Ways of teaching foreign languages
Comparing instructed and natural settings for language learning. Natural and instructional settings. Five principles for classroom teaching. The principle getting right from the beginning. The principle of saying what you mean and meaning what you say.
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Study 9: Total physical response
One of the best-known examples of the 'Just listen' proposal is the second language teaching approach called 'Total physical response' (TPR). In TPR classes, students--children or adults--participate in activities in which they hear a series of commands in the target language, for example: 'stand up', 'sit down', 'pick up the book', 'put the book on the table', 'walk to the door'. For a substantial number of hours of instruction, students are not required to say anything. They simply listen and show their comprehension by their actions. This instruction differs from the comprehension-based instruction described in Study 8 and from Krashen's theoretical version of' 'Just listen' in an important way: the vocabulary and structures which learners are exposed to are carefully graded and organized so that learners deal with material which gradually increases in complexity and each new lesson builds on the ones before.
TPR was developed by James Asher, whose research has shown that students can develop quite advanced levels of comprehension in the language without engaging in oral practice (Asher 1972) See: Asher, J. 1972. 'Children's first language as a model for second language learning.' Modern Language Journal'56: pp. 133-9. When students begin to speak, they take over the role of the teacher and give commands as well as following them. It is clear that there are limitations on the kind of language students can learn in such an environment. Nevertheless, the evidence seems to show that, for beginners, this kind of active involvement gives learners a good start. It allows them to build up a considerable knowledge of the language without feeling the nervousness that often accompanies the first attempts to speak the new language.
Study 10: Native language immersion programs Borrowed from: Krashen, S. 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon. P. 23 in Canada
Other research which is often cited as relevant to the 'Just listen' proposal comes from Canadian Native language immersion programs, which have been described by Krashen as communicative language teaching 'par excellence'. The reason for this is that the focus in Native language immersion is on meaning through subject-matter instruction and the provision of rich, comprehensible input. In many ways, Krashen could not have asked for a better laboratory to test his theory. What have the studies shown?
First, there is little doubt that the overall findings provide convincing evidence that these programs are among the most successful large-scale second language programs in existence. Learners develop fluency, functional abilities, and confidence in using their second language. There is, however, a growing awareness that Native language immersion learners still fail to achieve high levels of performance in some aspects of Native language grammar even after several years in these programs See: Harley, B. and M. Swain. 1984. 'The interlanguage of immersion students and its implications for second language teaching' in A. Davies, C. Griper, and A. Howatt (eds.): Interlanguage. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 291 (Harley and Swain 1984). There are several possible explanations for this.
Some researchers believe that the learners engage in too little language production because the classes are largely teacher-centred and students are not required to give extended answers (Swain 1985). This permits students to operate successfully with their incomplete knowledge of the language because they are rarely pushed to be more precise or more accurate. Communication between students and between teacher and students is quite satisfactory in spite of numerous errors in the students' speech.
Other observers have suggested that the students need more form-focused instruction. This is based partly on experimental studies in which the addition of form-focused instruction has been shown to benefit learnersSee: Stu-dies 14-17 under the 'Get it right in the end' proposal, pages 97-102.. It has also been observed that certain linguistic features rarely or never appear in the language of the teacher or the students in these content-based instructional environments. Furthermore, the presence in the classroom of other learners whose interlanguages are influenced by the same first language, the same learning environment, and the same limited contact with the target language outside the classroom, make it difficult for an individual learner to work out how his or her own use of the language differs from the target language.
Interpreting the research
The results of the Native language immersion research confirm the importance of comprehensible input in that the students develop not only good compre-hension (in reading and listening), but also confidence and fluency in Native language. However, research does not support the argument that an exclusive focus on meaning and comprehensible input is enough to bring learners to mastery levels of performance in their second language. Indeed, the fact that Native language immersion learners continue to make the same linguistic errors after years of exposure to the second language in classrooms which provide a great deal of comprehensible input is a challenge to the claim that language will take care of itself as long as meaningful comprehensible input is provided.
