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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 8:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It would seem best to leave a precise definition of conversation (well, adult conversation, anyway) to the likes of Thornbury & Slade, in their Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy (yes, a potential pedagogy, better than that usually flogged as conversation, could well exist) - most people here would probably be content to call even a few short exchanges in which e.g. granny tries to coax the kid to speak as a conversation of sorts; as for reading, ideally it's not a question of 'or' but of 'and' (i.e. students would at the very least be supplied with transcriptions of key exchanges and taught the main pitfalls of the pronunciation...more ambitious courses would have more extensive readings, with phonics beforehand and during).

What I'm personally more concerned about, as I mentioned before, is the nature of whatever spoken exchanges do end up being taught. For want of a better word, 'simplification' often seems to be tolerated if not endorsed by the old hands here on Dave's, to which it is interesting to compare the general distaste that is in passing expressed several times for teacher 'pidgin English' on the following thread:
http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?t=53206

Now admittedly, the context that most people probably have in mind when discussing things in general on these forums is that of high school learners and upwards, in high schools or eikaiwa. My question here then is, what sort of English do we teach the kids below JHS age? Should e.g. articles not get a look in in at least the first grade (i.e. are only mainly uncountable and/or mass nouns to be used in such classes)? And would kids taught in such a manner readily adapt, or would there be some sort of mental resistance to, the later introduction of countability, determiners, plurals etc (due to some at least subconscious 'If we could communicate without all this before, why are we being saddled with it now?' thoughts, resentments etc)...SLA research seems focussed on teenagers upwards, and presumably is not dealing with too skewy native input.

I may as well say that I myself insist on using e.g. articles when they are called for (even if the children do not seem to notice them immediately or use them in their own speech), despite some Japanese teachers' seeming reservations (I'm tempted to ask, 'What do they really know about this?'); that being said, I am aware of the international use of English as a lingua franca, in which native norms are not always the norm (perhaps the speakers never had a native speaker, or do not possess the (inter)language, or simply are more comfortable speaking an English with strong traces of L1 'interference').

Sorry if I appear to be taking the thread off at a tangent, but I find thinking about the actual language (potential or actual instances of it) to be pretty useful on the whole.
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mikeguest



Joined: 24 Jun 2007
Posts: 6
Location: Miyazaki, Japan

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2007 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I’ll try to deal with another common question/criticism here.
Why is “teaching” English to children a questionable enterprise? I’ll try to make my argument through a series of interconnected points.

1. That which is “taught” is not necessarily that which is learned or acquired. This seems to be the case in particular with children. Therefore, explicit teaching of specific targets can interfere with learning/acquisition.

2. We live in an EFL, not ESL, setting. In ESL, reinforcement, hypothesis-testing, slotting etc. can occur via extra-classroom interactions. In EFL, this will almost never occur. As a result, “taught” or practiced targets will tend to be remembered more than learned, and will tend to be used as a formulas rather than as discourse.

3. Older EFL learners are far more likely to utilize the all-important skills of reflection, noticing, consciousness-raising, testing output as a hypothesis (you will note the string from good old Canale/Swain through Schmidt, running here) and deliberate application of specific items that are actively “taught” in a classroom. That is, older learners are far, far more likely- in an EFL class- to think, ”Oh! That’s the phrase I need here! I’ll try it out next time when I need this item!”. ESL learners will have plenty of opportunities to get their language hypotheses verified. EFL children will not.

4. Older learners can do this because they have already built up some basic holistic 2nd language system, the whole false beginner approach (it is often inaccurate and poorly structured but there is at least a core or base to which they meaningfully append new, discrete-items). Clearly though, not all adults make use of this faculty.

5. Kids generally do not have this power. They adapt and absorb forms less consciously, so direct teaching of discrete-items is less likely to be internalized- instead retained perhaps as a sort of memorized mantra. Kids usually “test out” language hypotheses with their normal worldly interactions in L1 or ESL, but in EFL they don’t have this luxury, nor do they have a holistic language core that they can meaningfully append items to. Hence, my goal would be to establish this in the classroom with massive input (reading) or to slowly develop something akin to this by simply engaging in standard meaningful interactions from toddler years (as mentioned in the article).

