason to be sceptical of its validity. In fact, there is every reason to
adopt an eclectic approach and accept no proscription as legitimate unless
it has been empirically demonstrated to be detrimental to learning. Anyone
who has taught foreign or second languages is well aware that there are
moments in the learning process where there is a need for repetition. In
general terms then, Duff's initiative is very welcome.

She legitimizes her uses of repetition with appeals to a skills-learning
approach (see DeKeyser, 1998) and a cognitive-interactionist approach (See
Slobin, 1985). Repetition is, thus, seen as a means of "...providing
learners access to language forms...and as a means of enabling learners to
develop automaticity in the target language..." (p. 109) She further sees
repetition in the broader context of having implications for "...social,
cognitive, linguistic, and effective purposes." (p. 111)

One can, of course, make such claims and base them on persuasive
theoretical arguments. The problem lies in demonstrating the positive
effects of repetition in the classroom. Duff attempts to do this by means
of micro-analyses of many hours of video-taped lessons. And herein lies a
major problem. Duff describes numerous examples of repetition but, given
the nature of her research data, she is obliged to speculate on the effects
of that repetition. Thus she informs us that it is the students' "...play
with the language by means of repetition and their enjoyment of the
perceived contradictions that helps affiliate them more with the subject
and with others in the community of learning." (p. 120) The unreliabilty
of such speculations is, of course, evident for they entail drawing
conclusions as to what the students are thinking - a perilous game in terms
of arriving at reliable findings. This, combined with the lack of evidence
of any verifiable learning linked to repetition or any other activity, for
that matter, leaves the author obliged to completely rely on her own
speculations. If researchers are to provide reliable evidence of the
beneficial effects of repetition, they will need to set up comparative
studies with a narrower definition of repetition and a rigorous means of
controlling its use.

Ch. 7 " Social interaction and language development in a FLES classroom"
by Etsuko Takahashi, Theresa Austin and Yoko Morimoto.

This is the only study in the book which adopts a longtitudinal approach.
However, the fact that there are only three examples of student production
in a 30-month period tends to reduce that advantage for the necessary gap
between them prevents a description of the language development processes.
This said, the study still permits some evaluation of the progress made.
There is, however, a serious omission from the description of the study
which mitigates its value. The purpose of all such studies is to seek a
causal link between instructional strategies and learning. We, therefore,
need a clear description of those strategies and an account of the progress
achieved. This chapter provides neither and thus reduces its value.

As to the former, we receive but hints thereof. We are informed that a
"nongraded instruction" was used (p. 145) (without the authors' providing
further amplification) and that lessons included metalearning (p. 156) and
the chanting of verb conjugations. However, we have no idea how these
features were presented. This omission could easily have been rectified
for all lessons were videotaped and transcribed.. As to the results, we
are provided with three transcripts of exchanges of no more than minutes
duration each nine months apart. In the first, the class shows it can
distinguish between "father" and "mother" in Japanese. In the second,
several students display an ablity to say "Dennis eats an apple" and
"Dennis wants to eat an apple" whilst the class can chorus conjugations.
and can say "He eats". We are also told that the students could "...create
many more utterances consisting of two or more words with particles",
regrettably, without supportive exemplification. In the third, the class
makes various incomplete attempts to say "The baby is on top of the desk"
whilst one student succeeds in saying it correctly.

Thus, we have little idea of what each student can produce in Japanese.
However, let us assume that in general the students could produce the three
sentences above - a generous assumption given the final transcript. That
is, after 30 months of 15-minute daily lessons. The authors clearly
consider this as something of an achievement for they write: "First, the
linguistic development achieved in the observed period of time is notable -
from a single-word utterance at Time 1 to a complex sentence structure at
Time 3. Such linguistic development was made possible by the guidance
given by the teacher and the peers...". However, as there is such scant
evidence of actual language learning, one is left wondering as to why Hall,
in her concluding chapter, feels justified in referring to the findings as
"impressive evidence" (292)

However, the degree of language learning actually presented is hardly
impressive in terms of such a long period. To judge this, one needs to
have other studies with students of the same age learning Japanese. I can
find none. I have, however, taught two Japanese children aged six (S1) and
eight (S2) (in Japan) English for two months on the basis of half an hour a
day. They had not learned English before but knew some English vocabulary.
I taught them using a combination of a direct method and explanation of
how to produce English structures on the basis of comparison with their
Japanese counterparts. All the lessons were recorded on audio tape and are
available for scrutiny. This is a transcript of an exchange near the end
of the two-month period on 19/7/91 in Nagoya. It should be noted here that
the two students' production is not a matter of their simply uttering
memorized chunks but of actually creating their own original questions.
That is, they had learned the production rules for producing affirmative
interrogative forms. This is evident in the daily tapes of the latter part
of the course.

RS: Ask me some questions.
S1: What do you do every day?
RS: I eat etc What do you do every day?
S1. eat and watch television..
RS. Another question.
S2. What are you going to do tomorrow?
RS I'm coming to your house. Understand?
S2: Yes.
RS: Another question
S1 What do you do this morning?
RS: I went to university. Another question.
S1: Are you want...
RS: Do...?
S1: Do you want to watch TV.
RS: Yes, I do. Another question
S2: Can you play the quitar?
RS: Yes, I can. Another question - with "like"
S2: Do you like playing tennis.
RS. Yes, I do.

Of course, I was only teaching two children. However, they had much less
class time and, more importantly, compared to the children in the study
under review, they were able to produce a number of difficult interrogative
structures. Now, it is possible that the children in the study under
review could produce much more than was presented in the brief transcripts.
However, this does seem unlikely as one would expect the authors to offer
what they consider the better performances of their students.
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