The results of the research on comprehension-based ESL also appear to pro-vide support for Krashen's comprehensible input hypothesis. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the learners in the comprehension-based studies are beginner-level learners and it is far too early to know how their second language skills will continue to develop. It is certainly possible (indeed probable) that learners in comprehension-based programs, like the Native language immersion learners, will have considerable gaps in their linguistic knowledge and performance over time. And, like the Native language immersion learners, they too will probably need and benefit from opportunities to use the language interactively as well as from some careful form-focused intervention later in their development.
The TPR results also show great benefits for learners in the early stages of development. Krashen says of TPR that it prepares learners to go out into the target language community to get more comprehensible input which, he says, will carry their language acquisition further.
In summary, comprehension-based programs appear to be beneficial in the development of basic comprehension and communicative performance in the early stages of learning (particularly in situations where learners have no other contact with the target language apart from in classroom situations). But they may not be sufficient in getting learners to continue to develop their second language abilities to advanced levels.
8.2 Teach what is teacheable
The proposal referred to as 'Teach what is teachable' is one which has received increasing attention in second language acquisition research in recent years. The researcher most closely associated with this view is Manfred Pienemann. He and his associates are concerned with being able to explain why it often seems that some things can be taught successfully whereas other things, even after extensive or intensive teaching, seem to remain unac-quired. They claim that their research provides evidence that some linguistic structures, for example, basic sentence word order (both simple and complex) develops along a particular developmental path. Thus, for example, any attempt to teach a word order pattern that is a 'Stage 4' pattern to learners at 'Stage 1' will not work because learners have to pass through 'Stage 2' and get to 'Stage 3' before they are ready to acquire what is at 'Stage 4'. The underlying cause of the stages has not been fully explained, but there has been considerable research showing that they may be based at least in part on learners' developing ability to process (unconsciously analyse and or-ganize) certain elements in the stream of speech they hear.
Researchers supporting this view also claim that certain other aspects of lan-guage--vocabulary, some grammatical features--can be taught at any time. A learner's success in learning these variational features will depend on factors such as motivation, intelligence, and the quality of instruction.
While this line of research has the potential to inform classroom teachers about which aspects of language acquisition are 'developmental' (and thus teachable only in a given sequence) and which are Variational' (and thus teachable at various points in learner language development), there is much work to be done before the findings of this research can lead to recommendations about whether particular forms can be taught and when.
In Examples 9 and 10 below, we see a teacher trying to help students with question formation. The students seem to know what they mean, but the level of language the teacher is offering them is beyond their current stage of development. The students react by simply answering the question or accepting the teacher's formulation.
(A group of twelve-year-old students, interviewing each other as they play the roles of imaginary people.)
S1What's your nationality?
S2 I am Russian.
S1 What old, um, do you, uh, have--?
T 'How old' dear. 'How old' were you--?
S1 How old do you have... No, never mind.
T How old were you when you came here?
(The same group of students, asking fellow students questions about award poster which they had recently received.)
S1 Mavluda, where you put your 'Kid of the Week' poster?
T Where didyou put your poster when you got it?
S2 In my room. (2 minutes later)
S3 Mashhura where you put your 'Kid of the Week' poster?
T Where did you put your poster?
S4 My poster was on my wall and it fell down.
In Example 11 below, the student is using a 'fronting' strategy which is typical of Stage 3 learners. That is, the student simply places an auxiliary verl (in this case 'is') at the beginning of the sentence but does not change the res of the sentence. (Note that if the student had fronted 'does', the sentencl would have been correct, but we would not have been able to see how the student thought question formation worked.) In this case, the teacher's correction leads the student to produce a Stage 4 question. In Example 12, same situation appears. This time, however, the correction leads not to reformulation of the question, but simply to an answer.
(Examples 11, 12, 13, and 14 are from a group of twelve-year-old Uzbek speakers learning English as a foreign language.) ('Famous person' interviews)
S1 Is your mother play piano?
T 'Is your mother play piano?' OK. Well, can you say 'Is your mother play piano?' or 'Is your mother a piano player?'
S1 'Is your mother a piano player?'
(interviewing each other about house preferences)
S1 Is your favourite house is a split-level?