6. Young people acquire languages when the Wernicke’s area of the brain is stimulated. This begs the question as to what is more likely to stimulate Wernicke’s area- my understanding is that heavy naturalistic meaningful input fulfills this role. Within an EFL context, this is unlikely to happen using a piecemeal or discrete-item approach where specific language forms are taught.

7. Piecemeal or discrete-item approaches to language assume a bottom-up, composite view of language- similar to how grammar has traditionally been taught. It seems to treat language as a composite of individual items rather than as a holistic system.

8. The direct approach to “teaching” targets assumes a PPP methodology which has been widely questioned in terms of its ability to stimulate and append forms to the holistic language system.

9. Yes, it is true that almost any English input or practice can be argued to be potentially useful in some way. We could teach kids the individual parts of a combustion engine and it’s possible they might retain and thereby be said to have “learned” it but- and this is paramount- we must be conscious of utility, priorities, the promote the development of holistic language skills if these items are going to “fit in” to some meaningful construct. Without this there is little chance of young learners gong from the receptive to productive stages.

10. Games and discrete-item teaching lessons are often (not always, but often) non- communicative. The communicative method demands that meaning be placed over forms and it is this consequent “negotiation of meaning”, through carrying out meaning-focused tasks, that drives the holistic language acquisition process. Discrete-item teaching will not achieve this.

11. I prefer a learnING-centered methodology to a teacher/teaching (and to some extent even a learnER-centered) methodology for these reasons.

12. The honorable exception to my wish to avoid discrete-item teaching, the one area that I can see as worthy of being specific “target” language (but with the added caution that these must be reinforced regularly and immediately through suitable input and related tasks) would be the very basic English high-frequency core nouns, verbs, and a few adjectives (any informed corpus can help with this), and these would best inculcated by inclusion in deeper-process contexts such as by appearing in kamishibai etc. But, if very young kids have already had exposure to these via “doing stuff in English” they should fall into place as “recognition” or “recall” fairly quickly.

So finally, I argue that English should not be “taught” to children in an EFL arena, it must be presented in a way such that acquisition occurs, with discrete-items later being applied to a holistic language core that has developed through a combination of input through reading and the carrying out of tasks in the target language. I’m all for developing communication skills in English in children but I don’t think that many of the popular approaches that are used are liable to achieve that end.

Culture note- I said in the article that visits from non-Japanese are almost always a good thing for broadening the children’s worlds and humanizing others. But the connection to actual language development remains tenuous. Such things are usually talked about in very general terms as indubitable truths (“culture and language reinforce each other”) but the nuts and bolts of these connections always seems to escape through the mesh.

Note to Fluffy Hamster- You asked a good question. If kids don’t have conversations per se and instead have exchanges, encounters and interviews etc- well why not teach them?
Well, you can see the problems I have with explicit target-teaching of items to children above. It is true that much is made these days of developing a lexical syllabus through learning chunks, set phrases, common adjacency pairs and that sort of thing but I still think it would be better (in terms of fitting into an existing system) if these important features were highlighted by teachers after sufficient receptive input had occurred. I would like to see such language forms in the texts that children grapple with but think that these important elements would resonate more widely for such learners (in terms of re-production in speech or writing) once a better base is established and they can be meaningfully placed into appropriate contexts.
Even the simplest of such items like, “Hello. How are you? I’m fine,” can end up handicapping learners in the long run if they learn these as formulas or mantras prior to coming across texts where English speakers meet and greet each other in more normative ways.

Last point-
My experience with teaching kids or primary school EFL in Japan includes:
- attending several presentations on the subject
- having friends and acquaintances in the primary school EFL field and listening to their concerns and experiences
- reading a lot of online chat on the subject (especially with ETJ)
- general exposure to articles on children or primary school EFL education in certain journals-, generally more popular than academic
- my own boy’s experiences in both primary school and Eikaiwa (where he is learning to read and write English better and I’m happy to pay my yen to the good teachers at Pumpkin for this)
- general theory in my educational background and wider research areas
- some first hand ( unsatisfying, due to the methods employed) experience teaching children awhile back in Tokyo.

