Why student motivation is key to foreign language learning success
Aug 30, 2008 English as a Foreign Language (EFL) 12938 Views
"Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding." Stephen Krashen.
The principles of L2 teaching philosophy has greatly changed from the ancient principles of the Grammar-Translation approach historically used for teaching Greek and Latin. All the teaching philosophies and subsequent methodologies are reactions to this limited due to three major drawbacks
1) L1 is translated to L2 which is highly inaccurate losing much of the sociocultural detail resulting in parrot fashion language production
2) Low exposure to the target languague. No teaching is done in the target language meaning there is very little L2 exposure. Students don’t relate to the language well. There is no phatic communion taught.
3) Motivation. The classroom is difficult and stressful. Meaning little motivation.
4) Testing method. Students are assumed to have learned well when they can translate a text to their native language. This is a poor way to learn, translation doesn’t necessarily mean a student can produce or understand the language. Rather it means the student has a good memory!
Although this may seem to be out of place in today’s learning environment one should be reminded that this ancient philosophy of teaching has seen major success in oriental countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan but this is arguably a cultural conditioning. However these countries via this method have found some success and great success in some cases putting serious contradiction to modern methods such as the Communicative AKA Functional-Notional Approach by Finocchiaro and Brumfit (1983), Total Physical Response by Asher (1979) and Community Language Learning by Curran and Charles (1976) which appear mainstream in today’s L2 learning environment. The modern basis for these three methodologies has come from the research theories of four main people who greatly differ in opinion and specialization nevertheless equally agree study of a child’s development of L1 is vital to unlocking the key to language learning as a whole contestable hypothesis. The organic structure changes as the human brain experiences and develops with aging –How people Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience , and School, National Research Council (2000), Stern & Laura(2000). The main philosophers of L2 teaching and learning are Stephen D. Krashen, L.S. VYGOTSKY, Jean Piaget, J.Bruner, B.F Skinner and Noam Chomsky. Although they differ greatly in approach and underlying reasoning all agree that language is a common phenomenon for all humans above and beyond that of other mammals apart from perhaps birds. However even with certain birds there lacks the ability to expand beyond onomatopoeic language or imitation to abstract concepts - Krashen (1987/1988), Krashen and Terrel (1983), Norlander (1992), Bruner, J (1966/1973), Piaget (1972), Skinner (1957), Vygotsky (1978/ 1985), and Chomsky (1968).
The base theories of modern teaching methods has a significant focus on studying a child’s acquisition of its native language which at its initial stage takes the form of a mixture of onomatopoeic language and “parentese”. In all cases this is resultant of their intrinsic ability and has no relation to their extrinsic environment as this happens universally. - Norlander (1992), Snow (1977). L1 acquisition occurs due to several factors;
a) natural human ability
b) the brain’s natural development
c) necessity/desire to communicate.
The acquisition of language is a natural occurrence which takes place biologically and has been labelled by Chomsky as the “Language Acquisition Device” however because Chomsky was unable to give a detailed account of the L.A.D this is still the topic of much discussion and research. All people’s first language is something called “parentese” - Snow(1977) which is a haphazard mixture of sounds arguably a combination of some basic phatic communion and onomatopoeic language. Usually only truly understood by the parents or relatives in close contact indicating that the success of “parentese” depends on relationship. This can be observed with my nephew who is nine years of age and is commonly involved in arguments as most children are. Could this be due to inability to communicate effectively? According to Piaget’s stages of learning at his age now my nephew is a the Concrete Operations stage - Piaget(1972). So what could be the reason for frequent conflict among children? According to research conducted by the National Library of Education, “the young brain is like a computer with incredibly sophisticated hardwiring, but no software” – Genese (2000). Yet by now after so many years of experience surely the brain is able at that point to engage in communication with other children successfully. However this is not the case and humans always find themselves in disputes/arguments across their lives but why?
To find the source of this problem it is good to look at children. While onomatopoeic communication is somewhat universal and is resultant of our biological ability to imitate, the protocols for sociocultural awareness are not. This then means the environment in which a child learns will have the strongest significance upon the child, especially at this stage in its development. According to the research by Genese the reason why children seem to learn so fast is that the brain firstly is not limited to its faculty space rather the brain can expand/contract as necessary and secondly multiple areas of the brain develop simultaneously. For example the visual, audio, physical, smell, personal relationship to the word “doggie” would all develop at once obviously what personal experience the child has with dogs will affect its perception of the word doggie - Dollinger, Greening, Radtake (2001). It is arguable that the pragmatic failure among children then could be how “parentese” affects a child’s sociocultural awareness of what is appropriate phatic communion. As documented by Cathrine Snow, “parentese” is in many forms only understood by the close relatives. Evidence would suggest that during the preoperational and concrete operation stages the child also learns its protocols for phatic communion which would be dependent on the parents. Assume this is true then the basis for the Communicative Approach to L2 teaching should also be applied to L1 given native speakers such as my nephew can experience cultural pragmatic failure even it is his/hers native culture. Yet when should it be applied? If the L.A.D works as Chomsky states and the process for language acquisition is merely repeated albeit somewhat streamlined then is it really feasible to apply the Communicative Approach to beginner L2 learners? No. However some should be mildly introduced at the various stages when appropriate. But for a learner whose vocabulary is limited T.P.R would be more appropriate and affords us to keep to the L2 language use in the classroom without resorting to some grammar translation techniques. TPR has shown great success with children since it is easy to follow ‘show and follow’ and usually takes forms of fun activities practical knowledge to perform basic functions in the daily environment. "The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production." Stephen Krashen.
However past this basic level intermediate and advanced students especially those who use L2 for work or study purposes TPR would prove inappropriate. These students who are interested in advanced concepts would quite likely benefit from Community Language Learning more than TPR. At this stage the students are definitely able to use L2 for the entirety of the session without resorting to L1 unless technical jargon or highly advanced concepts need explaining - England and Grosse(1999). In this situation the age old, grammar-translation approach would be advised for it has to be admitted no matter how good the student or teacher there is no comparison to an entire lifetime of learning L1. For these students usually the problem is sociocultural awareness -Hinkel (1999), Stewart(1972) which is inherent to any intercourse in L2 and ensuring that the tutor is entirely aware of the L2 learners objectives – Dewey(1916) and Skehan (1989).
When analysing the four methodologies we can see that the best method to utilize will depend on several factors;
a) Brain’s prior development and readiness
b) Prior knowledge and experience
c) Situation/purpose for learning
The best possible way to teach L2 is a definite combination of the three however the communicative approach should be used in all cases to ensure that sociocultural awareness develops as the L2 student learns more phatic communion. This is to address a clear weakness generally inherited across the ESL world is that culture is often taught at a later stage as an afterthought. The brain can develop several knowledge centers simultaneously. The main importance is once basic competency has been reached deciding whether TPR (a practical way) or
communicative (more abstract way) is better will completely depend on the L2 learners objectives. But in all situations the Communicative Approach is appropriate since phatic communion will endure as long as communication is necessary, however the type of phatic communion will depend on situation. Therefore it is better to use a combination of all three methods and perhaps more since even the age old Grammar Translation Approach can be appropriate.
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