T You're saying 'is' two times dear. 'Is your favourite house a split-level?'
S1 A split-level.
('Hide and seek' game)
S Where the teacher books are?
T Where are the teacher's books?
S Where are the tea--the teacher books?
Here the student asks a Stage 3 question, the teacher provides a Stage 4 correction, and the student is able to make the change. Note, however, that the student still doesn't change the possessive 's, something which Uzbek speakers find very difficult.
The 'Teach what is teachable' view is one which claims that while some features of the language can be taught successfully at various points in the learner's development, other features develop according to the learner's internal schedule and that no amount of instruction can change the 'natural' developmental course. Let us examine a few of the studies which have tested this hypothesis.
Study 11: Ready to learn
In a study of the acquisition of German as a second language, Manfred Pienemann See: Pienemann, M. 1985. 'Learnability and syllabus construction' in K. Hyl-tenstam and M. Pienemann (eds.): Modelling and Assessing Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, pp. 23-75. (1988) investigated whether instruction permitted learners to 'skip' a stage in the natural sequence of development. Two groups of learners who were at Stage 2 in their acquisition of German word order were taught the rules associated with Stage 3 and Stage 4 respectively. The instruction took place over two weeks and during this time, learners were provided with explicit grammatical rules and exercises for Stage 4 constructions. The results showed that the learners who received instruction on Stage 3 rules moved easily into this stage from Stage 2. However, those learners who received instruction on Stage 4 rules did not move into this stage. They either continued to use Stage 2 behaviours or they moved into Stage 3. That is, they were not able to 'skip' a stage in the 'natural route'. Pienemann interprets his results as support for the hypothesis that for some linguistic structures, learners cannot be taught what they are not 'developmentally ready' to learn.
Study 12: Teaching when the time is right
Catherine Doughty See: Doughty, C. 1991. 'Second language instruction does make a difference: Evidence from an empirical study of SL relativization.' Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13/4: pp. 431-69. (1991) examined whether particular aspects of relative clause formation would benefit from instruction at a time when learners were developmentally 'ready' to learn them. Twenty subjects were divided into three groups: two experimental and one control. All groups received exposure to relative clauses over a period often days through a series of computer-delivered reading lessons. During these lessons all learners were asked to read the passages and answer a variety of comprehension questions which focused on reading skills such as skimming and scanning.
For the experimental groups, two instructional techniques were added to the reading comprehension exercises. These were presented to the learners by means of an additional 'window' on the learners' computer screens. One experimental group received instruction which focused on meaning-orientated techniques. This included both vocabulary help and paraphrases of sentences in the reading comprehension texts. The other experimental group received instruction which focused on rules. This included instruction on relative clause formation through a combination of explicit grammatical rules and on-screen sentence manipulation.
All learners were pre-tested immediately before the instructional treatment and post-tested after the ten days of the exposure/instruction with regard to relative clauses.
The results revealed a clear advantage for the experimental groups. That is, learners who had received the additional instruction in relative clause formation--regardless of whether it was meaning-orientated or rule-orientated outperformed the control group learners who had received only exposure to relative clauses through the reading comprehension texts. Doughty concludes that instruction on relative clauses made a difference when it was provided at the time when learners were 'developmentally ready' to learn them.
Study 13: Can question forms be taught?
Rod Ellis See: Ellis, R. 1984. 'Can syntax be taught?' Applied Linguistics 5: 138-55.
(1984) studied the effects of instruction on the acquisition of ques-tion forms by thirteen child ESL learners. In this study, learners were also given instruction at a time when they were considered to be 'develop-mentally ready' to acquire wh-question inversion rules. The learners received three hours of instruction. In the first hour the teacher asked a series of wh-questions while referring to a wall poster, and students were asked to respond. In the second hour, the students asked questions (again referring to the wall poster), and the teacher corrected them when they made errors. In the third hour, the teacher 'fired questions at the pupils' about the wall poster. The group results revealed little effect for instruction on the learners' development of question forms, although some individual learners did improve substantially.