There are a lot of points in this thread and I can’t really respond to every single one. I’m already pushing it with these long posts but I hope that some or all of these posts may have clarified things for some readers. Others will certainly remain unconvinced, but as long as you know where I stand and you have this forum in which to question my points and make your own then everything is cool by me. I expect as with most long points, some of the arguments I make may have some weak strands. I don’t mind if people point these out. Understanding such nebulous things fully always requires adjustments.

Yoroshiku,
M.G.
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fluffyhamster



Joined: 13 Mar 2005
Posts: 3292
Location: UK > China > Japan > UK again

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 4:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike,I think we all sometimes question the point of teaching,regardless of the age and level of the students. However,the sort of changes you are suggesting just aren't going to happen,mainly because there are only so many hours in the week (sorry to sound like Glenski channeling Jim Dunlop there). But let's pretend that rather than staying as is (or worse,being cut totally),English were actually expanded in some of the ways that you're envisaging. The problem then would more than ever be just how to fill all that time (remember that in spite of all the theorizing about processes of acquisition etc,English would still be regarded as a school subject).
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mikeguest



Joined: 24 Jun 2007
Posts: 6
Location: Miyazaki, Japan

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 4:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just a few comments after reading over some points.

Jim Dunlop- I think your question about what kids could do in limited time could be applied to any pedagogy. As I think I've stated though, reading can be done outside the classroom without an interlocutor. the whole graded reader approach is pretty well established precidsely for such purposes.

Mr. Capitul- I agree with not lowering the bar but I certainly don't think I'm doing that. Some obviously argue with placing reading as a priority over conversation skills but I wouldn't see the placement a "bar" as being the salient point here- just a matter of beliefs of which process and emphasis will yield better results. I see what I have referred to in some conversation-based emphasis as being unchallenging and reading as being challenging but ultimately that will be determined by the actual tasks and contents one carries out in the classroom.

Glenski- You raise some interesting points. I'm not sure why you can't agree that at some age children don't have conversations though. Would you really want to assert that one year olds have conversations (as opposed to communicate?). That was my point- that there is some time at which children develop this ability and it must be somewhere along the age cline. Given my definition of conversation, it would be later.
Of course, my definition of conversation is based upon two or more people engaging in the types of discourse behaviours that one notes in conversation analysis or when, typically, one says, "I had a conversation with X today". Even if one sees conversation as including service encounters, 2 turn exchanges, interviews and the like, I still don't think these take pedagogical priority for reasons that I posted both on Saturday and earlier today.

As for the Yomiuri, I'm not "blaming" them but I am saying that's part of what is expected from the column so I provide it. In other words, the paper seems happy with what I do (P.S. I'm much more likely to read a music article where the headline says "I don't give a damn about melody!" than one which starts with "A good medoly is important").

It's natural that some people will disagree if one takes strong or -on the face of it- unusual positions so I take it in stride, and when people offer up intelligent responses I listen. I simply don't get too worked up about people who have different opinions on how to teach or organize a curriculum than I do- unless politics is brought into it.

However, I think we may have reached an impasse here. You've said your part and everyone here can read it here and I've said mine. I get the feeling that we'll start to repeat ourselves. If you are passionate about quality EFL education (as you seem to be), my advice would be to check around the EFL community and see what people have to say, preferably not in the form of starting with, "Did you read Mike Guests's article? What a crock!" but perhaps the more neutral, "Some people say X- what do you think?". I think you might be surprised- just as it is good for me to read what thoughtful opponents to my way of thinking say here.

Yoroshiku,
M.G.
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Glenski



Joined: 15 Jan 2003
Posts: 12844
Location: Hokkaido, JAPAN

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike,
I'm only going to address 3 points here, because that's all that needs to be addressed.

1. I'm not sure why you can't agree that at some age children don't have conversations though. Would you really want to assert that one year olds have conversations (as opposed to communicate?). That was my point
Well, Mike, you have all that education behind you, yet you completely failed to make this point until just now. One year olds, eh? I thought we were talking about primary schoolchildren!? Until you can actually stay on topic yourself (your OWN topic), how can we even try to get on the same page?

