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Winging it - the key to successful language learning?
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smithrn1983



Joined: 23 Jul 2010
Posts: 320
Location: Moscow

PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be a balance between teaching grammar and accuracy, and having students occasionally 'wing it'. The problem is that with some students this is often easier said than done. On most teacher training programs, for instance, prospective teachers are only taught to enforce an 'English only' policy in the classroom, which in my experience has little effect, especially when teaching overseas and all the students share the same L1. Almost all of my higher level students will observe this rule, but at lower levels it can be difficult.

I've had much more success in getting students of all levels to 'wing it' in conversation by providing them with a small distraction. With kids and teenagers, for instance, I'll often take tennis balls into the classroom, and when they need to have conversations, they play a game of catch at the same time. Every time I have tried this it gets even the most taciturn student to open up and begin communicating.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8928
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

smithrn1983 wrote:
On most teacher training programs, for instance, prospective teachers are only taught to enforce an 'English only' policy in the classroom, which in my experience has little effect, especially when teaching overseas and all the students share the same L1.


Dunno about that.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 2607
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We don't all have access to Kalashnikovs and the desire to use them in enforcing policies, Sasha! Laughing
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1829

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my opinion, there are a few too many principles which are not proven to be wholly beneficial.

One is this idea that you need to make mistakes to learn. I make a lot of mistakes at chess so by now should be a grandmaster. My point is a logical one. I think the faulty logic runs like this: the fear of making mistakes hampers learning, therefore making mistakes is the key to learning. It could well be that because people typically make mistakes in the process we assume that it is a necessary part of it, as opposed to being something to be expected and helped through. (n.b. BF Skinner's errorless learning techniques, which I guess are a bit Callan-ish; this doesn't make me a proponent of the Callan method, just adding a few more bricks to my construction.)

Another mis-principle is the one which says that some L1 is a bad thing. Now I agree that we don't want students wasting too much time not learning L2 when they only have a limited time to absorb it. However, if teachers spend a lot of time miming or students are forever looking up words in dictionaries, then a lot of time is wasted in another time. To be able to give a quick definition is a time-saver at any level.

My own opinion is that as the student does not have the constant reinforcement of language provided to the native speaker child, we should not pretend that they have. We can use L1 explanations and vocabulary to some extent, as long as students are increasingly shepherded towards L2 via instructions in English and building upon their acquired knowledge. By the time students get to intermediate levels of learning, they should be using their current edifice of language on which to build, so the use of L2 becomes greater and greater, and L1 less and less.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8928
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Can an edifice be built upon? Surely that is the result which we wish to achieve when we lay the foundation?
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8928
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No need for AK-47s Fluffy. Just establishing a basic classroom procedure should do the trick.

While there are no absolutes in dealing with use of L1 in the classroom, a very good rule of thumb is that the teacher, at least, should refrain from using it as much as possible - even if he has as good a level as he says. The reasons for this are many, but the obvious one is that learners will continue to use L1 with their teacher for a far greater time than they do with a teacher upon whom it has no effect. An English language classroom that consists mainly of L1 is not a conducive place for learning English. One might as well be out in the L1 street. (Also, a local teacher could do this much, much better than a foreign teacher could, most of the time.) It is not that L1 is bad in itself - of course not. But the unrestricted use of it adds nothing of benefit to the learning process, yet creates lots of future pitfalls.

Certainly learners at low level will depend on L1 to a greater degree. A degree of tolerance is needed here. So long as they are on task and talking about the lesson target language or task, some forbearance is a good idea. But if teacher is constantly at the ready to supply them with a translation, do not expect much in the way of 'winging it' ever. Why would they? No need...

As for use of dictionaries - a waste of time? If there is one thing we can do to promote real learner autonomy it is train learners how to exploit a dictionary properly. Few of them automatically know how to do so, or even see the value of it. But then again, how many teachers do? Proper dictionaries too, at that. None of this trendy e-translator rubbish which does not contain any valuable linguistic information beyond a word-for-word rendering.

And it is not as if dictionary use or mime is the only way to deal with unknown vocabulary to begin with, by the way. Plenty of reading skills relate to dealing with unknown lexical items - a skill which is more important to develop than use of quick-fix translations.

I do not know who is pretending that learners have constant language reinforcement like a native speaker child has. I am not even sure why first language acquisition is being mentioned here at all...

Ach, I need my morning tipple!
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1829

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sashadroogie wrote:
Can an edifice be built upon? Surely that is the result which we wish to achieve when we lay the foundation?