Interpreting the research
The conflicting results of these studies present an obvious problem for assessing the 'Teach what is teachable' proposal. A closer look at some of the procedural problems in one of the studies should shed some light on these seemingly contradictory findings. If one compares the amount of instruction provided, it seems possible that the three hours provided in the Ellis study were not enough to cause changes in the learners' interlanguage systems. Further, there is the possibility that the type of instruction was not sufficiently form-focused. In the limited description of the type of instruction provided in Ellis See: Ellis, R. 1984. 'Can syntax be taught?' Applied Linguistics 5: 140' study, it seems that the learners had more exposure to w//-questions in the teacher's modelling than they did opportunities to produce questions themselves and to receive feedback on their errors, either through correction and/or explicit rule teaching. In this way, the group in Ellis' study may have been more similar to the control group in Doughty See: Doughty, C. 1991. 'Second language instruction does make a difference: Evidence from an empirical study of SL relativization.' Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13/4: p. 431's study--the one which received increased 'exposure' but not so much 'instruction' and in the end did not perform as well as those learners who received more focused instruction.
It seems reasonable to conclude that because the instruction provided in the Doughty and Pienemann studies was more explicit, carefully controlled, and of a longer duration, their studies provide a more reliable test of the 'Teach what is teachable' proposal. Nonetheless, it is important to note some of the weaknesses in these studies as well. For example, in Doughty's study, no direct comparison was made between learners who were not'devel-opmentally ready' to learn relative clauses and those who were. Further, in both studies, only the short-term effects of instruction were measured. Because of this, there is no way of knowing whether instruction had any permanent or long-term effects on the learners' developing interlanguage systems. In Pienemann's study, results were reported for only a small group of learners. In later studies, however, similar results were reported with other learners.
9.2 Getting right in the end
Get it right in the end' is similar to the 'Teach what is teachable' proposal. Its proponents recognize a role for instruction, but also assume that not everything has to be taught. That is, they assume that much will be acquired naturally, through the use of language for communication. They also agree that some things cannot be taught if the timing of the teaching fails to take the student's readiness (stage of development) into account. This proposal differs from the 'Teach what is teachable' proposal, however, in that it emphasizes the idea that some aspects of language mustbe taught. For example, when an error learners make is the result of transfer from their first language, and when all the learners in a group tend to make the same error, it will be virtually impossible for learners to discover this error on their own. We can see this in Example 14, where francophone learners of English are having dif-ficulties with adverb placement.
'Get it right in the end' also differs from 'Just listen' in that it is assumed that learners will need some guidance in learning some specific features of the target language. Furthermore, it is assumed that what learners learn when they are focusing on language itself can lead to changes in their interlanguage systems, not just to an appearance of change brought about by conscious attention to a few details of form. On the other hand, the supporters of this proposal do not claim that teaching particular language points will prevent learners from making errors. Nor do they assume that learners will be able to begin using a form or structure with complete accuracy as soon as it is taught. Furthermore, they do not argue that the focused teaching must be done in a way which involves explicit explanations of the point or that learners need to be able to explain why something is right or wrong. Rather, they claim that the learners' attention must be focused on the fact that their language use differs from that of a more proficient speaker. As we will see in the examples below, teachers must look for the right moment to create increased awareness on the part of the learner--ideally, at a time when the learner is motivated to say something and wants to say it as clearly and correctly as possible.
Proponents of' 'Get it right in the end' argue that it is sometimes necessary to draw learners' attention to their errors and to focus on certain linguistic (vocabulary or grammar) points. The difference between this proposal and the 'Get it right from the beginning' proposal is that it acknowledges that it is appropriate for learners to engage in meaningful language use from the very beginning of their exposure to the second language. They assume that much of language acquisition will develop naturally out of such language use, without formal instruction which focuses on the language itself.
The difference between this proposal and the 'Just listen' and 'Say what you mean and mean what you say' proposals is that it is not assumed that comprehensible input and meaningful interaction will be enough to bring learners to high levels of accuracy as well as fluency. Researchers who support this proposal argue that learners can benefit from, and sometimes require, explicit focus on the language.