2. We live in an EFL, not ESL, setting. In ESL, reinforcement, hypothesis-testing, slotting etc. can occur via extra-classroom interactions. In EFL, this will almost never occur. As a result, “taught” or practiced targets will tend to be remembered more than learned, and will tend to be used as a formulas rather than as discourse.
Where would you suggest we start with 5-year-olds? I don't think throwing Betty Azar workbooks at them will work. They certainly won't have the capacity to engage in discourse by reading. So, with those once a month lessons by wandering ALTs, the only recourse left is the occasional "target" lesson. Heck, even if it was once a week, that's all you can expect for that age group until they reach your son's age. Motivate them, don't try to fill their heads with vast pedagogical discourse lessons.

3. That which is “taught” is not necessarily that which is learned or acquired. This seems to be the case in particular with children. Therefore, explicit teaching of specific targets can interfere with learning/acquisition. This is a priceless set of statements. Yes, sure, I agree that not everything we teach sinks in. That would be asking far too much of the human brain. However, since that it so, it applies to speaking, listening, writing and reading. So, whatever you propose for reading has just as many weaknesses as you profess for speaking. You just negated your own arguments. At least those of us who support speaking first over reading have sound arguments. Mostly, that is, people learn to speak before they write.

And, since you hold a completely different view of what "conversation" is, compared to most of the rest of us, we cannot sustain much discussion. You are defining far more complex factors here than need to be, so you have to come down a bit from all that theory and philosophy.

Quote:
I think we may have reached an impasse here.
I realized that from the first time you responded. Thanks for coming to expand on the article, though. I can only speak for me, but it gave me a stronger idea of where you were coming from.
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gaijinalways



Joined: 29 Nov 2005
Posts: 2279

PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree. Thanx Mike, you gave us a lot to think about.

A few points to consider;

I teach kids off and on (has to do with my uni schedules) during the year. We normally teach them 1x a week, 45 minutes a lesson. We spend about 1-2 years before we really start teaching them to read. What I mean by that, is, we of course start earlier teaching them phonics (day one), but the kids (3-4 years of age) can't really read in Japanese at that point. So as Glenski pointed out, the speaking and listening come first, with reading coming last (after writing, depending on their motor skills, ages vary but perhaps around 4-5).

Not sure what you consider challenging. I have some kids who have studied English conversation/communication for a year that speak more English than some of my university students who have studied for 6 years (of course, you might question what the uni students studied...). Yes, some of the uni students can read, but they can't communicate very well Embarassed . In some cases their reading comprehension is poor. Remember, they have had 6 years of grammar translation and reading practice.

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
This, older learners are far, far more likely- in an EFL class- to think, ”Oh! That’s the phrase I need here! I’ll try it out next time when I need this item!”. ESL learners will have plenty of opportunities to get their language hypotheses verified. EFL children will not.


Not in my experience, again contrasting my uni kids with my language school kids. But of course, motivation, novelty, whatever, could be a big part of it. The uni kids also maybe don't have parents helping them either, some of our language school parents work hard with some of our kids outside of class times, giving the kids additional reinforcement.


Mike Guest posted
Quote:
10. Games and discrete-item teaching lessons are often (not always, but often) non- communicative. The communicative method demands that meaning be placed over forms and it is this consequent “negotiation of meaning”, through carrying out meaning-focused tasks, that drives the holistic language acquisition process. Discrete-item teaching will not achieve this.


Would depend on the game or activity, wouldn't it Cool ? This would depend on the construct for university aged students as well. Uh, Mike, how long ago did you teach kids, again?

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
11. I prefer a learnING-centered methodology to a teacher/teaching (and to some extent even a learnER-centered) methodology for these reasons.


Nice in theory, and yes I would prefer that too, but I would need a lot more teacher resources and hours with my kids and/or university students to do that. I would love to have Montessori rooms, graded readers, etc. A few of the universities do have them (the graded readers), but there are not enough books to use them in any kind of program regularly.

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
12. The honorable exception to my wish to avoid discrete-item teaching, the one area that I can see as worthy of being specific “target” language (but with the added caution that these must be reinforced regularly and immediately through suitable input and related tasks) would be the very basic English high-frequency core nouns, verbs, and a few adjectives (any informed corpus can help with this), and these would best inculcated by inclusion in deeper-process contexts such as by appearing in kamishibai etc. But, if very young kids have already had exposure to these via “doing stuff in English” they should fall into place as “recognition” or “recall” fairly quickly.