Yea verily, I have endeavoured to build on a house of cards when I should have merely built such a house.
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coledavis



Joined: 21 Jun 2003
Posts: 1829

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ok, counter-argument about dictionaries accepted. I should perhaps have said slavish use thereof.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8928
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 7:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No, no, no. I am having my breakfast infusion right now. Can't talk.
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 146
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 1:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
In my opinion, there are a few too many principles which are not proven to be wholly beneficial.

One is this idea that you need to make mistakes to learn. I make a lot of mistakes at chess so by now should be a grandmaster. My point is a logical one. I think the faulty logic runs like this: the fear of making mistakes hampers learning, therefore making mistakes is the key to learning.


I couldn't agree more. I've always felt the other half of the principle is missing: you learn through making mistakes and having those mistakes corrected until you no longer make them. If you're just left to make mistakes, then you assume that you're not making mistakes and learning does not therefore occur. In fact I find that learners are often happier to make mistakes if they know they will be corrected. Perhaps because the emphasis changes from 'Oh God, how embarrassing I made a mistake' to 'I think it might be this. I think I'll test it out on my teacher because I know they will help me get it right.'
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 8928
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not so convinced that errors stop occurring due to teachers constantly correcting them. How many times do we have to 'correct' he and she? How long does it take for this mistake to stop...?

Hic! Time for an evening tipple, eh?
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 146
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'm not so convinced that errors stop occurring due to teachers constantly correcting them. How many times do we have to 'correct' he and she? How long does it take for this mistake to stop...?


I would agree with you - there are all sorts of mistakes. Error correction should be informed by a whole host of factors: level, developmental stage, L1, what's been recently covered in class, etc. My point is that learning occurs when students are able to analyse why what they have produced is not correct. It is not the correcting per se that leads to progress but this process of the student noticing mistakes (assisted through error correction) and then working out why they are mistakes and what would be better. This can be as simple as realising that we say 'take care of' and not 'take care about' or it might be more complex, such as the correct use of the present perfect or where to position time adverbials. Some things like he/she are generally not worth correcting because the mistake is simply a reflection of the learner's level (they have to concentrate on other things too much) or at higher levels it can be a sign of tiredness, so no learning opportunity is being presented.
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12304
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Sasha,

That may depend on how "embedded" the error is.

"I make a lot of mistakes at chess so by now should be a grandmaster."

I would imagine those who became grandmasters made a fair number of mistakes along the way. The difference may be that while it's certainly true that we don't always learn from our mistakes, I think that we CAN learn from them.

The hard part is convincing students that mistakes can be helpful rather than shameful.

Regards,
John
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Teacher in Rome



Joined: 09 Jul 2003
Posts: 1207

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not sure about the value of mistake correction. If a student has made the mistake on something that he / she already knows, then fine. In fact, you can probably point out the mistake and the student will know how to correct it.

But other types of mistakes arise because the student is not yet at the stage of language awareness / acquisition that will prevent those mistakes. So you can correct until you're blue in the face, the student will probably say "oh yeah" and nod in agreement, then go and make exactly the same mistake in the next sentence. Some - even what we think to be very simple - grammar points fall into this category. (Such as "he says" and not "he say", for example - typical of Italian speakers.) So simple it should be automatic, but it isn't. I think someone did some research that showed this 3rd person 's' is one of the last things a learner acquires. Don't waste your breath trying to correct it, perhaps?

This probably is a little off-topic on winging it (or "stretching your interlanguage" thanks Sasha) but error correction / peer correction exercises are not always very effective I've found. You think the error is really glaring, but the students scratch their heads, and then decide that the most obviously correct part of the sentence is the mistake. I've seen it time and time again:

Find the mistake in the use of articles:
"I love going to the England."

1 minute of head-scratching, conferring, shoulder shrugs and teeth-sucking.

"OK teacher. "I love GO to the England?"

Aaargh.

I'm not sure how wired learners are for analysing errors - particularly at lower levels. That's my point.
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smithrn1983



Joined: 23 Jul 2010
Posts: 320
Location: Moscow

PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think error correction has huge value as a teaching tool, but as others have pointed out, it's only worthwhile to correct errors when the student should know better. There's no point correcting an attempted mixed conditional at pre-intermediate level because the students simply haven't learned the structure for it yet. I also agree that it is often better to focus on things the students have recently learned in order to reinforce those structures.

It also helps to save time and effort to point out exactly where the error in a sentence is, and also what kind of error. In the above example, "I love going to the England", simply underlining the article will automatically draw the students' attention to that part of the sentence. For a faster approach one can always repeat the sentence up to the point where the error was made and then elicit the correct form ("I love going to...").
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