(Examples 14, 15, and 16 are taken from a classroom where a group of twelve-year-olds are learning English. In Example 14, they are engaged in an activity where scrambled sentences are re-ordered to form sensible ones. The following sentence has been placed on the board: 'Sometimes my mother makes good cakes.')
T Another place to put our adverb?
S1 After makes\ T After makes.
S2 Before good?.
T My mother makes sometimes good cakes.
T No, we can't do that. It sounds yucky.
T Disgusting. Horrible. Right?
This is hardly a typical grammar lesson! And yet the students' attention is be-ing drawn to an error virtually all of them (native speakers of Uzbek ) make in English.
(The students are practising following instructions; one student instructs, others colour.)
S1 Make her shoes brown.
T Now, her shoes. Are those Mom's shoes or Dad's shoes?
T Mom's. How do you know it's Mom's?
S1 Because it's her shoes.
Native language speaking learners of English have difficulty with his and her because Native language possessives use the grammatical gender of the object possessed rather than the natural gender of the possessor in selecting the appropriate possessive form. The teacher is aware of this and--briefly, without interrupting the activity--helps the learners 'notice' the correct form.
(The students are playing 'hide and seek' with a doll in a doll's house, asking questions until they find out where 'George' is hiding.)
S1 Is G'ofur is, is in the living room?
T You said 'is' two times dear. Listen to you--you said 'Is G'ofur is in--?'. Look on the board. 'Is G'ofur in the' and then you say the name of the room.
S1 Is George in the living room?
S1 I win!
We should note here that the teacher's brief correction does not distract the student from his pleasure in the game, demonstrating that focus on form does not have to be meaningless or preclude genuine interaction.
In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in examining issues related to this proposal, leading to both descriptive (Study 14) and experimental studies (Studies 15, 16, and 17). Some of the research is described below.
Study 14: Attention to form in communicative ESL
Nina Spada See: Spada, N. 1987. 'Relationships between instructional differences and learn-ing outcomes: A process-product study of communicative language teach-ing. ' Applied Linguistics 8: 137-61.(1987) examined the effects of differences in instruction on the English language proficiency of 48 adult learners enrolled in a six-week intensive course. All learners received communicative instruction, that is, instruction which focused primarily on meaning-based practice and opportunities to use the second language in creative and spontaneous ways. However, some teachers focused more on grammar than others. For example, the teacher in Class A spent considerably more time teaching grammar than did the teachers in Classes B and C. In Class B, the students' attention was frequently drawn to specific linguistic features, but this was done while students were engaged in communicative activities, not as a separate lesson. In Class C, attention was rarely, if ever, drawn to specific linguistic features.
The learners were given a number of proficiency tests before and after instruction. This included:
1) a listening comprehension test
2) a reading comprehension test
3) an oral interview/interaction task
4) a multiple choice grammar test
5) a multiple choice discourse test
6) a socio-linguistic test.
The results showed that learners in Class A (the ones who received more grammatical instruction) performed slightly better on the grammar test than learners in Classes B and C. Furthermore, the results indicated that learners in Class A improved on some of the other measures as well (listening, speaking, and discourse tests). It was particularly interesting to note that learners in Class B performed best on the oral interview/interaction task. In this class, students were often encouraged to pay attention to the formal aspects of their speech while they were engaged in communicative practice. Spada concluded that instruction which focuses primarily on meaning (i.e. is communication-based) but allows for a focus on grammar within meaningful contexts, works best.
Study 15' Form-focus experiments in ESL
In Quebec, there were investigated the effects of form-focused instruction and corrective feedback on the development of specific linguistic structures in the English of francophone students participating in intensive ESL programs See: P. Lightbown, N. Spada How languages are learned Oxford University Press Oxford 1993 p.99.
According to the findings of a large-scale, descriptive study involving almost 1,000 students in 33 classes, these programs can be considered to be essentially communicative. That is, the emphasis of the teaching is on activities which focus on meaning rather than form, opportunities for spontaneous interaction and the provision of rich and varied comprehensible input. Although learners develop high levels of fluency and communicative ability in their target language, they still have problems with linguistic accuracy and complexity.