Mike, theories are great, but I would suggest you extend your efforts to a bit more action research, less of the theoretical stuff. We already expose kids to this high frequency words using pictures with stories. No need to reinvent the wheel, I use some picture stories (kamishibai) even with my uni students, they often need visual reinforcement (and of course it depends on preferred learning styles, the more types of exposure, the merrier, e.g. more recycling, more chances for true acquisition at some point down the road).

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
So finally, I argue that English should not be “taught” to children in an EFL arena, it must be presented in a way such that acquisition occurs, with discrete-items later being applied to a holistic language core that has developed through a combination of input through reading and the carrying out of tasks in the target language. I’m all for developing communication skills in English in children but I don’t think that many of the popular approaches that are used are liable to achieve that end.


It does work Mike, it depends on the amount of time budgeted for that end. Ideally, the classes would be daily, not once every three months. Then you would see real progress made. But, that's a Monkasho issue, something not likely to change any time soon.

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
Culture note- I said in the article that visits from non-Japanese are almost always a good thing for broadening the children’s worlds and humanizing others. But the connection to actual language development remains tenuous. Such things are usually talked about in very general terms as indubitable truths (“culture and language reinforce each other”) but the nuts and bolts of these connections always seems to escape through the mesh.


It might motivate some students to learn more languages and look outside their world, it might not. Culture is a part of language, not just something that reinforces it. If you want language without culture, try Esperanto.

Mike Guest posted
Quote:
Even the simplest of such items like, “Hello. How are you? I’m fine,” can end up handicapping learners in the long run if they learn these as formulas or mantras prior to coming across texts where English speakers meet and greet each other in more normative ways.


But language can be fosselized from reading as well. Look at any 'bad' Japanese generated textbook developed for Japanese learners, and you'll see plenty of things that need to be 'unlearned'. I still see Japanese businessmen carrying business cards with their family names all in capital letters.

Oh well, I guess we just have to agree to disagree Cool . Thanks again for givning us an inside look at the theories behind your article.
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JimDunlop2



Joined: 31 Jan 2003
Posts: 2286
Location: Japan

PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

mikeguest wrote:
Jim Dunlop- I think your question about what kids could do in limited time could be applied to any pedagogy.


Haha! Hardly, Mike. Hardly. Are you trying to tell me that Japanese elementary schools teach math only once every two months? How about Japanese? How about science? How about social studies? How about music, P.E. or any other subject? That's just so ludicrous I can't believe you even brought it up! The same CANNOT be said about other subjects that get taught (at worst) once a week and (at best) every day.

mikeguest wrote:
As I think I've stated though, reading can be done outside the classroom without an interlocutor......


From what I can see, you now seem to have reversed your original position and done a 180 degree turn. First you proposed that time spent in an English classroom could be better spent on reading, and now you're saying that it can be done outside the classroom. Which is it, Mike?

You know, it's really easy to criticize without being constructive. Honestly, as far as that goes, I haven't been able to glean ANYTHING useful yet... I've already put out the challenge twice without a response, so I can't help but conclude that you indeed have no alternative to what's currently being taught in elementary schools, and how this teaching is taking place... Yet, you stop short of saying that English should NOT be taught in elementary schools. I just don't understand what you're saying anymore -- it all seems to be very contradictory.

Here's my theory: I think that the position you expressed in the Yomiuri, (as much as you are entitled to it), is an indefensible one. No amount of TEFL training, education or textbooks published can create something out of nothing. If a child gets 45 minutes of English instruction every two months, that's just the way it is. You can can kick, scream and shout about how useless that child's EFL education is, but you seem to be pointing the finger at the wrong people. Unless you can indeed tell me how I should better be spending my classroom time in order to make your Yomiuri rant hold water, it becomes clear that your criticisms are misplaced.

It just may be time to start talking to the boys over at MONBUSHO and petitioning parents and teachers to also talk to MONBUSHO demanding to know why they children are having their time wasted by inane EFL classes. Until that time, I think I've pretty much established where I stand and why we will likely remain in disagreement
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