The experimental studies involved a smaller number of classes. In these stu-dies, the effects of form-focused instruction and corrective feedback on two particular linguistic features were examined: adverb placement and question formation. In the first study, Lydia White See: White, L. 1991. 'Adverb placement in second language acquisition: some effects of positive and negative evidence in the classroom.' Second Language Research: p.133 (1991) selected adverb placement for investigation because English and Native language differ with regard to the positions in which adverbs can be placed in sentences. The hypothesis was that learners would persist in using adverb placement rules from Uzbek if they were not explicitly told how rules for adverb placement differ in English and Uzbek. Questions were selected for the second study because they have been extensively investigated in the literature and considerable comparison data are available, particularly with regard to acquisition sequences.
Both the experimental and the comparison groups were tested before the experiment began (pre-test), and both groups were tested again when the period of special instruction had ended (post-test). The experimental groups received approximately eight hours of instruction over a two-week period. This included explicit teaching of the grammatical rules associated with each structure as well as corrective feedback. The teachers of the experimental groups were provided with a package of teaching materials and a clear set of procedures to follow. The comparison group teachers were asked to teach a different structure, one which was not the focus of the experiment, so that the comparison group learners would be familiar with the tasks and activities that were used in the testing procedures. The studies included immediate, delayed, and long-term/follow-up post-tests. For the adverb study the test tasks were written, and in the question formation study the tests included both written and oral tasks.
The results of the adverb study revealed that learners who received instruction on adverb placement dramatically outperformed the learners who did not receive instruction on adverbs. This was found to be the case on all tests in both the immediate and delayed post-tests (immediately following instruction and six weeks later). In the follow-up tests a year later, however, the gains made by the learners who had received the adverb instruction had disappeared and their performance on this structure was like that of uninstructed learners.
The results of the question formation study revealed that the instructed group made significantly greater gains than the uninstructed group on the written tasks immediately following instruction. Furthermore, it was found that the instructed learners maintained their level of knowledge on later testing (six weeks and six months after instruction). It was also found that a focus on form contributed to improvements in oral performance on questions.
Analysis of classroom language showed that adverbs were very, very rare in classroom speech, giving learners little opportunity to maintain their newly acquired knowledge through continued exposure and use. In contrast, there were hundreds of opportunities to hear and use questions every day in the classroom.
10.2 Grammar aquisition: Focusing on past tenses and conditionals
Focusing on past tenses
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, there is a growing belief that learners in native language immersion programs need more opportunities to focus on form and receive corrective feedback. There has been a call for more classroom research of the type exemplified by Studies 16 and 17 to determine how this can best be accomplished.
Birgit Harley See: Harley, B. 1989. 'Functional grammar in native language immersion: A classroom experiment. p.331 (1989) examined the effects of a functional approach to grammar teaching on a particularly problematic area of grammar for English-speaking learners of native language--the contrastive use of two past tense forms for 'My mother often spoke about her child-hood', and roughly the specific or narrative past, for example, 'After class I had talked with the other students'.
Approximately high grade 6 immersion students were given instruction on the use of these past tense forms through teaching materials which encouraged their use in a variety of functionally-based practice activities. No explicit grammatical rules were provided, nor was there an emphasis on corrective feedback. The intention was to create opportunities, activities, and tasks which would expose them to more input containing both verb forms, and encourage more productive use of them by the learners. The teaching materials were administered over an eight-week period. Learners were tested on their spoken and written knowledge before the instructional treatment began, eight weeks later, and again three months later.
Harley's findings showed that learners in the experimental classes outperformed the control classes on the immediate post-tests on some of the written and oral measures. Three months later, however, there were no significant differences between the two groups.
Focusing on the conditionals
Elaine Day and Stan Shapson See: Day, E. and S. Shapson. 1991. 'Integrating formal and functional approaches to language teaching in Native language immersion: An experimental approach.' Language Learning 41: 25--58. (1991) examined the effects of instruction with average grade 7 students (age about twelve or thirteen). The feature of grammar which was taught was the conditional mood of the verb, for example in sentences such as 'Agar men lotereyada yuib olsam, sayohatga borar edim'. -' If I won the lottery, I would go away on a trip'.
Students in the experimental classes received several hours of focused instruction on the conditional over a period of five to seven weeks. The students in the control group continued with their usual classroom routines, that is, they continued to encounternative language mainly in the context of learning their general school subjects (science, mathematics, history, etc. through the medium of native language).
Special teaching materials were prepared by the team of researchers. They consisted of:
1) group work which created situations for the use of the conditional in natural communicative situations;
2) written and oral exercises to reinforce the use of the conditional in more formal, structured situations;
3) self-evaluation activities to encourage students to develop conscious awareness of their language use.
Oral and written tests were administered before the instructional treatment, immediately after the instruction (five to seven weeks later), and at the end of the school year.
Learners in the experimental classes outperformed those in the control classes on the immediate post-tests for the written tasks (but not for the oral). In contrast to the students in Study 16, they were still doing better than the control group on the follow-up post-tests administered several months later.
Interpreting the research
The overall results of the experimental studies in the intensive ESL and native language immersion programs provide partial support for the hypothesis that enhanced input or form-focused instruction and corrective feedback within communicative second language programs can improve the learners' use of particular grammatical features. The results also show, however, that the effects of instruction are not always long lasting. For example, in the intensive program studies, the positive effects of form-focused instruction on adverb placement had disappeared a year later. Yet, the positive effects of this type of instruction and corrective feedback for questions were maintained in the long-term follow-up testing. Similarly, in the experimental native language immersion studies, while there were only short-term instructional benefits for the use of the imparfaitand passe compose, the benefits of instruction for the use of the conditional continued to be evident several months later.
It would be useful to notice here that the different results of the intensive ESL program findings might be explained in terms of the frequency of use of the two linguistic structures inregular classroom input after the experimental treatment had ended. For example, as mentioned in Study 15, question forms occur much more frequently in classroom input than adverbs. This continued reinforcement may have contributed to the continued improvement in the learners' use of questions over time. Evidence from classroom observations suggests that students did not receive any continued reinforcement through exposure to adverbs in classroom materials and activities once the experimental period was over, and thus it should not be surprising that these learners failed to maintain the improved performance levels.
The contrasting results of the native language immersion program teaching experiments (focuses on grammar) may also be explained by potential differences in input. But in this case, it seems more likely that differences in the experimental teaching materials and methodology may have contributed to the different results. Although both sets of materials had as their goal to provide learners with the opportunity to use the linguistic forms in a variety of functionally-based communicative practice activities, the instructional materials for the 'past tense' study (past tenses) may not have been sufficiently form-focused or did not draw the learners' attention to their language use as frequently and as explicitly as the instructional materials for the 'conditional' study (conditionals). While this is a possible explanation, other factors may have contributed to the different outcomes. For example, it could be that the two linguistic structures under investigation respond to instruction in different ways or that even the relatively small differences in the age of the learners played a role.
11.2 The implications of classroom research for teaching
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the strength of the theoretical proposals until further research is completed. But it is possible to speculate on the 'strongest contenders' on the basis of the classroom research findings so far This chapter we based on the internet materials the address of which is mentioned in the bibliography list.
There is increasing evidence that learners continue to have difficulty with basic structures of the language in programs which offer no form-focused instruction. This calls into question the 'Just listen' proposal, which in its strongest form not only claims no benefit from form-focused instruction and correction, but suggests that it can actually interfere with second language development. However, we do not find support for the argument that if second language learners are simply exposed to comprehensible input, language acquisition will take care of itself.
There are similar problems with the 'Say what you mean and mean what you say' proposal. As noted earlier in this chapter, there is evidence that opportunities for learners to engage in conversational interactions in group and paired activities can lead to increased fluency and the ability to manage conversations more effectively in a second language. However, the research also shows that learners in programs based on the 'Say what you mean and mean what you say' proposal continue to have difficulty with accuracy as well.
Because these programs emphasize meaning and attempt to simulate 'natural' communication in conversational interaction, the students' focus is naturally on what they say, not how to say it. This can result in a situation where learners provide each other with input which is often incorrect and incomplete. Furthermore, even when attempts are made to draw the learners' attention to form and accuracy in such contexts (either by the teacher or other learners), these attempted corrections may be interpreted by the learners as continuations of the conversation. Thus, programs based on the 'Just listen' and 'Say what you mean and mean what you say' proposals are incomplete in that learners' gains in fluency and conversational skills may not be matched by their development of accuracy.
It is important to emphasize that the evidence to support a role for form-focused instruction and corrective feedback does not provide support for the 'Get it right from the beginning' proposal. Research has demonstrated that learners do benefit considerably from instruction which is meaning-based. The results of the native language immersion and intensive ESL program research are strong indicators that many learners develop higher levels of fluency through exclusively or primarily meaning-based instruction than through rigidly grammar-based instruction. The problem remains, however, that certain aspects of the linguistic knowledge and performance of second language learners are not fully developed in such programs.
Unfortunately, research investigating the 'Teach what is teachable' proposal is not yet at a point where it is possible to say to teachers: 'Here is a list of lin-guistic features which you can teach at any time and here is another list which shows the order in which another set of features will be acquired. You should teach them in this order.' The number of features which researchers have investigated with experimental studies within this framework is simply far too small.
Similarly, second language researchers working from the 'Get it right in the end' proposal cannot yet provide a list of those forms which mustbe taught. Nonetheless, because these proposals do not argue for exclusively form-based or meaning-based instruction, but rather acknowledge a role for form-focused instruction and correction within a communicative program, the 'Teach what is teachable' and 'Get it right in the end' proposals appear to be the most promising at the moment in terms of guiding decisions about second language teaching.
Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that form-focused instruction and corrective feedback provided within the context of a communicative program are more effective in promoting second language learning than programs which are limited to an exclusive emphasis on accuracy on the one hand or an exclusive emphasis on fluency on the other. Thus, we would argue that second language teachers can (and should) provide guided, form-based instruction and correction in specific circumstances. For example, teachers should not hesitate to correct persistent errors which learners seem not to notice without focused attention. Teachers should be especially aware of errors that the majority of learners in a class are making when they share the same first language background. Nor should they hesitate to point out how a particular structure in a learner's first language differs from the target language. Teachers might also try to become more aware of those structures which they sense are just beginning to emerge in the second language development of their students and provide some guided instruction in the use of these forms at precisely that moment to see if any gains are made. It may be useful to encourage learners to take part in the process by creating activities which draw the learners' attention to forms they use in communicative practice, by developing contexts in which they can provide each other with feedback and by encouraging them to ask questions about language forms.
Decisions about when and how to provide form focus must take into account differences in learner characteristics, of course. Quite different approaches would be appropriate for, say, a trained linguist learning a fourth or fifth language, a young child beginning his or her schooling in a second language environment, an immigrant who cannot read and write his or her own language, and an adolescent learning a foreign language at school.
It could be argued that many teachers are quite aware of the need to balance form-focus and meaning-focus, and that recommendations based on re-search may simply mean that our research has confirmed current classroom practice. Although this may be true to some extent, it is hardly the case that all teachers approach their task with a clear sense of how best to accomplish their goal. It is not always easy to step back from familiar practices and say, 'I wonder if this is really the most effective way to go about this?' Furthermore, many teachers are reluctant to try out classroom practices which go against the prevailing trends among their colleagues or in their educational contexts, and there is no doubt that many teachers still work in environments where there is an emphasis on accuracy which virtually excludes spontaneous lan-guage use in the classroom. At the same time, there is evidence that the intro-duction of communicative language teaching methods has sometimes resulted in a complete rejection of attention to form and error correction in second language teaching.
Teachers and researchers do not face a choice between form-based and meaning-based instruction. Rather, our challenge is to determine which fea-tures of language will respond best to form-focused instruction, and which will be acquired without explicit focus if learners have adequate exposure to the language. In addition, we need to develop a better understanding of how form-based instruction can be most effectively incorporated into a com-municative framework. Continued classroom-centred research in second language teaching and learning should provide us with insights into these and other important issues in second language learning in the classroom.
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